Most of us know that our dogs will eat anything, but feeding your dog a high quality well-balanced food is one of the best things a responsible pet owner can do for his or her pet. A good food serves as a health foundation and will strengthen the immune system, maintain digestive health, keep your vet bills low, and give your dog a longer, healthier life.
Since there are so many options when it comes to dog food, it is important to know what to look for and what to avoid when choosing a diet.
- Lots of animal protein at the top of the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed by weight, so you want to see the top quality animal protein at the top of the list; the first ingredient should be a “named” animal protein source (see next bullet).
- A named animal protein. Chicken, beef, lamb, and so on. “Meat” is an example of a low-quality protein source of an unknown origin. Animal protein “meals” should also be from a named species.
- An animal protein meal in a supporting role when a fresh meat is first on the ingredient list. This is to supplement the total animal protein in the diet. Since fresh meat contains 65 to 75 percent water, another source of animal protein should be at the top of that list. Animal protein “meals” – meat, bone, skin, and connective tissue that’s been rendered and dried – contain only about 10 percent moisture and up to 65 percent protein.
- Whole vegetables, fruits, and grains. Fresh, unprocessed food ingredients contain nutrients in their all-natural state. Keeping the ingredients whole keeps all of their vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants intact.
- A “best by” date that’s at least six months away. A best-by date that’s 10 or 11 months away is ideal; it means the food was made very recently. Foods made with synthetic preservatives (BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin) may have a “best by” date as much as two years past the date it was made.
What To Avoid:
- Meat by-products or poultry by-products. By-products are a lower-cost “parts” of an animal other than meat, derived from slaughtered or already dead mammals – beaks, feet, feathers, bone, organs, and so on. Processors don’t typically keep by-products clean or fresh. Because you can never know the source of the meat used to make by-product meals, it is best to avoid them altogether.
- A “generic” fat source. Such as “animal fat.” The fat can literally come from any fat of animal origin, including used restaurant grease and fats from roadkill. “Poultry fat” is not as vague as “animal fat,” but a specific protein is better, and more traceable.
- Added sweeteners. Dogs, like humans, enjoy the taste of sweet foods. Sweeteners persuade dogs to eat foods comprised of mainly grain fragments, which contain little healthy animal protein.
- Artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin are red-flag ingredients that should definitely be avoided. Your dog is indifferent about the color of his food, and it should be naturally flavored based on its quality ingredients. Natural preservatives, such as tocopherols (forms of vitamin E), vitamin C, and rosemary extract can all be used as natural preservatives.