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What is the Best Dog Food?

How to Choose the Right Dog Food For Your Dog

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Dogs are not just pets, they're family members. We pamper them, love them and as dog owners, we always want what is best for them. Caring for your dog starts with what you feed them. Good nourishment is important, but with today's wide assortment of dog food products, it can sometimes be difficult to choose the proper food for your dog.


Choose the Best Dog Food

Reasons for Dog Ownership (#1 in Infographic)

So how many people own a dog you ask? In the U.S. alone, approximately 62 percent of people own a pet. According to the ASPCA, 78.2 million dogs are owned in the United States. While there are many reasons to own a dog, 49% of the population adopts a dog for companionship and 43% of people choose to adopt a dog for protection.


Pet Spending in U.S. (#2 in Infographic)

In 2010, U.S. pet food spending totaled $18.76 billion. In 2011 pet food spending increased to $19.85 billion and is estimated to increase to $20.46 billion. Since so much money is being spent on pet food, it is important to understand exactly what you are buying and if it is really doing as much for your dog as you think.


Caution - Dog Owners Beware! (#3 in Infographic)

As you may have heard, many dog food brands have been recalled within the last year. Approximately 270 dog food products have been taken off the shelves for a variety of reasons, the most recent being salmonella contamination. Other reasons for recalls include, incorrect packaging, errors in labeling and issues with the ingredients.


Salmonella not only affects dogs, it affects humans too. So far, 49 cases of human salmonella infections from handling dog food have been reported this year. As a dog owner, I bet you are wondering what you can do to avoid getting salmonella. The answer is simple; wash your hands after handling your dog's food and store your dog's food properly.


Proper Dog Food Storage

Many people do not realize the consequences of not properly storing your dog's food. The moment you open the bag, the food is exposed to a variety of contaminants, which can cause your dog to become ill. Since 31% of the doggie population consumes dry dog food, the best way to store your dog's food is to transfer it from the bag to an airtight container. You should keep the food in a location that is not exposed to extreme temperatures. This also can cause the food to grow bacteria, mold, and attract unwanted pests such as ants, storage mites and mice.

To check and see if you dog food has been recalled, do your research!
View this complete list of the most recent recalls: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/newpetfoodrecalls/


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Types of Dog Food (#4 in Infographic)

There are numerous types of dog food offered on the market today. They can be categorized into commercial, organic, natural and homemade. These types of food can also come in different formulas such as dry or wet food. Thirty-one percent (31%) of dogs consume dry dog food while only 2% consume solely wet food. Thirteen percent (13%) of dogs eat both wet and dry food and 25% of dogs eat homemade dog food. Unfortunately, 25% of dogs eat left over table scraps, human food, and other items that don't fall into any of the above categories.


Homemade Dog Food

Homemade dog food is only as good as you make it. The benefit is that you choose the ingredients being put into your dog's food – and you aren't likely to have any meat that isn't "human grade". In general, dog food should be made up of one-third protein (meat, eggs, and dairy products) and two-thirds grains and vegetables. Homemade dog food does not mean throwing together table scraps and serving it to your pup. There must to be nutritional value in the ingredients included in your homemade food. The best practice when switching to a homemade diet is to gradually introduce your dog to the new food by mixing increasing amounts of your dog's new food with smaller amounts of the old food over a week. It is recommended to vary the basic ingredients in order to provide variety and avoid possible nutritional imbalances. Homemade dog food can provide several benefits and can be necessary should your dog suffer from food allergies or certain types of medical conditions. This is also a way to ensure that your dog avoids additives, chemicals, and by-products in their diet without paying for organic dog food.


Organic Dog Food

Organic dog food is another option that you can buy. Organic refers to the actual processing of the product and not the quality, though some maintenance of natural quality is implied in the term. Organic ingredients are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The protein in organic pet food would likely come from a "natural" source (animals aren't classified as organic, they are classified as natural). A natural raised animal would have been fed organic feed, and would not have had any unnatural use of antibiotics, or any use growth hormones to speed the process of growth and development. This is where the implied quality comes from – this type of food is partially of completely absent the chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and other elements that can be found in commercially processed dog foods. Whether these elements are detrimental to animals, or have any noticeable or measurable impact is up for debate. Also, organic processing may or may not consist of high heat, which, organic enthusiasts believe, kills vital nutrients present in the food. Of the $15 billion in pet food sales in the U.S. last year, about $14 million was spent on organic pet food.


