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Picking the right food for your dog

Finding the right food for your furry friend is important, but knowing what that food is can be difficult. When you walk into the pet store you are met with several obstacles. There is an overwhelming amount of pet food options, drastic variations in price, and many more. Many companies have already tried to sell you on why their pet food is the best through fancy commercials and advertising.  By following our veterinarian recommended guide for choosing pet foods, hopefully you will be able to find a food that makes both you and your pet very happy!

Step 1: The manufacturer: Who is making my pet’s food?

Pet food is a billion dollar industry and everyone wants to have their own brand and not all brands are held to the same standards. As veterinarians, we recommend looking for brand names of companies that have Veterinary Nutritionists creating their diets such as Hill’s, Science Diet, Royal Canin, Purina, and Iams.These companies have spent time and money creating healthy and safe foods for your pets. The quality of the ingredients and the safety of production are monitored closely. These diets are also formulated to meet your pet’s dietary requirements, avoiding nutritional deficiencies as well as excesses. Deficiencies in most commercial diets are rare however excesses of nutrients are very common and can be detrimental to your pet’s health long term.

Step 2: Was this diet in a food trial?

It is important to know if that food was in a “food trial” vs “formulated”.  You can find this information on the pet food bag in the AAFCO statement*. Having a food trial is the “gold standard” for determining nutritional adequacy.  Dogs in the food trial are fed only that diet and monitored following AAFCO protocols and it is the best way to document how a pet will perform when fed a specific diet. Formulated diets are created by following nutrient requirements for specific animals but are not studied in feeding trials prior to being sold. Formulating a diet is a less expensive method and there is no guarantee of pet acceptance or nutrient bioavailability/digestibility when using this method. Diets can be formulated and still be a good diet for your pet, you just want to make sure the manufacturer has Veterinary Nutritionists creating the diets.

Step 3: Are you feeding for the appropriate lifestage of your pet?

Feeding the appropriate food for your pet’s life stage is very important because your pet’s nutritional requirements change with age:

  • Puppies/Kittens/Lactating Animals: A diet should be fed that is specific for puppy/kitten, growth/reproduction or all life stages.
  • Adults (~1-7 years old): A maintenance diet should be fed.  It is important to NOT feed a diet specified for all life stages.  These diets need to be formulated to meet the needs of puppies/kittens/lactating animals and are higher in protein, vitamins, and minerals.  Feeding an “all life stages” diet to adults/senior pets can lead to nutrient excessives that can be harmful long term.
  • Seniors (+7 years): There is no official AFFCO guideline for feeding older pets. Like with adult pets, it is important not to feed a diet for 'all life stages'.

*AFFCO: Association of American Feed Control Officials

How to read a food label properly

  • According to AAFCO, the term ‘natural’ requires a pet food to consist only of natural ingredients, without chemical alteration.
  • AAFCO states that in order to make organic claims, USDA Organic Regulations must be met. Only foods with this label have met the requirements:

  • ‘Human grade’ has no legal definition and is used as a marketing tool.
  • ‘Holistic’ has no legal definition and may be used on any and all pet food.
  • The ingredients are listed in descending order based on weight (including water) PRIOR TO PROCESSING.
  • Look for a pet food that has undergone FEEDING TRIALS as opposed to formulated.
  • Make sure the product you purchase is intended for the appropriate LIFESTAGE of your pet.
  • ‘Maintenance’=adult or geriatric pet
  • ‘Growth’=puppy
  • ‘All life stages’=puppy
  • ‘Growth and maintenance’=puppy
  • Exact nutrient information CANNOT be found on a pet food label. You can call a company to receive this information. 
  • Nutrient deficiencies AND excesses should be avoided. Look for products with OPTIMAL nutrient levels.

The association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, sets the standards for pet food labeling in the United States.

For the health of your dog, do not feed them table scraps as it can cause stomach upset, alter balance of nutrition, and lead to unwanted begging behaviors. Also, certain foods cause health problems and be harmful to dogs such as chocolate, caffeine, onions, raisins/grapes, and fatty foods. Diets that contain only meat should be avoided because they do not provide the appropriate balance of nutrients your pet needs. Many techniques are used to market pet foods. Please talk to our veterinarians about specific recommendations for your dog’s nutrition based on breed, size, life-stage and lifestyle. Your veterinarian is the BEST SOURCE for a diet recommendation!

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