What’s the Best Food for My Dog?

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Let’s talk about dog food.  There is a lot of debate around what to feed your dog.  Do you feed commercial food, raw food, wet vs. dry, nutrition and safety in food, etc…?  Like much of the news today, it’s hard to tell who to listen to.

Dogs need the right combination of protein, fat, and fiber, in addition to vitamins in order to be healthy.  They also need proper hydration There are two agencies that regulate what goes into pet foods. The first one is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).  The other is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The AAFCO determines what the proper nutrients are for various pet foods. The FDA determines the quality of the ingredients in the foods.  

The problem is that quality can be subjective.  Remember when ketchup was considered a vegetable in school lunches?  We know there are “good” fats and “bad” fats. Because your food shows it has the right amount of fat, does that mean it also has the right type? It’s important to make sure your pet is getting the best ingredients and not a lot of filler in place of nutrition.

Commercial foods, in theory, are nutritionally balanced to provide your dog with everything they need.  In reality, there are recalls almost daily for all kinds of harmful things. Many of them also use low-quality products and have food dyes and other ingredients that can be harmful over time.  

There’s also the question of wet vs. dry.  Just like us, not all dogs drink enough water and wet food actually provides a good source of hydration. Some say that wet food causes dental problems, but when dry and wet are mixed it actually helps keep their teeth and gums healthy.

The key to feeding healthy commercial food, whether wet, dry, or a mixture, is to buy the best quality food you can afford.  The most expensive brand is not necessarily the best and the cheapest is not necessarily the worst. Read the ingredients and look for words you can understand.  The first ingredient should be a protein that you recognize, such as chicken, beef, veal, etc…

I’m not endorsing or calling out any particular brands, but I want to show the difference in ingredients from a great food, an average food, and a poor one so you can see the difference in ingredients, and have a good idea of what to look for.

This first example shows an ingredient list is from a very popular dry food.  This should be considered an average food; not the best but also not the worst.  It starts out with chicken as its main ingredient, and that’s great. You want your ingredient list to begin with a pure protein.  However, they also have several types of “meal” items listed, along with by-products, artificial coloring, and list “animal digest” as an ingredient.  This is where they go wrong. “By-products” can be all kinds of things from bone, to feathers and hair, to the remains from the digestive tract of the protein source used.  The official definition of a by-product is anything remaining after the meat is removed. Animal digest is “clean” animal tissue that hasn’t undergone decomposition. This brand does have a strong list of vitamins.  

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The next example is an ingredient list of a very poor quality food. This food has no actual meat listed.  The first ingredient is ground corn and then several types of meal and fat. There are some vitamins and minerals, but there is also artificial coloring.  This type of food should be avoided.

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This last example is a top choice.  It lists chicken as its first ingredient and, although it lists meal and fat, it identifies the type of fat and has higher quality meals than the other brands.  They also have many fruits and vegetables in this recipe along with vitamins and minerals. This is a food I would recommend if I were providing brand names.

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The raw food movement has become popular with pet owners due to all the chemicals, poor ingredients, and dangerous recalls in commercial dog foods.  Some other reasons to switch to raw food can be health-related, such as food allergies, illness, old age, etc…

There are pros and cons to feeding raw just as there are to feeding different brands of commercial food.  Most people know that feeding table scraps or “people food” isn’t good for dogs and should only be done occasionally.  One of the reasons for this is because of the poor ingredients we put into our own foods and bodies. Additionally, we eat some foods that are dangerous for dogs.  

If you are going to consider feeding your dog on a raw diet, it’s important to have a good understanding of nutrition and what is required for the breed and age of your dog.  Most experts agree that if you do decide to feed raw, adding a multivitamin to your dog’s diet is a must to ensure they are getting everything they need to stay healthy.

Of course, you want to start with a good, quality meat source.  Ground beef and chicken are two good options. You will also need a variety of vegetables, fruits, and grains that are safe for your dog and provide vitamins that they need.  The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers a list on their website.  This is not an all-inclusive list, but it shows some common foods. Top Dog Tips offers a lot of great recipes to give your dog variety.  You can make these up in advance and freeze portions for easy serving.

Although I’m recommending Top Dog Tips for their recipes, I disagree with their comment about avoiding garlic. There is a lot of debate in the dog world about whether or not garlic is good or dangerous for your dog.  I agree with the belief that they are good for repelling fleas and ticks and are safe in small amounts.

A cost comparison shows that making your own food is only pennies more than buying commercial food.  However, that requires looking for sale prices, using coupons, and shopping around. There is also the prep and cooking times to consider.  Raw food requires both time and commitment. The other option is to offer your dog a combination of the two or supplement commercial food with toppers of protein and other foods.  

People have very strong opinions about using commercial foods, wet or dry, or going with the raw option.  To me, the bottom line is making sure your pet is getting all of the nutrition they are supposed to for their health in a way you can afford and feel good about.