Choosing a Dog Food

dog-baker-DarrenBoucher-getty465645763When it comes to feeding your dog, there are several decisions a dog owner must make. Proper nutrition is one of your dog’s basic needs, and it’s about more than just the type of dog food. Here are the answers to some basic questions you may have about dog feeding:
What Type of Dog Food is Best for My Dog?
Because there are so many commercial dog food brands available, choosing a dog food can be overwhelming. All commercial diets with the AAFCO label are considered “complete and balanced” for dogs. This means that foods sustain life and meet dogs’ basic nutritional needs. However, not all food are created equal. Most experts agree that the quality of ingredients plays a major role in a dog’s health and well-being.

When you are choosing the type of food to feed your dog, first narrow down your priorities:
• Is finding the healthiest possible food for you dog the most important factor? If so, look into natural/holistic foods. Better yet, consider a home-prepared diet.
• How much does cost factor into your decision? Most natural/holistic diets are in the higher price range. However, economy
• How much time are you willing to spend preparing the food? If you want to save money and have the time, a home-prepared diet may be the healthiest option.
Then, consider your dog:
• Picky dogs might do best with canned food or home-cooked diets.
• Overweight dogs or those with health conditions may benefit from special veterinary diets or home-cooked diets.
Choosing Commercial Diets: To compare foods and determine which is best for your dog, visit DogFoodAdvisor.com. When in doubt, ask your vet for advice.
Choosing Home-Prepared Diets: Rather than choosing a commercial diet, some owners opt to go for homemade diets. If you try this option, make sure you work with your veterinarian to create a complete and balanced diet that is customized for your dog’s needs. To begin developing a home-prepared diet for your dog, check out BalanceIt.com and/or PetDiets.com.
How Much Food Should I Feed My Dog?
The amount of food to feed your dog depends on a few factors:
• Your dog’s age (puppy vs. adult)
• Your dog’s body condition
• Your dog’s activity level
• The calorie and nutrient content of the diet
This dog food calculator can tell you approximately how many calories per day your dog needs. Talk to your vet about your dog’s body condition and ideal weight.
How Often Does My Dog Need to Eat?
Most experts agree that twice-daily feeding is best for most adult dogs. Once-a-day is a long time for a dog to go between meals! Puppies should be fed 3-6 times per day (small puppies need food more often to prevent blood sugar drops). Talk to your vet about an appropriate feeding schedule for your dog.
What Type of Dog Bowl Is Best?
Experts recommend avoiding plastic bowls for a dog’s food and water. This is because your dog can develop an allergic reaction or sensitivity, resulting in a rash or type of acne on the chin and face. Not only is the plastic a potential irritant, but the bowl may harbor bacteria or other microbes that affect your dog (plastic bowls are harder to keep clean). It’s best to use metal or ceramic bowls for dog food and water.
What About Treats?
There are plenty of options for yummy dog treats and dog chews. Make sure you choose safe options for your dog. Also, remember that treats and chews are supplements to your dog’s diet and should never make up more than about 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake.
What Foods Should I Avoid Feeding?
Most dogs love food and will eat just about anything they can find. Avoid the following harmful or even toxic foods for dogs:
• Chocolate
• Grapes/Raisins
• Macadamia nuts
• Pits and seeds from fruits/vegetables
• Alcoholic drinks or foods
• Caffeinated drinks or foods
• Xylitol (found in sugar-free or reduced-sugar gum and candy)
• Yeast dough
• Moldy or rotten food
• Fatty foods
• Bones, antlers and animal hooves

