Getting trustworthy information about good choices for puppy food is fraught with marketing campaigns, deceptive wording on labels, loud proponents of different eating philosophies and other complications. In fact, it's a lot like trying to get reliable information about a healthy diet for yourself. By conducting some research, educating yourself about dog food labeling practices and consulting an expert for advice tailored to your pooch, though, you can make smart choices.
Good Choices are Individualized
No specific puppy food product or brand is best for all puppies. What's best for your growing dog depends on a variety of factors. Her age, breed, amount of physical activity, skin and coat health, coat type, genetic predisposition to certain conditions, medical concerns and other individual considerations all matter. For example, many puppies with skin conditions benefit from foods fortified with extra omega-3 fatty acids, while this is an unnecessary feeding expense with others. Also, many dogs have food allergies, excluding certain good choices for puppy food. For example, lamb and fish are excellent sources of low-saturated fat protein, but also are common allergens in dogs. Consult your vet or a certified dog nutritionist for personalized advice about meeting your puppy's nutrition, calorie and special needs.
Good Choices are Nutritionally Balanced
Dog foods are labeled for particular life stages, so start by finding foods for the appropriate stage. Read the label's nutritional adequacy statement on every puppy food under consideration. It should use the word "feeding" when defining the nutritional adequacy for a particular life stage. The term may be only used if the food was clinically proven to meet the nutritional needs of puppies in that life stage. Also, confirm that the label states the food meets AAFCO guidelines for nutritional adequacy. These assurances are necessary to know your puppy gets all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients she needs from her food.
Good Choices Have High-Quality Ingredients
Your puppy can't meet all her nutritional needs with meat alone, but she does best getting most of her protein from high-quality meat sources. Choose foods containing real whole beef, poultry, lamb and fish. Steer clear of meat "by-products" and "meal;" while these sometimes contain high-quality protein, there's no way to be sure, with quality varying widely from batch to batch, and these formulations use some unappetizing animal parts. Avoid foods with lots of filler or long lists of ingredients that are unfamiliar to you. Choose puppy foods with natural preservatives, too, such as vitamin C, also referred to as ascorbate; vitamin E, sometimes called mixed tocopherols; and natural spices and oils, such as rosemary or clove. While these provide a shorter shelf life than chemical preservatives, a number of chemical preservatives in dog food are associated -- though often only in higher quantities -- with cancers and other health problems.
Good Choices are Reliable
Trial and error may be necessary to find the right food for your puppy. Some dogs are pickier than others, and you need a food your dog enjoys. Be wary of foods with bits added in to be particularly appealing, though; these morsels usually are high in sugar or saturated fat to encourage consumption, meaning they aren't healthy. Find a healthy food your dog happily eats enough of. Keep an eye on the consistency of quality. If you find you sometimes get food that smells off, looks quite different than usual, has a noticeably different texture or that your dog doesn't seem to like, look for a more reliable product. Give preference to foods with detailed manufacturer contact information on the label, too. Manufacturers legally must include their name and address; those that willingly add a phone number or email address usually are more reliable, easier to contact with questions or concerns, and more open to communication with their consumers.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.