How to Evaluate Which Food Is Best for Your Dog
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Good nutrition is as important to your dog’s health as it is to your own. But with thousands of different pet foods available, how do you pick the right one for your dog?
Learn how to choose a dog food that provides the proper, balanced nutrition your dog needs to thrive with these six tips.
1. Know Your Dog’s Basic Nutritional Needs
In general, while a human diet should be high in fiber and low in fat, a dog needs more fat for energy and a healthy skin and coat, and less fiber for good intestinal health.
Preferably, a dog’s food should include meat, too. Even if you prefer a vegetarian diet, designing a high-quality dog diet without animal protein is difficult. IAMS™ Company research supports that meatless meals might not provide optimal nutrition for dogs. Dogs are best fed as carnivores because they have simple stomachs and short intestines that are ideal for digesting animal protein and animal fat. Dogs also need carbohydrates for energy.
2. Consider Your Dog's Life Stage and Lifestyle
Start by identifying your dog’s life stage and lifestyle. Puppies, nursing mothers and mature pets each represent different life stages, and each one has different nutritional requirements. By law, all dog foods must state the life stage for which they are recommended.
Nutritional needs also vary depending on lifestyle. A dog whose primary activity is guarding the couch doesn’t need as much energy as one who guards a flock of sheep. Another factor to consider is breed size: small, medium or large.
Finally, consider medical conditions your dog has, such as food allergies, that might require your veterinarian to recommend a special diet.
3. Choose Dry Dog Food or Wet
Once you’ve determined your dog’s life stage and lifestyle needs, decide whether to feed him dry or canned food. Most dogs do well eating only dry food. Dry foods promote oral hygiene for healthy teeth and gums through abrasive chewing action. Some dogs, especially finicky eaters, enjoy wet food because of its smooth, wet texture.
Remember that while dry food can be left in a bowl all day, wet food should be thrown away after 30 minutes if not consumed. Dry food is the best choice for busy people who are not normally home during the day.
After you determine your pet’s nutritional needs and preference, you are ready to go shopping.
4. Compare Dog-food Labels
Ingredients on dog-food labels are listed in descending order according to weight. Because dogs thrive on animal-based diets, it’s best to pick a food that features an animal-based protein source, such as chicken, lamb, fish or egg, as the first ingredient. Unlike a single-vegetable-based protein source, such as soybean meal or corn-gluten meal, animal-based protein sources contain adequate amounts of essential amino acids.
Scientific studies show that a combination of carbohydrates in the diet, such as corn meal or barley and grain sorghum, offers optimal carbohydrate digestibility and helps maintain energy levels. In addition, scientific studies show that beet pulp — the material remaining after sugar is extracted from sugar beets — is an excellent fiber source and promotes a healthy digestive tract. Finally, for a glossy coat and healthy skin, your pet needs fat in the diet. Good fat sources include chicken fat and fish oil.
5. Learn How to Recognize Dog-food Quality
Dog-food labels provide limited information about the nutritional value of the food because labeling regulations do not allow manufacturers to describe the quality of ingredients on the package.
A reputable pet-food manufacturer will be able to explain their specific methods for evaluating and assuring the quality of ingredients used in its products.
6. Compare Dog-food Prices
When choosing food, the price on the bag, while important, is usually not the best consideration. A low price might indicate inexpensive ingredients, or ingredients that change as market prices fluctuate.
Also, many lower-priced products have higher daily portions to provide the same amount of nutrition found in a high-quality diet. To get a better representation of value, it is the cost per feeding, not the total cost, that counts.
To figure cost per feeding, divide the total cost by the number of days the product lasts. For example, a 20-pound bag of food costs $18.99 and lasts 30 days. The cost to feed is $0.63 per day. A 20-pound bag of food that costs $15.99 and lasts 20 days costs $0.80 per day. So, when costs are analyzed properly, high-quality pet foods compare quite favorably to other brands while offering outstanding nutrition.
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- adp_description_block497Nutrition for Large- and Giant-Breed Adult Dogs
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Healthy joints and proper weight are especially important for dogs that grow to be more than 50 pounds. But not all large- and giant-breed adult dogs have the same nutritional needs. Is your dog getting proper exercise? Is she about to have puppies? Special conditions can dramatically affect your dog’s nutritional demands. Giving her a food specially formulated for her large size, life stage and activity level is the easiest way to make sure she’s getting the nutrients she needs.
Choosing a Food for Overall Health
To address the special needs of your large- or giant-breed dog, look for these features:
- Less fat to help maintain an ideal body condition for less joint stress
- Vitamin-rich fish oils for healthy skin, shiny coat and overall health
- Essential vitamins and minerals to help support the immune system and help maintain good health
- High-quality animal-based protein sources to help maintain muscle tone
- A moderately fermentable fiber source, such as beet pulp, to maintain intestinal health, enhance your dog's ability to absorb nutrients, and reduce backyard cleanup
- A carbohydrate blend to help sustain energy by maintaining normal blood sugar levels
These components are key to good nutrition. Look for them in treats, wet dog food, or dry dog food, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Adult Large Breed.
Maintaining Healthy Joints and Cartilage
Joint health is a big concern for owners of large- and giant-breed dogs. A large- or giant-breed formula that contains high-quality protein can help nourish healthy joints. Vitamins and minerals help promote the production of cartilage. Also, keeping your dog at a healthy weight will help minimize joint stress.
Guarding Against Weight Gain
Dogs with lower activity levels and dogs that have been neutered or spayed are all prone to weight gain. Controlling your dog’s weight is an important step toward protecting against the health effects of excess weight, such as diabetes or joint health problems. If you use a weight-management food, look for these characteristics:
- A reduced fat level that still offers essential nutrients for skin and coat health
- L-carnitine, a key nutrient that helps burn fat and maintain muscle mass during weight loss
- Special carbohydrate blends that help maintain energy while managing weight
- Vitamin-rich fish oils for overall health
Providing Nutrition During Pregnancy
Pregnant dogs have substantial nutrition requirements. Starting in the seventh week of her pregnancy, a mother dog will need to increase her energy intake up to 50% by the time she gives birth and increase it even more when she starts nursing her puppies. Because she may lose her appetite at times, it's important that she eats a nutrient-dense food. A complete, balanced puppy formula can give her the extra nutrients she needs. But avoid puppy food created for large and giant breeds; these formulas contain specially adjusted levels of energy and minerals that may not be sufficient for a pregnant or nursing dog.
Switching to a Mature Diet
Dogs who grow to be more than 50 pounds are considered mature or senior at age 5 or 6, which is earlier than small-breed dogs. So, it’s critical to make a proactive transition to a specially formulated mature diet, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Mature Adult Large Breed, to help keep your dog healthy and active as she ages.
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