How to Evaluate Which Food Is Best for Your Dog
Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs
Good nutrition is as important to your dog's health as it is to your own. But his nutritional needs are quite different from yours! In general, while a human diet should be high in fiber and low in fat, a dog needs more fat (for energy and a healthy skin and coat) and less fiber (for good intestinal health).
Even if you prefer a vegetarian diet, designing a high-quality dog diet without animal protein is difficult. IAMS® Company research supports that meatless meals might not provide optimal nutrition for dogs. Dogs are best fed as carnivores because they have simple stomachs and short intestines that are ideal for digesting animal protein and animal fat. Dogs also need carbohydrates for energy.
Your Dog's Life Stage and Lifestyle
With thousands of different pet foods available, how do you pick the one that's right for your dog?
Start by identifying the dog's life stage and lifestyle. Puppies, nursing mothers, and mature pets each represent different life stages. And each one has different nutritional requirements. All dog foods must state the life stage for which they are recommended.
Nutritional needs also vary depending on lifestyle. A dog whose primary activity is guarding the couch doesn't need as much energy as one who guards a flock of sheep. Another factor to consider is breed size: small, medium, or large.
Finally, consider any medical condition your dog might have, such as food allergies, that might require your veterinarian to recommend a special diet.
Dry Dog Food or Wet?
Once you've determined your dog's life stage and lifestyle needs, you need to decide whether to feed him dry or canned food. Most dogs do well eating only dry food. Dry foods promote oral hygiene for healthy teeth and gums through abrasive chewing action. Some dogs, especially finicky eaters, enjoy wet food because of its smooth, wet texture.
It's important to remember that, while dry food can be left in a bowl all day, wet food should be thrown away after 30 minutes if not consumed. Dry food is the best choice for busy people who are not normally home during the day.
After you determine your pet's nutritional needs and preference, you are ready to go shopping.
Comparing Dog Food Labels
Ingredients are listed in descending order according to weight. Because dogs thrive on animal-based diets, it's best to pick a food that features an animal-based protein source, such as chicken, lamb, fish, or egg, as the first ingredient. Unlike a single-vegetable-based protein source, such as soybean meal or corn-gluten meal, animal-based protein sources contain adequate amounts of essential amino acids.
Scientific studies show that a combination of carbohydrates in the diet, such as corn meal or barley and grain sorghum, offers optimal carbohydrate digestibility and helps maintain energy levels. In addition, scientific studies show that beet pulp—the material remaining after sugar is extracted from sugar beets—is an excellent fiber source and promotes a healthy digestive tract. Finally, for a glossy coat and healthy skin, your pet needs fat in the diet. Good fat sources include chicken fat and fish oil.
Dog-food labels provide limited information about the nutritional value of the food because labeling regulations do not allow manufacturers to describe the quality of ingredients on the package.
A reputable pet-food manufacturer will be able to explain to you their specific methods for evaluating and assuring the quality of ingredients used in its products.
Dog-Food Price Comparison
When choosing food, the price on the bag, while important, is usually not the best consideration. A low price might indicate inexpensive ingredients, or ingredients that change as market prices fluctuate.
Also, many lower-priced products have higher daily portions to provide the same amount of nutrition found in a high-quality diet. To get a better representation of value, it is the cost per feeding, not the total cost, that counts.
To figure cost per feeding, divide the total cost by the number of days the product lasts. For example, a 20-lb bag of food costs $18.99 and lasts 30 days. The cost to feed is $0.63 per day. A 20-lb bag of food that costs $15.99 and lasts 20 days costs $0.80 per day. So, when costs are analyzed properly, high-quality pet foods compare quite favorably to other brands while offering outstanding nutrition.