Most dogs will chew and swallow anything from trash on the street to scraps from your table. Dogs do not seem to have a very refined sense of what to eat, but luckily, you – their owner – do. So, the responsibility of picking the right kind of food for them is up to you. But, how do you know if the food you are choosing for them is healthy?
Well, that is where this list is going to come in handy. Here we have summarized 15 things that you need to look for when buying dog food or you could always make your own or subscribe to fresh food meal services.
1- Your vet’s recommendation
The person who knows the most about your dog’s health status is your dog’s vet. Veterinarians are trained professionals. They are well aware of your pet’s medical history. They know what kind of issues or conditions your pet might have, including little things like over-weight or some simple ear infection. So, it is always advised to prioritize your veterinarian’s recommendation. They will recommend foods based on their ingredients and nutritional value, which you cannot do yourself.
Marketed products often include preservatives to increase their shelf life. The same is the case with dog foods. Preservatives decrease the nutritional value of the food, and sometimes they can be harmful to the consumers too.
Fresh food is always a better option. First, it does not include any preservatives, and second, it has higher nutritional content. Fresh food typically has higher costs. To get around this, some owners try to prepare dog food at home, but this would not be a wiser thing to do. For starters, this can be time-consuming, and above that, you will not have any nutritional testing at home.
3- Guaranteed Analysis
Many states have now set the standards for pet food to clearly write minimum and maximum percentages. This includes guaranteed min percentages of protein and crude fat and maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. The term “crude” is a reference to the method of testing a product, not to the quality itself. Since it is a standard protocol to follow these instructions, almost all dog food companies now state this information on their dog food labels. Some manufacturers even provide extra details regarding nutritional guarantees like maximum ash or minimum calcium.
4- Nutritional Adequacy statement
There is a non-profit organization known as The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which works to set the standards for the safety and quality of animal and pet feed in America. AFFCO establishes the base level regulations for pet food, including recommended ingredients, guaranteed analysis, and other labeling guidelines. An AFFCO nutritional adequacy statement on the pet food you are buying confirms that the product is completely optimized for your pet. This statement is something like “Name of the product – is formulated to meet the nutritional levels set by AFFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for (life stage).”
Fats are esters of fatty acids. They are naturally found in living beings or foods. Fats are a significant source of energy. Just like other important nutrients like proteins are carbohydrates, fats play crucial functions in your body and the body of your pet. They are involved in absorbing vitamins and minerals, building cell membranes, and producing hormones.
There are types of fats, and not all fats are good. Fats are divided into saturated and unsaturated (or trans) fats. Look out for trans fats – they are the bad guys. Bad fats can have adverse effects on the health of your pet. So, you have to pick a food with the right kind of ingredients – or the right kind of fats.
6- Breed- and weight-specific food
The variety of dog breeds can amaze anyone. On the one hand, we have small breeds like Pugs and Pomeranians; on the other, we see some giant breeds like English Mastiff or Irish Wolfhound. Well, it would be only absurd to believe that every breed will have the same nutritional requirements. The variation in the sizes and activities of the breeds is distinctively reflected in their dietary requirements too.
A Chihuahua has a completely different nutritional requirement from a Saint Bernard. An overweight dog might need a different diet from a dog in need of gaining some weight. Your dog’s specific conditions and needs are always to taken into account when buying food for him.
7- Age-appropriate food
As with the breed and size of your dog, the same goes for the age of the pet. Age is another major determiner for nutritional requirements. A few weeks old puppy will require a diet entirely different from a 5-year-old dog. As a responsible owner, you will have to keep these small details in mind too when picking the right food for the dog. Besides the kind of nutrients they need, the amount of each nutrient also varies with age. So, it is about what, how much, and when.
8- Properly Sealed Packages
If the dog food is without proper packaging or has a broken seal, then this is something that you should be strict about. Many owners do not pay attention to this detail. The attitude they have is like, “it is dog food after all; what does it matter if the seal is broken.” Well, guess what? It does matter a lot. Improper packaging or broken seals are a clear sign of some temperament with the food. And if any such food is consumed by your dog, it is not good for his health, and in the worst-case scenario, the outcome can be in the form of food poisoning.
9- Whole proteins as first ingredients
A whole protein (also known as complete protein) is a source of protein that has a sufficient proportion of all essential amino acids required by the consumer. Normally, whole proteins are acquired from other protein-rich food sources. Since whole proteins include all the essential amino acids, they are mandatory to be a part of your pet’s diet.
Any food you buy for your dog must have whole proteins included as the first ingredients, for example, ground beef or dried yeast.
10- Whole veggies and fruits
Whole vegetables and fruits are combined under the term whole foods. These include plant foods that are processed or refined as little as possible. Just like the whole proteins, whole veggies and fruits also should be a part of your dog’s diet. Spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, and even blueberries can be a part of this section. Whole foods can improve the overall health of your dog and are especially known to be good for coat and eyesight.
11- A lack of artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, or preservatives
We have already alluded to the harms of preservatives in detail in the section on freshness. Certain artificial sweeteners or colors can trigger changes in your dog’s metabolism. This can cause problems like diabetes or weight gain. Artificial sweeteners or flavors can also add undue proportions of sugars to the pet’s diet. The owners need to keep an eye out for such ingredients and must try to avoid them.
12- Ingredients that do not include corn and soy
This one is a little bit tricky and can be confusing for some owners. Corn and soy are not a direct threat to your dog’s health – in fact, they can have beneficial effects – but, for some dogs, these foods can be allergens. Sometimes, corn and soy ingredients can lead to weight gain, too, without providing any significant nutritional benefits. Anyhow, corn and soy are not the essential ingredients and can be avoided.
13- Brands with veterinary nutritionists/studies to back up the food
Trustworthiness alone is not enough to ensure the brand’s longevity. Often, dog food brands spend good sums on proving the nutritional benefits of their products. Owners should do a little research and find brands that have conducted research and studies on their products to back up their claims or have at least one veterinary nutritionist on their staff.
14- Food that meets your dog’s activity level
The nutritional needs are directly proportional to the activity of your canine. Does your dog guard acres of rolling field? Or all the activity your dog does is a little walk with you to the market? The rule is simple. The more work he does, the more energy he is going to require, and the richer diet the owner has to provide.
15- Price point
Like everything else in the material world, you will get what you pay for. But that does not mean you will have to spend thousands on fulfilling the basic nutritional requirements of your beloved pet. You can calculate the average monthly food cost for your dog and see if you can adjust it according to your budget.
Of course don't forget to potty train your dog.