Choosing the Best Food For Your Dog: Thinking Critically About Your Dog's Food:
Some hints and tips to help you find the right food for your dog:
By Frenchie Long-Sabados
One of the questions I hear most often is “what is the best food on the market”? The reason for this question is simple: animals are family, and just like children we want them to have the best possible care and food the market has to offer. However, this question is not always so easy to answer. There will always be a “top quality” food on the market, and one of them will ALWAYS be the best. However, the BEST may not be what is RIGHT for your canine companion... I hope that the following information will help you to feel more comfortable and informed when choosing the proper food for your dog.
The first question I usually will ask people is, what breed (or best guess if the dog is of unknown breed) of dog they have. Certain breeds have become predisposed to certain conditions, and diet can play a huge role in their overall health. Even if it is a mixed-breed, there still may be indications that your dog may be predisposed to a dietary issue that can be helped with certain diets. Here are a few examples of why breed can be important:
German Shepherds: Over the years, this breed has become predisposed to poor digestion, food sensitivities, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome... Diet plays an important role in keeping these issues under control and keeping your dog healthy...In cases such as this, you may want to choose a grain-free diet with a novel protein such as venison/bison/pork/lamb...you may want to choose a limited ingredient diet, or you may want to feed a completely raw diet... There are many diets to choose from that can help alleviate these type of problems. Remember that canned and raw foods are easier to digest, thus a dog with digestive issues would certainly benefit from being taken off kibble completely.
Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and certain other breeds have shown to be predisposed to food allergies more than other breeds. Diet again, plays an important role in keeping the uncomfortable symptoms of food allergies at bay, and seeing a happy dog... In cases such as this, it would be important to go grain-free, and possibly (but not always) limited ingredient, and definitely a novel protein (something other than chicken).
Large Breed Puppies: It is very important for the large and giant breed dogs to grow as slowly as possible. This is to prevent early onset arthritis, and general joint pain... Diets made specifically for Large Breed puppies or even Large Breed adults would be appropriate in this situation... The calcium/phosphorous ratio is what is important in these diets
Northern Breeds (Huskies, Malamutes, Newfoundlands, etc...) tend to do better on fish based diets...
So, you can see why something as simple as breed can make a huge difference in what you may choose to feed your dog...
The next question I will ask people is the age of the dog they are choosing the diet for and how active they are. Age and activity level become important when choosing a food, because you want to choose an age-appropriate food for your dog and choose a food that will meet the dogs caloric requirements. For instance:
Puppies: You would not want to feed a regular puppy food to a giant breed puppy as it will cause the puppy to grow to fast which will in turn cause medical issues. You would not want to feed an adult dog puppy food unless they needed to gain weight. You would not want to feed a reduced calorie food to an extremely active dog.
A Special Note For Seniors:
Seniors: Some people say, that their dog is now a “senior” (as considered by the medical field or pet-food industry), and wonder if they should switch to a senior food.
Some “food” for thought when considering a senior diet...
~ Senior diets are usually similar to reduced calorie foods, due to the fact that a senior dog will most likely be less active and prone to gaining more unwanted weight. Just because a dog is getting on in years, does not mean that it will always be appropriate to put them on a senior food. In most cases, it is best to keep them on an adult maintenance food, and just watch their weight and how many calories they are taking in each day. With many seniors, a higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet is best, as it will aid in the building of lean muscle mass, keeping their weight low and their muscles strong.
~ Some senior dogs have fewer teeth, or perhaps severe dental disease. In this case, it would be best to stick with a canned or raw diet. Not only will these diets be easier for the older dogs to swallow (since they will not have to chew), but canned and raw diets are also going to be much easier on the digestive system.
~ Many seniors have a harder time digesting their food, so staying away from kibble would be a better choice. This may not always be as cost effective, so, if you have to stick with kibble, remember that there is nothing wrong with soaking the kibble in some Luke-warm water until it is soft (do not soak in hot water as it will kill the beneficial microbes that are in the food). There are also many refrigerated diets coming out on the market now that are a great alternative for the senior dog.
Where Are You Starting From?
The next questions I will ask people is what are they currently feeding the dog. This makes a bigger difference than many people would think. For example, if you were currently feeding something like Pedigree, it would be ill advised to go straight to something grain-free or higher protein without first transitioning to something with “real” proteins and whole grains. I understand that people want the “best”, especially after learning about what’s really in some of the dog food they have been buying at the supermarket) but in order to feed the best foods, the dog must first be allowed to learn how to properly digest real food.
Some side effects of transitioning from lower-quality corn based foods to higher-quality grain-free foods can be moderate to severe diarrhea, sometimes leading to pancreatic inflammation or having to transition back to lower quality foods because the dogs digestive system never recovers.
Most grocery and big box store bought brands are corn based and have no real protein in them to speak of. Even the “grains” that are put into these lower quality brands are not fit for cattle consumption, it is simply what is leftover (Hulls, millings, cobs, cellulose, etc...). Corn, wheat, and soy are the things we are aiming to avoid feeding our dogs. Whole grains (oats, barley, brown rice...) are not always a bad idea for a dog. Many people want to go grain-free these days, and truly, it is what is natural and best for the dog. However, this does NOT always mean that every dog will do well on a high-protein, grain-free diet. Remember when I said that what is best, may not always be what is right for your dog.
One point to remember about grain-free foods:
Not every dog can handle the “richness” of a higher-protein food. It is important to remember that sometimes certain dogs need the higher fiber that generally comes from feeding foods with healthy, whole grains. The whole grains in the food will also help keep the protein content of the food a bit lower, thus making it a little easier for certain dogs to digest. We want to see healthy stools, and if the dog is constantly getting diarrhea from the rich foods, it is best to keep them off of the higher protein diets. In these cases, sticking with high quality whole grains may be best.
Pre-biotics and Pro-biotics:
A note about Pre-biotics/Pro-biotics and digestive enzymes: When transitioning a dog to new foods, it is a good idea to add some pro-biotics and digestive enzymes to their food. This will aid their body in learning how to digest this “real food” properly. There have also been recent studies showing that it is a good idea to include a regimen of pro-biotics and digestive enzymes in the dog’s diet, perhaps giving it 2-3 times weekly to ensure healthy digestion. A dog’s digestive system may sometimes get out-of-sync, and pro-biotics/digestive enzymes can give their body a chance to recover faster. Also, dogs may need antibiotics on occasion...remember that antibiotics kill good AND bad bacteria indiscriminately, leaving your dog without the proper bacteria to digest his food.
The difference between a pre-biotic and a pro-biotic:
Pre-Biotics will SEED the gut with new digestive bacteria
Pro-biotics will make the digestive bacteria stronger and digestive enzymes such as Lipase, Amylase, and protease will help in the breakdown of the foods
On a finishing note, I would like to remind people to read the ingredient panels carefully. KNOW what is in your dog’s food, and understand the ingredients listed. Never be afraid to question an ingredient you may not agree with. When doing research, look for scientifically backed data, not simply opinions or subjective data about ingredients or foods. Your dog is depending on you for their best health ever. May you share the best moments together!
By: Frenchie Long-Sabados, CVT
Bachelor's of Science In environmental science
Assosciate of Applied Science in HAZMAT
...animal enthusiast & lover of EnduraPet
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