With all the questions we have been getting regarding dog feeding and nutrition, we have decided to put together a guide on how to choose the best foods for your dog. It will also cover the approach we take to feeding multiple dogs, as well as feeding dogs with special diets, and changing diets as your puppy grows into an adult. Choosing the best food for your dog can be both confusing and daunting with all of the available options, but we are here to help you through the process.
Dog Food Options
There exists a number of different options for feeding your dog. There has been a recent change in the way people want to feed their animals; most people want to feed higher quality meals than the standard dry kibble full of fillers which used to be one of the only options. Presently, the most popular methods seem to be feeding fresh home cooked food, a complete raw diet, nutritional canned dog food, and healthy kibble. Most manufacturers are increasing the nutritional content of their foods to keep up with the new competition, which is great for the dogs. Generally the fresher the food that you give your dog, the more expensive it will be, but it will also be the most nutritious and your dog will be more happy and healthy.
Canine Nutritional Needs
Just like humans, dogs of different sizes and ages have varying nutritional needs. Also similar to humans, dogs will need a balanced diet consisting of: meat, fruit, vegetables, and grains. Although some dogs may have sensitivities to some of these foods, there are substitutions available such as grain free dog food. Puppies, especially large breeds, need a lot more food and nutrition than a senior or adult dog of the same breed. Dog food manufacturers are aware of this fact and generally manufacture dog food in a few different categories: puppy, adult, senior, and all life stages. Dog food that is for all life stages is probably the safest option to choose if you would like to stay with the same food for the entirety of your dog’s lifespan. It is generally the type of dry kibble that we use here at Animal Psychology Center because we always have multiple dogs of different ages and sizes.
Feeding Schedule and Guidelines
On all bags of dog food, the manufacturer should list a feeding guideline for dogs of different ages, weights, and also for lactating mothers with puppies. This guideline should be used as a baseline that you will adjust according to your dog’s activity level. You may also need to adjust if your dog is underweight or overweight. Most pet owners want to treat their dog’s, sometimes a little too much. With all of the new, high-quality, nutritious kibble available, there has been a growing number of dogs becoming overweight. This can lead to health problems as the dog ages, particularly diabetes and heart disease. Another factor to consider is that puppies will need to eat at least twice per day, while older dogs will usually be fine with one meal especially if they are inactive. Feeding every twelve hours is the general rule of thumb; any longer can lead to excess acid in the dog's stomach, which can lead to stomach problems. To keep your dog at a healthy weight, it is good practice to research your dog's breed standards and compare their body types. A dog with a healthy weight should have a waist that is more slender than their chest. The best way to check if they are in shape is to feel if they have any noticeable fat accumulation on their ribs or stomach. You should be able to feel the outline of their ribs without pushing hard; however if you are able to noticeably see their ribs sticking out, then they may be underweight. Your vet should be able to provide a second opinion since you see your dog every day and they will be able to tell you for sure if your dog needs more or less food.
Common Dog Food Ingredients
To ensure the safety of your dog, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has very strict requirements of the ingredients put into your dog's food to ensure that the ingredients are in proper proportions for a healthy diet. However, some dog foods do not follow the guidelines of AAFCO, so you must make sure that any dog food bag that you purchase contains a statement regarding AAFCO affiliation. Most dog foods should contain close to the same food groups. Generally they will contain: meat, fruit, vegetables, and grains. All of the ingredients will be listed on the dog food in the order of highest quantity. High quality dog foods will always have a form of meat as the first ingredient and a high quality grain as the second or third ingredient. The most common meats included in dog food will be chicken or beef as they are the cheapest meats to produce. Premium meats will be more expensive, such as: turkey, lamb, or duck. The best quality grains are whole grains, examples of these include: oats, brown rice, quinoa, and barley. Lower quality grains are usually more processed, such as: wheat flour or any type of corn. Grains are necessary in dog food as they provide necessary nutrition and a lot of fiber.