Organic food can be divided into three categories:

  • "100% Organic" - contain 100 percent organically produced ingredients.
  • "Organic"- contain at least 95% organic ingredients.
  • "Made With Organic Ingredients" - contain at least 70% organic ingredients.


"Natural" Dog Food

One type of dog food is that food termed "natural" or "all natural" dog food. All natural dog food does not use artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. It is important to understand that a dog food labeled as "natural" isn't always organic. However an organic dog food will always be natural.


Commercial Dog Food

The most popular type of dog food is commercial dog food. While commercial dog food isn't all unhealthy for your dog, there are some commercial dog foods that use low quality ingredients to reduce the cost to produce their dog food. However, there are complete and well-balanced brands to meet your dog's nutritional needs.

We are not taking a stance for or against any natural, organic or commercial brands of dog food in this article, we simply want to teach you to read your dog food packaging correctly, and to know what to look for to give your pet the best food you can.


Below is a chart to illustrate the differences between organic, natural and commercial dog foods.

High Heat & Extrusion Food Processing Yes Maybe Maybe
Antibiotics Yes Maybe No
Herbicides Yes Maybe No
Pesticides Yes Maybe No
Human-grade Meats No Maybe Yes
Animal Byproducts (blood, waste, "meal") Yes No No
Artificial Colors Yes No No
Chemical Preservatives Yes No No
"Filler" Foods (Cheap carbohydrate-rich added food. Includes poor carbohydrates like sugar and corn syrup) Yes No No
Genetic Modification Yes No No
Grain Quality (nutritional value and healthy elements) Low High High
Meat Quality (nutritional value and healthy elements) Low High High
Vitamin and Mineral Content Low High High
(You get what you pay for)
Less expensive As low as half the cost of organic dog food. More expensive:
Up to twice as much as commercial.
Availability Abundant Can be limited Can be limited
Alternatives Natural, organic and human food are all better "organic" and "human" food are better "human" food is better (until pet food is more strictly regulated – see below)
Source: http://www.organic-pet-digest.com/natural-organic-dog-food.html

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As you can see, the organic dog food is the only food that is guaranteed to use human grade meats and provides an exceptional amount of vitamins, minerals and no byproducts, pesticides or chemical preservatives. The manufacturer of the dog food determines the ingredients found in natural dog food, and, while commercial dog food may not contain high levels of nutrients, it meets all the standards set forth by AAFCO and is the least expensive option.


All dog food packaging must have the three required sections below.

Here are a few pointers on what to look for when shopping:


Section 1: Brand and Product Name

Commercial dog food typically has the products name and display on the front of the bag while the ingredient details are on the back. The name of the food provides the first indication of the food's content. How ingredients are included in the products name depends on the percentage of that ingredient in the food and its description.

The 95% Rule
The "95% rule" indicates the meat ingredient is listed first in the product name and also that the product contains at least 95% of the named meat on the label, excluding water and preservatives. If more than one meat product is included in the product name, these ingredients combined must total 95% of the product. The first meat listed should have a higher percentage than the rest. For example, if the product name is "Chicken and Rice" the product must contain 95% chicken.

The "Dinner" or "25%" Rule
This rule states that the meat ingredient or a combination of meat ingredients must total at least 25% and not more than 95% of the weight of the product. Also a variety of descriptive phrases such as "entrée", "platter", "recipe" and "formula" will follow the named meat ingredient. For example, the name "Chicken and Beef Entrée" indicates these two ingredients must make up 25% of the product. In this case, there would be more chicken than beef in this product.

The "With" or "3%" Rule
The "With" or "3% rule" signifies that the product can contain no less than 3% of the meat ingredient. Example, "Dog Food with Chicken".

The "Flavor" Rule
If you see the word flavor in the same size font and color as the ingredient name, this means that the manufacturer is not required to have any actual meat in the product. For example, "Chicken Flavored Dog Food". In this case the dog food ingredients can be anything from actual chicken to chicken-by-product, chicken stock, etc.


