Just like dogs themselves, their food choices come in all shapes and sizes. Even among dry foods, options abound and can overwhelm you. Finding a balanced meal for your puppy -- young or old -- is as simple as reading the food label and evaluating it for what you need. Your canine may hate the “perfect” food you decided on, which sends you back to the drawing board. When you learn to pick a food based on what your pet needs, it becomes easier to make the decision in the future.
Feeding for Age and Activity
The most important aspect of analyzing dry food is evaluating the diet for its appropriateness for your dog. Every food has a recommended age or life stage and activity, which means a Yorkie puppy has different nutritional needs than an gracefully aging Labrador. Many food brands offer diets for weight management or sporting dogs. Large-breed puppy diets promote slower development of your furry critter, while your teacup poodle will develop faster and need a small breed food. When you feed a food for a different life stage, you may cause metabolic problems or growth abnormalities to develop.
Deciphering the Food Label
You may have to sort through a lot of information on the diet labels that you are reviewing. Don’t worry -- you can handle it! While pictures on the bag of food seem enticing, focus on the nutritional information. Read the ingredients list and evaluate for protein sources. By-products get a bad rap, but they can be beneficial sources of nutrition. If your little pal has been diagnosed with a food allergy, steer clear of the offending ingredient. Your dog needs more meat-based protein sources than vegetable based, as they are more biologically available. This means you will have to feed less.
The label of your dog’s food should contain information outlined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, for clear understanding and ease of comparison between foods. The most important part states that the food is complete, as well as balanced, for a specific life stage, which is key to finding the right food for the right dog. Compare foods you’re evaluating the basis of dry matter, to determine which has higher protein -- or conversely, lower for your geriatric cuddler -- or excess carbohydrates.
Making a Natural Choice
Many foods are promoted as being more natural for your furry friend. Reading the label will also help you here. Fewer to no grains, as well as a lack of chemical preservatives, can be a healthier alternative. While not all pets need a grain-free food, your dog may have allergies and benefit significantly. Review the food’s AAFCO statement to make sure that it is an appropriate choice for your dog’s life stage. Also keep in mind that your pet may need to go back to a more commercial diet at the recommendation of your veterinarian.
Picking Your Protein
Your dog may have food allergies, and she is certainly not alone. It is an underlying problem in many health conditions, such as ear infections. Changing your pet’s protein source is an easy way to help them. Many “grocery store” foods use chicken, lamb, or both as a major protein source. More novel options, typically found in premium pet stores, include salmon, venison, buffalo, and duck. The carbohydrate sources in regular foods may be corn, rice or both. You can find more novel carbohydrate sources including potato and sweet potato. Your pet has the potential to benefit from these diets, but you may also be spending more money unnecessarily on a food if your pet doesn’t need it.
Listening to Your Veterinarian
Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet, especially if your canine companion has a health condition such diabetes or obesity. While there may be seemingly comparable diets that are non-prescription, they often do not have the same nutrient profiles. Prescription diets are high quality and geared towards nutritional correction of your pet’s medical problem. Discuss options with your vet to make sure you understand why the food is recommended.
Elizabeth Muirhead is a practicing veterinarian with an undergraduate degree in biological sciences. She has real-world experience with the husbandry, grooming, training and feeding a variety of household pets.