Special Dog Food Ingredients
Your dog may have allergies to certain dog food ingredients. Usually the symptoms will manifest as red skin, especially on the belly and feet. A few more examples of allergic reactions can include: upset stomach, ear infections, loss of hair, and itching. It is best to see your vet if these symptoms occur to help diagnose the problem. Usually an allergy panel can be done to find out which foods your dog might be allergic to. The most common foods for allergies are: chicken, beef, dairy, eggs, soy, and wheat. There are plenty of foods available that will avoid these common allergies. Most commonly, chicken and beef will be replaced with turkey, lamb, or fish. There are also plenty of grain free foods on the market now as well; usually they will substitute wheat and soy with peas, lentils, or potatoes. Some of these specialty foods are not affiliated with AAFCO, and may not guarantee that the food is a balanced diet so you will want to check and make sure that you purchase dog food that is guaranteed by AAFCO guidelines.
Size and Breed Specific Requirements
Different breeds and sizes of dogs will have different nutritional needs. For small breeds of dogs, there are specific formulas of dog food that usually have smaller than standard kibble. It is a lot easier for their small mouths to chew on, especially senior small breed dogs. The same is true for large breed dogs, the kibble is generally larger than standard. The most affected group of dogs that you need to pay attention to are large and giant breed puppies. Large puppies need specific levels of calcium and taurine in order to prevent bone and heart problems like hip dysplasia and DCM. This holds especially true for Rottweilers, Great Danes, German Shepherds, and Dobermans. Reading the dog food label for the AAFCO statement will tell you if the food is suitable for growing large breed puppies, which are classified as being 70 pounds or heavier when fully grown. You will want to research your breed to find out if there are any specific nutritional requirements for your breed.
Weighing the Dog Food Options
With all of the available options for dog food, it may be difficult to choose the food form that works best for your family’s lifestyle. With a homemade raw dog food diet, it can be the healthiest dog food option as dogs can digest fresh food easier than processed food like kibble and canned food. However, it is also the most difficult because you will have to constantly purchase and mix up fresh food for your dogs, as well as handling raw meat which may contain bacteria. You will also have to make sure you keep the diet balanced with meat, grains, fruits, and vegetables. There are products available, such as JustFoodForDogs DIY Nutrient Blend, that will offer recipes for you to make raw food with all the added nutrients your dog will need to stay healthy. With all of the fresh ingredients you will need, the time spent making the food, and energy used keeping the food refrigerated, this raw food option is usually the most expensive. Some dogs may refuse to eat raw meat so you will want to make sure to let them try some before making a large batch.
Another similar option that has been added to the market recently is premade fresh dog food. There are several companies that provide this option: The Farmer’s Dog, JustFoodForDogs, Ollie, Nom Nom, and Pet Plate just to name a few. These foods are personalized and made fresh for your dogs needs; based on their weight, age, and food sensitivities. These premade foods are already cooked, so there is no risk of bacteria and parasites like there normally is with raw chicken and pork. Usually they are offered with a subscription and mailed to you in a frozen package. All you have to do is thaw the food and everything will be taken care of. This food will need to remain either frozen or refrigerated to keep the freshness. These fresh premade food options can vary in price greatly, depending on which supplier you choose and also the recipe you use.
One of the classic options to feed your dog is canned wet dog food. This is one of the easiest options as you can purchase it by the case and follow the recommended guidelines. The nutritional value is often better than feeding kibble because it is less processed and contains more meat protein and less carbohydrates. However it is probably not as nutritious or tasty as some of the more fresh dog food options. The canned food can sit on a shelf at room temperature if it has not been opened, so it lasts a lot longer than having fresh food in your fridge. It can also be mixed with kibble for picky eaters, because some dogs do not enjoy eating bland kibble. The cost of canned dog food is usually between $1-$4 per can with the higher quality foods costing more. This cost is usually less than what you will pay for the fresh dog food options, but more expensive than bulk dry kibble.
That brings us to the most common type of dog food, kibble. Kibble is widely considered to be the least nutritious option to feed your dog, but it is also the most common and convenient. All kibble is highly processed, which is how they turn fresh meat, grains, vegetables, and fruit into crunchy bits with less than 10% moisture. It is often manufactured to the bare minimum specifications outlined by AAFCO. Before there were any regulations, dry kibble could contain any number of ingredients with no oversight and did not provide a healthy diet for dogs. Times have changed and there are plenty of regulations and more dog food manufacturers to create competition in the market. This has led to an increased life expectancy of dogs throughout the years. Kibble can be stored at room temperature as long as it is in a sealed container. It will last a long time without spoiling because of the low moisture content and preservatives. Feeding kibble is much easier than the other options; all you have to do is scoop the correct amount into a bowl. You can also leave a full bowl of kibble out for your dog to graze all day, however this option isn’t suited for all dogs as some dogs may have an overeating disorder where they will eat all food available in the bowl regardless if they are actually hungry or in need of food. Kibble is usually the cheapest available food option, however it has the highest range of costs. Most kibble will be in the range of $1-$4 per pound of dry food. Like canned food, the higher quality foods will cost more.
