There are tons of different dog foods out there, which can make it pretty hard for dog owners to know what to choose. How exactly does one break down all these choices? It’s never an easy task, but when you’re dealing with an enormous amount of information, breaking things up into categories always helps! Start by grouping your dog into a particular age group: Is it a puppy, an adult or does it fit into the senior category? This simple first step will help you process the immense amount of information out there. Now that you’ve found your starting point, you can begin learning the do’s and don’t of dog food!
Puppies have unique dietary needs. Most foods made for fully grown dogs either lacks, or contains too much of the critical nutrients puppies require (or don’t require). But, it’s not as simple as it sounds to determine if you young dog is truly a puppy or not. Depending on the breed and size/type of dog, puppies mature to full size at different ages. Most puppies reach their full size by the time they are 12 to 18 months, but that can vary. Luckily, there are online puppy age calculators that can help you figure out what age group your dog actually falls into.
Now that you’ve determined whether or not your dog actually meets the puppy criteria, the next step is to avoid foods that contain anonymous meat ingredients, questionable chemical preservatives and/or generic animal fats. Conversely, the puppy foods you want should contain:
- meat-based protein
- natural fats and oils
- Omega fatty acids.
Basically, it’s a good idea to start reading labels ASAP. The sooner you start, the more intuitive it will become!
When you’re comparing puppy foods, you’ll likely notice price differences. This disparity isn’t trivial. In fact, it usually stems from the significant quality difference of ingredients used. This quality directly affects the food’s overall nutritional density. So, when it comes to puppy food (and most dog foods), the general rule is: The cheaper it is, the less healthy it is. Spend time reading labels until you find a good compromise between price and quality.
Every dog develops at its own rate, but roughly, adulthood starts between 12 months and three years of age and lasts until the dog reaches its senior years between the ages of six and 10. During the adult phase, the type of food you should feed your dog depends on a number of factors. For example, if your dog is prone to weight gain, you should avoid feeding it a calorie-packed, high protein option. However, an extremely active Husky or Dalmatian might need that high protein option to refuel the energy it’s constantly exerting.
Below are some general tips for selecting the best adult dog foods:
- Be wary of labels like “premium,” “super premium,” “gourmet,” etc. These do not necessarily entail a higher level of quality—in fact, this sort of labeling is often just hype as brands are not actually required to use superior ingredients to justify these claims.
- Avoid high-processed dog food; dog food that is full of animal by-products; dog food that is exceedingly high in carbohydrates; dog food that uses an abundance of additives such as corn syrup and MSG; and dog food that uses an abundance of preservatives such as BHA, sodium nitrate and nitrate.
- There are also many vegetarian food options available. While some experts believe these sorts of diets can be fine for dogs, they still insist on a careful approach. Meanwhile, other experts argue that, because dogs are omnivores, they can just as easily derive nutrients from fruits, vegetables and grains. In the end, each canine’s case is different, so it’s best to consult with your veterinarian.
As stated above, a dog’s senior years generally begin between the ages of six to 10 depending on its breed. Fortunately, many brands manufacture specialized formulations for senior dogs to help you narrow down your options.
Here are some general rules to follow when looking for senior dog foods:
- Because senior dogs have less energy, they’re more prone to obesity. As such, lower-calorie dog foods are a good choice, especially high fiber ones. Elderly dogs are also more prone to developing health issues such as diabetes and heart issues, making low fat, high fiber foods even more beneficial.
- Be cautious during snack time. Only serve your dog healthy, low fat and low sodium treats. Once a dog reaches its senior years, vegetables such as carrots and apple slices are actually much healthier alternatives to bones and milk biscuits. Just be careful not to feed your elderly buddy grapes as raisins, as these can be extremely toxic.
- Elderly dogs sometimes lose their appetites for various reasons, which leads to decreased eating. If this occurs, consult a vet immediately, as there might be some underlying health issue. But don’t fret too much: There are often solutions to these issues, which your vet will discuss with you. In the meantime, try adding warm water or canned food into your senior dog’s normal diet, as this might come off as more appetizing and keep your dog eating until your vet appointment.