How to choose the right dog food

dog food

Where to start?

Feeding the best dog food and treats is vital to your dog’s well being. Choosing the best dog food for your dog is easier than it sounds. Once you learn how to read the label, you’ve learned the most important detail. Of course, just because a food claims it is organic or holistic does not guarantee it’s healthy because, due to the lack of restrictions, any dog food can make those claims regardless of truth. Although your dog’s kibble is very important since it fulfills the majority of their caloric requirements, there’s more to dog nutrition than kibble or cans. For example, you love to spoil your dog by giving him treats.

There are a multitude of available dog cookies and soft treats on the market. Since you’re only giving one or two pieces at a time, it is okay to get just about whatever treat you like. However, if you choose the best food treats for the best possible dog nutrition, you can give them more cookies more often. Or, treat smart by giving them a treat such as an edible pressed bone designed for dental health, so you’re spoiling them and improving their health.

One element of dog nutrition that is commonly mentioned is human food. Many owners say they give their dogs leftovers every day with no ill effects, while others never give scraps no matter how sad their dog looks. You need to understand that dogs are not people. Foods you can safely ingest are toxic to your dog, for example, garlic, onions, raisins, chocolate (especially dark and baker’s), and raw fish are just some foods that are potentially fatal.

It stands to reason that the best dog food is your dog’s own food. Although it is true that you can safely give occasional scraps to your dog, you need to know which foods are safe, first. And, if you give scraps, don’t get into the habit of feeding from the table. Put the food in their bowl and make it an infrequent treat. If all you really want to do is cook occasionally for your dog, tiny pieces of baked or boiled chicken breast or a sliced up hard-boiled egg are perfectly fine. Homemade dog food cookies are an excellent option, in fact, you can easily make your own by grinding up their kibble and adding enough water to create thick dough.

A less-publicized aspect of choosing the best dog food you can, whether treats or kibble is that when you feed a good quality food, there’s less waste. You won’t have as many piles in the yard to clean up, and they won’t smell nearly as bad. Many owners are disgusted and baffled by their dog’s gas when the problem is the food they’re giving them. Low-quality food all but guarantees your dog will be one of the smelliest dogs on the block. Other things affected by dog nutrition are coat, disease, and lifespan.

Using good food ensures a softer, shinier coat, and your dog is less likely to get sick. It’s no different than if you ate only candy as opposed to all healthy, lean foods. Obviously that has a drastic affect on lifespan. Manufacturers boast their food adds a year or two (while never saying compared to what) while failing to mention that excellent dog nutrition can add five, six, or more years to their lives. Homemade dog food is another option you can explore, but whatever you do, make sure your beloved pet gets the best dog food available in your area. After all, don’t you want to keep them around as long as possible

What’s the right amount to feed?

dog foodAll foods are not created equal, and there are a few details you need to know. First, your dog’s size, age, and activity level all affect which kibble you should buy. It isn’t just a sales gimmick; different foods really do have varying amounts of ingredients and also various ingredients. Make sure you keep that in mind when choosing the best food for your dog.

Buying the most expensive brand on the market does not ensure quality, although buying the cheapest foods does ensure a serious lack. Using cheap brands is like stocking your own pantry with nothing but candy bars. Unfortunately, many of the well-advertised brands are some of the worst options. Quality kibble manufacturers spend money on their product rather than ads. You want that commitment to excellence for your dog.

Another issue is wet versus dry dog food, which is actually very simple. Your dog’s diet should consist of mostly dry food with a little bit of wet occasionally mixed in. Dry foods do more than keep teeth healthy; they also provide more comprehensive nutrition and substance. Of course, the benefits to your dog’s teeth should not be ignored. Chewing on kibble keeps teeth cleaner and stronger, and your dog’s teeth are indicative of their overall health. Generally, wet should be a treat rather than a mainstay. Two exceptions are when your dog is a senior and their needs change, or if your dog gets sick and needs extra encouragement to eat. In those cases, using more wet food is understandable and a wise choice. Otherwise, use dry kibble.

Educate yourself about how to read the label on the bag. Once you understand what your dog food should and shouldn’t have listed, you’ll be on your way to choosing the best food possible. So how much should you give them on a daily basis? Quantity does depend on quality. The better the dog food, the less they need. And, of course, the more active your dog is, the more calories they’ll require. But for a basic guideline, considering the following for adults:

· Under 10 lbs. 1/3 c. to 1 c.

· 11-25 lbs. 1 c. to 2 c.

· 26-50 lbs. 2 c. to 3 c.

