By Patty Dobson
Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to find a fitting food. Looking for and selecting the ideal food for your pup can be a minefield. To help with navigating through the endless options, here are some top tips:
Read labels! This tops our list, as it’s the one we keep coming back to. Take a close look at labels. They’ll impart important information to help with an informed choice. Things to look for:
- A statement that says the food meets nutrient profiles established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. Or, look for one that’s passed feeding trials designed to AAFCO standards or have been found to provide complete nutrition.
- A statement that says what life stage the food’s appropriate for, such as the commonly seen adult maintenance, growth, or all life stages. Choose a type of food that’s suitable to your best friend’s stage in life. For instance, inactive or overweight dogs should stick with adult maintenance options, while young pups and healthy, active dogs should select growth or all life stages food, which contains extra nutrients needed for growth.
- Keep aware that ingredients are listed by weight, in descending order. It’ll give you an idea of how much of an ingredient makes up the food your pup’s eating. According to the FDA, if meat’s listed on the list, keep in mind that 75% of it’s water weight. Meat meals, on the other hand, have most of its water and fat removed and are a more concentrated form of protein.
- Keep in mind that many pet food options contain animal by-products, such as offal and other body parts. While they may not sound appetizing to us, our pups probably would disagree.
- While some manufacturers continue to use synthentic preservatives such as ethoxyquin, BHA, or BHT to extend shelf life, many have begun to use natural preservatives such as vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and extracts of various plants, like rosemary. Natural preservatives keep food fresh, but for a shorter period. Check a food’s “best by” date on the label before buying or feeding it to your pet. The FDA considers chemical preservatives harmless in the amounts they appear in dog food. Chemical preservatives create a more stable fat, preventing rancid fat that wreak havoc on your pup’s liver and stomach, causing diarrhea. Weigh the benefits of each before settling on a pup food selection.
- Watch out for marketing terms, gimmicks, and health claims – There are no rules controlling how terms like holistic, human grade ingredients, premium and super-premium or made in a USDA inspected facility are used. Same goes for foods used to treat a condition or disease, though the FDA thinks foods that treat a condition should be only made available through a veterinarian or a seller must be operating under the direction of a vet. Pet food and supplements are allowed to be marketed without a pre-market review, and health claims can be used, so long as certain requirements are met.
- Snackies and treats also count as part of their daily caloric intake.
Dry vs Wet vs Semi Moist Food - Wet food often doesn’t contain preservatives, are often higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, higher in moisture content, and can be more appetizing, as they’re richer in flavor and scent. This makes wet food ideal for finicky pups, older pups with declining taste buds and senses, and overweight pups, as it keeps them fuller faster while getting maximum nutrition. The downside of wet food is that it’s a bit pricier, lacks the long shelf life of kibble (dry food), and dogs with dental issues would require more due diligence. Dry food’s more convenient, cost effective, has a longer shelf life, can be kept out for pups to eat at their own pace, and offers an ideal option for some pups with dental issues, as some kibble’s formulated to clean a pup’s teeth as he chews. While dry food lacks the moisture of wet food, it’s important to keep your furry best friend hydrated. Some hoomans like to mix wet and dry food together, giving their pup the best of both worlds, while others offer wet food as an occasional treat. A third option? Semi-moist foods. Chewier than dry food, but not as mushy as canned, they come in pouches or pags and don’t spoil once opened. The downside? They’re often filled with higher amounts of preservatives, additives, artificial colors and sweeteners.
- Low-fat dog food – What’s the deal with low fat dog food? It often contains less fat and more fiber to fill up a pup without additional calories.
When in doubt, consider your pup’s specific needs, dietary preferences, your budget, and seek the trained advice of your vet. Pet parents range from those who prefer food and treats on the more natural spectrum, with limited ingredients they can pronounce, whole foods, and natural preservatives to those who prefer foods that’s affordable, meets the needs of their furry family member, and has a long shelf life to those who are somewhere in between. Wherever you fall on the foodie spectrum, keeping your pup’s diet balanced and befittingly nourishing as his needs shift and change is essential in ensuring his health and vitality.