The Best Diet to Feed Your Dog: What Should You Look For?

Every dog owner wants to feed their dog the best diet possible. One that will keep them healthy and allow them to thrive.

Sounds easy, but when you’re standing in front of shelves stacked with all manner of brands and diet types it can seem like you’re faced with an impossible choice.

Here are some key tips to help you find the best diet for your dog.

 
how to choose the best dog diet
 

I would like to offer my Shih Tzu the best food I can, which one would you recommend? - Yeliz

Asking which is the best food to feed a dog is a very simple question, but it is a massive question as well. 

I guess the simple answer is that I recommend feeding a high quality, complete commercial cooked diet. But how do you go about knowing whether the diet you are thinking of fits into that category? 

The Best Diet for Your Dog

The first thing to ask is, is the diet complete and balanced?

Complete and Balanced

A diet should have that written on the pack, and this is a protected term. A company can only include this term if the diet has indeed been shown to be complete and balanced. This means that it is a diet that can be fed by itself, with nothing else needed to meet all of your dog's requirements.

How do we know that a diet is complete and balanced? 

Diet analysis

There are various different ways that diets are tested. They can be tested:

  • Using AAFCO feeding trials

  • Testing of the diet against AAFCO nutrient profiles

  • Formulated to meet the required AAFCO nutrient profiles

The best technique to use is going to be when a diet is tested by feeding trials. Testing of the finished product comes next and finally comes formulated to meet the nutrient profiles. 

The reason for that is that when diets are prepared, cooked, and manufactured, it might be that there are changes made to the diet in that manufacturing process that mean the finished product is different from the nutrient profiles that went in to form it.

the best technique to use is when a dog diet is tested by feeding trials

Typical or Guaranteed minimum analysis

The next question we want to ask when we're trying to find the best diet to feed a dog is, can the manufacturers provide an average or a typical nutrient analysis rather than just guaranteeing a minimum analysis?

A minimum analysis means that the actual diet might be very different from what the dog food label is suggesting. The label is simply stating the minimum levels of a particula nutrient, but the actual levels of the diet as fed might be very different. 

This way of reporting  also suggests that the diet is really variable in how it is manufactured. The ingredients that go into it and the levels of those ingredients changes with time. You can’t then be certain that what is in one bag is going to be in another. They are just guaranteeing the minimum analysis.

What you want ideally is for the manufacturer to provide an average (or a typical) nutrient analysis. You will then know that the diet formulation is much more likely to be stable and very similar from one bag to the next. There's going to be very little, if any differences between batches.

Dog Food Ingredients

The next thing (or often the first thing!) that we naturally look at is the dog food ingredients.

The ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, and the high water content in chicken, beef, lamb and other meats makes these ingredients weigh more than dry ingredients like grains, meals, and vitamins. 

The meats are often listed first, as they should be. If they're not, then it's likely that there is little meat or a lot of different mixed meat sources that have gone into that diet.

Also, you need to be aware that different forms of the same ingredient may actually be split out into different ingredients. As a result, it might be made to look like the diet contains less of these ingredients than they actually do.

Examples here would be that wheat-germ meal, wheat bran, and wheat flour clearly all come from wheat, but by splitting it into those three different groups, it might be that they can go much lower down the list of ingredients.

That said, the main benefit of looking at ingredients is that, if you know that your dog has an allergy or an intolerance to a specific ingredient you can take steps to avoid it being found in their diet.

In a lot of cases, there's a lot of different words on that ingredient list that is quite difficult to know exactly what they all mean without having a big long encyclopedia in front of you that you can refer to those so that you know exactly what they mean.

Breed, Age and Lifestyle Appropriate

Next, you want to be choosing a diet that's right for the life stage and size of your dog.

Have you got a small breed dog or a large breed dog? Is your dog a puppy? Are they an adult? Are they a senior? Are they neutered? Are they active? Are they working?

These dogs are going to have different requirements based on their life stage and their activity levels. You need to feed them appropriately so that they are growing properly, maintaining their body weight, maintaining their muscle mass, and maybe too make sure that their organs are supported as well as they can be, certainly in senior animals.

Marketing

You also need to understand that some of the words written on packs are nothing more than marketing terms.

A lot of pet food comes down to marketing. Terms like “natural”, “holistic”, “hypoallergenic”, “premium”, and “human grade” are not protected terms. They don't mean anything. There is no proof of what goes into a diet that manufacturers have to provide to be able to use those terms.

It might be that it changes in the future, but at this stage, they are just marketing nonsense. Don't pay too much attention to them.

Variety

When it comes to feeding your dog, and the best food to feed your dog, you don't necessarily want to feed just one food.

You want to consider feeding a variety of different flavors, different formulations, and different types of wet food that come as chunks, broths, and mousses. Kibble with different biscuit size and shapes.

Feeding a variety means that if you do need to switch to a specific diet later on in life because your dog's got a specific condition, like kidney disease, then they are much more likely to accept a different flavor or a different diet type and formulation.

You can also add in some cooked meats and vegetables and other things for variety if you desire. That is absolutely fine. Treats and additions of any kind should though only make up less than about 10% of a dog's calorie intake. This is very important.

It is all too easy to overfeed fatty, energy-dense treats. Also, giving human foods like cheese or chips as treats is not ideal. These are really fatty and energy dense treats. They make the problem of obesity and being overweight much more likely and could also trigger problems such as pancreatitis. 

If you're interested in different treats that you can feed your dog, then check out my post all about rawhide and jerkey treats, along with some better alternatives.

Diets for Disease Treatment

Finally, as I've already touched on, if your dog does have a disease that would benefit from a specific diet then that should be the main guide in the best diet to feed your individual dog. This could be a skin disease, diabetes, kidney disease, or a number of other conditions where diet can play a big role in treatment.

This is something that you should absolutely be discussing with your veterinarian. They will know what the best options are, which one is most appropriate for your dog, and can talk to you about why that diet is important to be fed.

How Much to Feed

the biggest consideration with feeding your dog is feeding the right amount just as much as the specific diet you’re feeding

The final thing I'd like to say on the topic of the best diet to feed a dog is that I'd actually argue that the biggest consideration with feeding your dog, rather than the specific diet, is actually making sure that you are feeding the right amount

Obesity is a massive problem, and we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic in our pet dogs and cats. Well over 50% of dogs are overweight.

This is a huge problem, and it can knock years off a dog's life. It's been shown to shorten life expectancy by as much as two years. That is a huge percentage of a dog's life.

It also causes diseases like diabetes and arthritis, which can be absolutely crippling. Obesity has a massive impact on the dog's quality of life as well.

As well as feeding a high-quality diet to your dog, you also want to make sure that you are feeding the right amount so that they can be as healthy and as happy as possible.

Thinking about feeding raw instead? You need to check out this post all about raw diets vs kibble, and you can download the ebook for free:


The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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