There is no one right way to feed every dog. With so many brands and types of dog food to choose from, much of your pet’s cuisine will depend on their unique dietary needs and the flavors they like.
One thing is certain, though: most veterinarians recommend buying dog food with an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement on the bag or can. AAFCO is a nonprofit group of government officials, veterinarians, and scientists in the United States and Canada that regulates the sale and distribution of pet food.
According to Erin Katribe, DVM and Medical Director of Best Friends Animal Society, “AAFCO indicates that the diet has been formulated according to guidelines that ensure canine nutrition is complete and balanced. Proper nutrition provides over 30 essential nutrients, including protein, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.”
She recommends choosing a commercially manufactured, high-quality dry dog food and feeding your dog an amount that will maintain a healthy weight. (Many bags of dog food have serving size guidelines printed on the bag. If you’re unsure, check with your dog’s veterinarian.) “This can be supplemented with a canned formulation of the same food for a change,” she says.
Dry Dog Food Vs. Wet Dog Food
One benefit of dry food over canned food is that when your dog chews the kibble, “a mechanical cleaning of the teeth takes place,” says Dr. Katribe. “This can help slow or prevent dental disease. Canned food contains a higher water content and this can be beneficial for certain health conditions or when the water content helps to bulk up your dog’s diet without increasing the calorie content.” Linda Simon, MRCVS, veterinarian and consultant at FiveBarks, a website for dog owners, says: “Wet food is best for those who have persistent urinary or kidney problems. It is useful for dogs that are unwell or prone to dehydration. It’s also a good option when a pet has a sore mouth and has trouble chewing on hard kibble.”
Raw Food vs. Homemade Food
Raw was a big trend a few years ago. “It’s going out of fashion to some extent,” shares Dr. Simon with. “The main disadvantages include the cost and the associated health risks, both for pets and their owners. Raw food poses a real risk of food poisoning from bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter.”
Another option is to cook for your dog. This works as long as you get all the essential nutrients, protein, vitamins, and minerals in the diet. dr Katribe suggests speaking to a pet nutritionist or your dog’s vet if you’re going down this route.
Lust vs. cheap food
The most expensive food in the store is not necessarily the healthiest. “In fact, all complete dog foods on the market should meet a dog’s nutritional needs,” says Dr. Simon. “When we spend more money, we often pay for higher meat content and more expensive ingredients like fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, probiotics and nutritional supplements. We also pay for a marketing campaign and smarter packaging.”
She advises her customers to buy the highest quality groceries they can afford without worrying about stretching to a more luxurious brand.
Prescription diets for dogs
Certain medical conditions require prescription veterinary diets to manage your pet’s health concerns. They include foods for dogs with the following medical conditions:
- dental problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
- heart disease
- kidney disease
- kidney problems
- skin problems
- weight management
You can purchase prescription diets from your dog’s veterinarian.
Can your dog be vegan or vegetarian?
Technically, the answer is yes. dr However, Simon believes that “this is not a route that most veterinarians would recommend. Dogs are omnivores and designed to eat both meat and plant foods. They enjoy the taste of meat and have high protein requirements, especially when growing or an active breed.”
If you’re vegan or vegetarian and want your dog to be too, talk to your veterinarian to make sure you’re feeding your pooch a balanced, high-protein diet. Dogs definitely need amino acids in their diet, which are the building blocks of proteins.
However, it is possible for your pet to eat a high-protein vegan or vegetarian diet. The tricky part
is finding the right mix of foods, as not all proteins are created equal. Eggs, for example, are high in complete proteins and can be a good choice for dogs. But most plant-based proteins aren’t as complete as those found in meat, and some are harder for dogs to digest than animal-based ones. On the plus side, a plant-based diet contains less fat than a meat-based one.
Do a thorough check at your favorite pet store, as a handful of pet food manufacturers sell pre-packaged vegan treats and canned wet dog food, which can be an easier alternative than trying your hand at DIY. If you feed your dog a vegan diet, be sure to pay attention to his coat. It’s generally a good indicator of whether he’s getting an adequate amount of essential fatty acids in his diet. A dull or unkempt coat or one with flaky skin may mean your dog needs more essential fatty acids in their diet.
“Research into these diets is ongoing,” notes Dr. Katribe, who also works with the Humane Society of the United States Rural Area Veterinary Services Program. “Some data suggest that these diets are equivalent or even superior to traditional diets, although these retrospective studies have many uncontrolled variables. More research is needed before vets can recommend this for all dogs.”
Make the diet change
If you decide to switch your dog’s diet, whether from cooked to raw or from meat-based to vegan, make the switch gradually over several days or even weeks to avoid upset stomach or other side effects. “Diarrhea is common with abrupt dietary changes,” says Katribe. “Even if it’s just a switch between different food brands.”
A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine, Inside Your Dog’s Mind.