By Susan Cava
Most likely you aren’t intending to feed your dog road kill or buzzards – but there is a good chance this is just what you are doing if you don’t know how to decipher the often confusing ingredient labels found on dog food.
Walking through the aisles of a pet store and picking out the right dog food for your dog can be a daunting task. So many different bags proclaim to be the healthiest or the most natural or the meatiest … which is the best one? And once you decide on the food, how much should you give your dog?
Here’s our guide to picking out a nutritious dog food and figuring out how much to feed your dog.
Where do I start?
Start with basic pet nutrition and purchase a pet food measurer. You can get one at any pet store, or simply buy a measuring cup from a kitchen goods store.
Take a little test by pouring the amount of food you would normally give your dog into a bowl and measuring it. Compare it to the guidelines on your dog food bag, and it will most likely be much higher. Just as portion control is a key component in human body fitness, it is also a significant part of canine health.
How much should I feed my dog?
Figuring out how many cups of food to feed your dog depends on the dog food. If you look at the serving information on various brands of dog food, you’ll notice that lower-end foods often advise giving a 50-pound dog about 4 cups, while higher-end products recommend 2 cups. This is based on dogs receiving the correct amount of daily nutritional value, so it requires more cups of a lower-end product (with lower-end ingredients) to meet the nutritional guidelines than a higher-end brand.
Feeding your dog 4 cups of a less expensive food versus 2 cups of more expensive food evens out the cost, given the amount of food you are using. So take the time to compare ingredients and see what suits your dog. Unfortunately, due to the disparity of nutrition in dog food, there is no general rule about how many cups per pound to feed your dog.
What type of food should I buy?
The first thing you want to look for is a food with no by-products. These can be anything from a slaughtered animal – lungs, hooves, bones, head – all the types of things you would not like to see your dog eat.
By-products are inexpensive and thus found in many foods – even ones that proclaim to be “all natural.” A good food will have chicken or beef as the first ingredient, without “by-product” or “meal” attached to it. Meal (as in “beef meal” or “poultry meal”) is another type of by-product that consists of animal parts not suitable for human consumption.
Corn gluten and wheat gluten, other common ingredients, are neither harmful nor useful. They simply serve to bind the food.
Brewers rice is another thing to avoid, as it is processed and lacks the nutritional value that whole ground rice or brown rice have.
And absolutely avoid any product whose ingredients list includes “animal fat.” This is a vague term that actually means any animal – be it dead, diseased, disabled or dying prior to slaughter – could be the source. Whether it is a seagull, road kill, fowl euthanized at an animal shelter or leftovers from a restaurant, “animal fat” should be avoided at all costs.
Why are certain foods more expensive?
You will be surprised how easy it is to find a good dry dog food once you have narrowed down the choices by avoiding by-products and animal fat.
Most likely you will be drawn to a higher-end food that uses real products and probably costs a bit more than a brand found in a supermarket. The reason certain brands are more expensive is because of the ingredients they use. Real beef is more expensive than animal fat, just as real chicken costs more than poultry meal.
Bear in mind that using a higher-end dog food means you will use a smaller amount of food. One bag will last longer than a less costly and less nutritious brand.
You will also save costs by purchasing the biggest bag offered – normally the higher the quantity you buy, the lower the price. An average 20-pound bag will give you just over 40 cups of food. Depending on the size of your dog, that could likely last three to four weeks.
Is special-needs dog food available?
If your dog is a puppy or senior, certainly get food designated for his age. Puppies require the extra nutrition and fat found in puppy food, while older dogs require the increased vitamins and lowered fat, along with minerals like glucosamine and chondroitin, which are often found in senior food.
There are also foods geared for dogs with sensitive stomachs and allergies – usually a vegetarian formula – while other types offer formulas to improve hair, coats and teeth. And the most popular “special” food is for overweight dogs.
Keep in mind that if you feed your dog the appropriate portion of a food high in protein and low in corn or wheat gluten, you probably won’t need to buy reduced-fat weight loss food.
What about wet food?
Wet food, or “sauces,” are an optional treat for dogs. You can mix in a small amount of either for a finicky palate or to spice things up.
Note that if you mix in a significant amount of wet food, you should reduce the amount of dry food. Again, pay attention to the portion sizes recommended on each can.
If you don’t want to use a wet food or sauce, you can either put some hot water in the dry food to create a gravy, or add in chicken, beef or a vegetable.
To keep your dog’s stool firm you can add green beans; a small amount of white rice (not brown, which is a natural diuretic); cottage cheese; or non-spiced, canned pumpkin to your dog’s dry food. These are known “binders,” so use them sparingly. Adding a small amount to each meal will help keep your dog’s digestion regulated.
How often should I feed my dog?
There is no rule about whether you should give your dog one or two meals a day. More energetic dogs would likely have breakfast and dinner while less active dogs might have a biscuit for breakfast and a meal at dinner.
Can I change my dog’s food?
When changing your dog’s food, do it gradually. Mix in some of the new food with the old food and some white rice for about a week, and then make the switch to the new food.
Easing into a diet change will prevent diarrhea, which is common when switching dog food.
There are a lot of dog foods to choose from. Read the labels, choose well and always feel free to ask your veterinarian for advice, or ask our vet.
The food you choose will set the tone for your dog’s health. Feeding him the right amount will ensure it.
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