I hate buying dog food. Every time I’m at the grocery or pet store, I grapple with which brand to buy based on the latest article, advice, or commercial I recently read, heard, or saw. In the middle of aisle 6, I ask myself, "Was that brand recalled? Does it contain high-quality ingredients? Should he be eating grains? Does he like actually like it or do I just think he likes it?"
Like most dog owners, I want what’s best for my dog and I want him to live forever. I find myself constantly questioning if I’m doing what’s best for him or if I’m being a cheap, lazy consumer. A frequent question: what food is best for adult dogs?
You, your dog, and food
First, it’s important to talk to your vet. She has the best insight into what your dog needs because, like you, she sees him regularly, knows his personality, and knows his breed, weight, size, condition of teeth, and overall health status. Unlike you, she isn’t biased, doesn’t say things like, "Oh, he’s not fat; he’s just big-boned," and is medically trained to assess and assist when it comes to what’s best nutritionally for your dog. Tell her your thoughts and concerns about his food intake (perhaps keep a food diary of what, when, and how often he eats) and ask her what she thinks is best for him.
Second, ask yourself some questions if you aren’t happy with your dog’s weight or disposition. Are YOU…
Prioritizing nutrition? Bottom line: tasty foods make us fat and tired. I love fruits and veggies and make them a priority in every dish I make, but I also love cupcakes and French fries and wish I could make them a priority in every dish I make, too. When you focus more on taste and less on nutrition (and exercise), your diet and energy levels will be unbalanced and you will see it on your waistline. And you know what? The same is true for dogs; it’s important to care more about what’s good for them rather than what tastes good to them. One time at the grocery store, my boyfriend and I were buying dog food, and I picked up a bag with "blueberries" listed as an ingredient, blasted across the front of the bag. He promptly said, "No way, that sounds disgusting. I’m not giving him food with chicken and blueberries," and we put the bag back and got something else, probably a less-healthy version of that brand. Don’t be like us. Since your dog can’t make nutritional choices for herself, make the right ones for her by buying foods with high-quality ingredients, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and low fat content.
Looking at your dog? I look at my dog every day all day. I look at him while he eats, sleeps, plays, and poops. I look at him because I want to make sure everything is working properly, and since I am aware of every bump, scratch, and shake he has and does, I will know if something is off-kilter. Look at your dog. Is she overweight, or is she lean and strong? Is he energized because he’s happy or because he needs to go out for exercise? Looking at your dog will help you understand him better and get a better idea of what he needs. If you think you’re feeding him too much or too little, look at him. The ASPCA says, "Adult dogs require sufficient nutrients to meet energy needs and to maintain and repair body tissues. The amount you feed your adult dog should be based on his or her size and energy output. Activity levels may vary dramatically between pets, and will play an important role in determining caloric intake." Read your dog food labels and make sure you’re feeding him enough; most dogs eat twice day, 8-12 hours apart, morning and evening.
Being a savvy consumer? Have you ever heard of BARF? It stands for "biologically appropriate raw food," and it’s a company that promotes "feeding pets responsibly and properly to maximize health, longevity and reduce allergies and vet bills" by – you guessed it – giving them raw food. The idea behind raw food being best for dogs is that it’s closer to what they would eat in the wild. The problem? Dogs are domesticated, and dogs in the wild don’t live very long.
On Cesar’s Way, Dr. Sherry Weaver says, "From research as it stands now, there is no real evidence that there are any health benefits to eating raw meat. If, however, you do want to try it, make sure you do your research and do it the right way…Even proponents of the diet will tell you there are risks if you don’t do it exactly right. In addition to finding organic food sources you must balance the food with vegetables and other sources of micronutrients to meet all of your dog’s nutritional needs. Changing an adult dog to BARF too quickly can cause pancreatitis, so follow your vet’s instructions."
What’s more, with raw meat comes possible traces of salmonella (which can also can cause sickness in dogs), so be cautious while handling it. If you’re not going to do a raw diet for her and stick, instead, to commercial dog food, research what’s best for her. If she has food allergies or a sensitive stomach, find a product that caters to her needs. Is she a working dog like a police or cattle dog? Research the best brand and diet to fit her specific work and stress loads. And check out organizations like The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to learn more about the sale and distribution of animal feed and animal drug remedy regulations.
5 high quality dog foods
Buying great dog food shouldn’t be stressful. Here find five products that use high-quality ingredients to help provide a well-balanced, nutritional meal for your adult dog.
Karma Organic Dry Dog Food – Made with over 95 percent organic ingredients and whole (not dried) organic fruit and vegetables, this food is good for the body, soul, and environment (plus the packaging is 100 percent recyclable).
**California Natural Chicken Meal & Rice Formula Adult Dog Food – **Comprised of only five ingredients – chicken meal, brown rice, white rice, sunflower oil, and flaxseed – California Natural believes a limited number of ingredients can help support healthy skin, coat, and digestion for pets.
Rachael Ray – This brand is made with high-quality proteins (everything from chicken and beef to bison and lamb), wholesome veggies, fibers, and omegas to keep your dog healthy and happy. (I have tried countless times to feed this brand to Henry, but he organizes a hunger strike and pickets around the kitchen each time I do. For some reason, it’s just not his cup of tea, but Rachael Ray’s dog food always gets great reviews so I do recommend it.)
Taste of the Wild – If this brand were a person, it would be wild and free, chopping lumber, donning flannel, and drinking whiskey from something homemade. It produces premium, grain-free food that is based on your pet’s "ancestral diet." With quality meats and protein – I’m talking venison and garbanzo beans – your dog will howl (see what I did there?) for it.
Orijen – Remember BARF, biologically appropriate raw food? Orijen pretty much takes that concept, perfects it, bags it, and wins a ton of awards. Orijen is like the Meryl Streep of dog foods. Orijen Tundra – a new product – features goat and venison from prairie farms, rabbit and duck from the Canadian Shield, and Arctic Char from Yukon waters and delivers it (fresh or raw and in proper ratios, of course) right to your doorstep and into Fido’s food bowl.
Image: Hideki Okuno