It is not an easy task to find the right food for your dog. Fresh home cooked meals are always the best. But cooking for your pooch is not that easy.  Especially when you are not aware of their nutritional needs, ingredients that are essential or dangerous to them. 

Then you should go for a slightly expensive option – Packaged Dog Food.

The dog food market is flooded with choices. Currently, there are more than 25 known brands, each of them offering 10-15 varieties of recipes. 

But how will you decide which one to pick?

This extensive guide will explain to you the points to be considered before buying a dog food

Life Stage

Dogs have different needs at different life stages. Thus the life stage of a canine is an important factor to consider when you select food. 

First 12-15 months of a puppy is the most nutritionally demanding period. Dogs grow faster than humans. They reach their full growth in 1 -1.5 years. Thus at this stage, they will need a high amount of calories, proteins, calcium etc. Feeding only home cooked meal is not recommended at this stage as you won’t be able to include all nutrients required for the growth. 

Food labeled ‘Growth’ is the best.

A adult dog’s (1.5 – 8 years) nutrition requirement varies from dog to dog. It depends on the age and size of the dog. Lean body composition is the biggest factor for overall health.

Body compostion of your dog can be found out rubbing your finger over your dog’s ribs. If you can’t feel the ribs because of the underlying layer of fat, the dog is heavy and you will need to control the calories fed. If the ribs and pelvic bones are visible from distance, then your dog is underfed and you need to increase the quantity of food. If you can feel the ribs without much fat layer, then your dog has a lean body composition.

Food labeled ‘Light’ or Weight Loss will be ideal for obese/fat dogs. Select ‘Active’ or similar labels for dogs which burn higher calories.

Senior dogs (9+ years) are usually prone to different illnesses like kidney malfunction, arthritis etc. Thus the nutrition needs change. Dogs with kidney ailments may not be able to process excess proteins. Senior dog foods will have lesser fat and a moderate level of protein to maintain the muscle mass. Food labeled ‘Senior’ will be the best option in such cases. If your dog has any specific illness, consult a vet and ask for a diet specially made for your dog. 

On average, an adult dog needs 70-100 calories/ Kg/ day.

Breed Type

Different breeds have different activity level. Working class dogs will need a high amount of calories compared to toy breeds. Dogs like Labrador, Golden Retriever, German Shepherds need more calories compared to Great Danes or Cocker Spaniel. 

Different food for different breeds makes a difference not just in terms of calories but in terms of kibble size as well. Smaller breeds will need smaller kibbles to chew, while larger breeds will need slightly bigger kibbles.

That is why some brands come out with breed specific dog food. If there is no food made specifically for your breed, you can try other common recipes.

Nutrition

Don’t judge a food by its cover. 

Check the guaranteed analysis present on the back side. If the analysis is missing, more the reason not to trust the brand.  Each dog food package will have its minimum % of nutrients listed in the descending order of volume. Do not trust food brands which do not share the nutrient list. Food manufactured in Europe and America will mention the percentage of the volume of each ingredient as well. Always choose food which has protein as the highest % nutrient (min 24% for adult dogs). 

Protein helps in generating essential and non-essential amino acids for strong muscles, shiny coat, and a better immune system.

The second highest component in % should be fat. Fat will provides energy as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Fatty acids help the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and also to keep the body temperature in control.

The third important nutrients should be vitamins and minerals. They help in building a strong immune system, serving as antioxidants, enabling the blood to clot etc.

Ingredients

Dogs are omnivorous and animal protein should be the main element of a balanced diet. Protein can be from meat, poultry or fish. 

As per the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), meat in dog food consists of muscle tissues from cows, pigs, and goats. Poultry and fish will not be labeled as meat.

What is the difference between ‘Whole Meat’, ‘Meat meal’, Meat by-products and ‘Meat flavored’ food?

The term whole meat means the meat without any processing. It will contain a higher % of fat and moisture. To make a meal, meat, poultry or fish is processed with high pressure and temperature to remove excess moisture and fat. Thus meat meal will have a a concentrate of proteins and minerals.

In case you are choosing a dog food with whole meat, you may have to add additional protein source to make a balanced diet.

Meat by-products by definition means, non-rendered clean parts of slaughtered mammals, other than meat, which includes, liver, kidney, brain, bones etc, but does not include hair, teeth etc. Meat by-products present in the the food do not make the food inferior in quality. Studies show that meat-by products are highly digestible and are extremely high in nutrients. For eg., Liver is extremely rich in Vitamin A and B and where as bones are rich in calcium and phosphorous.

Meat flavored food will have only up to 3% meat which just adds the smell to excite the dog. In general, meat flavor will not have enough protein content.

An important point to be noted is, all these terms are defined by AAFCO and hence food produced in the USA will follow these guidelines. But since countries like India do not have such regulations, such terms could be misused.

So even if the label highlights the term meat, it will be good to check the ingredient list to ensure if meat is the main ingredient.

Brand and Reviews

Bad dog food will cause many problems like bad digestion, greasy coat, skin allergies, etc. You will not be able to judge the food by its cover. So always research about the brand and the quality of ingredients. All big brands may not necessarily give good quality. Similarly, many local brands from India create high-quality food on a small scale.

Read reviews before trying out new brands.

All dogs are not the same. Some dogs will be allergic to specific ingredients. If you notice symptoms like diarrhea, skin rashes or itchy paws, you should try changing the food to check if it is a food allergy.

Try out different food and select the one that your dog and your wallet love.