There has been an explosion over the last decade in the sheer choice of commercial dog foods available on the market. This is great news for dogs, but it can be difficult to know what the best options are for your particular pet.
This article provides a breakdown of the major types of dog kibble so that you can have the information necessary to make an informed decision.
Life Stage Formulas
The first thing you need to pay attention to is the appropriate life stage. Different periods of a canine’s life have unique requirements for optimal nutrition.
The timeframe for feeding specially formulated puppy food generally spans from the first four weeks to the first 12 months of life. During this time, your pup will appreciate more calories and higher levels of protein. This supports rapid growth and development, as well as the additional activity and energy that puppies can exhibit.
In addition, you may have noticed that many dog food manufacturers boost the levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in their puppy formulas. This has been demonstrated in clinical trials to improve mental focus and development in young dogs.
If you continue to feed puppy food to your adult dog, he may gain weight. Dog obesity is a major problem and one of the leading causes of many health issues in our beloved pets. As far as packaging goes, you are looking for either “Adult” or “All Life Stage” formulas to hit the sweet spot for this time in your pooch’s life.
The time to switch to a senior food is a decision to talk with your vet about since different breeds and sizes of dogs vary widely, although seven years is the average. Larger breeds may need to switch over to a senior food much earlier, and the opposite is true for smaller breeds.
Usually dog food formulated for seniors has fewer calories, higher fiber content and the addition of ingredients to boost immune system functioning. Other additions include glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or fatty acids such as EPA or DHA. These ingredients are particularly critical for dogs with mobility issues or arthritis as they support healthy joints.
Pregnancy and Nursing
If you happen to have a mommy-to-be on your hands, hopefully you have talked with your vet about diet. This is a critical time when more calories as well as higher levels of calcium and other vital nutrients can be critical to the health of the mother and puppies.
Another major category to consider is your dog’s projected growth size. The majority of adult dog food on the market is optimized for medium-sized dogs who will be 30 to 60 pounds as adults.
However, toy and giant breeds have very different nutritional needs for their different life stages. This difference is significant enough to impact the long-term health of your dog.
For example, giant breeds like Great Danes or mastiffs can develop too quickly when fed foods designed for other breeds, resulting in long-term health consequences to bone and muscle development. Rates of hip and elbow dysplasia are already high for these breeds, and the wrong diet can significantly increase the risk of lifelong mobility problems.
Breed size formulas are not a gimmick! Combined with the right life stage formula, making the right choice for large and small dogs can make a big difference.
While specialty diets used to be available only by prescription, recent years have shown an uptake in the numbers of tailored formulas as consumers have become more knowledgeable about commercial dog food.
We recommend that you work closely with your vet if you are considering going with a specialty formula to be sure you are meeting your dog’s real nutritional needs. In addition, be sure your pet food has met the AAFCO nutritional minimums before making the switch.
There are many specific health problems that are treated or mitigated with specially formulated kibble. Liver disease, heart disease, diabetes and kidney problems are just a few such illnesses. It is critical that you work with a vet to make the best choice in diet if your furry friend has any chronic health issues.
Limited-Ingredient, Novel Proteins, Hydrolyzed Proteins
It is actually proteins like beef and chicken that are more likely to be causing food sensitivities in your canine. One of the first treatment options your vet may recommend in such cases is an elimination diet, since laboratory testing for food allergies remains somewhat ineffective.
Elimination diets need to be done under the supervision of a veterinarian. They typically involve using limited-ingredient dog food formulas on a schedule to identify and isolate the offending ingredients.
Novel proteins such as duck, venison, bison, or salmon are used to avoid the most common protein offenders in commercial dog food. Another option is a hydrolyzed protein formula, which uses special processing to break down proteins so that they won’t trigger an immune system response in allergic animals.
An increased awareness of food allergies and sensitivities in our pets has resulted in a plethora of new options for dog owners. One of the biggest areas of growth has been grain-free alternatives. While it is a misconception that grains are the number-one allergen for canines (in fact, it is often commonly used proteins like beef and chicken), avoiding grains can have benefits.
First, some dogs do have sensitivities to certain grains like wheat or corn. In these cases, grain-free dog food can make a huge difference in their overall condition. Second, grains make up some of the cheapest ingredients on the market, and they offer little nutritional benefit for canines. High levels of corn, wheat, and/or soy have become synonymous with lower-quality feed as a result.
PRO TIP: Be sure to match up with the right life stage and breed size. For example, if you are going grain free for your young dog, be sure to research grain-free puppy food.
High Fiber and Weight Control
A final category of specially formulated kibble includes those designed for weight control. Often, these foods replace some of the protein and fat with higher levels of soluble and insoluble fiber. This both reduces calories and provides additional fiber that can support digestive health.
Some health problems, such as chronic constipation, impacted anal glands, pancreatic insufficiency, and diabetes, are sometimes treated with high-fiber diets. However, it is critical to work with a vet since these conditions require close monitoring as well as other important treatments.
PRO TIP: If you are considering a high-fiber dog food, be sure to look for high-quality fiber sources from natural sources like brown rice, oatmeal, peas, flaxseed, pumpkin, and barley.
Tips for Choosing the Right Dog Food
Let’s review some of the information presented in this article:
- Make sure to match the life stage and breed size for your dog as a baseline for finding the right commercial dog food.
- Work with your vet to see if a specialty diet is right for specific conditions, such as sensitive stomachs, weight control, or other health conditions.
- Novel-protein and limited-ingredient diets can be helpful to identify which allergens may be negatively impacting your dog’s health.
- High-quality ingredients from whole-food sources are generally considered superior to cheap grain fillers and meat byproducts.
This article was written by Mat Coulton who has worked with dogs for just under a decade and is the founder of wileypup.com, a dog lover’s website that provides great tips and advice for pet parents everywhere.