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Section 2: Ingredients List (#7 in Infographic)

Order of Ingredients - Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. It is important to study the dog food label and be sure to look at all the ingredients that are listed before the first source of fat, as these are the main components in the food. The best commercial dog foods tend to have 10 or more quality ingredients before listing a fat source.

The best thing you can give your dog is protein, which can be found in a quality meat product. When you look at the label, look for the position of the first listed meat ingredient. If the dog food brand lists vague meat products without mentioning a specific animal, such as "Meat Meal" or "Meat and Bone Meal, you can consider this mystery meat and should be avoided! Also watch out for the word "by-product" whether there is an animal listed or not.

Meat vs. Meat-Meal: So what's the difference between meat and meat meal? Meal means that the original fresh meat product (Chicken, lamb, turkey) has been dried to remove moisture and then ground up to form a meal. As long as a specific animal is mentioned by name, the "chicken meal" does not lose any of its nutritional value or protein in this process.

When browsing the label, be sure to check all of the fat sources, such as, olive oil, chicken fat, flax oil, etc. If you spot Omega 3 or Omega 6, this is a good indication you have chosen a quality food. However, if the label contains non-specific fats such as, poultry fat, vegetable oil, animal fat, or meat fat this is not a good source of fat and the brand should be avoided.

Unlike a human diet, grains are not essential to the canine diet. Although not harmful, they can be used as fillers and can lower the quality and price of the product. If grains are in your dog's food, they will be located before the fat source on the dog food label. Grains such as rice, barley and oats are considered to be quality ingredients, while other grains such as, corn gluten meal, ground whole corn, and rice halls are considered to be fillers.

Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and veggies, although not essential, are a nice bonus in your dog's food. Potatoes, carrots, beans and peas are great vegetables for your dog to consume. When it comes to fruits, apples and blueberries are also beneficial to your dog's diet. There are a few veggies and fruits that you should avoid such as, onions, apple pomace, grape pomace, or citrus pulp.

Preservatives, Dyes & Chemical Additives
As you may be aware, many dog foods contain added preservatives, dyes or chemical additives. When choosing a dog food, look for natural preservatives such as, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and Tocopherols (Vitamin E). A good quality dog food will never contain Ethoxyquin, Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), or Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT). These are common artificial preservatives found in dog food. The artificial colors to stay away from are Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6, and any other dyes. Sweeteners such as Cane molasses, corn syrup, sugar, fructose, glucose and many others should be avoided as well.


Reading a Dog Food Label

Most dog owners are unaware of the lack of clarity in dog food labels and the actual quality of the dog food ingredients. Don't be fooled by your dog food label!

Looking at the dog food label can be confusing as there are many ingredients listed and some of them can be misleading. If you take a look at the "Avoid" and "Look For" section of the infographic, you will see some of the main ingredients highlighted. Here is a break down of what they mean:


Ingredients to Avoid (#5 in Infographic)

Below are some scary ingredients that could possibly be in your dog's food.

  • Meat and Bone Meal: The term "meal" means that these meats are not fresh, but have been rendered. To render means that the leftover meats have been boiled and cooked down which extracts fat and strips the meat of essential nutrients. Basically you are feeding your dog the leftovers after the quality cuts of meat have been removed.
  • Lamb Digest: "Digests" of any kind are all highly rendered products, which means they can be made up of cooked ingredients that you may not want to know about. This can include by-products, animal skin, or even the contents of an animal's stomach after it has been slaughtered. Yuck! Therefore, in this example, Lamb digest is a rendered ingredient that can contain diseased, euthanized animals.
  • Corn Gluten Meal: Think you're feeding your dog corn? Think again. Corn Gluten Meal is the remainder of the corn after the best parts of it have been removed. This is one of the worst things you can feed your dog. There's no nutritional value whatsoever and it's difficult for them to digest.
  • BHA/BHT: Butylated Hydroxysanisole (BHA) is a white, waxy antioxidant used to preserve fats and oils. BHA has been banned from other countries, but is still used within the U.S. and is viewed as a possible carcinogen, especially in animals, which can cause tumors. Butylated Hydroxytoluene is another antiodiant used to preserve fats and oils and is known to also be carcinogenic or cause tumors.
Ingredients to Look For (#6 in Infographic)

You've heard about the bad, now here's what you should be feeding your pup!

