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Your dog’s overall health depends on a variety of factors, not just nutrition. However, there’s nothing more persistently frustrating and often confusing than choosing the right food for your pooch!
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Whether you are a first-time dog owner seeking basic advice or a seasoned dog parent looking for further guidance, this article is for you. It will introduce you to the most important things you should know when choosing the right food, chews, and treats for your pet.
Your Dog Can Get Nutrition from Nonmeat Sources
One of the biggest controversies in the pet industry today is whether or not domestic pets can be fed a strictly vegan diet. Currently, there is no straight answer to this issue—or at least not for domestic pets in general. But dogs, being omnivores, can thrive on vegetables, grains, and fruits while avoiding meat altogether. It is, however, more difficult for cats.
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Just like humans, your dog needs a steady supply of 20 basic amino acids to keep its optimum health. Your dog’s body is able to synthesize 10 of these amino acids but has to get the other 10 from the food that it eats. Thankfully, there are plenty of nonmeat alternatives that can satisfy these amino acid requirements.
If you are thinking of making the shift, do it gradually. Mix in the nonmeat sources with their current meat diet, steadily increasing the former and decreasing the latter over time until the dogs are used to their new diet.
Remember these things when considering a vegan or vegetarian diet for your pooch:
- If you’re looking for readily available commercial vegan or vegetarian food, look for products that have met the standards of the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials).
- Never skip on routine veterinarian visits. Wellness monitoring helps ensure that your dog’s health is at its optimum.
- Talk to a veterinarian or animal nutritionist who can analyze pet-diet recommendations and help tailor a personalized diet that ensures your dog’s nutritional requirements.
- Do not feed a vegan or vegetarian diet to a dog or cat that you plan on breeding.
Size, Breed, Age, and Reproductive Status All Factor Into Your Dog’s Dietary Needs
Not all dogs are built equally. Each has a different dietary requirement, depending on their breed type, size, age, and reproductive status. These needs will vary over the course of their lives.
For instance, a puppy needs more calories and omega-3 fatty acids to facilitate its cognitive development. More caloric intake is also needed by lactating mom dogs and highly active dog breeds.
Senior dogs require fewer calories but more food that provide anti-inflammatory properties (such as salmon oil and turmeric) to support their mobility.
If you want to check the nutritional requirements of your dog, refer to the Merck Veterinary Manual for a list of recommended nutrients by weight and age.
Get Education about Nutrition Sources
There is simply a lot of commercially available food for dogs out there. Differing food recommendations from nutritionists, veterinarians, and even influencers online can all become overwhelming if you don’t have some form of fundamental information you can use to gauge the validity of their advice.
So talk to the right people, especially professionals and even fellow dog owners. Do your own research. Compare what you have found, and make sound choices based on this comparison.
Dog food can be categorized into the following:
- Holistic or natural diets
- Veterinary prescription
- Premium dog food
- Generic dog food
- Whole, cooked food
- Raw food
Which category you decide to stick to depends on your dog’s dietary needs and, in most cases, your schedule.
If you have plenty of time to be at home, you can try your hand at preparing homemade dog food. Just make sure your own nutritional plan is balanced and able to meet your dog’s dietary requirements.
Look for specialty sites and apps that help you design well-balanced meals for your pooch.
If you’re feeding your dog commercial food, nutritionists recommend that you rotate their diet every two to six months. Aside from the food getting boring for your pooch, it can also increase their risk of allergies and other diseases. Offer a variety of formulae from well-reviewed manufacturers, and be sure to talk to a veterinarian or nutritionist about risks and recommendations.
Always Check Your Sources
The internet is rife with misinformation, and any website can supply a poorly researched article about pet nutrition. When doing your own online investigation, always check your sources before following anything or sharing them with other people.
The article should site credible websites that are managed by vets or are written by veterinary medicine professionals, nutritionists, or animal scientists themselves. Otherwise, make sure each factual information that appears in the article is properly sourced.
Uphold the responsible use of information. Before trying anything out or recommending anything to your friends and fellow dog parents, make sure your information has been verified.
Learn How to Read Labels
You won’t eat anything you’re not familiar with, so why give anything to your beloved pet?
Firstly, if your dog has been diagnosed with food allergies, reading the fine print will help you guarantee that your dog does not get exposed to even the minutest fix of the offending ingredient.
By federal law, pet food companies are required to put the labels in their pet food containers. Some states may also have their own rules on the labeling of food cans, bags, and containers:
- Name of the product
- The overall weight of the product
- Name and address of the manufacturer
- Guaranteed analysis information
- List of ingredients
- Which species the food is for
- A statement of nutritional adequacy
- Directions for feeding
An Important Note on Product Labeling
How the product is worded can give you a clue as to the actual content of the ingredients in the product. For example, a product with the label “whole meat” means the water content is included in the net measurement. The actual meat content in the product is lower than what’s indicated in the label. The same can be said for products labeled “beef for dogs” or “chicken dog food.”
On the other hand, “meat meal,” “chicken meal,” or “chicken by-product” excludes the water weight in the calculation and, therefore, has more protein content. The term “dinner” indicates that the ingredient has 25 percent of the indicated protein while terms that include “with chicken,” “with beef,” “or with meat” means the protein indicated only makes up 3 percent of the ingredient.
As a rule of thumb, you should find the statement “[Name of product] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles.”
The AAFCO enforces strict standards to ensure that your pet’s food is nutritionally balanced.
Support Ethically Sourced Brands
Food production whether for pets or for humans is rife with controversies on animal handling and treatment. While many established brands seek to meet standards set by ethics, there are still manufacturers who fail to abide by humane practices.
Make your statement of support towards animal rights by patronizing brands producing pet products that are ethically sourced. If possible, know your manufacturer. Support local and US-based dog-product manufacturers with sustainable practices.
Each animal deserves a life of dignity. Speak your principles through your choices.
Wading through the myriad of dog food choices and trends can be an overwhelming task for any dog owner. After all, you only want the best for your pet. Knowing the what, the how, and the why of selecting the right food, chews, and treats will hopefully help you make the task simpler and easier.