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Ask the Vet: How Do I Pick a Dog Food?

Ask The Vet

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When you walk into the pet store or browse online, and take a look at the multitudes of brands of dog food- it can be very overwhelming trying to choose one that is best for our pets. As veterinarians, we want owners to know the facts and myths when it comes to selecting a dog food.

Here are some things to think about when filling your dog’s bowl. Please keep in mind that every pet is different, and that some pets with medical conditions may require a specific or prescription diet.

Here are the Facts About Dog Food

FACT: A diet should be formulated with the help of a veterinary nutritionist.

If we are going to feed our dogs with their health in mind, it is important we do not choose fad or celebrity brands unless there is a veterinary or animal nutritionist on staff creating formulas for our dog’s specific needs.

In a quote from Danel Grimmett, DVM, “Look at the bag of food and find the 800 number for the company and give it a call. Ask to speak to the company’s nutritionist. If they do not have one, hang up the phone and do not feed the food. If they do have a nutritionist, ask for the research and data they have on the dog food. If they have no research, hang up and do not feed the dog food.”

Some of this information can also be found on a brand’s website.

Most veterinarians are comfortable recommending three brands that we know are backed by research and have a veterinary nutritionist on staff:

  • Hill’s

  • Purina

  • Royal Canin

These brands also all carry prescription formulas that can be vital for dogs with certain health concerns.

Note: Sunset Veterinary Clinic does not receive any benefits by selling you these brands. In fact, we do not carry their maintenance diets, so we do not profit from recommending these brands to you.

FACT: Dogs are not wolves.

Dogs have come a long way since they branched off from their wild counterparts. Many dog food brands advertise foods towards the fact that dogs were once wild. A domesticated dog has different requirements than its ancestors.

Even though a dog is from the order “Carnivora”, they are actually better classified as “Opportunivores” meaning they eat what is available to them. This is true of wild canines who have been found eating fruits and herbivore feces and stomach contents. Domesticated dogs are fully able to digest the carbohydrates they get from food. Cats, on the other hand ARE true carnivores and therefore have different nutrition requirements than dogs.

FACT: Age does matter!

Dog’s, and all animals, have different nutritional needs as they age! For example, puppies have higher protein requirements as they are growing and developing than older dogs. Likewise, our more senior dogs need less fat and protein than our younger dogs! Our science-based dog food brands offer specific diets to fit the age category that your dog fits in. Your veterinarian can help guide you in what category your pet may fall in: Puppy, Adult, or Senior.

Here are the Myths About Dog Food

MYTH: Grains are bad for dogs.

As stated above, dogs are actually fully capable of digesting carbohydrates and can benefit from the energy and nutrients provided by grains.

Many people believe that grain free food is the best choice for their pet, but often this is a marketing scheme as well. There is research, however, that is linking grain-free diets that have a grain-free carbohydrate substitute with the development of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs that consume such diets. DCM is a devastating heart condition that currently has no cure, and is not reversible once changes to the heart are detected.

Owners are also often concerned that dogs may have allergies to grains, or that grains are responsible for a pet’s diarrhea. Often times, it is actually the protein source in your dog’s food that is the culprit. The top allergens for dogs according to a study by Mueller and Olivry, in order, have actually found to be the following:

  • Beef

  • Cow’s milk

  • Chicken

  • Wheat

  • Lamb

Less common allergens include soy, and more rarely: corn, egg, fish, and rice.

It is entirely possible to pick a diet that contains grains even in the face of a wheat allergy!

If you suspect a food allergy, please see your veterinarian for nutrition guidance. There are many diets out there formulated for dogs with food allergies, and your veterinarian can direct you towards the best ones for your pet’s individual needs.

MYTH: There are “fillers” in dog Kibble.

In a properly formulated diet, there is no such thing as a “filler”. Every ingredient in a science-based diet has a purpose. Corn is often believed to be a filler in dog kibble diets, however, corn is a very efficient energy source for dogs that is cost effective and safe! If a dog food is formulated by a nutritionist, every ingredient will serve a purpose for the health of your dog!

MYTH: Animal by-products are bad for dogs.

You may look at an ingredient list on a bag of dog food and notice that it says “Chicken Meal”, “Pork Liver”, or some other animal by-product. Don’t be scared of this! If the diet is formulated by a nutritionist, the ingredients used in the food are safe and serve a health purpose for the dog. Dogs do not find these ingredients un-appetizing like we do! The use of these products is safe and healthy for your pet in most cases, and can put use to those healthy animal products that some humans may turn their nose up at!

MYTH: Kibble is bad for dogs

Many people believe that feeding a homogenous brown kibble just cannot be healthy for their pet, as it does not resemble the whole ingredients that are included inside. Many dog food companies will create “fresh diets” or make colorful and fun shaped kibbles to entice owners to buy their brand. An important thing to remember is that our dogs do not care or recognize specific colors or shapes as being healthier for them. If the food smells and tastes appropriate to them, a dog will eat it EVEN IF it is a boring brown kibble!

Feeding dogs hard kibble is actually beneficial for their dental health as well! As we pet parents often do not brush our pets’ teeth daily, kibble can provide some abrasion on the plaque build – up on our dogs’ teeth. This of course is not 100% efficient at removing plaque or tartar on our dogs’ teeth, so making sure we follow up with a veterinarian is important to determine if your dog needs further dental care! In some cases, soft or canned food is necessary for a dog and your veterinarian can help you make that decision!

MYTH: A home cooked diet or raw diet is better for my dog.

Sometimes a pet owner may choose to make their own pet’s food, as they believe fresher is better and the pet will find it more appetizing. While your pet may thoroughly enjoy a home-cooked meal, it may not be nutritionally balanced. Dogs have specific vitamin, mineral, and amino acid requirements that cannot always be met through our own cooking. If you do choose to cook your pet’s food at home, it is important to consult with a veterinary nutritionist to formulate this diet and provide supplementation for any holes in your pet’s nutritional needs. Some meats or food ingredients may contain too much fat, and your pet may be at risk of developing pancreatitis if not careful.

Raw diets are never recommended in domesticated dogs, as store bought meats often contain dangerous levels of bacteria that can make a dog, or the person handling the dog’s food, very ill. Wild caught meats can also contain harmful bacteria, and can even contain dangerous parasites that can harm your pet. Please cook any meats offered to your pet.

MYTH: Meeting AAFCO standards means the food is a good choice for my dog.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials is an organization that sets minimum standards for formulating a complete and balanced pet food. While this is important and can be a good sign when your dog food meets their standards, the organization does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way. Meeting AAFCO standards does not ensure that a diet is optimal for your pet, that it is safe, or properly labeled. Your State regulates the safety and labeling of these products. Meeting AAFCO standards is not the same as having a nutritionist creating the diet.

Consult the Veterinarians at Sunset Vet About Your Dog’s Diet

Ultimately choosing your dog’s diet is a personal and financial decision that can only be made by you! If you have any questions or want any further advice on your pet’s diet, we can help you out at Sunset Veterinary Clinic! Also, please keep in mind that when switching your pet to a new diet it is important to do it over several days! Contact us today to learn more!