When it comes to optimal nutrition, dogs are not too different from their human companions: Healthy and nutritious food should always make up the majority of their diet to help them lead happier and longer lives!
But the food that your beloved pup is naturally designed to eat is quite different from what we imagine healthy food to be. With so many great treats available to spoil your dog absolutely rotten, having them stick to a healthy diet can definitely be a challenge.
So, how can you make sure you’re choosing a dog food brand that will promote better health and vitality, all while allowing a few tasty treats on the side? And what is the best diet for your dog’s unique needs?
Here are our best tips and advice on how to choose the best dog food for your pup, including an answer to the age-old question: Wet or dry?
Get to Know Your Dog and What They Need
Before you start loading up your shopping basket with the fanciest dog food brands you can find, you should first make sure you’re familiar with your dog’s specific nutritional needs.
The best diet and food for your pooch will depend on their age, breed, size, activity levels, reproductive status, and any food allergies or sensitivities they might have.
For example, puppies younger than four months usually need to be fed four small meals a day to develop properly, and switching food brands too often is generally not recommended — their tummies can get upset easily!
Senior dogs, on the other hand, need to be fed no more than twice a day, and their diet needs to be packed with small amounts of veggies and fruit to promote better digestive health.
Your dog’s reproductive status will also influence their nutritional needs: Pregnant pooches will need a lot more energy to sustain their growing puppies, so feeding them frequent but small meals is usually the best option. Neutered dogs, on the other hand, will need far fewer calories compared to dogs that haven’t had the procedure — this is why some owners believe that neutering your dog will make them fat!
Making sure to adjust your pup’s diet according to their current needs, rather than feeding them the same meals throughout their lives. This is the best way to keep them happy and healthy.
Get Educated About Nutrition Choices
Once you’ve figured out what category your pup belongs in and how it can affect their diet, it’s time to get educated about the nutritional choices that will benefit them most.
As a general rule of thumb, what should be in the food they are eating will depend on their age, size, activity levels, and any special requirements they might have (such as nutrient malabsorption, pregnancy, or intestinal issues).
Because what your pup truly needs can vary so much depending on these factors, it’s always best to consult your vet or canine health specialist to make sure you’re feeding them all the right foods.
But if you’re just looking for a little inspiration and some helpful insights on what to look for in dog food, here are some of our best tips:
Check The Ingredients
If you’ve ever dieted before, you probably already know how much ingredients matter when it comes to losing weight and staying healthy in the long term, rather than just focusing on the portion size of what you’re eating.
Well, things are not that different when it comes to doggie nutrition: Reading the ingredients list of a dog food brand will help you make more conscious choices from the get-go, so you won’t have to dramatically reduce what your pup is eating to make up for the unhealthy ingredients!
So, what ingredients should you be looking out for?
Let’s start with the bad ones first: Wheat, corn, “meat meal”, MSG, sugar substitutes, vegetable oil, and soy are all ingredients to avoid when choosing a dog food brand, as they are all difficult to digest, nutritionally void, and even toxic for your furry friend to consume!
On top of these harmful ingredients, BHA/BHT artificial preservatives, artificial colors, sodium nitrite, sodium tripolyphosphate, animal fat, cellulose, pea protein, and any animal by-products like organs can also be detrimental to your pet’s health.
Some of these hard-to-pronounce ingredients, like BHA artificial preservatives, are actually banned in some countries and believed to be cancerous, while others like the plethora of animal by-products you can find in mainstream dog food brands can be harmful due to a lack of regulations.
For example, common dog food ingredients like the vaguely-named “meat meal” and even the innocent “animal fat” are known for deriving from cheap, industry-scrap ingredients like diseased and expired meat.
There’s usually no way of knowing what exactly is in the meat and fat included in mainstream kibbles, so you should make sure to do as much research as you can every time you come across a suspicious ingredient!
What Should Be in Dog Food?
If there are so many common ingredients to avoid, what alternatives are there for conscious owners who want to feed their pups the very best?
Fortunately for all animal lovers, there are plenty of alternatives to each of the bad ingredients you’ll find in low-quality dog food!
For example, if you want to give your dog the healthy fats they need to thrive without buying dog food with vegetable oil and leftover animal fat, you can choose a dog food with descript fats such as salmon oil and flaxseed oil, both high in essential omega-3 fatty acids.
Instead of feeding your pup wheat, corn, or any gluten product, you can help them get their healthy carbs by choosing dog food with whole grains like oats and brown rice.
Fiber is also crucial when it comes to satiety and vitamin absorption, so you want to make sure your dog is getting their 5 a day by picking dog food with hearty legumes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and any other nutritious and easy to digest veg.
Of course, the right ingredients for your pooch will depend on their specific needs, so if your pup is experiencing frequent stomach upsets you might want to go easy on the whole grains and veg!