  • Turkey & Chicken: Real meat (turkey, chicken, duck, etc.) is great for your dog as this is their source of protein. However, the meat ingredient should stand-alone and shouldn't have "by-product" or "meal" behind it.
  • Herring: is an additional meat protein source as it is fish. When your dog's food has a variety of protein sources, that's a bonus!
  • Whole Eggs: Just like for humans, eggs are a great source of protein for dogs. If the label says "whole eggs," your dog is getting the full amount of protein from the eggs. If the label says "dried eggs" or "egg product," the dog food is a fairly good source of protein.

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Section 3: AAFCO Statement and Guaranteed Analysis (#'s 8, 9 and 10)


AAFCO Statement

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. AAFCO's main goals are to ensure consumer protection, safeguard the health of animals and humans, and provide a level playing field of ordering commerce for the animal feed industry. For more information visit, AAFCO.org. Dog foods that have been reviewed and found within the limits of AAFCO will display the AAFCO statement certifying that the dog food is "complete and balanced". There are two AAFCO statements that you may find on dog food labels. "(Product Name) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food nutrient profiles for (specific life stage)." means that the amount of nutrients is estimated by laboratory test averages. The second statement that may appear on the label, "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (specific life stage)." and in this case this means that the product is tested in dogs to verify that it provides adequate nutrition.


As you can see, choosing your dog label is not as easy as just grabbing a bag off of the shelf, it is important to understand what ingredients are going into feeding your precious pup. Every dog breed is different, however there are general guidelines that you can follow to help guide you through the process of choosing a quality dog food. Pay attention to the ingredients, guaranteed analysis and product name. As a dog owner it is up to you to be responsible for your dog's well being.


Guaranteed Analysis

According to the AAFCO, the guaranteed analysis section of the label must have 4 components; minimum percentage of crude protein, minimum percentage of crude fat, maximum percentage of crude fiber and a maximum percentage of moisture.

Crude Protein
The requirements for crude protein depend upon your dog's breed and stage of life. According to the AAFCO, Crude Protein should always have a minimum of 22% for a puppy and 18% for an adult dog. However a good dog food should contain a recommended protein value of 28% for a puppy and 18% for an adult. In most cases, too much protein is not harmful to your dog, unless your dog has kidney problems.

Crude Fat
The next element of the guaranteed analysis is crude fat. For puppies, the minimum percentage of fat is required to be 8% and for adult dogs, 5% fat is required. The recommended percentage for puppies is 17% while 9-15% fat is recommended for adult dogs. Fats are the main source of energy in a dog food and they also supply essential fatty acids, prevent dehydration and serve as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins.

Crude Fiber
In dry dog food the percentage of Crude fiber should be between 2.5% to 4.5% and should never exceed 10%. Fiber can work to manage blood sugar levels that can often lead to diabetes in dogs.

Moisture Content
It is important to be aware of the moisture content of your dog's food. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture canned foods typically contain 75-78% moisture, whereas dry foods contain only 10-12% water.

Calcium & Vitamin D
The next ingredient listed will be calcium. The AAFCO recommends that dog foods contain 0.6% to 2.5% calcium. Too much "man-made" Vitamin D can lead to hypercalcemia, which affects the kidneys and may cause a urinary tract infection. Natural sources of calcium and Vitamin D can be found in fish, liver, eggs, etc. Vitamin D regulates how calcium is metabolized. Lack of calcium can lead to poor skeletal development. Excess calcium and high phosphorus levels have been proven to lead to the development of bone disease. Some commercial dog foods contain two to ten time the amount of recommended Vitamin D. Because there are both benefits and consequences to calcium and vitamin D, it is important to stay within the recommended amounts.


It is recommended that dog food contain phosphorus levels of a minimum of .8% for puppies and a minimum of .5% for adult dogs. Vitamin D levels contain a minimum of 750 IU/Kg for puppies and 500 IU/Kg for adult dogs and should not exceed 10,000 IU/Kg.


Dog Health (#11 in Infographic)

Dog obesity is becoming a major issue in U.S. dogs. It is currently the number one health concern for dogs among vets and dog owners. Since 2007, overweight and obesity has increased by 37% in dogs, leaving nearly 20% of the dog population overweight or obese as compared to the 2007 stats of about 12.5% of dogs being overweight or obese. These factors increased for older, less active dogs, and dogs in certain parts of the country – Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Washington, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Massachusetts.


What Qualifies as "Overweight"?
Pets are considered to be overweight when they are 20% above their ideal weight. You can also manually/visually test to see if your dog is overweight: ideally, ribs should be easily felt, but not seen, and they should have an obvious waist. Over weight dogs' ribs are not easily seen or felt, and their waists are barely visible. You'll also notice an over weight dog has trouble participating in normal activities and may have difficulty breathing when going up or down stairs, walking, jogging, or playing with you.


What Qualifies as "Obese"?
An obese dog is defined as being 40% above their ideal weight. A manual/visual inspection of your dog would result in not feeling any ribs, and seeing no waistline. When pets are diagnosed as overweight or obese, their waistline is not the only concern; these conditions are associated with other serious diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, and heart disease. In 2011, 42% of dogs with diabetes were reported overweight and more than 40% of dogs with high blood pressure were declared overweight. Amazingly, 61% of dogs with hypothyroidism are also overweight.

You can prevent your dog from becoming overweight or obese easily by controlling and monitoring the size of servings that your dog receives daily, and keeping him or her active.


The Right Serving Size for Your Dog (#12 in Infographic)

We understand that, as a dog owner, you want to spoil your dog with tasty treats and food. What dog doesn't enthusiastically wag and perform tricks for a treat, or beg for food from the table even though they have already eaten? However, one of the most common oversights of pet owners is overfeeding their dogs. Dogs require sufficient nutrients to meet energy needs, and the amount of food that you feed your dog should be based on the size of your pet and their stage of life or activity level (puppy, lactating, pregnant, show dog, etc.). According to the ASPCA, dogs should be fed no more than twice daily. A common mistake is to take the suggested serving and give that amount to your dog twice per day – but this is incorrect. The suggested serving size for your dog should be divided into two portions and spaced between 8 to 12 hours apart.

Serving sizes vary as follows, based on the target healthy weigh for your pet:

  • For dogs weighing 10 lbs. or less, not more than 1/3 - 1 cup of dry food should be given.
  • For 10-25 lbs. the diet must be 1-2 ¼ cups of dry food.
  • For 25-50 lbs. the dry food requirement ranges between 2 ¼ - 3 ¾ cups.
  • For 50-75 lbs. 3 ¾ - 5 cups of dry food is sufficient.
  • Over 75 lbs. 5-8 cups of dry food should be given.

The appropriate serving size is important to understand, as is your dog's daily caloric intake. A dog's caloric intake can vary depending on the activity level of the dog and the dog's health. On average, dogs need approximately 30 calories per pound of body weight each day to maintain their current weight, obviously active dogs and dogs that are pregnant or nursing will require a larger number of calories. Below is a chart outlining the general guidelines for your dog's calorie requirements.


Target Dog Weight (lbs/kgs)Normal Caloric Requirements
5.5 lb (2.5 kg) 250 calories
11 lb (5 kg) 450 calories
22 lb (10 kg) 750 calories
33 lb (15 kg) 1000 calories
44 lb (20 kg) 1250 calories
55 lb (25 kg) 1500 calories
66 lb (30 kg) 1700 calories
77 lb (35 kg) 1880 calories
88 lb (40 kg) 2100 calories
99 lb (45 kg) 2300 calories
110 lb (50 kg) 2500 calories
Source: http://www.tails.co/requirements.html


As previously mentioned, it is recommended that you split your dog's meal into two meals which means the requirements listed need to be divided into two portions to avoid overfeeding. Since your dog should only consume so many calories each day, it is important to choose a dog food that contains the proper nutrients.

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