There’s no one right way to feed every dog. In fact, with so many brands and types of dog food to choose from, much of your pet’s cuisine will come down to his unique nutritional needs and the flavors he enjoys.
One thing, however, is a certainty: Most veterinarians suggest you buy dog food with an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement on the bag or can. AAFCO is a nonprofit group of government officials, veterinarians, and scientists in the US and Canada that regulates the sale and distribution of pet foods.
According to Erin Katribe, DVM, and medical director of Best Friends Animal Society, “AAFCO denotes that the diet has been formulated according to guidelines that ensure complete and balanced nutrition for dogs. The proper diet provides over 30 essential nutrients including protein, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.”
She recommends choosing a commercially produced, high-quality, dry dog food and feeding your dog an amount that maintains a healthy weight. (Many bags of dog food have serving size guidelines on the bag. If you are unsure, ask your dog’s veterinarian.) “This can be supplemented with a canned formulation of the same food for variety,” she says.
Dry Dog Food Vs. Wet Dog Food
One benefit of dry food over canned is that as your dog chews the kibble, “mechanical cleaning of the teeth occurs,” Dr. Katribe says. “This can help to slow or prevent dental disease. Canned food contains a higher water content and this may be beneficial in certain health conditions or when the water content helps to provide bulk to your dog’s diet without increasing the calorie content.” Linda Simon, MRCVS, a veterinary surgeon and consultant at FiveBarks, a website for dog owners, says, “Wet food is best for those who have ongoing urinary or kidney issues. It is useful for dogs who are unwell or prone to dehydration. It’s also a good option if a pet has oral pain and is struggling to chew on hard kibble.”
Raw Food Vs. Homemade Food
Raw was a big trend a few years ago. “It is falling out of fashion to some extent,” Dr. Simon shares. “The main drawbacks include the cost and the associated health risks, both to pets and their owners. Raw food carries a real risk of food poisoning from bacteria including salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter.”
Another choice is to cook for your dog. This works as long as you include all of the essential nutrients, proteins, vitamins, and minerals in the food. Dr. Katribe suggests talking to a veterinary nutritionist or your dog’s veterinarian if you go this route.
Fancy Vs. Inexpensive Food
The most expensive food in the store is not necessarily the healthiest. “In truth, all complete dog foods on the market should meet a dog’s nutritional needs,” Dr. Simon says. “When we spend more money, we are often paying for a higher meat content and more expensive ingredients such as fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, probiotics, and supplements. We are also paying for a marketing campaign and fancier packaging.”
She advises her clients to buy the best quality food they can afford without worrying if they can’t stretch to a more luxury brand.
Prescription Diets for Dogs
Certain medical conditions require prescription veterinary diets to manage your pet’s health concerns. They include foods for dogs with the following medical problems:
- Dental Issues
- Gastrointestinal Issues
- Heart Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Renal Issues
- Skin Issues
- Weight Management
You can purchase prescription diets from your dog’s veterinarian.
Can your dog be vegan or vegetarian?
Technically, the answer is yes. However, Dr. Simon believes that “this is not a route most veterinarians would advise. Dogs are omnivores and are designed to eat both meat and plant-based foods. They enjoy the taste of meat and have a high protein requirement, especially when growing or if they are an active breed.”
If you are vegan or vegetarian and you want your dog to be as well, then have a talk with your veterinarian to make sure you are giving your pooch a balanced diet that is rich in protein. Dogs definitely need amino acids in their diets, which are the building blocks of protein.
It is possible, though, for your pet to eat a protein-rich vegan or vegetarian diet. The tricky part
is finding the right mix of food, since not all proteins are created equal. Eggs, for example, are rich in complete proteins and can be a good choice for dogs. But most plant proteins are not as complete as those that come from meat, and some of these are harder for dogs to digest than animal ones. On the positive side, a plant-based diet will be lower in fat than a meat-based one.
Do a thorough check at your favorite pet store, as a handful of pet food manufacturers do sell already-packaged vegan kibble and canned wet dog food, which may be an easier alternative than trying to DIY. If you put your dog on a vegan diet, be sure to look at his coat. It’s generally a good indicator of whether he’s getting a sufficient amount of essential fatty acids in his diet. A dull or scruffy looking coat or one with flaky skin can mean your dog needs more essential fatty acids in his diet.
“Research into these diets is ongoing,” notes Dr. Katribe, who also works with the Humane Society of the United States Rural Area Veterinary Services program. “Some data suggests these diets are equivalent or may even be superior to traditional diets, although these retrospective studies have many variables that are uncontrolled. More research is needed before veterinarians can recommend this for all dogs.”
Making the Dietary Switch
If you decide to change your dog’s diet, be it from cooked to raw or from meat-based to vegan, make the transition gradually over several days or even weeks to avoid an upset stomach or other adverse reactions. “Diarrhea is common with abrupt diet changes,” Katribe says. “Even if it’s just a change between different brands of food.”
A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine, Inside Your Dog’s Mind.
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