Basic Guide to Choosing Dog Food

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What should I feed my dog? This is a question most people are concerned about when they buy their first dog but it’s also something that requires a certain amount of flexibility.

A dog’s diet should be nutritious and well-balanced as a poor diet could have a profound effect on your dog’s health and also be the cause of behavioural issues.

There is evidence that proves that giving children too many sugary foods and soft drinks can have a detrimental effect on their health and teeth. I myself remember becoming incredibly hyper as a child after drinking a can of sugary drink and unfortunately this can also have a similar effect on our dogs.

Also foods laden with sub-standard meat, colourants and sugars could bring on undesirable behaviour in your dog so it is important to be aware of what you’re feeding them. A healthier diet could mean fewer trips to the vet, a longer life for your dog and less strain on your pocket.

There are many different types of dog foods on offer and it is becoming increasingly difficult to know which to choose. There are the big brand names that are advertised on TV, some unusual ones that you only hear about through friends and family, those on sale in your local pet store and recommendations from your dog’s vet.

As dogs go through many stages in their life, it is important you buy food suitable to their growth (puppies), adult maintenance, gestation/lactation and senior (older dogs). Certain foods can be used for the duration of your dog’s life but please read all labels with care. And last but not least, do take into account your pet’s lifestyle, any medical conditions they may have and their environment.

Another question that is often asked is ‘Should I be feeding dry or wet food?’ The simple answer is whatever works for you and your dog but there are some basic principles that we should all be aware of when choosing the food for our best friend, as they too can have a direct impact on health and behaviour.

Now I want to make it clear that I am not professing to be an expert on dog care or have studied nutrition to any great degree. It’s only through caring for my own dog Lucy, that I have been forced to address concerns over her food intake and the effect certain foods were having on her behaviour.

I first met Lucy at the Evesham Greyhound and Lurcher Rescue centre. After a series of visits, I was allowed to adopt her. I have no idea how long she lived on the streets but what I do know is that she is a terrible scavenger. Having to fend for herself over a period of time obviously had an impact on how she behaved.

Lucy is in the unique position of being totally food obsessed but extremely fussy. The countless times I have lovingly prepared food, put it down and watched her pick her way round it before walking away and then sitting at the kitchen door with that expression of ‘”So what else have you got for me then?”

I have always been good at leaving the food for 5 minutes and then if she hasn’t eaten it, taking it away. I would invariably end up throwing most of it in the bin. This used to really frustrate me as the food was of a high quality and Ã�£50 a bag!

I have always been good with Lucy in that I have never given her scraps off the table or any ‘human’ food but her persistence to wait for something else – waste of time there – would always get the better of her. I’ve now found a food that she actually gets excited about and always finishes within 30 seconds flat!

Years ago dogs were fed wet food which is basically food you would get in a tin or packet. Nowadays it’s all about feeding dried kibble or a combination of wet and dried food. Some people also feed their dogs a BARF diet which stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. This is basically bones (not cooked), raw meat and vegetables etc.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to remember that when choosing your dog food to read the ingredients label on the back of the packet.

Ingredients are listed in order of highest to lowest quantity. So for example, if you see the first ingredient listed as wheat then you know that the food is predominantly made up of wheat. I personally don’t think dogs should be eating wheat as some can develop allergies in much the same way that humans do plus when would a dog ever choose a plate of wheat over a steak?

You really need to be seeing a pure meat listed as the first ingredient such as lamb, chicken, beef, white fish or salmon. Avoid meat meal or meat by-products.

We often see lists of ingredients beginning with meat meal or meat by-products. Now meat or animal by-products are basically the parts of slaughtered animals that don’t include meat. For example lungs, intestines, brains, blood and spleen to name a few and none of them are ‘human-grade’ which means they are not fit for human consumption. Meat and bone meal is also a low quality food with questionable sources. It is also fed to cattle and was once cited as being responsible for the spread of BSE!

Do make sure that the food you choose for your dog doesn’t contain sugar. Dogs do not need sugar in their food. The addition of sugar has been added purely to make the food more appetising but will do nothing for your dog other than possibly make them hyper, overweight and could promote problems in later life. Additives and preservatives are also a no-no.

Some brands like to add colour to their food in order to make them look more appealing, again these do not do anything good other than possibly make the dog over-active and may even be carcinogenic.

If we directly compare together two different brands of dog food we can see quite clearly how much they differ. I won’t say what the brands are but it will illustrate the points I’m making above. Remember the first few ingredients make up the majority of the food and the percentages are also important.

If you look at the first couple of ingredients in the first list below you will see that we have cereal (above) compared to de-boned chicken (below); meat and animal derivatives compared to dehydrated chicken and de-boned salmon. Further down you can see the food on the top has added sugars and EC additives whereas there is no mention of sugars, additives or preservatives in the list lower down. I know which one I’d rather be feeding my dog.

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