Which dog food is the best? As you walk through the aisles of your pet food store, it’s quite easy to feel overwhelmed by the many food choices. After all, the majority of bags of dog food seem to make claims that they’re the best food. Despite all the marketing claims though it’s important to recognize that, just as in people, each dog is an individual, and as such, what may work for one dog, may therefore not work for another. However, when choosing the best diet for your dog, there are certain general considerations and guidelines you may want to follow. A good place to start is to gain as much information about the nutritional requirements of dogs and some ingredients to avoid.
One Size Doesn’t Always Fit All
The needs for calories may vary from one dog to another based on individual nutritional needs which vary with age, reproductive status, activity levels, body weight and the overall state of health. A dog food labeled as for “all life stages” may not be the best choice, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies have unique nutritional needs, and in a large-breed dogs, there are risks for orthopedic problems down the road if the wrong type of food is fed during the delicate stage of growth.
Veterinary nutritionist, Jennifer Larsen warns that large breed puppies have different requirements when it comes to the ratios of calcium and phosphorous and their diets must be formulated in such a way as to limit excessive intake of calories and calcium to prevent excessive rapid growth. During their first 6 months of life, puppies have very little ability in regulating calcium absorption which can lead to an intake that exceeds their physiological needs, further explains veterinary nutritionist Cailin R. Heinze. This was luckily remedied for a good part with the formulation of large and giant breed puppy diets which are lower in energy density and calcium compared to other puppy diets. Additionally, they often contain glucosamine, chondroitin and omega fatty acids for more orthopedic benefits.
Sorting Through the Calories in Commercial Food
When choosing a good commercial dog food, it’s important to consider your dog’s specific caloric needs. Commercial dog’s foods tend to vary greatly when it comes to calories; just consider that according to the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, you may find kibble ranging from under 300 calories to more than 700 calories in a cup! This is very important information to consider in order to avoid underfeeding or overfeeding dogs. Sadly, a great amount of dogs nowadays are overweight which leads to joint issues, poor health and shorter life spans.
Grains: OK or No Way?
Unlike cats, who need meat in order to stay healthy and thrive, dogs are not obligate carnivores. Even the wolf, which is believed to be the dog’s ancestor, didn’t rely on a diet that was exclusively made of meat. When times were scarce and prey wasn’t easy to find, wolves survived on fruit and plant materials. The timeframe during which the domestic dogs is believed to have diverged from the wolf can be roughly anywhere between 14,000 to 30,000 years ago or much more. During this time, humans switched from the hunter-gather lifestyle to agriculture which involved the use of grains. While grains aren’t consistent with the dog’s past ancestral diet, there’s belief that, when being domesticated, dogs acquired the ability to digest starches. Yet, the benefit of eating grains remains a subject of controversy both in humans and dogs. Manufacturers of grain-free diets claim that grains are just cheap fillers, while several nutrition experts make claims of grains being far from being empty calories as they’re packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. Many vets seem to agree though that a low-carbohydrate diet should be fed to dogs with diabetes or cancer.
Watch Out for These Harmful Ingredients
Some ingredients in dog food can be potentially harmful, so it’s important to become aware of them. One of them is ethoxyquin, a preservative meant to prevent the fat in dog food from going rancid. It was approved in the 1950’s and its use was unquestioned up until the late 1980s’ when several owners reported liver problems, immune system disorders and cancer in their dogs. Scientific literature found significant changes to serum liver enzymes in affected dogs which prompted the FDA to reduce its quantities. Other harmful preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and tert-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ). Better options are natural preservatives such as tocopherols (vitamin E), citric acid (vitamin C), and rosemary extract.
Another problematic ingredient is propylene gylcol. Often found in semi-moist foods and dog treats, this chemical was known for causing problems to the red blood cells in cats, but there was not enough proof to prove a connection to causing anemia or other clinical effects. Yet, later on, studies were able to demonstrate how the blood cells were affected and prone to damage prompting the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) to prohibit its use in cat foods. Yet, despite this, as of today, this ingredient is still found in several brands of dog foods and treats.
Homemade Diets: A Word of Caution
While it’s really nice to know what you put in your dog’s dish, you must be very careful in ensuring that you’re feeding a truly balanced home-made diet, especially when feeding growing puppies. Balancing all the nutrients in the correct ratios can be quite complex and time consuming if your objective is having a dog who is healthy and thriving. It appears that many home-made diets fall short when it comes to certain key nutrients. According to a study conducted by the University of California Davis, the findings were startling. Among 200 home-made recipes for dogs selected from various sources such as websites, books and textbooks, over 95 percent lacked at least one essential nutrient and more than 83 percent were missing even more!
The same problems can arise when feeding raw diets. As much as raw diets can appear beneficial, with many dog owners reporting improved health and longevity, the American College of Veterinary Nutrition warns there are always risks for nutritional imbalances. Best to consult with a board certified veterinary nutritionist (DACVN) who can help you formulate the best diet for your dog.