Part 1: Introduction
We want to do the best for our pets and that includes providing a nutritious and balanced diet. But, knowing what is best for your dog can be overwhelming. Over the next several weeks, we are going to break down canine nutrition and help you find the solution that works best for your pack.
There are several types of commercial dog food. Kibble is the most common and is typically cooked using extrusion, a process where the food is heated to a really high temperature and formed into little pieces. There is also canned food, dehydrated or freeze dried food, and raw food among others. Food sold in pet stores and grocery stores should all contain an AAFCO statement that confirms the food is balanced. It will also let you know if the food is appropriate for all dogs, puppies, or adult dogs. What the AAFCO statement doesn’t tell you is how nutritious the food is or where it is sourced from.
We believe that dogs need high quality food with meat as the primary ingredient and no artificial colors and dyes. If you take a look at the ingredient list on a bag of food, you can get a good sense of whether it’s a good choice. The first 5 ingredients are going to make up a bulk of the food, so let’s take a look at 2 popular brands and see how they compare.
Fromm Gold Adult
Ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, chicken broth, oatmeal, pearled barley
Dog Chow Complete Adult Chicken Flavor
Ingredients: Corn, meat and bone meal, corn gluten meal, Beef Fat Preserved With Mixed-Tocopherols, soybean meal
The first two ingredients in Fromm are chicken and chicken meal(essentially dried chicken). The Dog Chow on the other hand, has corn as the first ingredient. The second ingredient, meat and bone meal does not specify what animal it comes from. In one bag it might be chicken, in another beef or any other protein, there is not guaranteed consistency. You always want to look for foods that name the ingredient.
Chicken meal is a better option than meat meal
Chicken liver is a a better option than chicken by-product
Listing specific ingredients ensures that you are getting consistent food for your dog.
Another thing to consider is whether there are artificial dyes or coloring in the food. Dogs don’t care what color their food and artificial colors are often a sign of poor quality.
WTD carries a small selection of food that we feed to our pack. We only carry food that is nutritious, uses quality ingredients, as well as trustworthy sourcing. If you have any questions about what to feed your dog, talk to a WTD pack member!
Part 2: Ways to Improve Your Kibble
There are lots of easy and low-cost ways that you can boost the nutrition in your kibble. One of the most beneficial (and free) things is to add warm water to your kibble and allow it to soak for a few minutes. This will rehydrate your kibble and make it easier to digest.
It is important to remember that you should only add 20% of an unbalanced topper to your dog’s diet. So, how do you know if your topper is unbalanced? Things like eggs or yogurt would be unconsidered unbalanced, but so are many toppers you can get from the pet store. It is important to always check the back of the bag for the AAFCO statement. If it says that the product is “formulated to meet nutritional levels” or “provides complete and balanced nutrition” then you know it’s balanced. If it says “intended for supplemental feeding”, it is unbalanced but still might make a tasty topper.
Another important thing is to remember the calories in your topper. Do you have a high energy dog that is hard to keep weight on or a cough potato with lower needs? You need to select toppers that work for your dog.
Here are some great options to boost your dog’s bowl
- Greek Yogurt (check for any added sugar)
- Sardines (make sure they are in water and not oil)
- Bone broth or goats milk (Make sure you get pet specific bone broth as human broth tends to have added sodium and onion)
- Canned dog food (Choose a high quality canned food with a high meat content)
- Freeze dried dog food (A great protein boosting option that is balanced)
- Origins 5 in 1 (This is a topper that is also a beneficial supplement)
- Canned pumpkin (Be sure to get 100% plain pumpkin, not pie filling)
Part 3: Learning to Read the Bag
We talked earlier about AAFCO labels and determining if a food is balanced. You can also check the AAFCO label to determine what life stages a food is designed for. The main categories are:
- Adult Maintenance: Food designed to meet the nutritional needs of dogs that are finished growing.
- Puppy: Food designed for small to medium breed puppies.
- Large Breed Puppy: Food designed for large breed puppies.
- All life stages: Food designed for adult maintenance as well as puppy and/or large breed puppy growth.
You might also find foods that are labeled as senior, weight management, and sport, among others.
What makes a food appropriate for one life stage over another?
- Puppy and large breed puppy: Puppy food is designed for growth and is formulated to ensure your pup grows slowly and correctly. A large breed dog is going to grow a lot more and longer than a small breed dog. So, large breed puppy foods have a different balance of calcium, phosphorus, and fat. You never want to feed a large breed puppy a food that was designed for small breed puppies.
- Senior foods: Foods labeled for seniors often have slightly lower calories and fat to help less active dogs stay lean. They also might have additional glucosamine or other supplements designed to help joints.
- Weight management: Similar to senior foods, weight management foods often are lower calorie and fat. They are designed to allow your pup to feel full while still lowering their daily calories.
- Sport: Sport foods are usually the opposite of weight management foods and are designed for very active dogs. They usually have a higher calorie count and will often have higher levels of protein and fat.
When choosing the right food, it is important to make sure that you check that it is the right lifestyle for your dog. You wouldn’t want to feed your overweight pup a food designed for super active dogs nor would you want to feed a senior food to your large breed puppy. On the next blog we are going to cover how to choose the right food for your dog! You can also always talk to a member of the WTD pack on selecting the best option.
Nutrition Part 4: Finding the right food
Understanding how to read the labels and life stages of pet food is great. But, how do you actually choose the right food for your pup? Here are 5 things to help you make the right choice!
The right food for your pup has to fit within your budget. So, determining what your monthly budget is can help you narrow down the choices. Kibble can range from less than $1 a pound up to over $6 a pound, you want to provide the best quality kibble that fits your budget.
Do you have a super active dog that needs a higher calorie food or do you have a couch potato? For a dog with lower caloric needs, look for foods that are in the 300-400 range. We want to make sure that we are feeding dogs enough to receive their required nutrition as well as helping them feel full. A lower calorie food will let your dog feel like they are still getting a big meal. On the other hand, if you have a high energy dog you might want to look for a higher calorie food. You will want to look for something that is a minimum of 400 but some foods are over 500 calories a cup.
The guaranteed analysis will show you the protein, fat, fiber, and moisture a dog food contains. Similarly to calories, some dogs will do better with a higher protein and fat food. A common high protein/fat ratio is 30% protein and 20% fat. However, some foods are as high as 38% protein. On the low end you can find foods that are 18-20% protein and 8-10% fat. Less active or dogs needing to lose weight will typically need a lower fat food. Fiber is generally 2-4% but high fiber foods might be as high as 10%.Other dogs will do better with a food that is higher in carbs. If your dog has trouble with firm stool, it might be helpful to look at the fiber content of your food.
Do you want to rotate flavors
Some dogs will happily eat the same food every day for years, while other dogs might be pickier. One way to keep food interesting is by using toppers, healthy additions you can add to your dog’s food. For some of WTD’s favorite toppers, check out Part 2 of the Nutrition blog above. Another way is to look for foods that are designed to be rotational. For example, Nutrisource and Fromm both have several lines of food that contain several flavors. These recipes are designed to switch between and not cause stomach issues in most dogs. It’s a great way to give your dog a new flavor in each bag.
Size of bag to purchase
It is usually most cost effective to buy the biggest bag of dog food. But, kibble only stays good for approximately 8 weeks. So, it is important to determine how big of a bag you can go through in 2 months. Each pound of kibble is roughly 4 cups of food. So, if your dog eats 2 cups of kibble a day then they would go through approximately 15 lbs of kibble a month.