A proper diet for your dog can be the key to a long healthy life. Our instructional guide is the key to helping understanding the important aspects of your dog’s diet like weight control, nutrition, weight control and various diet plans.
While there is a lot of controversy involved with what kind of diet you should feed your dog and the different types of diets available like homemade dog food, raw food diets, organic dog foods and the portion control associated with each, we hope to help clear up the facts and shed some light on the most optimal diet for your breed and dog.
With so many companies offering a variety of what seem to be healthy, nutritious ingredients, it can be tough to navigate the field and to really understand which is best for your dog. One thing is for sure, that processed foods you find off many shelves definitely are not the only options for your pup. Many people also consider grain free diets to be more healthy and we’ll look into that as well. There is a long list of other alternatives that can prove beneficial and optimal for your specific dog type and breed.
The choice is ultimately up to you and in this article we’ll explore some of the criteria you should consider when choosing a diet plan for your dog.
We’ll explore the benefits of choosing the right food for your pup as well as the different diet types; organic, grain free, homemade and raw.
Choosing the right ingredients for your pup helps them on just about every aspect of their health from their general well-being, to their temperament and mood, their energy levels, muscle and strength, mental well-being and stamina. It’s also worth noting that dogs require different types of nutrients throughout different stages of their life.
You should also take into consideration and allergies they have which will affect what kinds of foods they can eat. To start let’s consider how to read a dog food label.
How To Read a Dog Food Label
To start, you should know how to read a dog food label and how to asses the packaging to ensure you’re choosing the right product. Labels can sometimes be difficult to read, so here are the top 8 items you should consider and look for when selecting a proper dog food.
Also note, that the FDA requires that ingredients be listed in order of quantity. This means that the first 10 ingredients usually make up about 80% of the food. Some dog foods may have an upwards of 40 ingredients, so what’s important to really look at is the first 10, even more so the first 5.
- Product Name
- Net weight of the product
- Name and address of the manufacturer
- Guaranteed analysis
- List of ingredients
- Intended animal species or breed (dog, cat etc)
- Statement of nutritional adequacy
- Feeding Guidelines
Let’s quickly touch on a couple important notes.
The product name tells you much about the product. Depending on how a word is used, will determine how much of that product is actually in the food. For example the term “beef” requires that the beef must make up about 70% of the entire product, while terms like “beef dinner, beef platter or beef entree” only require that the beef is about 10% of the entire product. Take an extra step to do your research to get an idea of the actual content of the ingredients.
It’s important to note that the ingredients list does not tell you the quality of the ingredients, but rather the contents of the food.
Now that you have an idea of what to look for on an ingredients list, let’s look at a list of the most popular types of diets.
Types of Diet’s for Dogs
Generally speaking there are 3 distinct types of dog foods.
Dry Foods – Usually bagged kibble containing roughly 3-11% water. These are generally more economical and can remain at room temperature for about 1-3 hours if not wetted.
Canned Foods – Are usually soft-sided or solid with about 60-78% water. These are more palatable than semi-moist foods and contain more nutrients like protein, fat and water.
Semi-moist Foods – are usually packaged in pouches with about a 25-35% water content. These are less popular and a bit more difficult to find, but are a bit more palatable than dry foods.
Now that we’ve covered the types of dog foods, let’s explore the inherent diet styles behind them. These diet styles include organic foods, homemade, raw and grain based dog foods.
Organic Dog Foods
Organic dog foods are considered to carry a variety of benefits that dog owners appreciate. The first benefit is the reduction of skin ailments and allergies. When it comes to last resort options, choosing organic food for your dog is a great options because it is free from flavor enhancers, pesticides, chemical additives and artificial colors.
It’s these additional additives which often cause health issues for many pets with sensitive health issues. Organic dog food contains higher quality ingredients like protein and the grain sources have higher nutritional value. This supports the dog’s immune system to prevent them from suffering skin conditions or infections in the future.
People who feed their dog organic dog food also report fewer digestive disorders because of the superior quality of proteins and grains in the. Higher quality ingredients means easier digestion which equates to less vomiting, less gas, bloating and diarrhea. Because the organic dog food is more nutrient dense, you’re dog will eat less and have more energy as well.
Homemade Dog Food
Homemade dog food is rising in popularity amongst many dog owners because of their ability to control the ingredients and nutritional value they serve to their pups. While there is some additional labor involved, you’ll find that there’s a significant savings in cost to preparing a wholesome and nutritious homemade meal for your pup that can come at the fraction of the cost of a high end commercial pet food you might find at a popular pet store.
