How To Choose A Healthy Dog Food

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A lot of us choose to adopt a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet. We try to eat more vegetables and check the ingredients of products that we buy for our family. But what about our four-legged friends? What should we choose to make sure our beloved pups are growing healthy and happy? Here are some useful ideas that will help you choose the right dog food for your pup.

Our diet vs. their diet

Just like humans, our pets need essential nutrients in their diet. These should contain the right amount of energy, fats, vitamins, protein and minerals. The amount of required nutrients will depend on the size of your dog, its lifestyle and age. A small puppy will need a different mix of vitamins than an adult dog or an older dog.

Humans and dogs are omnivores, which means they can eat a variety of foods from both plant and animal origin. However, we have to remember that dogs absorb and process nutrients differently from us. That means that not all meals that are good for humans will necessarily be healthy for dogs.

Some pet owners decide to prepare homemade meals for their pups in an effort to avoid processed food. When choosing this type of diet, however, we have to remember that our needs are different than theirs. Dogs do need protein, but their diet can’t be limited to just protein alone. Our four-legged friends also need vitamins and minerals too. Their diet might be slightly different than humans, so we have to remember that if we’re cooking their meals at home, we need to make sure to provide all needed nutrients.

What foods are bad to give to dogs?

Some things that we love eating should never be given to our pets. That’s why our leftover dinner may not always be a good meal for our four-legged friend. Check out the things that your dog has to avoid:

  • Chocolate: This delicious snack contains a chemical called theobromine. This can easily be digested by humans, but takes much longer to digest for dogs, causing a buildup of toxins in their system. A small amount of chocolate may cause vomiting and diarrhea, but if a dog eats a lot of chocolate then it can cause seizures, internal bleeding, muscle tremors or potentially even a heart attack.
  • Onions, garlic, chives: These contain N-propyl disulfide, which is a toxic principle that causes a breakdown of red blood cells. When dogs consume veggies and herbs from the allium family (chives, leeks, shallots) they can develop anaemia over time. We need to remember that even onion powder can be toxic for our pups, which is an ingredient in many foods like soups, sauces, and even baby foods.
  • Grapes and raisins: Scientists and vets advise to not feed grapes to our pets as they can cause kidney failure. It is still unknown what causes the harm, however, it is certain these fruits have to be avoided.
  • Nuts: Not all nuts are toxic for dogs, but as a food group they are high in fat, oils and calories, all of which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. Peanuts and cashews can be safe in small amounts, but they shouldn’t be a part of a regular diet for dogs. We should also remember that macadamia nuts, which are found in many snacks like cookies, are toxic for our pups and can be very harmful. Even just a small amount of macadamia nuts can cause vomiting, ataxia, weakness, hyperthermia, and depression.
  • Avocados: We love a good smashed avo, but it’s not a great choice for our dogs as avocados can damage their heart, lungs, and body tissues. Luckily, the effect is usually mild for dogs, but it’s still better to leave avocados out of our pup’s diet.
  • Alcohol: Even a small amount of alcohol can be poisonous for dogs and cause alcohol intoxication, which can lead to vomiting, high body temperature and seizures. We need to remember that these kinds of problems don’t only happen if a dog consumes a bit of wine or beer, but that alcohol is also a part of some syrups or even raw bread doughs.

Is wet or dry food better for dogs?

Supermarkets offer plenty of dog food options. So, if we don’t feel confident enough to cook for our pupps, we can easily buy some products for them. But first of all, we need to decide on what type of food we’ll feed our dog with.

  • Dry dog food: Is a slightly more convenient choice for all pet owners, as you can buy a bulk bag and it can last longer. Moreover, you can simply fill your pet’s bowl and the food can be eaten anytime. We also don’t need to worry about a mess in our house, as unlike the wet food, the dry one doesn’t spill and is much easier to clean.
    What’s important for many pet owners, this type of food is cheaper than other selections. Dry kibbles have high energy content, which means that you don’t need a big amount of food to meet a dog’s needs. Therefore, the option is definitely a better choice for the environment, as we use less packaging.
    Dry food is also a convenient training treat and a dental health supplement, as it’s consistency helps to clean a dog’s teeth when it chews the food.
  • Wet dog food: Is a great choice for the dogs that don’t drink enough water. Because of its high water content, it is a great source of hydration. Moreover, our pups can enjoy their meal a bit more, since the canned food is rich in flavour and scent.
    Wet food is also recommended for dogs with the tendency to become overweight, as each portion has a lower energy content compared to the dry food option. Moreover, the owners of older dogs might choose canned food, as it’s softer and easier to digest.

Is dog food regulated in Australia?

Regardless of whether we choose dry or wet dog food or if we simply prepare their meals at home, we need to make sure that we give them enough nutrients to. Pet food industry in Australia has voluntary guidelines for manufacturers set by Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA).

