Is there any subject more likely to stir debate among dog owners than dog food? Well, maybe a few, but dog food is certainly one of the most discussed topics. Everyone has an opinion, or they are seeking an opinion. Even if you have been feeding your dog the same dog food for years, you’re probably interested in finding out what other people feed their dogs and what they think of different dog foods.
According to the pet industry experts at Packaged Facts (a division of MarketResearch.com) in the U.S. Pet Market Outlook, 2013-2014, Americans spent $22.62 billion on pet food in 2014. More owners are also willing to buy super premium pet foods today instead of grocery store brands.
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The fastest growth area in dog food sales today is in frozen and refrigerated dog food which grew 27.3 percent between July 2013 and July 2014. Many brands in this category are meat-based or geared toward customers who feed a raw food diet to their dogs. These foods often tend to be quite expensive but some owners are willing to pay more for the quality and convenience of feeding a prepared raw diet.
Overall, kibble sales are down slightly, but that includes the value brands. Premium and super premium kibbles are still very popular and experiencing good growth.
With the growth in premium and “super premium” dog food sales, experts say that the market is becoming saturated with foods claiming to be super premium and natural. Companies are looking for more and more ways to distinguish their foods and attract customers. You can now buy dog foods that are:
- Gluten free >
- Grain free >
- Limited ingredient >
- Low protein >
- High protein >
- Low Residue >
- Low fat >
- Low calorie >
- Sensitive skin/stomach >
- Tartar control >
- Vegan >
- Diabetic >
- Prescription >
- Adult >
- Senior >
- Super Premium >
Foods come in kibble, canned and pouch (stews, chunks, all-meat), and dog food rolls. There are frozen, refrigerated, and dehydrated foods. And there are foods for dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds. Not to mention prescription diets from Hills/Science Diet, Purina, and Royal Canin.
Choosing the best dog food for your dog can be confusing, at best! How are you supposed to decide which food to buy for your dog when you are faced with so many choices? Dog food companies create new foods all the time and they often change the ingredients of their current foods. It’s hard to know what to feed your dog from month to month.
Without sounding too immodest, this is where we can help you. Our information about dog food and our dog food reviews can help you select the best food for your dog. We can show you what to look for on dog food labels, how to figure how many calories your dog needs, and which ingredients are good/better/best (and which ones to avoid). There is a lot of hype and gimmickry in the dog food world today and we can help you see through it.
Choosing the best dog food for your dog
So, how do you go about choosing the best dog food for your dog when there are so many choices? Especially when so many different people and web sites are offering opinions? We suggest that you choose a food based on what your dog actually needs. While people have different opinions about veterinarians and how much they know about nutrition and dog food, we think it’s important for you to know about your dog’s health situation when you are selecting the best food. If your dog passes his regular check-up with flying colors and you don’t notice any health issues at home, then you should be able to choose from most good quality dog foods without having to buy a food made for particular problems. On the other hand, if your vet finds a problem or if you notice a genuine problem at home, you can follow up on it. Then you will know if your dog needs to eat a special kind of food.
The catch here is that many dog owners believe – as dog food companies want them to believe – that buying special food and spending more money is a way to prove that they love their dog more. This is not true. This is simply a way for companies to encourage owners to spend more money out of guilt. If your dog is healthy and doesn’t need a certain kind of diet, there is no particular reason why you should feel compelled to buy the food. In fact, feeding some special diets can be harmful to your dog.
We like good quality dog food with good quality ingredients. However, there are a lot of dog foods with good reputations that are happy to sell you food that is not as good as you think it is just because they have come up with a new way to market it to you. For example, you may have heard that you should avoid dog foods that contain corn and wheat. But many of the foods that don’t contain corn and wheat are full of garbanzo beans and field peas. Do you really feel better about feeding your dog those ingredients?
Here are the things we recommend when choosing a food for your dog:
- Have your veterinarian assess your dog’s health to see if he has any special needs;
- Know what kind of food your dog needs for his age and energy requirements;
- Learn to read dog food labels;
- Investigate brands that interest you;
- Check the ingredients of foods you are considering.
Know your dog’s needs
We’ve already mentioned how your veterinarian can help you determine if your dog needs a special food. If your dog has any health problems or if he is getting older, you will need to consider dog foods made for these issues. Dogs that are overweight or obese may benefit from weight control diets, and so on. In most cases you can find an appropriate dog food at your local pet store or from an agent who sells a particular dog food; or purchase the food online or directly from the pet food company. In some cases you may need to buy a prescription diet.
