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.

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