Another advantage and reason people choose homemade is because of the overarching fact that commercial pet food is loosely regulated. Pet food quality is generally controlled by the state and not some of the larger organizations we’re familiar with like the USDA, FDA or AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials).
Sometimes, even though companies seem to be reputable and attractive, they simply don’t live up to their marketing claims and many dog owners find their pet having digestive issues and other health disorders as a result.
The ability to control what goes into your dog’s body is very attractive to those who are making the switch. The biggest drawback however to switching to home made is making sure that your pet is receiving a balanced diet. This takes additional time, care, research and preparation to ensure that your specific dog is getting the correct nutrients for it’s breed, age, weight and stage of its life.
Homemade dog food also has less additives, preservatives, chemicals, emulsifiers and artificial colors which is naturally good for their health. With homemade you can control the quality, type and medicinal properties of their food which goes along way to ensuring proper health and longevity.
Raw Dog Food
While the raw dog food diet has been controversial, it also has a rising popularity. Some of the benefits raw dog food supporters advocate for are shinier coats, healthier skin, cleaner teeth, higher energy levels, smaller stools, flake free and itchy free skin, odorless breath and body and mental stimulation from working at meal times.
The idea behind this type of diet for dogs was proposed in 1993 by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst. He called this type of diet style the BARF diet which stands for Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.
A raw dog food diet typically consists of muscle meat, often still to the bone, organ meats like liver and kidneys, raw eggs, vegetables like broccoli, celery and spinach, apples and other fruit, some dairy such as yogurt and last but not least, bones, either whole or ground. While there are some drawbacks such as potential threats to a dog’s health from bacteria in raw meat or the unbalance in nutrition that may comes from extended periods of this type of eating, people are generally more careful when choosing this diet.
It’s important to keep a close watch on your dog if they consume this type of diet. There is also a risk of them choking or getting some kind of internal puncture if they’re eating whole or shredded bones so take great precaution when considering this diet.
Dogs with any digestive issues should start with a cooked, homemade diet and clear up any health problems before switching to a raw diet. Puppies are generally not a candidate for this type of diet either. Generally speaking your pup should be in good health before considering this type of diet as well.
Grain Free Diets For Dogs
Grain based diets, like raw food diets, have been at the center of much controversy for the last few years. Many experts and dog owners see benefits out of a grain-free diet for their dog. Some of the benefits include keeping the dog fuller for longer (less frequency of eating means less food consumption = less dollars spent).
A grain free diet may also reduce canine food allergies, improve their skin and help them have a shinier coat. Many dog owners also notice less odors from their dogs, better breath and less shedding overall. The idea behind a grain free diet is that long before packaged dog foods and domestication, dog’s ate a diet similar to the paleo diet.
However, with the introduction of mass produced dog kibble around World War II, fillers like corn, wheat and barley were added to dog food to create bulk and keep costs down. Unfortunately, even though we’re far passed that stage of history, dog food manufacturers haven’t changed their ways because a grain-based dog food keeps costs low and inventory readily available stacked.
Many of the grain-based fibers and ingredients remain difficult for dogs to digest since their digestive system and primitive. This makes their body reliant on fermentation to break down these ingredients which causes issues over time. This can damage the lining of their digestive system leading to food sensitivities and allergies, inflammation, digestive and bowel disorders, leaky gut and even obesity.
If your dog is currently eating a grain-based diet and you notice symptoms such as the ones we’ll describe below, consider talking to your vet to switching his or her diet.
Grain-based diet symptoms include:
- Excessive Flatulence
- Loose stool/diarrhea
- Rash and skin irritations
- Chronic licking, chewing or biting to relieve itch
- Frequent ear infections
- Redness, patching and shedding in coat
These symptoms are usually, but not limited to their grain based diet and should seek veterinarian analysis immediately. Your dog could have developed a food allergy or be having a digestive complication.
Now that we’ve explored the most common types of diets for dogs, let consider portion control.
You might have asked yourself multiple times throughout the development of your dog’s life:
“How much food should my dog be eating?”
You might have also asked “What are the best feeding times for my dog?”
This is a common questions and they have a variety of answers. The first and most obvious is that it depends on the size of your dog. Another factor is your dog’s age and how much exercise it gets. Dog food labels usually do a decent job of having a feeding chart on their label which you can use as a guide.