· 51-75 lbs. 2 ½ c. to 4 c.

· 76-100 lbs 3 c. to 5 c.

· 100+ lbs. 4c. to 6 c.

The labels on food bags have a tendency to suggest huge amounts of food at each meal. The companies that produce dog foods are just like any other consumer product in that they want you to use more and buy more. However, even giant breeds like Great Danes don’t need the huge amounts listed on most bags. In fact, due to their slower metabolisms and calmer attitudes, Danes really don’t need that much more than a large Golden Retriever. As long as you take your dog’s size, activity level, and age into consideration, you’ll do just fine choosing which of the many kibbles to buy.

If your dog has more than just a thin layer of fat over their ribs, odds are they’re too heavy and you need to both cut back their food and increase their exercise. With the exception of breeds like Greyhounds, ribs should never be visible. Like all parts of owning a dog, take the time to do your research and treat your dog as an individual with unique needs and you’ll do just fine.

Is homemade dog food right for you?

Deciphering dog food labels should help you decide. If you want to feed your dog homemade dog food, first make sure you understand the various kinds of dog food. Some owners swear by their self-made concoctions while others follow diets found in books or online. Manufacturers overuse one particular phrase in advertising and on labels in order to generate profit regardless of their food’s true contents: organic dog food. Organic should mean no chemicals, artificial pesticides, artificial fertilizers, or genetic modifications are allowed, and any animal products must be grain-fed stock. Holistic food is less common since true holistic food is made up entirely of ingredients selected to pertain somehow to a system or part of the body.

Natural dog food is food free of dyes, preservatives, and artificial flavors. Most premium pet foods are considered natural dog food, often using vitamins C and E as preservatives. Finally, raw dog food diets use only uncooked ingredients, whether vegetables, grains, or meat. The homemade food BARF diet – Bones and Raw Foods or Biologically Appropriate Food – gained substantial popularly in the 1990’s. Raw dog food diets present dangerous health risks from the lack of nutritional balance as well as bacteria and diseases from raw meat and eggs and potentially fatal injuries from bones.

Ideally, your dog’s food would consist of the best of each diet. Dogs suffering from illnesses such as intestinal bowel syndrome (IBS) or severe allergies benefit enough from a raw dog food diet that it’s sometimes worth the risks. Try avoiding certain elements, like bones and raw eggs. The benefit of natural dog food is clear; minimizing chemical ingestion is vital to longer life. If holistic elements can be added, all the better. One definite positive to homemade dog food is the ability to tailor the ingredients specifically to your dog’s needs.

You could create organic dog food by using USDA-certified organic foods from your local health food store. Make it holistic by using foods that help your dog’s joints, stomach, or diabetes, whatever his needs may be. Utilizing raw vegetables and grains to take the best elements from a raw dog food diet is meant to mimic the contents of a deer’s stomach in the wild. Making homemade dog food is the only way, be positive it’s truly organic dog food, as well as making sure it’s holistic and natural.

If you’d rather not make homemade dog food, research your dog’s kibble to see that it meets your standards. So-called organic dog food is often nothing more than a pretty label. According to the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), they realize there needs to be major improvement in truthful labeling, but they aren’t sure what to do about it. Attempts to regulate the popular “100% organic” label on bags without even a single organic dog food ingredient in them have failed, and for the time being they’ve stopped trying.

Natural dog food does have an official designation by the AAFCO, though; they say it’s natural if the manufacturer hasn’t added anything artificial – unless they really had to. If you want truly natural dog food, you cannot blindly trust advertising, which should come as no surprise. Using raw dog food gives you complete control over ingredients. Until the USDA and AAFCO put more effort into label regulation, you must make sure your dog’s food is what it claims to be. Quality food leads to a longer life, which means you’ll have your best canine friend with you as long as possible.

Knowing dog food ingredients is important.

Avoid as many of these as possible. When buying dog foods, the most important piece of information is printed right on the bag: ingredients, in this case definitely we are talking about dog food ingredients. In order to choose the right food, you need to learn how to interpret the long list of what’s inside each piece of kibble.

There are a few dog food ingredients you need to avoid whenever possible. It is basically impossible to avoid all of them, so do your best to buy food with as few of these as possible. The following are some of the most important dog food ingredients to avoid, and why:

· Corn. This is one of the most common allergens. It’s used as filler in dog foods, only meant to make your dog feel full, without providing any nutritional value. Most corn is grown from genetically modified seeds in the U.S. with heavy pesticides, making it even more dangerous.

