We continue our essentials list with the dog supplies we actually use on a daily basis with dog food. Currently it is estimated that of the $70 Billion spent in the US on pet-related supplies and services, $26 Billion of it is on pet food. There are a ton of options and just as many opinions. Right now, the three main categories for dog food are kibble, raw, and fresh.
Dog Food is a pretty loaded subject and we are not here to give you specific brand or recipe recommendations. In fact, we’ll go so far as to say if there is anything you read in this article that sounds like a recommendation of any sort, you should know there is very likely a highly qualified and well-meaning person who will recommend something different or even opposite. Not to confuse you, but there is simply a ton of information and even the experts are learning something new every day.
We consider health and nutrition a lifelong subject of discovery for ourselves and our families which, of course, includes our dogs. Just like with our own grocery shopping and dining choices we continually strive to find that balance between health, nutrition, desire, and finances.
As stated before, we spend a lot of time dealing with dog food for the pet food charities we support and are well aware that every pet is unique and each owner has their own preferences. The right dog food is the one that best meets your dog’s needs and your budget.
Below are some guidelines to get you started. But by all means do your research, get recommendations, and look out for recall notifications.
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Ask your veterinarian. The proper type and amount of nutrition are always important, and this is especially true if you’re starting with a puppy. The food needs to be both something they can easily digest and nutrient rich enough that they don’t have to over eat or are mistakenly getting too little. Plus, your puppy may be dealing with other issues like allergies or dry skin and your veterinarian can give you advice on the types of food which will be best. Be sure to not just get the name of a brand or type, but learn more about the specific needs your veterinarian may be considering. For example, if he is recommending a specific food high in fish oil to help with dry skin, then you can use this information to maybe choose an alternate brand which still meets this requirement but offers other benefits (grain free, less-expensive, etc, etc.) This will help you investigate options down the road.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Review the Ingredients. Just like with human food, you’ll find some with limited and simple to understand ingredients, and others with words only a certain type of scientist may recognize. Use the same discretion you use when buying food for your family at the grocery store. Don’t get discouraged and try to keep it simple at first by looking at the breakdown of what’s included.[/list_item]
You’re also going to start seeing a lot of references to AAFCO. This is a good thing but not the end of the road for your research. In order for a label to say it is ‘Complete & Balanced Nutrition’ means it has met the minimum standards of The Association of American Feed Control Officials, a volunteer trade association. They created the following set of guidelines:[tm_list]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Minimum Percentage of Crude Protein[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Minimum Percentage of Crude Fat[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Maximum Percentage of Crude Fiber[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Maximum Percentage of Moisture[/list_item]
As we said, this is a good thing and we recommend learning more about all that AAFCO does by visiting them at www.aafco.org.
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Calories and Serving Size. Again, just like human food, not all dog food is equal, and we don’t mean one is better than the other, just that a single cup serving of each can vary widely in terms of overall calories. For example, we feed one type of kibble to our dogs that has 408 kcals per cup, another that delivers 435 kcals, and even a third offering 457 kcals per cup. Again, the label should have this information available to you and you can use it as a guide based on your veterinarian’s recommendations and how your dog responds. If they’re losing weight and low on energy you are likely not giving them enough (or the right type), and of course if they are gaining weight they are probably getting too much (or again the wrong type and/or not enough exercise). You’ll need to regularly monitor and weigh your dog. A good rule of thumb for assessing your dog’s weight is you should be able to feel, but not see, your dog’s ribs when they are at rest and a slight taper down to the waist is ideal for most breeds.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Recall Notifications. With so many factories and so many products it’s not uncommon for something to go wrong and for a dog food to be recalled. Most of the time it is voluntary and only precautionary, and other times it is unfortunately due to more tragic circumstances. There are some websites who claim to send you notifications if you join their newsletter, and you can also simply set up something like Google Alerts to notify you if there is any news about the brand you are feeding your dog.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Variety. Don’t be afraid of switching your dog’s diet. Yes, changes in food can upset a dog’s stomach, so you want to be smart about it and introduce new foods gradually with a transition plan, but periodically switching can help you find something even better for both you and your dog. It can also help balance out any nutrient imbalance in a single food source. And let’s be honest, do you like eating the same food, meal after meal, day after day, for your entire life? Of course not.[/list_item]
And there we have it. It’s not that tricky overall and if you constantly feel a bit uneasy about your current choice of food for your dog, just know you’re not alone. We’ve had dogs in our family for over 20 years and whenever someone asks what we feed them we’ve always shared with a bit of hesitation since we know even with all our research and communication with our vet, watching our dogs, monitoring their health and being aware of their overall well-being it’s quite likely that whatever our current choice is there is probably something better. So we’ll keep learning and paying attention the best we can. We hope you’ll do the same.
One last thing. If you’re having financial difficulties feeding your dog please look for a pet food pantry near you. A search on Google or Facebook can be helpful, as well as visiting www.nafaa.org. There you will find a list of pet food charities by state. If you still can’t find one, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we’ll do all we can to get you connected with the right resource.