PFIAA states what should be printed on the product, like the recommended serving size according to the dog’s age, weight and lifestyle. More details regarding labeling guidelines for dog food you can find on PFIAA website.

daily feeding guide

Source

In regards to the amount of nutrients required in food depending on the dog’s size, age and lifestyle, Australian food manufacturers also follow national guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Some dog food brands put the sticker on their boxes with the logo of the AAFCO meaning that their products meet the minimal nutritional needs for your dog. However, we can’t rely only on the AAFCO standards, as these are only guidelines that sometimes can be met by using supplements to the main ingredients, which is not the same as good quality ones.

How to read dog food labels?

PFIAA gives guidance to dog food manufacturers about the list of ingredients of the dog food. Just like in the case of products for humans, the dominant ingredients are listed first. There should also be information regarding the amount of nutrients compared to the healthy balanced diet.

balancaed dog diet

However, just as in processed food that we buy in supermarkets for our family, we need to remember to focus more when reading ingredient lists.

In the case of dry animal food, the order of ingredients is often determined prior to processing. After turning the product into dry kibble the proportions of meat and grain can be significantly different. For example, when 2 kg of fresh chicken and 1.5 kg of wheat is used for a dry food meal, the meat will be listed first on the ingredient list. Then, the meat is dried and 80% of its mass is released. As a result, in the end product, we will have 400 g of meat. Wheat, of course, is still 1500 g. When we read the label, the meat is still the first in the composition – because it was established before processing.This means that our “delicious chicken and rice dog food” can have much less chicken than we think.

Moreover, food manufacturers use little tricks to hide the amount of ingredients of the same group. For example, grain can be splitted between corn flour, rice, cornmeal etc., after adding them, the meal can consist of much more grain than meat.
It is also important to focus not only on the first ingredient but also the ones that are listed further. The first 3 ingredients should be meat-based. It can be written as meat (not chicken, not Mechanically Separated Meat (MSM)).

We also need to remember, that if grains are the majority of the first 5 ingredients, then this type of food is not suitable – it contains too many carbohydrates. For us, complex carbohydrates are great, but there cannot be too many of them in a dog’s diet.
If the first five ingredients of the dog’s food contain mostly meat – take it!

How do you read and interpret dog food labels?

Reading the labels is important, but we also need to understand what they mean. You can check the guidelines of each ingredient on the AAFCO website.

Here are some of the examples of ingredients that may occur on the labels with their definitions from AAFCO:

  • Meat: As the AAFCO defines: “it is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that part which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and portions of the skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh” – this can be raw meat sold also for human consumption, or the cuts that are less appealing, it does not include bones.
  • Meat by-products: These are the clean parts, other than meat. This can be lungs, brains, kidneys, livers, blood, bones etc. coming from slaughtered mammals. According to the guidelines, if the byproducts are not derived from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats, the manufacturer needs to specify the origin of the byproduct.
  • Meat Meal: As the AAFCO describes, it is a rendered product from mammal tissues, without any added elements like blood, hair, horns, stomach, hide trimmings. Moreover, the meat meal can come from any other animal than cattle, pigs, sheep or got and it doesn’t have to be specified, however, some manufacturers may give more details.

Quality comes with the price

When we go shopping for various products, the better quality ones are usually more expensive. It is not different from dog food. When we buy the cheapest product, we can’t expect the best quality ingredients. However, not always the most expensive dog food is the best. Therefore, it is important to check the labels and read the ingredient list with understanding.

Looks can be deceiving

We all buy and eat with our eyes. We choose products that look better and have a nice packaging. As we all know, we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. In the case of dog food, we should judge the products by its label with the ingredients list. A nice puppy on the box can bring our attention, but what’s inside the box should matter to us.

Sometimes we can also judge the looks of the food itself. Pretty round dry kibbles are not always the best choice. Just like in the case of fruit and veggies, the tasty and healthy ones can sometimes be a bit less appealing than a great looking but less flavoured ones.

Things to remember

To summarize, there is no perfect answer to what food should be chosen for our pupps. If we simply follow some guidelines, our four-legged friends will grow healthy and happy:

  • A balanced diet of people may be a bit different than a dog’s one.
  • Remember that some of the products can be harmful for a dog’s health. Therefore, when preparing home meals, not all things we like can be given to your pulp.
  • Read the labels and try to understand them. Don’t forget that some manufacturers can hide the real amount of ingredients in a tricky way.
  • If you are not sure about the type of food for your dog, consult with the vet.
  • Don’t be focused only on the packaging, what’s inside matters.

Join the Conversation

Your note:

  1. 5 stars
    Great article. I’ve always thought that not giving a chocolate to dogs was a myth, however I’ve never done that by myself of course!

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