Five Days to a Healthier Dog: A Healthier Diet for a Healthier Dog

This is the first day of our “Five Days to a Healthier Dog” series. Enjoy this informative pet health series! Today’s topic will be diet.

Good nutrition is so important to health and well-being, but deciding what to food to buy for your dog is anything but simple. We have so many choices online and in our local dog food aisles. Let’s make the decision a little easier by examining what makes a food good for dogs at every stage of life.

Looking for a High Quality Adult Dog Food

Wellness Core® Natural Grain Free Dry Dog Food

Dogs spend most of their lives in the “adult” stage, so we’ll start there. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has put together a set of standards that dog foods must meet if they want to include a “complete and balanced” statement on their labels. AAFCO standards ensure that these foods do not contain too little or too much of important nutrients that dogs need to thrive. At a minimum, make sure any diet you feed your adult dog says somewhere on its label that it is “complete and balanced” for adult maintenance or for all life stages.
Hill’s Ideal Balance Natural Dog Food

Next, look at the ingredient list. The ingredients listed first make up the bulk of the food while those at the bottom are included in much smaller quantities. At the top of the list, the ingredients should sound like something you might eat. For example, a food that identifies “chicken” as its first ingredient will generally be made of higher quality ingredients than will a food that has “chicken byproduct meal” as its number one ingredient.

Natural Balance Ultra Premium Wet Dog Food

Both canned and dry foods (and other formulations) can provide good nutrition to dogs. Dry foods are usually less expensive on a per calorie basis, which may be particularly important if you are feeding a very large dog who would need to eat multiple cans a day to meet his needs. On the other hand, canned foods tend to be tastier than dry, which can be helpful if you are feeding a finicky dog.

The Special Needs of Puppies

Puppies are not just smaller versions of adult dogs. They need more calories, fat, and protein (including more of specific amino acids) than do adult dogs to support their growth and maturation. A puppy who eats a food designed for adult dogs is at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Always feed your puppy a food that meets the AAFCO requirements for growth and reproduction or for all life stages. However, some important nutrients for puppies, like omega-3 fatty acids, are not included in AAFCO guidelines. The highest quality foods will be supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids (including docosahexaenoic acid or DHA) to optimize a puppy’s brain and eye development and to promote healthy skin and a glossy coat.

Hill’s Science Diet Large Breed Dry Dog Food

Large breed puppies have some unique needs that owners have to deal with. When these puppies grow too quickly, they are at increased risk for orthopedic diseases like hip and elbow dysplasia. To encourage a healthy growth rate in these dogs, makers of premium dog foods have developed special large breed puppy formulations that contain a little less fat and are carefully balanced with regards to the amount of calcium and phosphorus they contain.

What About Older Dogs?

AAFCO has not developed specific nutrient recommendations for older dogs so owners have less guidance when it comes to picking between all the “senior” dog foods that are on the market. At a minimum, make sure that any senior dog foods you consider still adhere to AAFCO’s guidelines for an adult maintenance diet. Manufacturers have taken different approaches to formulating their senior diets, but many contain some combination of the following:

  • Antioxidants to support the immune system
  • Omega-3 fatty acids to promote brain function and to help with skin and joint health.
  • Fiber to improve digestive function
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health
  • L-carnitine to improve muscle mass

Because of the variability that exists in senior diets, it is best to ask your veterinarian what type of food would be best for your dog and when you should switch from an adult maintenance formulation.

Try and Try Again

Remember that no one food is best for every dog under all circumstances. Once you’ve made what you think is a good choice, watch how your dog responds. If he has normal stools and gas production, no vomiting, is maintaining an ideal weight, and exhibits the glow of good health, you’ve found a food that is well-suited for your dog.