How to Select High Quality Dog Food: What to Look For
Dogs need good nutrition for them to thrive, maintain health, and prevent diseases. Unfortunately, being pets, they are dependent on the choices that their respective owners make. It is crucial that pet parents know how to choose dog food that is both well-balanced and high quality. While we cannot deny the fact that economics can be a major factor in the selection process, there are canine diets that offer great value without sacrificing quality. Hence, it is important to learn how you can select high-quality dog food by knowing what to look for.
Always Start with a Visit to Your Veterinarian
Before you head to your favorite pet supply store, it is best to pay your vet a visit first. While friends and neighbors can provide you with recommendations on which dog food to buy, they don’t know your pet. Having a vet check your pet can help you determine the amount of calories and nutrients that it needs.
It is important to understand that dogs are like us. They have individual needs. Don’t expect the diet that your neighbor gives to her hound will also work with your pet. The animal’s age, activity, life stage, reproductive status, and overall health are factors that one has to consider when choosing a high quality dog food.
For example, puppies require more calories and more proteins than their adult counterparts. The same is true with geriatric dogs that may benefit more from increased proteins but lower calories. Puppies need a different set of nutrients like calcium and DHA. While adult dogs also need these nutrients, they don’t need high levels of these substances compared to puppies.
Your hound’s health status is also a major factor. If your pet is prone to obesity, heart disease and/or diabetes, then getting a reduced calorie and low fat dog food is a must. If the animal is susceptible to joint health conditions like hip dysplasia and arthritis, then a dog food with joint-friendly nutrients is excellent.
Very active canines, such as working dogs and members of the sporting group need more calories than your so-called lap dogs. Pregnant and nursing canines also have different nutrient requirements. All of these can play in your decision when selecting a high quality dog food.
Another reason why a trip to the vet is important before you buy dog food is to determine whether your dog has allergies or not. Some dogs may be allergic to certain types of grains and meats. Being aware of your hound’s allergy status can help you look for dog food that do not contain such ingredients.
Things to Look For When Selecting High Quality Dog Food
With the knowledge about your canine obtained from the vet, you can now head to your favorite pet food supplies store. Using the information that your vet gave you, it is possible to go through the different products on the shelf. It may be time-consuming, though. As such, a better approach will be to read canine food reviews online. You can also visit the websites of reputable dog food manufacturers to learn more about their products. One can create a shortlist from such an activity.
Regardless of how you intend to go “shopping” for a high quality dog food, here are some of the more important things you have to look for.
Manufacturers employ clever ways of naming their dog food products. However, there is more to it than a mere marketing ploy. As a pet parent, you should know how to read and interpret these so-called “product names”.
If you see a single ingredient on the label, it often means the canine diet contains at least 95% of that ingredient. As such, if the label reads “Chicken for Dogs”, then you can expect that this product contains at least 95% chicken. But wait, the 95% rule excludes the moisture content of the dog food. If you also consider the moisture content of the product, then the chicken should be at least 70% of the whole product.
You may also read “Dinner”, “Platter”, or “Entrée” on the product label. This means that the product contains at least 25%, but not more than 95% of the ingredient listed. When you factor in the moisture content, the main ingredient should be at least 10%. As such, getting a “Lamb and Chickpeas Entrée” means your dog gets at least 10% lamb and chickpeas.
There are food products that come with the preposition “with” like “Canine Platter with Beef”. This means that the “beef” component of the product is at least 3%. You will then have to guess the remaining 97% or so of the ingredients.
Now, some pet food manufacturers may offer “flavors” for their products. For example, you might see a “Buffalo Flavor” pet food. The issue here is that there is no minimum percentage of the “flavor” that has to be present in the product. Regardless, it should be at least detectable.
A Named Animal Protein as First Ingredient
Unless your veterinarian told you that your dog will be a lot better with a vegetarian diet, all dogs should have animal proteins as their principal source of nutrition. That is why the very first ingredient that you should see on the label is a “named animal protein”.
Take note of the word “named”. What this means is that you have an identifiable protein. If the label says “poultry meal”, there’s a question of the kind of poultry present in the dog food. Is it chicken, geese, duck, or turkey? Since the term “poultry” is rather vague, it is best to skip such a dog food. What you want is a named animal protein like “chicken meal”, “buffalo”, “beef”, or “venison”, and the like.
As to why animal protein and not plant protein, animal-based proteins have a more complete amino acid profile than plants. What this means is that giving your dog animal protein supplies it with all the essential building blocks that its body needs. There is no need for supplementation. On the other hand, giving plant proteins may require the supplementation of the dog with certain amino acids that are not found in plants. This is the only way you can be sure that your dog remains healthy.
