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IngredientsDogs are omnivores; they eat both plants and animals. However, their diet is comprised mainly of meat. Dogs need meat protein to stay healthy. The best dog food choices have meat as at least the first 2 ingredients. The first 3 is even better. "Meal" is considered a meat, so if you see chicken meal, that counts.
Preservatives are chemicals, and studies have linked some preservatives to certain types of cancers in dogs. Avoid foods containing BHA, BHT, and ethoxoquin. Vitamin E (or Tocopherols) can act as a preservative and is safer for your dog. Incidentally, it is safer for you, as well!
Dyes, especially red, are another source of problems, both physical and behavioral, in dogs as well as humans. They serve no purpose and should be avoided.
High amounts of sugar and salt are harmful for the same reasons it's bad for us. Sugar is added to dog foods so that they will gobble it up, and mom or dad think it is a wonderful food since Fido loves it so much. All the while, Fido is at risk for obesity and diabetes. It's rather like feeding a child candy bars for supper every day.
Soy is difficult to digest which may lead to more frequent bowel movements. It can also lead to gas and put your dog at higher risk for bloat. Rice and oatmeal are healthier choices.
Glucosamine and chondroiton can help keep joints strong and healthy. This is especially important for large breeds and those prone to hip dysplasia and arthritis. Since it is unknown how much is actually absorbed from the dog food, your vet may recommend additional supplements.
Peas, lentils, legumes, and possibly potatoes have been found to increase the risk of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) by blocking the dog's ability to absorb Taurine. Taurine is an essential amino acid for healthy heart function. Unlike genetic DCM, the symptoms of diet-related DCM can be reversed when the dog's food is changed to one without these ingredients. For more information about diet-related DCM, visit https://taurinedcm.org/.
Dog food should contain the appropriate amount of essential vitamins and minerals. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) publishes nutrient profiles for dog food at https://www.aafco.org/Publications. It is not safe to make your own food at home without working with a certified veterinary nutritionist to ensure all of the necessary vitamins and minerals are included and can be appropriately absorbed.
Pet foods are regulated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Ingredients must be pure and wholesome and contain no harmful substances. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an advisory body of state and federal feed regulators, works with the FDA to regulate pet foods. Look for a food that has the AAFCO label certifying that this food meets their standards. Having the AAFCO label doesn't mean it's the healthiest food, but it does mean that it's at least fit for consumption. Some dog food companies use the four Ds for their food to save money; Disabled, Diseased, Dying, or Dead. This is the meat that does not meet standards for human consumption. Look for a food that uses meat that is safe for humans, which means that it is also safer for your dog.
"Premium" does not necessarily mean better, nor does quality go up along with price. There are lower priced foods that are higher quality than more expensive ones. Price often goes along with popularity, and popular is not always better. Sometimes, they just have better marketing staff!
In addition to the right type of food, your dog also needs the right amount of food. This is a case where you can get too much of a good thing. Being overweight causes health problems in dogs just as in people. Since dogs have a shorter life span than humans, the ill affects are even more severe for them. Overweight dogs are not happy or healthy dogs. Lucky for them, it's much easier for them to follow a diet than it is for us. We control their access to food. They can only eat as much as we give them. The dog food bag tells you how much to give. Even that is too much for some dogs. Observe your dog's weight and adjust the amount you feed her accordingly. A dog is at her ideal weight when you can easily feel the ribs and can see the outline of the ribs when the dog turns sideways. She is underweight if you can count her ribs easily, and overweight if the ribs and hip bones are not easily felt and she has no waist.
Feed your dog a measured amount on a schedule, preferably twice a day, rather than free feeding. Feeding twice a day will help avoid a number of problems. Obesity is one of them. Also, many dogs inhale their food. This can lead to a very serious condition known as bloat. Giving smaller meals is one preventative measure. Don't let your dog run and play right after eating as an extra precaution. Scheduled meals also helps with housetraining because it leads to more predictable potty needs. Feeding scheduled meals will also help your dog learn good manners and avoid many behavior problems. Small breeds may need 3-4 meals per day to keep their blood sugar regulated. Ask your vet what is best for your pet.
You may choose the food with the highest possible quality ingredients, but your dog doesn't like it. Your dog won't starve herself to death, so some people will tell you to make her eat it anyway. I think that is highly unreasonable, considering that she eats the same thing every day. If your dog won't eat her food until she is just too hungry to pass it up, try a different food. It may not even be the taste that bothers her. There could be something in the food that makes her feel bad. So, try something with different ingredients. If she doesn't like lamb and rice, try chicken and oatmeal instead. Just be cautious that it's not a case of unhealthy food addiction. If you have switched from a high fat, high sugar dog food, she may dislike a healthier food initially because junk food tastes better. In that case, give it time. Always switch gradually to a new food by mixing the old with the new and slowly weaning off the old to avoid stomach upsets.
Association of American Feed Control Professionals (AAFCO)
Diet-related Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)
FDA Regulation of Pet Foods