We are often asked, “What should I feed my dog?” or “What’s the best food?” It’s easy to get overwhelmed when deciding what to feed your dog. There are thousands of options available; breeders, trainers, vets, and other dog owners all have different opinions and give conflicting advice; and trying to research different brands usually leads to even more confusion. Good nutrition is extremely important, but trying to determine which foods are truly healthy can be mind boggling. So, whether you have a new puppy, have added an adult dog to the family, or are looking to switch your dog to a different food, here are a few key points that will help you make the best decision.
- Make sure the food is “complete and balanced.” This means that the food meets AAFCO standards and contains all the vitamins and nutrients a dog needs. However, these guidelines are only the minimum amounts – which aren’t necessarily the amounts for your dog to thrive! In addition, a food may contain the required ingredients, but the quality of those ingredients may be questionable or your dog may not be able to absorb or utilize the nutrients.
- Grain-free isn’t any better than food with grains. Grain-free is usually more expensive and is often used by companies as a marketing technique. Grain-free foods merely substitute grains such as corn, rice, oats or barley with a different starch such as potatoes, chickpeas, lentils, and pea by-products. While many experts agree that corn, soy and wheat are not appropriate for pets, the thing to look for is the quality and quantity of the starches and carbohydrates.
- Price is usually an indication of quality. Cheaper foods use lower quality ingredients – sometimes even dangerous ingredients. However, expensive food doesn’t always mean high-quality. You need to know about ingredients and how to decipher the label to recognize the difference. Choose the best food that your budget will allow and keep in mind that better food usually saves money in the long run because your dog will likely have fewer health issues.
- You don’t need a breed-specific food. Almost all dogs do best on a high-quality meat-based food. However, some breeds do tend to be pickier or have more digestive issues, so it may take a bit of trial and error to find the food that works best for your dog.
- You don’t need different food for different ages. Dog food that is labeled “for all life stages” is good for puppies as well as senior dogs. The feeding amounts will vary, but these foods meet the nutritional needs for dogs of all ages. Even so, many people prefer to start out with a puppy specific food and then transition to an adult food later.
- Specialty formulas such as “sensitive stomach” or “limited ingredient” are often marketing jargon. If you suspect your dog is allergic to something in their current food, consider asking your vet to test for allergies instead of guessing. There are also allergy tests available online that are very accurate. If you need a limited ingredient diet, simply choose quality food with only one protein and a short list of clean ingredients. For pups with sensitive stomachs, diets that are less processed with whole food ingredients are likely to be better tolerated.
- Dry kibble isn’t the only option. Most people automatically choose dry kibble because it’s convenient and most affordable. But the problem with most dry kibble is that it is highly processed and usually includes additives, preservatives, synthetic vitamins, and a high percentage of “filler” carbohydrates. You may want to consider fresh, raw, or freeze-dried options which are less processed and retain the natural vitamins and enzymes that are cooked out of dry food. Alternatives to dry kibble can be especially good if you are looking to switch foods because of allergies, a suddenly picky pooch, or simply wanting something healthier. Nature's Logic and Carna4 are the only brands of dry kibble that do not contain synthetic vitamins. The other brands of dry food that we recommend are Open Farm, Honest Kitchen, and Farmina.
There is no “one best food” for all pets. What’s best for one dog may not be best for another dog. What we can do is help simplify the confusion; offer information on the qualities that make for a nutritious dog food; explain what the label really means; answer any questions you might have about raw or freeze-dried diets; give you samples of different brands; and work within your budget to navigate all the options to help you choose the ideal dog food for your pet.