You have a dog so you need dog food – right? The challenge is that when most people go to buy dog food they are completely bamboozled by the possibilities on offer. Trying to differentiate between one brand and the next can be tough. And looking at the ingredient list often won’t help as most foods seem to contain the same – a meat source, possibly fish, definitely carbohydrates and a bunch of vitamins, minerals and other ingredients you probably can’t even pronounce.
Plus if you’ve read my blog, Dubious Dog Food Labeling Claims, you will also know that words like ‘premium’, ‘natural’ or ‘holistic’ are marketing terms designed to attract would-be buyers and have very little to do with the actual contents or quality of the food.
So does it really matter which bag you choose as long as it says ‘complete’ i.e. the food contain every nutrient required by a dog in sufficient amounts for optimal health?
After all, your dog probably refuses his breakfast one minute and is happily munching on a decomposing fish at the side of the river the next! Most dogs aren’t that fussy about what they eat so surely one dog food choice is as good as the next.
It’s certainly easy to make that assumption but it really does matter!
The key considerations when choosing your dog food are:
- Current health
Breed matters! While all dogs benefit from healthy food and high quality protein some breeds are predisposed to certain health issues.
It makes sense, therefore, to know early on what those challenges may be so you can seek to prevent them with good quality, tailored nutrition.
For example breeds that are predisposed to bloat should be fed differently to those breeds with no predisposition to bloat. The same is true for heart disease bladder stone formation, bone and joint problems etc.
Cambridge University has a great website that can help you identify what conditions your dog is predisposed to: http://idid.vet.cam.ac.uk/search.php
I worked with a client recently who was expecting a puppy – and everyone was very excited about the new addition to the family. They wanted to make sure the food the breeder was feeding the puppy was OK and came to me for advice. Good thing too because although the breeder was feeding the puppy a high quality diet it wasn’t the right diet considering the dogs expected adult weight, and predisposed health concerns.
We changed the diet to one that was more heart and joint friendly, higher in protein, lower in fat, with better phosphorus to calcium and omega 3 to omega 6 ratios and there much loved puppy is now growing into a healthy adult.
Age matters! Like babies, puppies have a very high demand for vitamins and minerals to support optimum growth. An excess or deficiency in any key nutrient can jeopardize your puppies’ lifelong health.
At the other end of the age spectrum, an older dog is usually less active so their diet needs to be lower in calories to avoid weight gain.
Contrary to popular belief, healthy older dogs require slightly more protein than previously thought. Latest canine research shows that older dogs don’t metabolize protein as well as they used to so need more to compensate and prevent muscle breakdown. They are also likely to benefit from particular dietary supplements such as those that support bone or eye health.
Activity also matters! If you are walking your dog for an hour two or three times a day then your dog is going to need a different diet to one, even one the same breed that is only being walked for 15 minutes once a day. An active dog has a greater need for very particular nutrients and support compared to the couch potato!
The current health status of your dog should also be considered when making diet choices. Does your dog have gastrointestinal problems, arthritis or is your dog taking any medication? Existing health conditions are likely to warrant specific dietary requirements.
Finally the choice of dog food for your four legged friend will also come down to whether they enjoy it. Whilst it’s never wise to chop and change your dog’s diet it is important to find something suitable that your dog also enjoys.
When he enjoys his food he’s more likely to be a happy, healthy pooch.