This is the question I get asked the most in veterinary practice. If only it were that simple. Like us, every dog is different with regards to metabolism and digestion of food. What works great for one dog may be a disaster for another. However, all dog food should meet certain criteria independent of brand.
Trust Your Dog, Not Your Neighbor
The easiest, reliable way of judging your dog’s food is by observing your dog. Does your dog readily eat its food? Is your dog’s coat shiny and soft or dull and coarse? Are your dog’s eyes clear and bright or dull? Is your dog energetic and eager for activity or reluctant to exercise independently? Does your dog make a small to moderate amount of stool or large deposits frequently?
Healthy dogs enjoy their food, have shiny, soft coats, bright eyes and are eager for activity. Dog food that reduces stool quantity has less indigestible fiber and more quality ingredients. These are the best gauges of the right food for your dog and it will be different for each dog. What works for your neighbor’s dog may not do the same for yours.
Food Energy Sources
Humans and animals eat to meet nutrient and energy requirements. Energy or calories are provided only by 3 sources in the diet, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. These ingredients provide other essential nutrients but they are the only source of energy in food.
The energy in an ideal food for adult dogs should be distributed so that 24% of the energy comes from protein, 38% from fat and 38% from carbohydrate. The label will not give you this information. Dog food manufacturers are only required to display what is called “Guaranteed Analysis.”
The guaranteed analysis of the ideal dry dog food should contain a minimum of 27% protein, 17% fat, with no more than 5% fiber and 10% moisture. For canned food it should contain 6% protein, 4% fat, no more than 1.5% fiber and 78-80% moisture. These guaranteed analyses will provide the energy distribution described above.
Puppies require a different distribution of calories. The energy in their diet should be distributed so that 27% of the calories come from protein, 41% from fat and 32% from carbohydrate. For puppies, dry guaranteed analysis should be a minimum of 30% protein, 20% fat, no more than 5% fiber and 10% moisture. Puppy canned food should be a minimum of 7% protein, 4% fat, no more than 1.5% fiber and 78-80% moisture.
The majority of commercial canned foods meet these criteria. Although there are some dry food brands that meet these goals, most do not. If you cannot find a brand that does, pick a food with a guaranteed analysis as close to ideal as possible and observe your dog for the characteristics mentioned above.
And It Still Might Not Be Right
It may take many experiments with different foods to find the one that is best for your dog. Also as your dog ages, metabolic changes may also require experimental diet changes to maintain that healthy look. And many of you may not find that “right” food.
Unfortunately, guaranteed analysis only describes the quantity of nutrients not the quality. Commercial dog food is cheaper than your food because the quality of the ingredients is not the same as that in your food. Dog food is made from agricultural scraps. This means you can pick a food that meets the numerical requirements but your dog may not look like a healthy dog due to the poor quality of the ingredients. Homemade dog food diets are the only way to combine quantity and quality in your dog’s diet.
~Dr Ken Tudor
The Dog Dietitian
Let Us Know What You Think: