6 Keys to Picking the Healthiest Food for Your Dog

Only the best for Fido….

In the last two posts, we covered what foods you shouldn’t feed your dog and the potential of grain free diets causing heart issues.  So with all that said, what food should you feed your dog – especially with thousands of choices of pet foods?

To get some insights let’s turn to some board certified veterinary nutritionists from the Veterinary Medical Center at the University of Tufts.  In their blog…Petfoodology, these veterinary nutrition specialists and experts provide valuable guidance to ensure you’re giving your pooch only the best foods.

Here are 6 key takeaways:

  1. Don’t use the ingredient list to determine the best food
    The ingredient list seems like a logical place to start in terms of determining the best food for your dog. The challenge is that the ingredient list does not provide details about the quality of the food or if the proportions are correct. Often the ingredients list contains certain foods that are promoted to be healthy for your dog, however, that may not actually be the case in particular with grain-free diets.
  2. Steer clear of using ratings websites to select your dog food
    These ratings are often based on opinions, the ingredient lists and other criteria, rather than based on scientific knowledge.  With this in mind, it’s really important to use objective information to determine the food that is best for your furry friend.
  3. Consult your veterinarian
    A good starting point is always to chat with your pet’s veterinarian.  A trusted vet can help you pick a food that meets your pet’s nutritional needs based on life stage, body condition, activity level, and medical conditions. This was definitely the case when I was looking for food for my senior dog – the vet provided great guidance.
  4. Check the very useful “Nutritional Adequacy Statement” on the label on your dog food
    This label may is also known as the “AAFCO statement” because it is based on the nutritional profiles that that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) publishes on a yearly basis.

    It tells you three key things: 1) whether the food meets all dog nutrient requirements, 2) how that was determined, and 3) what life stage the food is truly intended for rather than what the marketing claims. Be concerned if the label states the following “This product is intended for intermittent and supplemental feeding only.” This means your food is not meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs.  The one exception to this is if your pet is eating a diet used to manage a medical condition.

    When I looked at my dog food, I found the AAFCO statement in small text at the bottom of the bag buried in lots of text. It states the following “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Pro Plan Bright Mind Formula provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.” This was the food my veterinarian had recommended, so I was fairly confident it was a healthy choice.
  5. Evaluate the manufacturer of the food carefully
    Knowing the facts about a pet food manufacturer  is another key to selecting the best food for your pet. A key indicator of nutritious food is the manufacturer’s experience, knowledge, and quality control processes.

    This information can’t be gleaned from the dog food label – so research on your end is critical. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) developed recommendations for selecting the best food.  However, a majority of that information is not on the label.  This means you have to call the manufacturer of the food and ask them these questions to get the scoop.  But wait…there is a simpler way – see step #6 below.
  6. Take advantage of the recent research conducted to evaluate manufacturers of dog food
    There is now a new resource available that can save you the headache of contacting the dog food manufacturer. The Pet Nutrition Alliance (PNA), a group of veterinarians and nutrition experts released a new resource on their website called, “Dare to Ask” which can help you choose the best food for your dog. The PNA reached out to more than 200 manufacturers that sell pet food in North America and asked questions based on the WSAVA criteria.

    The responses to the survey provide critical insights into the manufacturer’s nutritional expertise, where the foods are produced, and whether they can provide information on a requested nutrient (and if that nutrient meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials profiles).

So to quickly summarize the highlights of this post….don’t use the ingredient list or ratings from websites to determine the best food for your dog.  Instead talk to a veterinarian to get advice, look at the “Nutritional Adequacy Statement” on the label on your dog food to determine key details about the food. Also look into the manufacturer that produces your food to make sure you have answers to the WASAVA recommendations. To save you time in this process check out the survey from the PNA that answers many of these questions to help you pick the best food.

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