What Are the Benefits of Each, and How Do They Impact Dog Health?
Giving our dogs the right food is one of the most important things that we can do for their health. A well-balanced, high-quality diet can boost their health and well-being significantly. On the other hand, a poor-quality diet can lead to them becoming malnourished or obese. In severe cases, it can even cause health problems such as a poor immune system or broken bones.
There are a huge number of different dog foods available now, and it can be hard to know which is the right diet, or even the right type of diet, to feed your dog. The best way to choose your dog’s food is to follow the science, so here are a few things to consider when trying to choose what to feed your dog.
What Makes A Healthy Dog Food?
When trying to choose a food for your dog, there are three questions that you need to ask:
1. Is It Nutritionally Complete?
Not all dog foods contain all the nutrients that your dog needs to live a healthy life. You should look for one that is described as “complete and balanced.” Avoid ones that are “intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only,” as these do not contain all the nutrients (vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and so on) that your dog needs to stay healthy.
Two main sets of feeding guidelines lay out the minimum amounts of these nutrients that are needed to keep dogs healthy. In some cases, they also give maximum amounts; too much of certain vitamins or minerals can be toxic to our pets. All of them are based on decades of scientific research.
When considering a particular pet food, you should check the label to see if it follows one of these sets of guidelines.
Many different ingredients can be used to create a balanced diet for dogs. Some of them are not used for human food as often (for example, liver or kidneys) but can still be full of nutritional goodness. Contrary to some opinions, plants form an important part of dogs’ diets, too; dogs can digest plant proteins and carbohydrates quite well. Fiber is also important for gut health, as it is in humans.
Be cautious of brands that advertise exotic ingredients in their food. Unless your dog has serious food allergies, there is no need to feed them anything like this. There is also less research available on the nutritional value of unusual meats and vegetables in dogs, so these kinds of diets may be more prone to being unbalanced.
2. Is It Made By Experts?
The feeding guideline provides a theoretical basis for creating a diet, but there is some variation in nutritional value depending on which ingredients are combined, and how foods are cooked. Choose a manufacturer that has a nutritional expert involved in their processes. This will be either a veterinarian who specializes in nutrition (they will have the letters ECVIN or ACVN after their name) or someone with a doctorate in Animal Nutrition.
You should be able to find details of this on the manufacturer’s website. If not, try contacting them directly.
3. Are There Quality Control Measures In Place?
As we mentioned earlier, the nutritional value of food can change depending on how it is cooked and combined with other ingredients. A good manufacturer will regularly test their food to make sure that the end product meets standards.
They should also be checking regularly for any signs of bacteria growing in the food, or toxins contaminating the food.
Check the manufacturer’s website for details of their quality control measures.
Is Canned Food Healthy?
Canned food is usually “wet,” meaning in chunks (in gravy or jelly), as a “loaf,” or as a mousse. It is made by combining the ingredients within a tin, sealing the tin, and then cooking it. This means that the food is sterilized (any bacteria are killed) while it is cooked, so it has a long shelf life.
A good-quality, complete canned food will contain all the nutrients that your dog needs to keep them in good health.
Choosing Your Canned Food
If you have decided to feed your dog canned food, be sure to check that the manufacturer follows all the steps we discussed in the previous section. You should be able to find all the information on the food label or on the manufacturer’s website.
You must also choose a type of food that is right for your dog. In the U.S. and Canada, the AAFCO guidelines state that this should be visible on the label.
Some food may say that it is suitable for All Life Stages, but it should still specify whether it can be given to puppies who are likely to weigh over 70lbs (32kgs) as an adult.
- For a puppy or young adult dog, look for a food that is designed for Growth. If your puppy is likely to weigh over 70lbs as an adult, then you should choose one that is specifically for these larger breed dogs.
- For an adult dog, look for a Maintenance food.
- For a dog that is pregnant or nursing, look for a food suitable for Gestation and Lactation.
Take a look at The Daily Dog’s Buyer’s Guide and Top Picks for Wet Dog Food.
Is Fresh Dog Food Healthy?
Fresh dog food has recently gained popularity, either made at home or bought in packets to reheat at home. Some of these diets are balanced and healthy, but some are not, so you must be careful if you are looking to feed your dog this way.
Store-Bought Fresh Food
You can often find “fresh food” packets in larger pet stores and some grocery stores. You need to go through the same steps to make sure that they are nutritionally balanced, overseen by experts, and subject to good quality control measures, but they can be a healthy way to feed your dog.
Many of the companies that make these foods are smaller than those that make canned foods or kibbles, so make particularly sure that they still have specialist nutritionists involved. A regular veterinarian is not trained to formulate diets; you need either a board-certified veterinary nutritionist (ACVN or ECVIN) or someone with a doctorate in Animal Nutrition.
Take a look at The Daily Dog’s Buyer’s Guide and Top Picks for Fresh Dog Food.
Home-Prepared Fresh Food
A quick search on Google will give you many recipes to cook at home that claim to be complete and balanced. You can also find such recipes in some books. Many of these recipes are not safe, however; there have been a lot of studies that show that they do not provide your dog with all the nutrients he or she needs.
It is possible to feed a home-prepared diet safely, but it should be done while working with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist (ACVN or ECVIN). It is also complex and can be time-consuming, so is usually only done for dogs with medical conditions, such as severe food allergies. If you want to find out more, speak to your veterinarian.
Is Canned Food Better than Fresh Food for Dogs?
It is generally much more important to make sure that the food you are feeding your dog is a complete and balanced diet, rather than to focus on what type of food you are feeding.
There are dangers associated with feeding a diet cooked at home from scratch, so this is not recommended unless you are doing it for medical reasons with a specialist nutritionist.
If you have a dog who is a fussy eater, then you may find they prefer one type of food over another. It is better to feed a balanced commercial fresh diet than rely on feeding tidbits or leftovers of human food.
Dogs with Food Sensitivities
Some people will suggest that fresh diets are better for dogs who have food sensitivities (also called allergies or intolerances). These dogs will usually suffer from vomiting and diarrhea, itchy skin, or both. It is usually the protein source (most commonly beef, chicken, or dairy) that causes these kinds of reactions.
These kinds of sensitivities are usually treated with a prescription veterinary diet, but occasionally a home-cooked diet (supervised by a specialist) is used. Speak to your veterinarian for more information.
Can I Feed My Dog Both Canned Food And Fresh Food?
It is fine to feed your dog more than one type of food if they prefer this. However, you should try and feed him or her the same kinds of meals at the same time each day; sudden changes can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or both.
If all the foods are “complete and balanced”, then you can feed whatever mix of food you (and your dog) prefer. However, if one or more of the foods is “intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only,” then it should not make up more than 10% of their daily food (by weight) each day.
For example, if your dog normally eats 250g of food, then you can feed:
- 225g of “complete and balanced” food
- 25g of non-balanced food, including home-cooked food, treats, and chews
This should ensure that your dog gets all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that they need to keep him or her happy and healthy.