How to Choose a Dog Food

If you want to know how to choose a dog food then it is very important to read and compare the ingredients listed on dog food packaging. New regulations for the listing of ingredients, typical analysis (protein, fat etc) and additives on pet food packaging mean that you can now make a better and more informed choice based on what is listed.

What to look for

Let’s assume you are going to be feeding your dog a complete dry kibble food. The order in which the ingredients are listed indicates which there are more of – the highest being first and the lowest last. The typical analysis shows the protein content (see below for info on different sources of protein), fat, fibre etc. This is excellent information to know but must be considered in relation to the ingredients. For instance, some protein sources are more easily utilised and are therefore better than others. Also look for any additives. Ingredients are often split too so there may be three or four types of cereal but when added together the single ingredient would appear much higher on the list.

First of all identify the main ingredients. These will generally be listed before the first obvious source of fat.

Dog food examples

Dog Food A
Ingredients: Cereals, meat and animal derivatives, oils and fats, milk and milk derivatives, yeast, mixed herbs, minerals, molluscs and crustaceans, EEC permitted antioxidants.
Analysis: Protein 25%, Oils & Fats 15%, Fibre 2.5%, Ash 6.5%

Dog Food B
Ingredients: Lamb – Meat 57%, Lamb – Liver, Lung, Tripe, Heart and Kidney 34%, Green-lipped Mussel 3%, Lecithin, Chicory Inulin, Kelp, Parsley, naturally preserved with mixed tocopherols.
Analysis: Crude Protein 33%, Crude Fat 27%, Crude Fibre 1.5%, Moisture 15%, Ash 8%

One of these dog foods contains a high meat source of quality protein that a dog’s digestive tract is designed to easily utilise. The other contains a high proportion of cereals (which could be of any type and may change from batch to batch) and some ‘meat and animal derivatives’ which could be from virtually any meat source and therefore of potentially dubious quality.

Dog Food A may contain 25% protein but it is mainly from cereals which are harder for a dog to digest. Dog Food B has a good protein level of 33% and it is derived from an excellent source of meat which is easily digested.

Some would argue that a dog’s digestive system is designed to digest primarily meat and animal fat. That they are not as well equipped to as easily digest cereals and grains because they do not possess salivary amylase in their saliva. Herbivores and omnivores (like humans) produce this special enzyme in their saliva which begins to break down the starchy carbohydrates into simple sugars before the food reaches the stomach. Dogs can produce the enzyme but only in the small intestine far down the digestive tract making the cereals and grains harder to digest. It is also debated whether dogs need specific carbohydrate sources (such as maize) other than meat because they can get their energy from the meat and fat. That’s not to say all cereals/grains or carb sources are to be avoided as some are far better than others. Rice and potato seem to agree with most dogs, even those with sensitive stomachs, and are often found in hypoallergenic dog foods. Cereals and grains may be more suited to working dogs that require extra fast release energy that is more easily obtained from these ingredients.

One would expect a normal pet dog eating Dog Food A to produce many stools per day often of the looser variety while the same dog eating Dog Food B would produce fewer and smaller, firmer stools. This is indicative of Dog Food B being easier to digest and more of the food and it’s nutrients being more easily utilised.

Another point to consider is that dog foods containing more cereals and grains will have to be fed in high quantities than of a dog food with a higher meat content – sometimes as much as double the weight per day. This should be factored in when comparing cost.

How to calculate daily feeding cost

Dog Food A: 15kg bag costs £40 and the feeding recommendations for a 30kg dog is 500g per day. £40 divided by 15kg = £2.67 per kg. 15000g divided by 500g = 30 days of food. £40 divided by 30 days = £1.34 per day.

Dog Food B: 15kg bag costs £80 and the feeding recommendations for a 30kg dog is 290g per day. £80 divided by 15kg = £5.34 per kg. 15000g divided by 275g = 55 days of food. £80 divided by 52 days = £1.45 per day.

So Dog Food A may appear much cheaper at first but for just a little more per day you can buy and feed your dog a far superior dog food.

Hypoallergenic Dog Food Explained

According to Blakiston’s Medical Dictionary, the definition of ‘hypoallergenic’ is:

Non-allergy producing. A term applied to a preparation in which every possible care has been taken in formulation and production to ensure minimum instance of allergic reactions.

Allergies and allergic reactions in dogs

Allergic reactions in dogs are all too common and in many cases can be avoided. The cause of the allergy can often be traced back to something in their diet. By the process of elimination of ingredients in the dog food one can identify the culprit and so avoid that ingredient in the future.

This process of elimination is not an easy one and will take time and effort. A simpler way to initially address the problem could be to try a specially formulated hypoallergenic dog food. You may find this eliminates the allergic reaction your dog is experiencing.

No hypoallergenic dog food can claim to eliminate all allergic reactions in all dogs but they can definitely help in many cases. Fewer ingredients may help to eliminate the ingredient causing the allergy.

Common allergies and health issues in dogs

Skin conditions are quite common in dogs and symptoms can include itchy skin, eczema and hot areas of skin. Other general health issues affected by a their diet can include loose stools, colitis, excessive moulting, excessive ear wax, runny eyes, bad breath, tooth tarter, chewing of paws and overly full anal glands.

Skin conditions, in particular, can be caused or aggravated by dog foods containing gluten, cereals or grains (corn, wheat, maize etc).

Not all hypoallergenic dog foods are the same

All dogs are different but in many cases a well formulated hypoallergenic dog food can represent a good balanced diet for your dog to help it enjoy a healthy life.

Ideally it should not contain artificial additives or preservatives but should contain a high content of single source meat, i.e. ‘chicken meal’ instead of ‘meat derivative’ as you want to know exactly what meat is in the food in case a particular meat does not agree with your dog. Beef has been known to cause issues with some dogs.

Whenever choosing a new dog food always check the ingredients list to ensure it contains plenty of meat and that it doesn’t contain any ingredients you know or suspect aren’t suitable for your dog.

An introduction to dog food

If you care about your dog then you should care about what dog food you feed it.

The benefits of the right diet for your dog are numerous and include healthy skin and coat, better behaviour plus a longer and healthier life. There are benefits for the owner too – a happier relationship with your dog, less visits to the vet and firmer, less frequent stools!

What do the vast majority of domesticated dogs eat in the twenty first century?

Many dog foods have a low meat content and are simply bulked up using cheaper fillers like cereals, maize, corn etc. The little meat content they do contain can often be of low quality and you may not even know what meat it is. Some dogs can experience skin conditions due to an allergy aggravated by ingredients such as wheat gluten. Look for a dog food with a higher meat content to give your dog a better source of protein.

How can I improve my dog’s diet?

Firstly, do a little research. Read the ingredients lists of all dog foods you come across. Once you have a better understanding of the commonly used ingredients in dog food then you can start reading these ingredients lists with more confidence and you can more easily compare them. It will soon become clear which are the ones to avoid.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” is fairly true when it comes to dog food but not entirely. Many ‘premium’ dog foods are still full of cheap fillers despite the higher price tag. As always, read the ingredients list. An informed choice can also help you save money too.