Best food for your dog
For most owners, however, the dilemma is deciding what the best thing to put in their dog’s bowl every day actually is. There is a bewildering choice and owners can certainly be forgiven for not knowing where to start.
Well, here is the good news! It’s no harder to feed your dog healthily than it is to feed yourself healthily. All the same rules apply. In the same way that rows upon rows of food in a supermarket don’t intimidate you or make you feel overwhelmed with choice when it comes to your own shopping, rows upon rows of different dog foods are exactly the same and it should be no harder. In most cases, it comes down to your own personal preference — and, of course, what your dog likes. First of all, you will want to think about what kind of food you want to give your dog, as there are various types available, and there are pros and cons for each.
Types of dog food
The majority of people probably feed their dog kibble or complete processed food, as it is the easiest and most convenient. This is a balanced diet which should contain all the nutrients your dog needs. Nothing needs to be added — indeed, adding anything to this diet can unbalance it! It combines convenience, ease of storage, and minimum preparation, but it does lack imagination, can contain ingredients that are not beneficial (and you have no control of these), and is similar to us eating a constant diet of pre-prepared ready meals. Often, labelling makes it tricky to tell what is actually in it, and the quality varies widely.
Dry or wet food for dogs
Complete wet food is also a balanced diet which needs nothing else adding to it. It may take more storage than dried food but still has all the convenience and ease of feeding. Some dogs may find wet food more palatable, but it lacks that crunch which can help keep teeth healthy. A complementary food is one where you need to add other ingredients to give your dog a balanced diet. Before complete dog foods became so commonplace, this was how most people fed their dogs. It still has the advantage of being both palatable and crunchy. It can, however, be difficult to get the balance right.
Pre-prepared raw dog food
On the other hand, raw pre-prepared food is a fairly new addition to the dog food market. It mixes the advantages of a ready-prepared and balanced food with the natural, largely additive-free benefits of a raw diet. As there is a lack of preservatives, it has to be stored in a fridge or freezer, and has a short shelf life.
Tips for choosing your dog ’s food
- Decide which type of food suits you, your dog, your storage space, and your lifestyle.
- Educate yourself. Talk to your vet, look on the internet, and read pet food labels.
- Take advice from a specialist pet food store where staff are trained.
- Watch your dog. Does he enjoy the food? Does he seem satisfied? Is his coat in good condition? Is he maintaining a healthy body weight? Is his behaviour consistent? If so, you have no worries; if not, it’s time to change.
- Feed the best-quality food you can afford.
It’s no harder to feed your dog healthily
Some people like to prepare their dogs’ food themselves. This requires skill and knowledge to ensure you are giving your dog a balanced diet. Many raw feeders include raw, non- weight-bearing bones, which are great for your dog’s teeth but not without their dangers.
Having said that, being scavengers, it is probably what most of the world’s dogs eat. So how do you choose? It’s up to you, but there are some good starting points. When you first bring your dog home — as a puppy from a breeder or as an adult from rescue — you will know what he’s been eating. Changes to his diet shouldn’t be made quickly, so no matter what your thoughts are on dog food and what you would like to feed your dog, keep him on this existing food to start with.
Dog food label requirements
With all dog foods which are not home prepared, the secret is reading the label and understanding it. In the same way that many of our ready meals can contain hidden sugar, fat, salt, and other ingredients that may not be good for us, dog foods are exactly the same, and you should know what your dog is eating. Not only that, but many terms are confusing — so here are some things to look out for.
Firstly, food must be labelled as being either complete or complementary. The order in which the ingredients are listed must legally be in the descending order of weight — so if chicken is the first ingredient, it is the highest content ingredient. A food may say it’s ‘with chicken’ but often you can find it is only the third or fourth ingredient on the packaging — so it may be ‘with chicken’, but it isn’t with much chicken!
Some premium brands will list exactly what sort of meat goes into their food — so not only which animal or fi sh it comes from, but which parts of the animal are used and how they are prepared. Others are less clear, using terms such as ‘dehydrated meat’ or ‘animal by-products’, for example, and it is useful to know what these mean.
- Dehydrated meat — all meat in dried dog food has to be dried, so this is generally fresh meat with the moisture removed. If you know what the meat source is and, better still, which parts of the animal are used, this can be a high-quality ingredient.
- Meat meal — highly concentrated, often lower-grade protein powder obtained from rendering parts of an animal. This is very common in dog food because it is a cheaper way of using meat.
- Meat and animal derivatives — this comes from animals which have been passed for human consumption, but are the bits we generally don’t eat. This is a pretty vague term, which can be anything from very good to very bad. It is also vague enough that manufacturers can change the ingredients without having to change the labelling.
- Animal by-products — parts of animals, products of animal origin, or products obtained from animals, which are not intended for human consumption.Best avoided!
- Colourings and preservatives — often dog food contains colouring to make it look more attractive to us humans! Some of these colourings are not good for our dogs, affect behaviour, and are definitely best avoided — and trust me, your dog doesn’t care what it looks like! All complete dog food which doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge or freezer contains preservatives. This isn’t natural but it is the only way that food can have a long shelf life. Aim to keep preservatives to a minimum and educate yourself on what all those E-numbers mean.
- Grains — this is a dog food minefield. Some dogs don’t seem to do well on grains (health-wise or behaviour-wise); others seem absolutely fine. Some owners prefer not to feed grains to their dogs, feeling it is unnatural for dogs to eat grains and this was not how they developed. As such, there are plenty of complete grain-free foods on the market. Some foods are bulked out with grains to keep them cheap. This is another area where you have to educate yourself and decide what is best for you and your dog.
No matter what we choose to feed our dogs, nutritional balance and completeness is probably the most important consideration. Home-prepared foods should follow carefully constructed canine recipes, and manufactured foods should not be liberally topped up with extras. We need to determine what’s best on an individual basis. Nourishment and enrichment are entwined, so not only should we learn what to feed but how to feed it too. Dogs have highly intelligent and powerfully creative brains, which need nurturing for good mental health. They are by nature scavengers, therefore they need to have outlets for this strong genetic instinct.