In terms of what the right ingredients for your dog’s age are, the general rule of thumb is that you should pick brands that market their food as “complete and balanced for adult dogs” or “balanced for puppy” or even “complete and balanced for all stages of life”.
These foods should make up the majority of your dog’s diet, as they are designed to cater to the nutritional needs of adults, puppies, and senior dogs: For example, food for adult dogs is more nutritionally dense than what you’d find for a senior pooch, and puppy food is usually easier to digest.
Breed and size also play a role, as you’ll easily find food formulated to meet the needs of larger dogs as well as smaller dogs: For example, larger dogs are more prone to developing joint problems as they age, so you’ll find plenty of protein, meat, and vitamin C featured in the ingredients list.
Similarly, active dogs will also require a lot more protein compared to sedentary lap dogs, so feeding them plenty of poultry and fewer grain-based foods will help them get the long-release energy they need for their adventures!
The Top 5 Ingredients Are What Matter Most
But what are THE top ingredients you should look for when choosing a dog food brand, regardless of more specific needs?
When reading an ingredients list for the first time, you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer length of it! Hard to pronounce words are usually listed back to back and in tiny characters, so it can be hard to understand what exactly is inside a food product without having to do some research.
Ingredients are listed by weight, so you can expect the ones containing the most moisture (as well as the most prevalent) to be listed at the very top and drier ingredients to be found at the bottom of the list.
This means that just by looking at the first five ingredients listed, you can get a good idea of whether the meal would be good for your pooch or not!
Here are the top dog food ingredients you should be looking for:
Stay clear of meat that is not clearly labeled and choose whole ingredients instead, looking for lean protein sources like turkey and chicken.
Wet or Dry, That Is the Question
Now, let’s get to the biggest question of all when it comes to doggie diets: Should you feed your pup wet or dry food?
Wet food is a great way to improve your dog’s hydration and make their meals more appealing, but it tends to stick more to your dog’s teeth and result in poorer dental health.
On top of that, wet food tends to be a lot more expensive than dry food!
Dry food, on the other hand, is a lot more economical and better for your pup’s teeth, even though some dogs might not be as attracted to the smell of kibble as they are to wet food.
Mixing the two throughout the week or just using wet food as an occasional treat is usually the best course of action, as long as you make sure to add a little water to dry kibble!
What About Diets?
While most kibble and commercial wet food will suit most pups just fine, some dogs might need to follow special diets to meet their nutritional needs.
If you’ve been advised by your vet to put your pup on a strict diet to address food sensitivities or physical issues, you’re likely looking at two main diets: Grain-free and meat-free.
Not all dogs are able to digest grains easily, and if you’ve been advised to drop all dog food containing rice, rye, oats, barley, or other more simple grains like wheat and corn, your pup is probably suffering from allergies and intolerances.
In this case, you’ll want to look for other sources of carbohydrates, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and legumes, as well as reach out for grain-free treats like fruit and crunchy vegetables.
Protein allergies are a lot more common than grain allergies, so if you’ve been advised to put your pup on a meat-free diet, you shouldn’t have any issues finding meat-free dog food or preparing healthy veggie meals at home.
Dogs with kidney issues will also be able to ease many of their problems through a meat-free diet, but you should always make sure to include enough other proteins in their meals to make up for the lack of meat!
A Few Tips On Bowls...
Now that you have the right food for your pup’s size, breed, age, diet, and activity level, it’s time to think of how they’re going to eat it.
Not all doggie bowls are created equal, so you should make sure you’re picking the right one for your pup’s size, breed, and special requirements!
For example, large dog breeds will fare better with elevated bowls as eating in elevation is a lot more comfortable for them, and breeds with long, fluffy ears like the Cavalier King Spaniel will also keep their ears nice and dry with higher, shallower bowls.
Puppies need bowls they can’t easily chew on, and pups with digestive issues will usually do better with slow-feed bowls to prevent them from gulping down everything too fast.
As always, assess the unique needs of your dog first before committing to a decision — the way your dog eats is just as important as what they eat!
Now You Are Ready!
Well, if you’ve made it this far, you’re finally ready to fill your cart with the best and healthiest dog food on the market, making sure your pup has everything they need to grow and thrive.
While looking closely at the ingredients list and planning your pup’s meals according to their current needs makes for a pretty healthy diet, the best dog diet is, without fail, the one your vet recommends!
No amount of research can make up for the knowledge and experience of a professional, so don’t be reckless with your feeding and put them on a crazy diet just to try something new!You are the whole world for your dog, and how happy and healthy they can be depends entirely on you — if you’re looking for a one-stop shop to give your pup all the best in the doggie market, you’ve come to the right place!