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What Makes Good Dog Food?
You are What you Eat
Your pup is also what he eats, and learning what makes good dog food can help you extend his life but also lower costs at the vet. But at any given pet store you could encounter dozens of types of dog foods, all colorfully promising that they provide the best nutrition for your dog. Who can you trust? The wrong dog food can cause mild problems like itchy skin early on, but could lead to organ failure and joint issues over time. Well, in any dog food there are things you should look for, as well as ingredients to avoid like the plague. Consider the following as a crash course in quality kibble education.
Know Your Percentages
Ideally a dog's diet should consist of 40% meat, 50% vegetable matter, and 10% grain. Many cheap foods include too much grain for and balanced diet because it makes for a cheap filler. Dogs need their veggies too!
Read the Guaranteed Analysis on the Label
The guaranteed analysis is one of two places where you will find solid, factual information on your dog's food bag, the other being the ingredients list. The guaranteed analysis is regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which makes it a reliable source of information. You want the totals to match the above mentioned percentages, or thereabouts. However, because kibble is dry we have to do some math to arrive at the true percentages. Say your kibble has 23% protein (ie:meat) and has 10% moisture. We need to then take 23 and divide it by 90, which is the part lacking moisture. When we do the math we end up with the true percentage of protein, which in this case is 25%.
Top 5 Ingredients
One of the first things you should look at on a bag of dog food is the ingredient list, especially the first five ingredients. These will make up the majority of the dog food, so they should be high quality ingredients and not cheap fillers. Things you want to see in the top five ingredients include:
- Whole meats (like chicken) NOT byproducts
- Dog-friendly grains (we'll go into this more)
- Healthy vegetables
Also, the first two ingredients should be animal protein, and NOT animal by-products. Even some of the more trusted brands of dog food have chicken by-product as a top five ingredient, so read the label first and assume nothing.
Know Your Grains
Did you know that your dog's digestive track in almost incapable of processing corn, soy and wheat? Yep, these common, and cheap grains cause many problems in your canine companion's tummy, kind of like when your lactoseintolerant aunt decides to eat ice cream. These grains can also cause allergic reactions in sensitive dogs, leading to symptoms like itchy skin. Instead of these cheap fillers look for dog friendly grains like brown rice, barley, and quinoa.
The best ways to tell if your dog's food is beneficial to him is to observe his physical appearance (is his coat glossy, eyes clear?), behavior (does he have energy?), and...poop. Yep, look for firm, clean stools without blood or mucus. If your dog passes these three tests, then congratulations are in order, you've found a great dog food!
I want to add that in the years since I originally wrote this article I have had our first dog turn from a young adult rescue to an semi-grumpy geriatric. His last vet visit went very well and he only has mild arthritis in one hip, which is great for 10+ year old Labrador mix. We have followed the above guidelines in feeding him and I truly think (and the vet agreed) that it has contributed to his longevity and health. Please note healthy dog food does not have to be expensive. We feed our dogs Diamond Brand Lamb and it costs roughly $35 for a 50 lb bag.
Just like you should invest in your own health by eating properly, you should never compromise you pooch's health for the sake of a few bucks.