What Are the Benefits of Each, and How Do They Impact Dog Health?
Feeding our dogs is one of the most important things that we do to care for them. Giving them a high-quality, balanced diet can have a huge impact on their overall health and well-being. Poor diets can lead to malnourishment or obesity, and even medical issues such as broken bones or an impaired immune system.
But how do we go about choosing the right food for our dogs? Are fresh foods better than processed ones? When it comes to assessing diets, it’s best to follow the science, so here are a few steps to steer you in the right direction.
What Makes A Healthy Dog Food?
There are three different areas that you can look at when trying to work out whether a food is of good quality.
1. High Nutritional Standards
Your dog’s main food should be a “complete and balanced” diet, rather than one that is “intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.” A complete and balanced diet contains all the nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and so on) that your dog’s body needs to stay healthy.
In the U.S. and Canada, complete diets should follow the AAFCO feeding guidelines, which are based on decades of scientific research. These guidelines set out the minimum amounts of each nutrient that dogs need to stay happy and healthy. They also set a maximum amount for some nutrients, as certain vitamins and minerals can be toxic if your dog eats too much of them. You should be able to see from the label whether a pet food is formulated according to these standards.
There are also other guidelines available. For example, in Europe, the FEDIAF nutritional guidelines are used, which are similar to AAFCO.
When it comes to what goes into the food, there are lots of different ways to create a balanced diet. Many different types of ingredients are used, in many different combinations. Some might be less appealing to us as humans (for example, offal such as liver or kidneys) but are still highly nutritious. Dogs can happily digest protein and carbohydrates from plants, and fiber is important for gut health. This means that vegetables and grains form part of a healthy diet.
2. Expert Oversight
These feeding guidelines provide a good basis for creating a healthy, balanced diet, but they are not enough by themselves. It is recommended that an expert nutritionist oversees the creation and production of the food, either a veterinarian who specializes in nutrition (who will have the letters ACVN or ECVIN after their name) or someone who has a Ph.D. in Animal Nutrition.
You should be able to check a pet food manufacturer’s website to see if they employ these kinds of specialists.
3. Quality Control
If a pet food company is following AAFCO guidelines, then they should be putting balanced ingredients into their food. However, the process of mixing and cooking the food can affect the nutrients, and these effects can be different each time the food is made. So, a good pet food company will regularly test their food to make sure the final product has the nutritional value that you would expect from the ingredients.
Companies should also be monitoring food for any signs of contamination with bacteria or toxins that might be harmful to pets.
You should be able to find out about a manufacturer’s quality control measures on their website.
Is Kibble Healthy?
“Kibble” is the common name for dry dog food—also sometimes called “pellets” or “biscuits.” Each manufacturer has a slightly different way of making it, but the process follows these basic steps:
- The kibble ingredients are mixed to form a dough.
- The dough is heated and pressurized then pushed into a mold to get it into the right shape.
- The formed kibble is baked to cook it.
- The cooked kibble is allowed to cool.
- The cooked kibble is coated with extra flavor (to make it more appealing) and preservatives (to prevent the food from going bad).
- The kibble is placed into bags and sealed to prevent bacteria from getting in and spoiling the food.
These bags are then sold in grocery stores and pet shops.
If you choose a good-quality kibble, it can provide your dog with all the nutrients they need to live a long, healthy life. Read The Daily Dog’s Buyer’s Guide on dry dog food here.
Choosing Your Kibble
Make sure you choose a manufacturer who follows the steps needed to make healthy dog food in the previous section. The information that you need should be either on the label or on the manufacturer’s website.
Be careful to choose a food that is right for your dog’s age and breed. The label should specify for which stage of life that food is designed. It may say it is suitable for the following:
- Growth – This means it is suitable for growing puppies. It should say if this includes puppies who are expected to be above 70lbs as an adult.
- Maintenance – This means it is suitable for adult dogs who have finished growing.
- Gestation/Lactation – This means it is suitable for dogs who are pregnant or nursing.
- All Life Stages – This means it can be fed to dogs at any stage of life. It should also say if it is suitable for puppies who are expected to be above 70lbs as an adult.
Take a look at The Daily Dog’s Top Picks for dry dog food here.
Is Fresh Dog Food Healthy?
In the last few years, feeding our dogs fresh food has gained popularity, which looks more like the food we eat. This can either be done by buying commercially prepared fresh food for reheating at home, or by using recipes to create home-prepared diets.
There is a wide range of different types of food under the category of “fresh food.” Some are balanced and healthy for your dog to eat, but others are not.
Commercial Fresh Food
A wide range of companies will sell you prepared fresh meals for your dogs. These meals can be healthy and balanced, but you must take the same care when choosing your manufacturer as you would when choosing a kibble. Follow the steps above to make sure you’re getting a good-quality product.
In particular, be aware that some of these companies are smaller, which means they may not involve a nutritional expert when formulating the diets. Remember, a regular veterinarian or animal nutritionist is not qualified to do this. They should either be a board-certified veterinary nutritionist (with the letters ACVN or ECVIN after their name) or have a Ph.D. in Animal Nutrition.
Read The Daily Dog’s Buyer’s Guide for Fresh Dog Food here, and take a look through the Top Picks.
Home-Prepared Fresh Food
There are a large number of recipes available online that claim to be balanced, either alone or with the addition of a vitamin supplement. However, many different studies have shown that almost all of these kinds of recipes are not balanced, even those that have been created by veterinarians.
Home-prepared fresh food can be fed safely, but only if it is done in consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist (with the letters ACVN or ECVIN after their name). It is generally only recommended if there is a medical reason to do so, such as severe food allergies. Speak to your veterinarian for more advice on this.
Can I Feed My Dog Both Kibble And Fresh Food?
Yes! As long as your dog has no health conditions that need a special diet, you can feed them more than one type of food. However, sudden changes in diet can cause an upset stomach (vomiting and diarrhea) so it’s best to feed the same mix of food each day to avoid this.
If all the diets that you are feeding are complete and balanced, then you can feed them in whatever proportions you like.
If one of the diets is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only, or if you are home-cooking some food for your dog, then this should make up less than 10% of their daily food, by weight. So, if your dog eats 300g of food each day (in total), then they can have 30g of complementary food or home-prepared food (this includes treats and chews!) and 270g of a complete and balanced diet. This will ensure that your dog still gets all the nutrients he or she needs.