However, manufacturers recognize the drawbacks of plant proteins. As such, they may add amino acid supplements in the dog food to account for the deficiency. In such cases, the decision to get a dog food with a plant protein as its first ingredient is yours to make. Your vet can provide you with sounder advice.
Meat, Meal, Byproduct
Since we’re already talking about animal protein as the main ingredient you should look for, it is critical to know the difference between meat, meal, and byproduct. You will find these in the ingredient list of any dog food brand.
If it says “chicken” or “beef”, then you know that the dog food contains the meat part of these food items. You won’t see in the label “rabbit meat” or “pork meat”. Manufacturers already expect you to know that they mean “meat” when they put these ingredients in their label.
As for “meal”, these are the rendered or cooked tissues of the main ingredient. It can include the skin and, sometimes, bones. It should not include blood, hair, horn, hide, hoof, stomach, rumen contents, trimmings, and other stuff. As such, if the label reads “Chicken Meal”, you can expect it to contain all the tissues of the chicken except for the stuff that we mentioned above. These are also cooked or rendered before being added the dog food.
When you read “byproduct”, it refers to the tissues of the animal other than its meat. It can include the heart, lungs, kidneys, brains, bone, spleen, intestines, stomach, and fatty tissues, among others. It is like a “meal”, except that a byproduct is not rendered or cooked.
Some may advise you against going for dog food with meat byproducts such as “chicken byproduct” or “lamb byproduct”. The issue here is that these “organs” are not “typical” of the American diet. However, in other parts of the world, these so-called non-edible parts are delicacies and can provide man with many nutrients that are not found in meats or flesh. Hence, it is still possible to choose a dog food product with a meat byproduct as one of its ingredients.
There is one very important consideration, however. Buy only from reputable manufacturers. It is possible that some manufacturers may include “other” animal tissues like hooves, hair, horn, and other “non-edible” parts in their meat byproducts. You should know this is a very inexpensive way to boost protein levels without increasing the cost of production. Therefore, always choose from a company with an excellent reputation.
Manufacturers list their ingredients in terms of decreasing percentage relative to the whole product. The farther you go down the list, the more negligible is the amount of such an ingredient. As such, it is often wise to take note of the first 5 ingredients. Again, the first should always be a named animal protein, unless your vet tells you otherwise.
In this part of the dog food label, you will see 4 key elements: crude protein percentage, crude fat percentage, crude moisture percentage, and crude fiber percentage. This is where it can get tricky since the percentages are relative to the whole. As such, the protein percentage is a reflection of both the protein ingredients and the moisture. Therefore, you have to compute for the dry matter percentage of these individual components.
To obtain this, you need to subtract the crude moisture percentage from 100% to get the percentage of dry matter in the dog food. You will then divide the crude protein percentage by the dry matter percentage. Multiply the result by 100 to get the dry matter protein content of the dog food.
To illustrate, let’s say the label reads “23% crude protein” and “10% crude moisture”. This means that the dog food’s dry ingredients comprise only 90% of the total product. To get the dry protein content of this dog food, you’ll divide 23% by 90% to get 0.2555. Multiply this by 100 and you’ll get 25.55% protein. For this dog food, you are giving your pet 25.55% protein without the moisture.
The AAFCO says that adult dogs need at least 18% protein and 5% fat as maintenance. For puppies and pregnant and nursing dogs, they need at least 22% protein and 8% fat. These figures are based on the dry matter content of dog food. That is why it’s important to learn how to “recompute” the guaranteed analysis on the label.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
The AAFCO expects pet food manufacturers to put statements of nutritional adequacy in their labels. Most of us know this as a “nutrition claim”. It states the general purpose of the dog food. In general, the statement indicates the state of balance and completeness of the dog food in terms of supporting the needs of the dog in various life stages. This can include growth, adult maintenance, and reproduction.
Pet parents with puppies will do well to get a high quality dog food that has a nutritional adequacy statement related to “growth”. If you have a pregnant or lactating canine, then something about “reproduction” is crucial. Of course, there are also products that say they are well-balanced and complete for all life stages. This means it’s good for growth, adult maintenance, and reproduction.
There are also cases where the dog food is for supplemental or intermittent feeding only. Hence, it is important to understand the implications of these statements in your dog’s health and overall wellbeing.
Dogs deserve only the best nutrition you can give them. A veterinarian can provide you with important cues as to the kind of nutrition that your dog needs. Our tips on what to look for when selecting high quality dog food should help you zero-in on the perfect choice.