Your friends and family might call you “crazy,” but you know your dog deserves the best. His diet is a big part of his health and happiness, and most importantly, you know he’s relying on you to make smart choices for him. It’s a big responsibility, and it seems dog food manufacturers are determined to make you pull your hair out with frustration.
Picking the best dog food for your furry family isn’t as easy as you want it to be. You need a food that will provide all the necessary nutrients to keep your dog active, make his fur shiny, keep his eyes clear, and maintain good digestion. You need all that, AND you need it to fit in your budget. That’s a tall order even for the most dedicated pup parent, but we’re here to help. If you’re in the market for the best dog food, start with these five tips.
- Consider Your Dog’s Breed, Activity Level, and Age
How many calories your dog needs and the specific nutrients that benefit him most will depend on his physical characteristics. Separating dog food into puppy, adult dog, and senior, is no marketing ploy. These different recipes are designed for the specific needs of a dog’s life cycle. Puppies, for example, need more calories than senior dogs. The same goes for dogs that love to run and play versus dogs that prefer to spend their time on the couch. Gauge your dog’s energy level and consider where they are in their life, and choose a dog food that offers the appropriate amount of calories. Here’s a quick resource to determine how many calories a day your dog needs.
While you’re paying attention to your dog’s age and activity level, don’t forget to consider his size. Large breeds are prone to joint issues, and large breed puppies are at risk of growing so fast their bones don’t develop correctly. The best dog food for large and giant breed puppies is one that is slightly less energy dense than regular puppy food. This ensures the puppy’s bones grow at an appropriate rate. Small breed dog food, on the other hand, supports the fast metabolism of small dogs, and the kibble size is smaller.
- Look for the Words “Complete and Balanced”
The Association of American Feed Control Officials enforces strict regulations when it comes to claiming a dog food is “complete and balanced” For this reason, you can trust that if you see those words on your dog food bag, that food has everything it needs to be a dog’s sole source of nourishment. This alone, however, doesn’t mean it’s the best food for your dog. It simply means it has the basics of what your dog needs.
These complete and balanced diets are based on the AAFCO’s nutrient profile. The canine nutrient profile is a list of all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients dogs need on a daily basis to meet minimum health requirements. Each nutrient has both a minimum and a maximum. To earn the “complete and balanced” badge, a dog food must include every nutrient on the list and be within the healthy range. It’s important to remember, however, the nutrient profile is based off an average dog, and there is room for variation. If you have specific concerns about a dog food, it’s always best to contact the company. The best dog food companies will be happy to break down their product label for you.
- Don’t Put Too Much Stock in Grain-Free
For awhile, grain-free dog food was the biggest trend in the pet-verse. Basically, everyone avoided grains like the plague because someone somewhere said they should. It turns out, that someone was an expert in marketing. Jennifer Larsen, a nutritionist at the University of California Veterinary School in Davis said,
“Grain-free is definitely a marketing technique that has been very successful. They’re buying an idea.”
The idea so many pet parents have bought into is that if there are a lot of exclusions on the bag, that food is automatically healthy. But the truth is, there is no scientific evidence that says grain-free is better for dogs. Dogs are perfectly capable of digesting high-quality grains. In fact, when grains are replaced with things like starch from potatoes, the food is automatically made higher in fat. By cutting those grains, the food is more likely to lead to weight gain than anything else.
The bottom line is, unless your dog is allergic to grains, don’t worry about finding a grain-free dog food. Many of the best dog foods include high-quality grains like rolled oats or quinoa.
- Learn to Recognize Red Flag Ingredients
If the list of ingredients is full of words you can’t pronounce or have never heard of, there’s a good chance they’re not part of your dog’s ideal diet. Certain dog food companies love to fill their food with cheap ingredients that barely meet the minimum nutritional requirements. These types of food might be best for your budget, but they’re definitely not best for your dog.
There are several common dog food ingredients that should be avoided at all costs. It’s best to memorize the list so there’s no guessing while you’re standing in the dog food aisle. Red flag ingredients include BHA, BHT, by-product, corn gluten, corn syrup, soy, white flour, and any kind of artificial coloring. Check out this article for explanations of what these ingredients are and why they’re bad for your dog.
- Check Where the Fat is Coming From
Fat is an important part of a dog’s diet, and you shouldn’t avoid it. Your dog uses fat every time he gets up to run, jump, or trudge through a mud puddle. There are, however, different kinds of fat. The good fats you want to see on the back of your dog food bag are the ones that come from named sources. Beef fat, pork fat, chicken fat, or even coconut oil are all good fats. Anything that’s labeled as “rendered fat” or “animal fat” is considered one of those red flag ingredients we talked about above.
These unnamed fats are complete mysteries, and you have no idea where they actually come from. For all you know, the fat could be from dead zoo animals or euthanized pets--both are common practices for low-quality pet food manufacturers. There’s a higher risk of the food having toxins and unknown chemicals when you don’t know where it comes from. It’s a risk not worth taking, and it’s best to avoid unnamed fats at all costs.