Think of your dog as a highly trained athlete. The nutrition you give her will impact not only her overall performance, but it affects her well-being and her overall quality of life. Dogs need a certain amount of nutrients and vitamins to grow strong, develop properly, and live a long, healthy life. Pet parents have become much more aware that the food we give our canine companions can prevent allergies, skin irritations, and help them live with us much longer.
Only recently have pet parents truly become aware of their dog’s diet. At one time, we trusted picking up just any old kibble off the grocery store shelf would provide Fido with the nutrition he needed to be healthy and happy. At one time, nearly seventy percent of pet parents had no idea what goes into their dog’s food production. However, within the last decade, research has shown that not every dog food has the nutritional requirements beneficial to our dogs. Therefore, pet parents are choosy about what they feed their canine companions, and many are even feeding specialized diets in an effort to get their fur babies the best nutrition possible.
Are all dog foods alike?
Unfortunately, no. While it is true that the best dog food manufacturers are (and most do) following guidelines that formulate dog food to certain standards, there are dog food companies that do not follow the same food safety guidelines.
How can this be? Well, for one thing, if dog food is not manufactured inside the United States, you can bet that there are shortcuts taken to produce food. Even when pet food is made inside the United States, many dog food manufacturers still take shortcuts in order to keep the price of the product down.
If a dog food product is manufactured inside the US, then two agencies govern the ingredients in dog food. These two entities, the AAFCO (the American Feed Control Officials)  and the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration that monitors human food production as well)  are charged with monitoring ingredients in pet (and all animal) food.
While this often gives pet parents a feeling of confidence, there is one issue you should be aware of – the FDA allows for “rendered” ingredients to be included in your dog’s feed. Rendering takes place when dead animals are broken down for use in other products, from glue to pet food. Rendering facilities may utilize everything from expired meat to zoo animals. They often take discarded parts from livestock – the bones and organs that aren’t typically used in food products. When these parts show up in dog food, it will read on the ingredient list as “bone meal,” or “chicken by-product.”
It is here that the FDA and the AAFCO let pet parents down. Many of these “by-products” and “meal” products can cause allergic reactions in our dogs. They may cause your dog to have irritated skin, and they really don’t provide much in the way of nutrition. They are simply fillers in dog food – and they can be dangerous to our canine companions.
Now, with this in mind, let’s look at what nutrients your pet needs. We’ll look shortly at how to read the ingredients on a bag of dog food to prevent giving your dog any of these dangerous products shortly.
What are the top nutrients my dog needs?
Dogs need a combination of protein, fat, fiber, and other essential nutrients to live a long, happy, healthy life. The top nutrient your dog needs is protein. This can come in the form of lamb, pork, red meat, or chicken. Next, your dog needs specific fatty acids in order to promote skin and coat health – Omega-3 and Omega-6 as well as Linoleic acid. Your dog needs grains and vegetables that provide healthy sugars and starches (this is why a grain-free diet is not always a good idea). Your dog also needs fiber in order to keep his intestinal system working properly. When it comes to vitamins, dogs need a combination of Vitamins A, K, E, D, B-complex, and calcium and phosphorus.
Now, you CAN find a dry dog food that provides each of these nutrients. You just need to know how to read the label for the proper ingredients.
Is feeding my dog a homemade diet nutritionally beneficial?
When pet parents began realizing many commercially manufactured foods included harmful ingredients, they began preparing food for their dogs at home. Yes, feeding your dog a homemade diet CAN provide all the nutrition your dog needs, but you must be careful to provide all the above-referenced nutrients.
Many pet parents will prepare chicken, lamb, fish, or even steak for their dog at home. They will also add vegetables and grains for their dogs. Dogs can safely eat peas, carrots, and even sweet potatoes as a part of a homemade diet. The only issue with a homemade diet is ensuring your dog gets all the vitamins and nutrients he needs to meet his nutritional requirements. Some pet parents will add rice to their dog’s homemade diet; however, it must be brown rice rather than white rice that has often been refined.
Another group of pet parents work to provide a “raw” diet for their dogs, which is supposed to be as much like your dog’s natural diet as possible (it is meant to mimic what dogs in the wild would have eaten prior to the domestication of dogs). Pet parents must also exercise caution with this type of diet as raw meat can sometimes carry parasites; cooking the meat would typically kill these parasites, but feeding your dog this does nothing to prevent the spread of parasites.
If you choose to feed your dog a homemade or raw diet, then consult with your vet before embarking on this journey. Your vet can suggest the best route for preparing food at home for your dog. You may also need to provide vitamins or other supplements to your dog if you choose a homemade diet.
How do I choose the right dog food?
Earlier, we discussed reading the ingredient label to decide what foods are safe for your dog and which brands to avoid. Now, let’s look at ingredients to avoid.
First, look for any preservatives and fillers. Do you see several words you might have a hard time pronouncing? Perhaps you see sodium tripolyphosphate or propylene glycol. These two ingredients are highly toxic to dogs! STPP is an ingredient in many detergents – yes, you read that correctly! Propylene Glycol is an ingredient often found in antifreeze, which you know is highly toxic to dogs. Why would the FDA or the AAFCO allow these ingredients in dog food? These agencies contend that, in very small amounts, these chemicals will not harm your dog. However, you should still steer clear of these ingredients in dog food. They can cause skin irritation, at the very least (which can make your dog miserable). The best plan is to steer clear of dog foods that have many chemical-sounding names on the ingredient list, no matter how small the amount may be.
