One of the most common questions I am asked as a veterinarian is, “What should I feed my dog?” While this is a very difficult question to answer, I am happy to be trusted to help guide pet owners through making an informed decision about nutrition.
There are a few things that factor into the decision-making process for choosing the right food for your pet:
Look at the bag. Look closer.
Not that adorable dog pictured on the front, nor that mouthwatering display of fresh meat and ripe vegetables, not even that colorful, glossy, fancy bag itself. Look for an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement. This is where the company states that they have formulated a diet that contains all the necessary nutrients that your pet needs, and at a balanced ratio. These nutrient profiles were established by scientists at the Association for American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). All good foods should say somewhere on the bag that they are complete and balanced. Some diets have even been tested with feeding trials that assure that pets fed this diet stay healthy.
Pick a national, recognizable, brand.
Boutique dog foods are more likely to have quality control issues. These foods are constantly being recalled for contaminations, incorrect formulations, etc. The bigger companies have more invested in making sure their food is safe for your pet. If you can pick a brand that employs a veterinary nutritionist, even better! This info likely won’t be on the bag so you may have to call the customer support number to find out.
Pick a food that is convenient for you to buy.
Consistency is important for doggy-diets. Especially for dogs with sensitive stomachs, switching foods frequently can mean cleaning up vomit and diarrhea. Also, switching formulas exposes your dog to all kinds of different ingredients. In the unlikely event that your dog develops a food-sensitivity, you will be stuck searching for very exotic (and expensive) ingredient diets to which he has not yet been exposed. This means you should pick a food that is easy for you to purchase consistently. If you don’t go to the pet-store often, pick a quality food available where you do shop. Do you travel with your pet? Don’t pick a food that is only available at that one mom and pop store in your town.
Terms like “all-natural” or “holistic” are buzz-words that sell a lot of food, but have no meaning in the pet food business. No one has outlined a definition or standards that make a food qualify as natural or holistic. These are simply advertising words. Chances are a grain-free food is not any better for your dog than one with grain (look forward to more info next month). Please avoid raw diets as well. Raw meat is actually less digestible than cooked meat, and can contain dangerous bacteria like E coli, Salmonella, and Listeria.
Pick a food that fits your budget.
Diet plays an important role in your dog’s health, but there are a lot of other care components that do too. Price does not guarantee quality. There are plenty of reasonably priced diets that provide everything your pet needs. Buying expensive boutique dog food while skipping wellness veterinary care is doing your dog a disservice.
Your dog has to like it.
If your dog doesn’t want to eat the food you have chosen, you may have to start over. Transitioning to a new food should be done gradually by mixing in the new food with the old food over about a week or two to prevent upset stomach. This usually helps dogs accept a new food, but in the end, if they turn their nose up at it, you may be out of luck.
If you get stuck and would like a more specific recommendation, give me a call; I would be happy to help. What do I feed my dog? Ask me at your next visit! Stay tuned for a follow up post about pet-food myths coming next month.