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Dogs 101: Food and Nutrition

As more people understand the importance of nutrition to their own health, they’re starting to consider what’s in their dog’s food as well. Food manufacturers are only too happy to oblige, and the latest products are likely to be labeled raw, human-grade, or organic. They’re also likely to include healthy ingredients, such as blueberries and salmon oil.

The best food to feed any dog contains whole, natural ingredients you might get at your grocery store or raw dog food supplier. Depending on what dog food you buy, feeding raw foods to your dogs is about the same price as high-end kibble. You’ll need to make room in your freezer if you want to stock up on healthy whole natural foods for your pup. You can also find many dog food recipes online to make sure your dog is getting all the nutrients they need to live a long life.

If you’re going to go with processed dog food, it can still be a challenge to sort out high-quality chow from the canine equivalent of junk food.

Reading dog food labels is challenging unless you know the arcane rules governing what they can say, but here are a few guidelines:

  • Ingredients must be listed by amount in descending order. So if meat is the first ingredient (the ideal to strive for), technically the food contains more of that ingredient — chicken, say — than any other ingredient. In reality, chicken is a heavy ingredient because it contains a lot of water. Therefore, it’s easy for manufacturers to manipulate the label by listing chicken first and following it with various grains, such as wheat meal, wheat middlings, wheat flour, and so on. It’s all wheat, though, and if you were to put it on a scale with the chicken, it would probably outweigh the fowl.
  • The first ingredient on the label should always be meat with a name. We’re talking chicken, lamb, or beef, as opposed to the generic “meat,” which could be anything.
  • Food should have more meat protein than grain protein. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to tell that from the label.
  • One or more types of meat, or high-quality dairy products such as eggs, should be listed among the first three to five ingredients. If the first ingredient is meat, followed by only grains, or if the first ingredient is a grain, check some other brands before buying.
  • Marketing terms such as natural” or “premium” have no official legal definition. If you want to know what the manufacturer means by “human-grade ingredients” or “70 percent organic,” give the company a call and get some answers. Every can or bag of dog food must list the contact information for the manufacturer on the label.

How much to feed your dog

How much your dog eats depends on a number of factors, including age, bone structure, and energy level, as well as the quality of the food you give them.

More important than the amount of food your dog gets is their overall condition. They should look muscular, not fat. If you’re unsure whether your dog is overweight, give them the eye exam and the hands-on test.

First, look down at your dog: they should have a visible waist. Then, place your hands on your dog’s back, thumbs along the spine and fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel, but not see, their ribs. If you can’t feel the last two ribs, they need less food and more exercise. If you can see your dog’s ribs, feed them more.

Feeding tips

Here are some easy-to-remember feeding tips:

  • Feed your dog at the same time every day.
  • Always feed your dog in their bowl. If you don’t, you’re asking for a lifetime of your best friend begging at the table and following you around the kitchen.
  • Measure your dog’s food and feed them twice a day. This is healthier for your dog than leaving food out all the time. Take away whatever’s left in your dog’s bowl if they haven’t finished it in 20 minutes. Then, make sure your dog gets plenty of daily exercise.
  • Give your dog healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables. Apple slices, carrot sticks, orange segments, banana slices, and frozen vegetables are all canine favorites.

Food safety tips

Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • It’s OK to give your dog a little bite of what you had for dinner, as long as it’s not toxic to dogs or high in sodium. Also, avoid fried or junk food.
  • Some foods aren’t good for dogs and can cause serious health problems. These include chocolate, onions, raisins, and grapes.
  • Make sure the dog food you buy is high in protein, not grain-based, and that it’s AAFCO-tested. The AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials, is a watchdog group that sets food-testing and labeling standards.
  • Check the FDA website regularly for pet food recalls. If you see a recalled food product, share the information with your friends and family.

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