You’ll also want to asses your dog’s activity level. As a rule of thumb, you want to stick with less than the recommended amount by around 10% in the event that they don’t get much exercise or activity. However, an active dog that is regularly exercising may need to eat 20% – 40% more.
Performance dogs like sled or police dogs may need specialized diet plans as they typically have higher calorie requirements. Your dog’s energy requirements may also differ depending on the time of their life. Whether they’re puppies, pregnant or overweight. If your dog is overweights
If your dog happens to be overweight, you should give it less food and switch to a lower calorie dog food. Cut out table scraps, snacks and treats. Look for treats that are higher in fiber and lower in calories. When in doubt, talk to your veterinarian as they’ll be able to guide you on how to help your dog loose weight.
When it comes to the frequency of feeding them, it’s recommended that you feed adult dogs about twice per day. Giving two meals a day make it easier on their digestive system and helps manage their hunger.
If you plan on giving your dog table treats, just note that an occasional nibble is okay. Heavy bouts of steak fat, poultry skin and other leftovers isn’t a good idea as sudden changes in diet could cause pancreatitis and other digestive harm.
So now that we have a better idea of diet types you might be thinking, which one is right for my dog? This question has varying answers and is also at a point of controversy amongst vets and health professionals so let’s explore some of the data.
Dog Diets By Breed
Choosing the right type of dog food and diet plan for your dog based on breed has become an overwhelmingly complicated task. Every pet store and ecommerce site seems to have tons of options and variety boasting the benefits of their brand of dog food for your breed and how it’ll help your dog live a happier, healthier and longer life.
So what’re you supposed to choose?
While this might seem like news, it’s important to know that breed-specific dog foods are little more than a marketing gimmick and don’t have very much nutritional sound evidence backing them.
Your best bet is to assess your dog’s dietary requirements based on life stage, size, lifestyle and specific health needs. This can be done with your veterinarian. Nutrient density and quality of ingredients are the most important factors when determining the type of diet you want to feed your dog and again, this will usually vary depending on the stage of their life, their lifestyle factors and overall health.
Dogs with various ailments or medical conditions will need a tailored diet plan to help them recover or to manage their condition.
Behavioral Effects of Diets
Some people notice a variety of behavioral changes in their dog based on the food they’re eating. If your dog seems to be acting aggressively, pulling at the end of the leash or being reactive towards other dogs, their diet may be the underlying cause.
There are a variety of factors that may affect the behavior of your dog including the specific ingredients in their food, the ratio of nutrients, the frequency of feeding, the measurement of food and competition over food sources.
Of all of the food sources available, one ingredient seems to have the greatest affect on your dog’s behavior: corn. Corn has an aggressive amino acid called Tyrosine that blocks other amino acids from passing through the blood brain barrier. The main amino acids that gets blocked by this is called Tryptophan which is responsible for the production of a key neurotransmitter called Serotonin.
This important neurotransmitter is responsible for a variety of important health mechanisms including the control of mood, arousal levels or excitability and sensitivity to pain. Your dog’s ability to be calm is a direct reflection of its ability to produce serotonin. If your dog is having aggression issues, try talking to vet and switching to a cornless diet.
Sugar is another ingredient that is believed to affect your dog’s health so limit its consumption of any foods, treats or toy items that contain sugar or a form of sugar.
The quality of the ingredients can greatly affect behavior. Take the fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) for example, DHA has been shown to increase mental acuity in puppies and kittens and has even been shown to help dogs become more trainable. It serves as brainfood and has antioxidants which have been shown to help them learn complex tasks with more success than those with a control diet.
Diets rich in antioxidants have also been shown to reduce cognitive decline and brain related aging in older dogs. Dogs with antioxidant rich diets were also able to recognize family members and other animals more easily and showed greater attributes of agility.
To sum it up, choosing the best diet for your dog is going to depend on a variety of factors including the stage of your dog, its size, weight, activity level, stage of life and health conditions. There are a good number of viable brands to choose from that have quality ingredients in their food, but you always have the option of going homemade or raw if you believe in their stated benefits. Remember to always consult your veterinarian to ensure that you’re making the right choice for your dog’s immediate and long term health.
What kind of dog food do you feed your dog? Have you taken the leap to go homemade, raw or believe organic is the way to go? Let us know in the comments below!