by Dr. Tracy Dewhirst
Dog owners ask me, "What do you feed your dog?" to which I reply "Which dog?"
You see, I have three dogs, and they each eat a different diet. This can make things a bit hectic at my house at feeding time. My young dog still needs a food designed for canine growth. My 3-year-old Miniature Schnauzer eats a maintenance diet. And my 13-year-old bird dog gets a senior food. Three different dogs, three individual bags of food.
There is not a one-size-fits-all food for dogs. That 50-pound bag of discounted dog food will not produce the same results for every dog in a household. Dogs with similar nutritional requirements might not be able to eat the same food with equal outcomes. The best food is the one that produces the best outcome for your dog. So when I recommend dog food, I consider these essentials to ensure he's getting the type and quantity of nutrients he needs.
The right food for the right stage.
Make sure the food has the adequate nutrients for your dog's life stage. You'll find several categories for healthy dogs, such as puppy, adult maintenance and senior foods. When you read the label, look for the first ingredient to be an animal protein source. Check for ingredients such as essential fatty acids and DHA for pregnant and lactating dogs and puppies. DHA also helps improve your dog's skin and coat. If your dog has a health condition such as diabetes or heart disease, check with your veterinarian about an appropriate diet.
The right caloric count.
The food also should suit your dog's lifestyle. Calorie consumption should match the dog's age and activity level. Young dogs that burn more energy will need more calories for their size than the less active middle-aged dog. Obesity causes numerous health problems -- including diabetes, orthopedic issues and cancer -- so calories do matter.
Buy high-quality dog food from reputable companies that have a veterinary nutritionist formulate the diet and nutrients. Thousands of new foods hit the market every year. Look on the bag for a nutritional adequacy statement for AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), and see how the company validated that their diet is complete and balanced. A chemical analysis or feeding trial will validate. I prefer feeding trials because the product worked on a live animal. If you are interested in trying a new brand, call the company first and ask a few simple questions. Anyone working for the company should know the calorie count and who formulated the diet.
A taste test.
Palatability is important. No dog should have to eat just any kibble that lands in the bowl. If your dog does not act interested in feeding time or eats a few nibbles and then lies down or sulks off, it may be his way of telling you, "This kibble stinks." If so, try a different food and reduce the number of snacks being fed, so he won't be finicky.
The economics of feeding a dog (or multiple dogs) is such that owners should demand results. A good food should maintain your dog's energy levels, promote a nice shiny coat, create small- to medium-sized firm stool, and not cause bad breath or excessive flatulence.
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Pets | Dogs: Is Your Dog Getting the Right Nutrients?