Our dogs’ diet is incredibly important to them – so we’ve decided to have a chat about dog food and how to decide what to feed your dog! Nutrition is an important topic that has huge ramifications on our dogs’ wellbeing and longevity – but it is also a very complex and heavily debated one! This can make it incredibly difficult for dog owners to figure out what food is best for their dog.
One thing that makes this topic a particularly difficult one to simplify, is the fact that what’s best for your dog really does depend on lots of different factors. There isn’t one “best” dog food that works for EVERY dog – much like us humans, really! Your dog’s current age, weight, condition and exercise levels as well as any individual allergies/intolerances and their personal preferences all play a role in determining which foods they will thrive on. You also need to factor in your own personal preferences, lifestyle/routine and budget. There is a good chance that, like many owners, you will have to go through some degree of trial-and-error to find the best food to suit you and your pup.
One way to make life easier for yourself, is to learn how to read dog food labels. This may seem like it should be a simple thing, but these labels can be notoriously confusing! Some things to be mindful of when reading ingredient lists are:
– Many brands will use broad terms such as “cereals” or “meat and animal derivatives,” rather than getting too specific. “Meat and animal derivatives” is a common ingredient in pet food – this is because the legal definition of “meat” only include skeletal muscle, so many of the animal parts included in dog food cannot legally be referred to as “meat.” So, while this does mean that “derivatives” may be nutritionally valuable to our pets, these broad terms still aren’t very helpful. They often mean that the recipe – both ingredients and quality of ingredients – can vary and, even if this isn’t the case, the term doesn’t tell us exactly what (good or bad!) we are feeding our dog. This is especially problematic if your dog is showing signs of intolerances or allergies.
– Some ingredients, like grains, may be listed individually to hide the amount of grain being used. If 20% of the good is grain, then it would usually have to be listed quite high up the ingredient list. However, if a mixture of 3-4 grains is used and those grains are listed separately at 5% each, they will all be much lower down the list – this can make it less obvious that a significant portion of the food is grain.
– In dry foods, meat may be listed as “meat meal” which is dry or as “fresh meat.” Fresh meat has a high water content – around two thirds – so this needs to be taken into account to work out what actual percentage of the finished product is made up of that ingredient. For example, if a dry food lists 20% fresh meat, this is really only about 7% because two-thirds of that is water content which has been removed during processing.
Dry Matter Content
– The percentages given on dog food labels are known as “guaranteed analysis,” and are supposed to make it easier for buyers. However, it actually makes it much harder to compare different foods and can be quite misleading. This is because the moisture content of foods varies hugely – to really compare two foods, we need to ignore the moisture content and look at what the percentages are without it.
For example, one dry food may list a protein percentage of 38% and moisture percentage of 12%, while a wet food states 13% protein and 70% moisture. To really compare these, we need to work out what the percentage is without the moisture content – this can sound really daunting, but the maths is actually pretty straightforward.
- Find the dry matter percentage by subtracting the moisture content from 100%. So, in our dry food, this would be: 100% – 12% = 88%.
- Divide the protein percentage by this dry matter percentage: 38/88 = 0.43
- Multiply this by 100: 0.43 x 100 = 43% protein
So, the dry food actually has a higher protein percentage than the label suggests. Let’s do the same with our wet food:
- 100 – 70 = 30% dry matter
- 13/30 = 0.43
- 0.43 x 100 = 43% protein
So, even though our dry food label states 38% protein and our wet food label states 13%, both foods have 43% protein when we compare them equally, having removed the moisture content.
These are just a few things that may help you in determining whether to consider a specific pet food for your dog. As we’ve discussed, there are a huge number of variables determining which food is best for us and our dogs, and the food our pups thrive best on may change throughout their lifetime. Our key piece of advice would be to listen to your dog and any professionals (eg vets, nutritionists) who are working directly with you and your pup and to ignore anyone who has a personal agenda and wants to guilt you towards or away from a specific food. How your dog looks and behaves and their overall health will be your biggest indicator of whether a food is working for them!
For help comparing different food brands and types, we highly recommend the comprehensive website All About Dog Food
. This is a great resource for looking at a variety of brands quickly and easily, all in one place, as well as learning more about how to demystify those confusing labels and terms!
We hope this helps many of you to go forward confidently, knowing that you can’t go wrong if you simply look at the dog in front of you. Don’t be afraid to consult professionals, if you are struggling to find a food which works for your pup – but please seek a professional and try not to be boxed in by well-meaning, overly-enthusiastic facebook groups!