Choosing the Right Dog Food
There is no right answer when choosing dog food because everyone will have a different situation. With all of the options outlined above, you will have a better understanding of the different benefits and costs associated. Feeding multiple large dogs a fresh food diet may not be economically feasible for most people because the costs can potentially be $50 or more per day while kibble will be a fraction of the cost. You can also choose to feed multiple food types, such as feeding mostly fresh food and supplementing with kibble as needed. Once you decide on the form of food that works best for your situation, there is an online resource you can use to compare different brands. This resource is www.DogFoodAdvisor.com. It is a third-party review site that compares and rates all of the different dog foods and gives an honest review of the ingredients. This site also keeps track of all of the recalls on dog food that have happened throughout the years. It also offers more articles about dog food to further increase your knowledge of dog food. We do use this resource when choosing new kibble to feed our dogs at Animal Psychology Center.
Other Foods and Treats
Dogs may get bored with eating the same food every day just like people do. It may be a good idea to mix in some different foods or toppers. You can mix in some canned food with kibble, or even just switch to a different kibble flavor. Another option is to give your dog some table scraps from your leftover food; the dogs love this because they think that you have the best food. It is also beneficial to their stomach so they are able to digest foods that may normally give them an upset stomach if they end up eating some food that they are not supposed to eat. If they do get an upset stomach, some popular options are to feed them canned pumpkin or sweet potatoes. Both of these foods contain a lot of fiber and will usually help their stomach feel better. Scrambled eggs are also a popular food topper; they are very high in protein and can be beneficial for a growing dog. Various fish oils can also be added to your dog's food; the main options available are cod oil, salmon oil, and krill oil. These fish oils contain omega 3 and offer great benefits for the heart, skin, coat, and joints.
Foods That Dogs Should Never Eat
Although it may be a good idea to give your dog a few table scraps, there exists a list of foods that are extremely toxic to dogs and you will want to avoid feeding them at all costs. Even though dogs need a balanced diet like humans, their digestive system is unable to process some of these foods. The list of foods includes: onions, garlic, chocolate, avocados, processed sugars, caffeine, grapes, raisins, cow milk (lactose), and too much salt. While most of these foods are not fatal to dogs in small quantities, it is the best practice to remember the list and avoid letting them eat any of these foods.
Eating Disorders in Dogs
There are a few types of eating disorders that dogs may develop. Some of these disorders include: overeating, undereating, pica (eating non-food items), scoffing (eating too fast), coprophagia (eating feces), food aggression, and megaesophagus. These conditions can all be managed after initial diagnoses. You will want to visit your veterinarian if your dog shows symptoms of any of these disorders as they can be an underlying symptom of something more serious. Food aggression may be the most difficult issue to tackle if you have multiple dogs, but it is something that we can work through with you with a few training sessions at Animal Psychology Center.
Animal Psychology Center Feeding Schedule and Recommendations
We feed a variety of different foods here at Animal Psychology Center. Most commonly we feed a mix of a raw food diet and supplement with high quality kibble. Our raw food consists of JustFoodForDogs DIY beef and russet potato recipe. We source our beef from quality local South Dakota cattle. The vegetables we use are always fresh or frozen, never canned with preservatives. All of the kibble that we purchase is high quality, but generally under $2 per pound. We try to alternate different brands and kibble to keep the dogs interested in their food. Through a lot of research and comparing kibble on www.DogFoodAdvisor.com, the brands we normally purchase are Diamond Naturals, Gentle Giants, Victor, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. We also feed the dogs leftover table scraps to help their stomach biomes get used to different foods. It is important for us to keep a variety of canned food and different formulas because some dogs we see have food allergies and need a special diet. Sometimes we will feed cooked eggs to dogs who need more protein or pumpkin for an upset stomach. All of the dogs at Animal Psychology Center are fed according to their weight, age, and nutritional needs to keep them fit and in good health.