Proper nutrition is as important for your dog’s health as it is for your own. A healthy diet, coupled with regular exercise, keeps your dog at his ideal weight and lowers the risk of serious health problems. Unfortunately, determining the best food for your dog can be bewildering.
A quick scan down the pet aisle at your local grocery store indicates just how confusing dog food decisions can be. Do you choose wet, dry or semi-moist food? What do terms like “holistic,” “natural” and “premium” mean? Should you avoid food made with animal by-products or grains?
Wet, Dry or Both?
The wet/dry dog food wars have waged for years, with each side claiming their product is superior to the others. The truth is somewhat more complicated.
All nutritional information being equal, moisture is the big difference between wet and dry food. Dry food typically has a moisture concentration of six to ten percent, while wet food contains up to 75 percent liquid. This means dry food typically contains more concentrated nutrients, so you can feed your dog less volume than you would with wet food.
Does this mean dry food is the better choice? Not necessarily. Because wet food has high moisture content, it’s a good choice to feed dogs who have urinary tract infections. Wet food is also a good choice to feed overweight dogs, who can eat enough volume to feel full without consuming an excessive amount of calories.
Dry food, formulated to prevent dental problems, can keep tarter from building up on your dog’s teeth. Many vets recommend avoiding wet food as it can stick to the teeth and cause dental issues. For dogs with existing dental problems, however, wet food is less painful to chew.
Natural, Organic and Premium Labeling
Many dog food labels claim to be natural, organic or premium. These labels suggest the food is of higher quality than other brands. This may be true, but as the FDA points out, products labeled as “premium” or “gourmet” are not legally required to contain higher quality ingredients, so it’s still important to read the ingredient list carefully.
“Natural” also lacks an official definition according to the FDA. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), however, has developed guidelines for products claiming to be natural. To bear the AAFCO seal of approval, the product claiming to be natural must avoid the use of artificial flavors, coloring or preservatives.
As for “organic,” the term refers to how plants or animals were raised. While there are guidelines for the use of organic labels on human food, at present the FDA reports no guidelines are available for labeling pet food as such, although the Department of Agriculture is working on regulations. A pet food may include organic products, but bear in mind the manufacturer’s definition of organic may not align with your assumptions.
Whether your dog food is wet or dry is often less important than the ingredients it contains. Like human food products, dog food lists ingredients in descending order of weight. Be aware, however, that simply trusting the ingredient list doesn’t give you the full story.
For instance, a dog food may list beef as the primary ingredient, then list wheat, wheat middlings and wheat flour. Add these three ingredients together, and you’ll find the amount of wheat products in the food outweighs the amount of beef.
Moisture content also plays a role. Chicken and poultry products, for instance, can contain up to 70 percent water, which is included in their weight. So while poultry products are listed first, “smaller” amounts of dry ingredients may actually make up more of the food ingredients once water is removed from the equation.
AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statements
Check all dog food for a nutritional adequacy statement issued by AAFCO. Dog food earns AAFCO nutritional standards in two ways. All food must meet the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile, either by comparing the recipe to the profile or through laboratory testing. Some food product testing is also conducted through feeding trials with real dogs. These feeding trials are monitored to ensure the dogs remain healthy when fed the product.
Foods that meet AAFCO standards and pass the feeding trials are generally a better choice than those that met AAFCO standards through laboratory analysis.
Choosing the Right Food
Ultimately, the right food for your pet is the one on which your dog thrives. If your dog has a healthy coat, isn’t over or underweight and has plenty of energy, you’re feeding him correctly. Look for food with the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement and one designed for your dog’s current stage of life: puppy, adult maintenance and senior diets are all available. Dog food designed for “all stages of life” can be fed to dogs from weaning to adulthood. Of course, consulting your vet for a food recommendation is always a wise move.