You’ll also need to consider your dog’s age and energy requirements. Puppies have different needs than adult dogs. Likewise, mature dogs have different needs from senior dogs. If you have a large or giant breed, especially a puppy, you will need to look for a special food made for these dogs to help avoid problems with skeletal growth, joints, and arthritis later in life. Working dogs and very active dogs, such as hunting dogs, use up more energy than dogs that are couch potatoes. Small breed dogs use up more calories per pound than larger dogs which is why dog food companies often make formulas for small breeds. But be sure to check the labels – sometimes companies sell small breed formulas but they don’t have more calories per ounce.
Dog food labels
Learning to read dog food labels is one of the most important things you can do as a dog owner. It will help you make good decisions for your dog when you are choosing dog food. By law pet food labels are required to include certain information:
- The brand and product name
- The name of the species the product is intended for (dog)
- Quantity statement (net weight or net volume)
- Guaranteed analysis (The minimum percent of crude protein and crude fat, and the maximum percent of crude fiber and moisture are always required; other nutrients are voluntary or must be included to support claims made on the labeling)
- Ingredients (listed in order of predominance by weight)
- Nutritional adequacy statement (complete and balanced for a particular life stage – unless identified as a snack, treat, or supplement)
- Feeding directions
- Name and address of manufacturer or distributor
Some dog foods will also include calories and other information but this is not yet required. Read about labeling requirements here.
As a dog owner the parts of the label that are normally of most concern are the guaranteed analysis, ingredients, and nutritional adequacy statement. The guaranteed analysis will provide you with information about the protein, fat, fiber, and moisture in the food. It lets you compare kibble to kibble, kibble to canned food, or one canned food to another, for example.
You can subtract the moisture from any dog food, then do a little math and make comparisons. Or, you can find a handy pet food calculator online, like this one, to allow you to come up with the figures. You are figuring the Dry Matter Basis of the food here. You can also figure carbohydrates and other nutrients in the food.
Different dogs will require different percentages of protein and fat. The protein and fat requirements for dogs look something like this:
|Species and Growth Stage||Recommended Protein||Recommended Fat|
|Racing Dog||28-34%||Greater than 50%|
|Lactating Dog||25-35%||Greater or equal to 20%|
These requirements are based on the Nutritional Requirements of Dogs (NRC) and AAFCO requirements*.
*Note that there is currently some debate over the latest edition of the NRC nutrient requirements for protein and fat and there will probably be changes in these recommendations in the near future.
Most kibbles list a fiber percentage between about 4 and 5.5 percent on the label.
The ingredients in dog food often require some investigation. Do not take them at face value. Pet food ingredients have specific meanings according to the Food and Drug Administration and AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials). If you want to know what “chicken” means, that is the place to look. You may think you know what chicken is, but chicken in dog food means: “The clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of chicken or combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet, and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If the bone has been removed, the process may be so designated by use of the appropriate feed term.” You can also have deboned chicken, chicken meal, and other parts of the chicken. So, just because you see “chicken” listed in the ingredients doesn’t mean your dog is getting the same thing you would eat on your plate. The same is true of a lot of ingredients. Which brings up the subject of “human grade” and other topics which are best left for another time.
Nutritional adequacy statement
The final thing that you need to know about as someone who is trying to buy a good dog food is the nutritional adequacy statement. There are basically three of these statements that may be found on dog food:
- All life stages
- Adult maintenance
- Growth/gestation and lactation (these are technically two different stages but they are usually combined)
Dog foods are labeled “complete and balanced” for one of these life stages based either on feeding trials or nutritional profiles (chemical analyses), assuming they meet the criteria. Not all dog foods pass the protocols. All life stage dog food can be fed to puppies and dogs of all ages, including pregnant females. Adult maintenance dog food is approved for adult dogs. Growth/gestation and lactation dog food is for puppies and pregnant female dogs.
The protocols for the feeding trials and the nutritional profiles are made by AAFCO. Some people are critical of the protocols, including the feeding trials, on the basis that they are not strict enough. However, they are the only tests we have, so they are better than nothing. For the most part, the large dog food companies use feeding trials and the smaller, independent dog food companies use nutritional profiles to gain AAFCO approval. This is because feeding trials, which can last several months, with dogs and paid staff, are expensive. Nutritional profiles are less expensive.
If you learn to read dog food labels and then investigate brands and ingredients, you should be able to choose some dog foods that are suitable for your dog. The best advice we can offer is to try to keep things simple: keep the food simple, with simpler ingredients, and fewer marketing gimmicks. Good luck!.