Good nutrition is essential for your dog to lead a long, healthy, and happy life, but many fresh or raw diets are messy and difficult to store. Baked dog food can ensure your pup has a nutritious diet without their meals needing refrigeration. While baked dog food can be fed with a fresh product, by itself it is easier to pack and prevents a drastic diet change when you travel with your dog. The dog food industry is now producing more baked foods, and all the choices may be confusing. Our buyer’s guide will help you find the best baked dog food for your hungry four-legged friend.
Baked vs. Extruded Dog Food
Most canine kibble sold by pet stores is extruded because the process efficiently produces nutritious, shelf-stable food in large quantities. The process includes the following steps:
- Making the dough — The raw, wet ingredients are mixed together to form a dough-type substance.
- Expanding the dough — The dough is put in an expander, which is a machine that uses hot water or pressurized steam to cook the dough.
- Extruding the food — At extremely high temperatures, the food is extruded (i.e., forced) through holes of a special size and shape.
- Puffing the food — The pieces leave the expander and puff up into kibble.
- Spraying the kibble — The food is sprayed with fats, oils, vitamins, and minerals and packaged before the oils can spoil.
Oven baking is a slower process because the food is typically cooked in small batches at lower temperatures. However, oven baking preserves almost 100% of nutrients, while significant nutrient loss occurs when food is extruded. Also, the low temperatures used in oven cooking retain the protein source’s flavor, whereas extruded food loses flavor because of the high temperatures. This means oven-baked foods are healthier and tastier for your pup’s discerning palate and can also be easier to digest, making your pup’s poops less offensive.
Choosing the Best Baked Dog Food
So, you’ve decided to make the switch, but how do you know which product will provide the best nutrition and tastiness to your dog? You should consider several factors when selecting an appropriate baked dog food—but don’t worry, we explain the pertinent criteria to simplify the process.
#1: Ensure the baked dog food meets adequate nutritional levels
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates pet food sales and distribution. It provides recommendations for quantities and ratios of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates for a pet’s life stage. Ensure you choose a food formulated to meet their guidelines by checking that one of the following phrases is included on the label:
- “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [Life Stage].”
- “[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for [Life Stage].”
- “[Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [Life Stage] and is comparable to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests.”
#2: Ensure the recipes were crafted by a canine nutritionist
Some dog food companies employ one or more canine nutritionists, while others have their recipes crafted by canine nutritionists. These experts are knowledgeable in formulating nutritionally balanced diets for dogs. Companies that use a canine nutritionist’s expertise produce better food to meet your precious pup’s dietary requirements.
#3: Ensure a whole protein tops the ingredient list
Dogs rely on proteins for energy. A high-quality baked dog food will list a whole protein, such as beef, chicken, or lamb, as the first ingredient, which should come from a reputable source with no added hormones or antibiotics.
#4: Ensure the food contains whole, minimally processed grains
Contrary to the grain-free foods hype, grains are not bad for dogs. Most dogs can easily digest cooked grains, which can be an essential source of calories, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains are better than processed grains, so look for baked dog foods that contain the entire grain head instead of enriched grains, which tend to be fiber-deficient and contain only the calorie-dense seed core. Also, recent reports suggest a link between grain-free foods and certain heart conditions in dogs.
#5: Look for food without unnecessary ingredients
Avoid foods that contain excess chemical preservatives and fillers, including the following specific ingredients:
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
- Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
- Artificial colors (Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6, 4-MIE)
- Caramel color
- Propylene glycol
- Sodium hexametaphosphate
#6: Look for antioxidant- and omega-3-rich ingredients
Food containing a variety of nutritious ingredients is a bonus for your pup’s health. Fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin, provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber and are rich in antioxidants to help prevent cell oxidation and support immune function. Omega-3 fatty acid sources, such as salmon, flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil are needed to reduce inflammation and promote coat and skin health.
#7: Ensure the food works for your pup
Every dog is an individual, and you cannot know if a baked dog food will work for your pup based on any report. Your dog will show you by how much they like it and how they perform on the diet. You want a food that your pup is enthusiastic about eating, and a diet that makes them energetic.
#8: Ensure the food is veterinarian-approved
Before changing your dog’s diet, consult with your veterinarian to ensure the new food will meet your pup’s individual health needs. Chat with them about the amount to feed your pup, too, since that’s essential in maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your pup around for as long as possible.
If you are considering a baked dog food, this information should help you find the baked dog food that will best tempt your pup’s appetite.