Some of these chemical-sounding names are also artificial colors. Be especially concerned if you see Red 40 or Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 2 in your dog’s ingredient list. Remember, artificial colors do NOT make food appealing to dogs! Dogs are colorblind, so they can’t see bold colors in their food.
Look at the first ingredients of the dog food. You’ll want to see meat first, as dogs need a great deal of protein to be healthy. Be sure that the meat doesn’t read “chicken by-product” or “chicken meal.” The words “by-product” and “meal” are sure signs that the manufacturers used meat from rendering facilities. While these rendered products can produce some protein, they can also lead to great discomfort and allergic reactions in your dog. Your dog may develop tummy trouble, but most often he’ll end up with irritated skin that itches and causes him to nip at or lick the area until the hair falls out.
One ingredient you definitely want to avoid is corn. A corn often causes havoc on your dog’s intestinal system. Ironically, soy can have the same effect on dogs (although it is a safe alternative for humans with digestive issues). Apparently, corn and soy aren’t processed by canines, in the same manner, we humans process these ingredients.
Look for the word “enriched” on the ingredient label. This can mean white flour or other unhealthy ingredients are included in your dog’s food. Quinoa, oats, and brown rice are all great for your dog and aren’t enriched. These whole grains provide the fiber your dog needs to be healthy without causing allergies or other digestive upset.
Speaking of grains, look for sweet potatoes or legumes in the ingredients list. These are safe for dogs, and they provide extra nutrients your dog can benefit from.
Some other ingredients that should give you cause for concern:
- MSG – This is the same monosodium glutamate that can cause food reactions in humans
- gluten – unless it is naturally gluten found in whole grains such as brown rice
- corn syrup – it’s not good for humans, and it’s certainly not good for dogs either
- BHA/BHT – these are chemical preservatives that have been linked to cancer
- xylitol – this is a sugar substitute that is highly toxic to dogs
- sodium nitrate or nitrite – a preservative that’s used in processed meats
- anything rendered – fat, meal, by-products, digest – ANY of these products are “rendered” and not healthy
Choosing the right pet food product for your dog will really just take time to read the ingredients and educate yourself as to what is harmful. Sadly, although the FDA and the AAFCO do hold manufacturers to a certain standard, pet-grade food is NOT as high quality as human food. However, knowing what to avoid on the ingredients list will help you to choose a healthy food product for your canine companion.
Wet Dog Food vs. Dry Dog Food
To be honest, your dog can get all the vitamins and essential nutrients he needs from dry dog kibble, provided it does not contain the harmful chemicals and animal by-products discussed throughout the article.
However, your pooch may prefer wet dog food. If so, use the same process to make sure the ingredients are of the highest quality.
You can also feed both wet and dry dog food if you think this is most beneficial to your dog.
Automatic dog feeders are great for pet parents who are away from home but want to ensure their dogs are fed properly during the day. The best automatic feeders allow you to set a program to feed a certain amount at certain intervals. This offers obvious advantages over gravity-fed automatic feeders that will allow your dog to eat all he can only to refill his bowl time and again. This can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
Dogs need the Omega fatty acids present in fish oil in their diet. However, you don’t need to give her supplemental fish oil for dogs (unless otherwise directed by your vet) if your dog is getting these oils in her feed. Many dry dog foods include Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in their food, so you won’t need to add this in the form of a supplement. Should you need to increase your pet’s Omega-3 intake, make sure to choose the best fish oil for dogs.
Probiotics are great for a dog’s digestive system. Many foods are now including them in their kibble formula, so, again, unless directed by your vet, you won’t need to add this in the form of a dog probiotics supplement. Look for probiotics on the ingredient list, and if they are indeed needed in your dog’s nutrition plan, make sure to select the best dog probiotics that you can find.
Dogs need Vitamins A, B-complex, D, and E. Dogs make their own Vitamin C, so you won’t need to include this in a supplement for your dog. Most commercial dog foods include these vitamins in their formulation, but if they don’t you’ll want to select the best dog multivitamins to include in their nutrition plan. That said, it can be dangerous to provide a supplement of these foods if your dog is already getting them in his daily diet. Again, consult with your vet.
Treats are great, but, consider them the way we humans consider sweets – they really don’t provide much in the way of nutritional value, and too much can actually harm your dog (for the same reason sweets are harmful to humans – they cause weight gain).
Use treats as a, well, treat; be judicious in how you supply them. The best dog treats work great for training and as a nice surprise, but they shouldn’t be something your dog is getting a great deal of for health reasons.
What is the healthiest food to feed your dog?
The healthiest food for your dog is one that contains the right amount of protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and grains. Steer clear of ingredients you can’t pronounce and that isn’t natural. Be sure to look for signs there’s a great deal of “rendered” products in the dog food as well. Stay with as many naturally sourced products as possible.
What is a balanced meal for dogs?
A balanced meal will include protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. Most dogs can be healthy on commercially manufactured dry dog food, although some pet parents will supplement with wet dog food.
What nutrients do dogs need?
Dogs need protein, first and foremost. However, they also need healthy fats, such as Omega fatty acids. They also need Vitamins A, B-complex, D, and E. Dogs produce their own Vitamin C.
What vitamins do dogs need?
Most dogs get Vitamins A, B-complex, D, and E from their daily diet.