· Animal by-products. The best source of meat is meal, because chicken meal, for example, contains up to seventy percent more meat than plain chicken due to water content. By-products are leftovers after human-appropriate meat is removed from the carcass; include horns, feathers, blood, and even dirt from the floor of the processing plant. May also include diseased tissue and tumors.

· Onion. This can cause anemia and death in all its forms. There is no good reason for onions to be used in dog foods.

· Salt. If there is any salt, it should be towards the bottom of the list. Manufacturers use it to mask bad meat and fat. Salt makes dogs thirsty and can cause electrolyte imbalance, kidney and heart disease, and hypertension.

· Mill run or grain fragments. Tiny leftover pieces too small and worthless for human consumption. Filler like corn, also without any nutritional value.

· Synthetic Vitamin K. Typically listed in dog food ingredients as menadione sodium bisulfate or menadione dimethylprimidinol sulfate/sulfite/bisulfate, not only is this unnecessary because dogs make their own Vitamin K, but it is toxic.

· Tetra Sodium Pyrophosphate. Used to help render animal fats, and more common than it should be. You’ll see it as TSP in cleaning products. It’s a rust stain remover.

· Dicalcium Phosphate. Yet another chemical that becomes dangerous with extended use, and, of course, your dog will eat it every day. Used as a texturizer in canned foods.

· Wheat gluten is common filler that routinely causes allergies.

· Brewers dried yeast. Used for flavor. With regular ingestion can cause liver toxicity and allergies.

· Artificial color or flavor. Food should have enough good quality meat in it to not need added flavor. Colors are added for humans; dogs don’t care what color their kibble is. Although dyes may seem harmless, they can build up to toxic levels over years of ingestion.

· Chemicals. BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin and propylene glycol are a few top chemical dog food ingredient additives, the last of which is found in antifreeze and paint. Usually used as preservatives, they make food last a very long time, but are not necessary. Vitamins C and E are good, safe preservatives, as are “mixed tocopherols.” BHA and BHT are actually banned from human foods in quite a few countries because they’re known carcinogens, causing tumors in lab rats.

· Sucrose; sugar. Used to make food taste better so dogs want to eat more. Causes myriad health problems including weight gain and hyperactivity.

· Animal fat. Frequently used to coat each kernel of food. Often rancid before use and from what are called “4-D animals” (dead, dying, diseased, disabled). Often preserved with Vitamin E or mixed tocopherols, which is very misleading.

· Soy. Not only does soy mess with hormones and thyroid, it is another filler, used where much healthier dog food ingredients could be. Most large factory soybean crops in the U.S. are contaminated with glyphosate, a known toxin and carcinogen. Additionally, soybeans have one of the highest pesticide concentrations of all crops in North America. There are healthier methods for processing soy, but the majority of the time it is not processed that way in the U.S.

The reason these need to be avoided is because your dog will be ingesting them every single day for their entire lives. Constant intake has been linked to problems including, but not limited to, cancer, heart disease, major organ failure, diabetes, hypertension, and serious allergies. Feeding your dog quality dog foods is a vital part of extending their lives. Only a small fraction of kibbles fall into the category of truly healthy, quality food. Knowing which dog food ingredients to avoid is the best place to start. Interestingly, although the good dog foods do cost more, dogs eat significantly less of them, making the cost even out. Poor quality foods must be eaten in larger volume to obtain just a fraction of the high nutritional value of good quality foods.

In the long run, even though you’re paying more for the bag of quality food, you’ll end up spending close to the same amount. You’re also going to save a lot of money in vet bills by feeding better food, which, combined with longevity, makes it well worth any extra cost.

Some common toxic dog food items.

Avoiding them altogether is simplest. There is a lot of toxic dog food that is actually safe for you, the human, and what you may think you know about toxicity when it comes to foods like chocolate is probably not entirely accurate. You must always exercise caution when giving your dog food intended for humans. Dogs don’t metabolize foods or drugs the same way we do. As a result, it can take a much larger dose of medications to work at all for your dog and some foods fail to leave their systems, building up and causing toxicity.

The most common symptoms of poisoning from pretty much all toxic dog food includes vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and lack of appetite (inappetance). Seizures, drunken gait (ataxia), excessive thirst (polydipsia) and urination (polyuria) and fever may also occur. If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, whether by toxic dog food or chemicals, go to the vet. Some dogs are more sensitive than others to various toxins, and there is no way to know how sensitive your dog is until it’s too late.

