Food and Treats: How to Make Good Choices

The following article is written by animal behaviorist, Cori MacGregor:

One of the best things you can do for your dog is feed him a highly nutritious and balanced food. If you feed your dog the proper food, his skin and coat will be sleek and shiny, he will have a strong immune system and it will promote good digestive health.

When you walk into a pet store to buy food for the first time, it can be overwhelming with all the options that are available. How do you know what to choose? First, you want to make sure you have the correct formula for your dog’s age, breed and lifestyle. Puppies will require a higher caloric content that senior dogs because their energy level is higher, and they are growing at a rapid rate. Larger breeds will need a different nutrient balance than smaller ones. Overweight dogs will need a formula geared toward weight loss, whereas a dog at a healthy weight will need a formula geared toward maintenance.

The label on the back of the bag has more information about the quality of the food than you may realize. There will be certain key phrases you will want to watch for. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established guidelines to regulate the claims a pet food company can make on its label regarding the quality and content of the food.

If the food claims to contain a single ingredient, such as beef or chicken, it must contain at least 95% of that ingredient, not including water (including the water content it must be 70%). For example, if the food claims to be made solely of beef, beef is required to make up 95% of the food. Phrases like dinner, platter and entrée means the foods must contain at least 25% of the that ingredient.

If the name states “with” a specific ingredient (such as “with cheese”) only 3% of the ingredient is required. Foods that have specific “flavors” need to contain only a trace amount of that ingredient. The phrase “complete and balanced” also has a lot of weight behind it because of the minimum amounts of specific nutrients the food must have in order to be advertised as such. The fat to protein ratio is another key element to evaluate. The size of your dog and his breed will need to be considered but adult dogs should intake 15%-30% of their diet in protein. Recommended fat intake should be around 10%-20% of their diet. All of this information can also be found right on the label.

Also take a good look at the actual ingredients listed. By law, the pet food manufacturers must list the ingredients in order by weight. This means that the first ingredients on the list are what the food is primarily made up of. Find a food that lists a protein source such as chicken, beef, salmon, etc. as it’s first ingredient.

In addition to that protein source, you will want to look for whole grains and vegetables as well. Unlike cats, dogs are not true carnivores and these plant materials provide many of the micronutrients dogs require that they cannot get for protein sources alone. There will also be ingredients that you want to avoid.

If you find an abundance of these ingredients, reconsider purchasing that food. These ingredients will include artificial preservatives, colors and flavors. There could also be “filler” ingredients such as corn meal, brewers rice and beet pulp included as well. Corn could be another source of protein in the food but should not be listed as the first few ingredients.