Proper nutrition is an essential part of your dog’s overall well-being. However, choosing the right diet for your dog can be an overwhelming task. In the wake of commercial dog food recalls, many owners have chosen to make their own dog food. Home-prepared dog food can save money and allow you to custom-design a diet that fits your dog’s needs. However, making your own dog food takes special effort and time on your part. Here’s what you need to know before you start feeding your dog a homemade diet.
Is Homemade Food Complete and Balanced?
One of the biggest mistakes owners make when they decide to feed home-prepared diets is not following the right recipes (or, not following a recipe at all). Like humans, dogs have specific calorics requirements and need certain vitamins and minerals to thrive. When you begin to develop a home-prepared diet for your dog, you must first make sure your dog gets everything she needs in her diet to keep her as healthy as possible. The best way to do this is to consult with your veterinarian. You might even want to ask for a referral to a veterinary nutritionist.
Working with a vet, you can design a diet that meets all of your dog’s nutritional needs. Your vet may have recipes for your use, or may guide you to a website like BalanceIt.com or PetDiets.com. These websites both have recipes developed by veterinary nutritionists. They can help you develop a diet that is complete and balanced but also meets other needs. In many cases, you can choose your preferred ingredients or find formulas designs for dogs with specific health issues (like allergies or kidney disease).
Making Time to Make Dog Food
There’s no denying that commercial dog food is just easier. It’s pretty convenient to just pour a scoop of kibble into a bowl or open up a can. When you choose to feed your dog home-prepared food, it takes a certain amount of commitment on your part. Many owners who feed home-prepared diets set up a schedule. Once every so many days or weeks, the food can be prepared in bulk and portioned into containers (one container per meal makes it extra-easy). You can keep meals frozen or refrigerated until ready to use. When the supply of pre-prepared meals runs low, it’s time to make a new batch. If you like to feed a variety of foods, you can make multiple batched and color code by ingredients, rotating out the different meals.
Cooked vs. Raw Diets for Dogs
There’s no doubt that home-cooked diets for dogs can be healthy when done correctly, but what about raw food? There is much controversy over raw food for dogs, but many vets have begun to realize the potential benefits of raw food for dogs. Talk to your veterinarian about feeding raw food to your dog. In the beginning, you might choose to offer a combination of cooked and raw foods to see how it works out. The biggest issue with raw diets is safety. Raw food can contain pathogens like bacteria that can pose more harm to humans than dogs. Note: raw diets should not be fed to dogs coming into contact with immune-compromised humans. In addition, raw diets are not recommended for dogs with immune system issues.
Everyone knows that proper nutrition is essential to a dog’s well-being. Choosing a dog food can be overwhelming, especially when we have to worry about commercial dog food recalls. In fact, many owners choose to feed home-prepared diets so they know exactly what is in the dog food. For some, this means home-cooked dog food. For others, it means a raw diet.
There is much controversy revolving around raw food diets for dogs. Those who support raw food diets have much to say about the health benefits for dogs: coats are shinier, teeth stay cleaner, obesity is prevented, allergies can be avoided or minimized, and overall health is better. While these claims tend to ring true, the opposition has valid concerns about the safety of raw food diets.
Are Raw Food Diets Safe?
It is important to know that feeding raw food to your dog can cause serious life-threatening infections for both dogs and humans. Raw food may contain pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli. Cooking food removes most of these pathogens, which is why we humans tend to cook our food. Dogs, on the other hand, may tolerate raw foods better than humans because they have shorter, more acidic digestive tracts. However, not all dogs can tolerate raw food. In addition, cross-contamination can expose you and other people in your home to pathogens. While it’s impossible to eliminate all risk, there are some ways to try to be safer when feeding a raw food diet to your dog:
• Prepare the dog food in a contained area of the home; clean and sanitize throughly when done (use a 1:32 bleach to water solution if possible)
• Wear gloves when handling raw meat
• Handle food frozen when possible
• Use meat ingredients from a reliable source
• Feed your dog outdoors
• Sanitize food bowls immediately after feeding (scrub clean, then use a 1:32 bleach to water solution, then rinse and dry bowls)
• Bathe your dog frequently
Bones are another safety concern when it comes to raw food diets. While raw bones are considered less dangerous than cooked bones (never, ever give your dog cooked bones), raw bones are not without risk. Raw bones can still cause complications such as gastrointestinal obstructions, oral injuries, airway obstruction and, if the bones are large enough, tooth fractures. Most of the vets who support raw diets actually recommend grinding up raw bones in the recipe to give your dog the calcium he needs without the risk of bone-related complications. Small and medium dogs tend to have greater risks for bone-related complications due to their size (but this does not mean large dogs are completely safe either). If you decide to assume these risks and feed your dog raw bones, be sure to always supervise your dog when he is eating.
Complete and Balanced Raw Food Diets
One of the greatest mistakes owners make when feeding raw food diets is not making sure the diet is complete and balanced. Many people just feed “all meat and bones” or a wide variety of meats without actually paying attention to the amount of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates and nutrients their dogs gets. One cannot assume a dog is getting everything needed for health by feeding that dog “as much meat as desired.”
Dogs are scientifically classified as carnivores but evolved as opportunistic scavengers and, in general, are now considered omnivores. Though most dogs can survive on vegetarian diets, they are less likely to thrive without meat. On the other side of the spectrum, dogs can benefit from diets made up of more than only meat (although meat-based protein should make up at least half of a home-prepared diet).
Bottom line: when developing a raw diet for your dog, consult with your veterinarian about recipes that offer complete and balanced nutrition for your dog. Know that many vets will not recommend raw diets due to the risks involved. If you feel strongly about trying a raw diet and your vet is not flexible at all about raw diets, seek out a veterinarian who is (or find a veterinary nutritionist). It is essential that you find an expert to help you develop a complete and balanced diet that will truly benefit your dog.
Note: If you are not willing/able to take the time to develop recipes and prepare raw food at home, you may wish to try one of the many commercial raw diets available (usually frozen or freeze dried). While these diets are not a replacement for a whole-food home-prepared diet, you may prefer them to commercial kibble or canned dog food. Learn more about raw commercial diets at DogFoodAdvisor.com. Remember that safe-handling precautions should still be taken with these diets to prevent cross-contamination.
There’s no denying that one of the most basic needs of dogs is proper nutrition. It is also one of the best ways to keep your dog healthy. Thousands of food options exist for dogs, so choosing one for your own dog can be quite a struggle. Opinions about canine nutrition vary among vets, breeders, trainers and other dog owners. Bottom line: experts don’t always agree on the best type of dog foods because there is not just one answer.

