Proper dog nutrition

What should I feed my dog?

This is a question that we are asked quite frequently, and the answer is not so straightforward as one might think. There are several different factors that need to be considered. First you need to take into account both the age and lifestyle of the pet. A 4 month old growing Mastiff is going to have different nutritional requirements than a 13 year old Shih Tzu, just as a working Border Collie’s energy requirements are going to be much different than that of the typical coach potato Bulldog. Also, any underlying medical disorder (i.e.: urinary disease, diabetes, kidney disease, etc.) will affect the diet recommendation for your pet. Interestingly, there is a company that is now working on developing diets tailored for your specific pet based on DNA testing… stay tuned.

Which dog food is the best?

So how can you tell a high quality dog food or company from one that might not be as good? First, check the Nutrition Adequacy Statement that should be present on all pet foods. This will tell you if the diet is complete and balanced, what life stage the product supports, and the method used to substantiate the “complete and balanced” claim (either through feeding trials or just through nutrient analysis). There are 8 basic questions that all dog food companies should be able to easily answer. These can be found on page 6 of the Global Nutrition Guidelines (Nutritional Assessment Guidelines). If a company can not answer any of these questions run far, far away. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. In addition, be leery of diets and dog food companies who use phrases such as “holistic”, “premium,” or “human grade” as these terms are not regulated and these claims are unsubstantiated meaning anyone can say their product is “holistic” without actually having to prove it. In my opinion, the dog food companies who use these terms care more about marketing than quality. The best dog food companies are those who do not waste their time and money on advertising and instead put that money towards research to develop the best quality product available- you hardly ever see commercials on TV for Royal Canin or Science Diet, right?

Now let’s tackle the whole “grain-free” and “by-product free” craze. I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but all this boils down to is marketing, marketing, and marketing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with by-products or grains- companies simply use these terms in advertising so they can charge more for a “by-product free” or “grain free” diet. “By-products” by definition are “non-rendered nonmeat (not striated muscle) including but not limited to lungs, spleens, kidney, brains, livers, blood, bone, fatty tissue and stomach and intestines without contents; does not include hair, horns, teeth or hoofs.” In the wild animals consume the entire body of their prey- they do not just select for the white breast meat or certain cut of steak. “Grain free diets” are generally marketed towards pets who have underlying allergic skin conditions- a good portion of dogs’ allergies do improve while on these diets, but that is more likely a result of the novel protein source found in these foods (salmon or venison vs. chicken or beef). Sure there are dogs who legitimately have grain allergies, but those are few and far between. Now don’t get me wrong, feeding “grain free” or “by product free” diets is in no way harmful, but just be warned that you are paying extra money for something that is likely not necessary for your pet’s health.

So, as you can see, there are several factors that need to be considered when trying to decide which diet is most appropriate for your pet. Please speak with your veterinarian; that is what we are here for and that is what our 8+ years of training has prepared us for. Please do not take the word of the 16 year old high school student in the dog food aisle over your own veterinarian’s judgment.

Dr. Kaite DePalma