Choosing the Right Dog Food: What to Ask

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Posted by Shannon Steffen on 9/4/2007 in Nutrition

Dog foods come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Wet dog food is used primarily for those canines with particular taste palettes or as an intermittent treat. For the less discriminating, dog dry food varieties are available. It is not necessarily the delicate palette of a dog that determines what type of food it eats, but rather a combination of its dietary need, availability of the food brand in the area, owner preferences, and financial cost.

Current Foods

It may be simple if there were only wet and dry foods on the market. However, there are numerous varieties of dog foods currently in production, and each one claims to provide different nutrients, minerals, and life-sustaining substances to help dogs live longer and healthier lives. Often new dog owners will become confused by the numerous aisles of dog foods at the local pet store outlets. Some stores stock over 50 types of dog food alone, which would easily raise the question as to which one to choose.

Health Concerns and Dog Foods

So what dog food is the best? First the dog owner needs to know the dog and its particular needs. Some questions to answer include:

Is the dog a puppy, young adult or senior dog?

Is the dog overweight, underweight, or the correct weight for its breed?
Is the dog very active or less active?
Is the dog a toy, small, medium, large, or giant breed?
Does the dog have any allergies to certain ingredients?
Does the dog need any additional supplements in its food to help prevent certain possible health problems in the future such as hip dysplasia, joint problems, or eye problems?
Does the dog currently have any health problems that may make certain ingredients not digest well?
Has the dog’s vet discussed any dietary concerns that may cause problems for the dog such the size of the kibble, the amount of moisture in the food, or anything else that may cause an upset stomach?
These are only some of the questions that must be answered prior to a trip to the local pet store. Of course, no one would not want to feed an 8-week-old puppy a senior formula or dog food that is lacking in those nutrients and minerals needed during a puppy’s major growth phase. If the owners are unsure as to how to answer these questions, they should consult their veterinarian prior to making any changes in dog foods.

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Regular, Holistic, and Organic Foods

Once those questions have been answered, the dog owner must decide which type of food is best: regular, holistic, or organic food. Those dog foods that are labeled as the “regular” dog food are those that may be readily found on any supermarket shelf. These products are usually made of a lower quality grade food and have less stringent quality controls. Holistic foods are predominantly labeled as such and have a high quality food grade, strict quality control measures on the production of their food, and are fortified with higher quantities of nutrients and minerals. Organic dog foods are comparable to human organic foods. They do not use preservatives or chemicals in their foods, and all ingredients are made locally within the country and are of an organic quality.

As each food has both positive and negative attributes to it, choosing a food is a very personal choice for each dog owner to make. However, there are some recommendations when deciding between these types of food. Dog owners will want to choose a dog food that:

Is appropriate for the age of the dog.
Has the highest nutrients and minerals needed for the dog.
Contains real meat (duck, fish, chicken, lamb) or “meal” within its first 2 ingredients.
Contains the proper protein and fat percentages for the dog’s breed and age. (Walk with your veterinarian for recommended guidelines.)
Does not have any “by-product” as listed as a main ingredient.
Provides easy-to-read feeding guidelines on the package.
Provides a company contact phone number on the package and is readily available to answer any questions or concerns dog owners may have about the product.
Once these questions are answered, you should have a better understanding of the quality of food that is best for your dog. This will help narrow the list to a few specific brands that can then be checked to make sure they meet any health concerns your dog may have.

Contamination and Food Recalls

With the recent spur of dog and cat food recalls, pet owners have become panicked. Are they feeding the best food or are all foods at risk of possibly being contaminated. Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that any food is safe for consumption; this includes both pet and human food alike. Product testing and quality control are crucial to ensure that food is okay for consumption. Human food has a series of checks and balances that it must go through before it can be placed on the grocery store shelves. However, not all pet food and its ingredients go through this same type of rigorous testing, and even some human foods pass inspection and still create series of ailments and death. This is why it is crucial that whatever food chosen to feed to the dog is of the highest quality and that the manufacturer performs their own series of health checks on the food before it is shipped out to the consumers. This includes testing on the ingredients that are mixed with the food during its early stages of production. Such foods are usually more expensive but are well worth the cost when compared with the veterinary bills or losing that long cherished canine.

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In light of the recent pet food recalls, please check the following:

All pet foods owned should be compared to the current food recalls on their manufacturers’ websites.
If the pet foods are being recalled due to a specific ingredient that was contaminated, and the product is not currently used, check the current dog food and make sure that it does not contain the ingredients that are listed as being contaminated. Cross contamination is possible.
Confirm that the producer of the dog food has proper testing and quality control.
Ensure that the dog food company’s plant is USDA and APHIS inspected.
All ingredients used by the manufacturer should be EU certified.
All incoming ingredients should be sampled and every batch of food should be lab tested prior to shipping to the market.
Rules to Follow

Feeding the proper dog food alone does not help ensure the long life and best health of your family dog. There are some other simple rules that every dog lover and owner should follow:

Fresh water is a must! Refill the water dish often and at meal times.
Start to reduce frequency of feedings after your puppy has reached three months old. This means the pup will go from three meals a day to two meals a day.
Mature dogs should be fed twice a day. This allows them time to properly digest the food and move it through their system without becoming bloated.
Check with the veterinarian to see which food would supply the most amounts of nutrients and minerals needed for the pup. Most dog owners will recommend staying with a type of food specified for the breed of dog.
Look for foods that contain fish oil or sunflower seed oil. These will help promote healthy skin and a shiny coat.
If a person must feed table scraps, treat the pup to a very small and non-seasoned portion as to not upset the pup’s stomach.
Don’t change the dog’s food rapidly! If you must, change it gradually and infrequently. Unlike humans, a dog’s digestive system does much better when on one food. Changing food frequently or quickly will result in upset stomachs, diarrhea, throwing up, and very bad gas! This includes giving table scraps.
Keep the dog away from any hazardous food such as chocolate, coffee, cocoa, tea, onions, garlic, mushrooms, grapes, raisins, raw salmon, salmonoid fish, macadamia nuts, nutmeg, and alcohol. Very small quantities may not harm your pup. However, the greater the quantity of any of these foods, the greater the risk for health problems such as kidney failure, shock, seizures, or worse, death.
Keep in mind that as the quality of foods increase, the price of the food increases as well. However, it is the reputation of the company, the quality of its goods, and the ability of the food to give the dog the nutrients it needs that should be taken into account when choosing a dog food. Ultimately, one or two dog foods will stand above the rest and the owner will feel confident that they are feeding their dog the best food possible. Remember that the goal of every dog owner is to provide a nutritionally balance diet for their canine family member so that it lives a healthy, happy, and long life.

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Shannon Steffen is a freelance writer with and


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Product Testing and Quality Control. (2007). Eagle Pack Pet Foods.

Ruben, D. (2007). Are Grapes and Raisins Really Toxic?

Tobiassen-Crosby, J. (2007). Veterinary Q & A: Chocolate Toxicity.

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