Ultimately, you are the one who needs to decide what food best suits your dog. Do plenty of research so you can make an informed decision. Here are some things to do before you choose.
Get Educated About Nutrition Choices
There is a lot of information about nutrition available on the Web. Always use caution – not all the information you find will be reliable. Your vet is one of your best resources. If you still have questions, you may want to ask for a referral to a nutritionist.

In general, dog food choices boil down to the following categories:
• Holistic / Natural Commercial Diets
• Veterinary Prescription Diets
• Premium Dog Food
• Economy / Generic Dog Food
• Homemade / Raw Diets
Commercial diets are usually available in wet or dry. Decide which category best suits your dog, then start researching food companies. To compare foods, check out DogFoodAdvisor.com. For information about homemade diets, try sites like PetDiets.com and BalanceIt.com.
Read Dog Food Labels
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has developed profiles for dog and puppy nutrition. These standards are reflected on the dog food label. This information will give you an idea of the food’s content, but beware: labels can be misleading. Just because a food meets AAFCO requirements, it does not mean that is the best food for your dog. Look for food companies that exceed AAFCO guidelines and use high-quality ingredients that are human-grade if possible. Choose foods with meat-based items listed as the first two to three ingredients. Avoid foods that contain chemical preservatives and fillers like wheat, corn and soy.
Ask Others About Dog Food
Once you have done your research and decided on a general food category, ask others for their opinions about specific brands or recipes. Your veterinarian is a great place to start. You can also talk to dog breeders, trainers and groomers for more opinions. Your local pet supply store may also be of assistance, especially if it is a smaller, independent shop that carries top-quality diets. Educated pet professionals can give you their recommendations, but remember that not all experts agree when it comes to canine nutrition, so be prepared to get conflicting advice. The same goes for talking to other pet owners. Keep in mind that different dogs can react differently to the same food. Use the information you gain to further narrow your options, but remember that opinions are not facts.
Feed Your Dog
Many dog food companies offer samples or money back guarantees, so let your dog try the food before you finalize your decision. Bring home a few varieties to see which is the most palatable.
When you have settled on a food, gradually change your dog’s diet, adding a little more new food to the old food each day over several days. Once your dog is exclusively eating the new diet, it may be 3-4 weeks before you see changes in your dog’s overall appearance and attitude. However, if your dog develops signs of illness, see your vet – you may need to change the diet again if it does not agree with your dog in some way.
Your Dog’s Diet Over Time
Many experts now recommend rotating diets every 2-6 months if you are feeding commercial dog food. This typically means changing to a new food company. Offering a variety of formulas within that company can benefit many dogs. When feeding homemade diets, a variety of foods should be offered. However, it is always important to use recipes for complete and balanced dog food. Feeding the same food all the time can not only be boring for your dog, it is also believed that this can lead to allergies and other diseases. Remember that the needs of individual dogs can vary. As always, consult your veterinarian about the best food choices for your dog.

 

 

 

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