The toxic dog food list below causes the aforementioned symptoms, and some additional ones, too. Any symptoms unique to a particular toxin are listed under the substance’s heading. Following toxic dog foods are the most commonly known and are easy to avoid and it’s strongly recommended that you do so. We have a more comprehensive article detailing these foods here.

ALCOHOL

One of the most common ways dogs drink alcohol is when their owners either give it to them on purpose at a party or the dog drinks from a cup left in their reach. Ethanol poisoning causes difficulty breathing in addition to stereotypical signs of drunkenness.

AVOCADO

Persin is an oil-soluble toxin found in the seed, bark, and leaves of avocados. There is some debate regarding just how big a problem persin is for dogs. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and, like other “iffy” foods, some dogs are more sensitive than others. In the case of avocados, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

CHOCOLATE

Chocolate contains theobromine, a form of methylxanthine and a cardiac stimulant. Dogs cannot secrete it like humans do, in fact, the half-life (the time it lingers in their body) of chocolate is around seventeen hours. The first signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, ataxia, excessive drinking, and excessive urination. One of the most dangerous effects is irregular heartbeat, arrhythmia. Highly refined chocolate like milk chocolate don’t have as much theobromine as dark chocolate, unsweetened baker’s chocolate, and cocoa powder do. But even though milk chocolate is technically safer for canine consumption, it is not worth the risk to feed your dog any kind of chocolate whatsoever.

CAFFEINE

Humans know and love caffeine. We get it from coffee, soda, and tea, and let’s not forget energy drinks and supplements. Caffeine contains a chemical called methylxanthine, which is toxic. Methylxanthine is related to the theobromine found in chocolate. Caffeine poisoning is almost identical to chocolate poisoning. If your dog drinks a small amount of coffee or soda, it is not as massive an emergency as it is if your dog eats coffee grounds, a tea bag, or just one diet pill.

GRAPES, RAISINS AND CURRANTS

Toxicity from grapes, raisins, and currants is actually a bit of a mystery. But we do know they are dangerous; just one to the right dog can be fatal, and they’re toxic in varying quantities to all dogs. It is not known why some dogs are more or less sensitive than others, and there is no way to know which your dog is until it’s too late. Early signs of poisoning include lethargy and excessive drinking. Kidney failure and lack of urine production (anuria) are the ultimate results of grape and raisin poisoning.

MACADAMIA NUTS

Much like grapes and raisins, the reason macadamia nuts are toxic is not known. And, like grapes and raisins, some dogs are more or less sensitive than others. It can take twelve hour for signs to develop. Symptoms include swollen joints, hind-end paralysis, rapid heartbeat, and hyperthermia.

NUTMEG

In large amounts, nutmeg can cause your dog to hallucinate. Advanced symptoms include seizures.

ONIONS AND GARLIC

Onions contain chemicals called allyl-propyl disulfide and n-propyl disulfide. These chemicals cause hemolytic anemia (Heinz body anemia) when eaten in large quantities. Garlic has a similar effect.

SALMON

Salmon, along with other fish that swim upstream to breed such as trout and sturgeon, frequently have parasites called Nanophyetus salmincola. Those bugs can be infected by Neorickettsia helminthoeca, and ingestion by a dog of those causes Salmon Poisoning Disease (SPD). Dogs are the only species susceptible. Swollen lymph nodes are a unique symptom of toxicity. Death can be unfortunately prolonged, occurring up to 2 weeks after eating the raw fish, but when it’s caught early, it’s treatable.

TOMATO AND RHUBARB

The stems and leaves of these fruits contain a high concentration of oxalates, which affect the central nervous system, and tomatine, a glycoalkaloid affecting the heart. The green leaves and un-ripened green tomatoes have the highest concentrations. As the fruit ripens, the tomatine is reduced, but that doesn’t mean you should give your dog tomatoes.

XYLITOL

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol sweetener found in a lot of foods, including gums and toothpastes, and naturally occurs in some fruits and vegetables. It’s commonly used in many diet products. Dogs ingesting a large enough amount present with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Symptoms of hypoglycemia include seizures, ataxia and collapse.

This is only a partial list of toxic dog food. Every food that is toxic, whether in small or large quantities, varies in severity by dog. Some breeds are more susceptible than others to certain foods and chemicals. And, of course, dogs have food allergies just like people do. Corn is one of the most common allergens and also often the first ingredient in dog foods. Avoid an accidental poisoning by feeding your dog a steady diet of the best dog food available rather than table scraps or raw food. And for those moments when you want to spoil your dog, use quality dog treats rather than human food.

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