Feeding the dog. Simple, right? Well, maybe not, since there are so many choices and so much information available about pet nutrition. There is no best diet for dogs, in spite of all of the marketing campaigns to the contrary. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. However, there are many excellent commercially available dog foods. Several pet food manufacturers also have veterinary prescription diets specifically designed to prevent and  treat many common disorders. One example is Royal Canin, which makes a complete line of therapeutic diets in addition to wellness diets for all life stages.

What diets are best for your dog?

Look for diets that are made by reputable companies that have been around for a long time. They often have long histories of producing quality diets. Look for recent information on pet food recalls and the reason for the recall. Was it due to poor quality ingredients or lack of quality control?  Also, make sure that you are feeding a diet that is appropriate for your dog’s life stage. Puppies have nutritional requirements that differ from adult dogs and should be fed a diet appropriate for growth.Wet and dry foods do not differ nutritionally; however, since wet foods are 75% water, dogs need to eat a lot more to get the same number of calories.

How much money should you spend on dog food?

Expense doesn’t always equal quality. A higher price often means higher quality ingredients and better quality control, but be careful that you’re not paying for fancy packaging and creative marketing. For example, a new trend towards “grain-free” diets has created some relatively expensive new diets for dogs. However, there is no scientific evidence that grains are bad for dogs. On the contrary, grains contribute valuable nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential fatty acids to diets while lowering fat and calories. Dogs are very efficient at digesting nutrients from grains. Many grain-free diets simply substitute highly refined starches in place of grains, providing fewer nutrients and less fiber while costing more.

What ingredients should you look for?

Ingredient lists are often used to judge the quality of dog foods, but this approach is very subjective and you can easily be fooled by the manipulation of pet food manufacturers. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, including water, so anything with high-water content, such as fresh meats and vegetables, will be listed higher than similar dry ingredients even though the nutrient content may be less. Dogs require nutrients, not ingredients; therefore a diet full of ingredients for marketing purposes can be less nutritious than a diet containing less appealing ingredients that are high in nutrients. For example, many by-products are far more nutrient dense than whole meats on a per weight basis, however, the terminology is less appealing to humans.

Are home-cooked diets healthier for your dog?

High quality commercial diets generally offer the best nutrition with the most convenience and affordability. However, some pet owners prefer to prepare home-cooked diets to control ingredients and allow customization of the diet for their dog. If you choose to cook for your dog, make sure that the diet you pick has been formulated by a qualified veterinary nutritionist. Avoid raw diets, as there is no substantial evidence that these diets are better than cooked diets. On the contrary, raw diets have been associated with many health concerns.

Use these facts and the advice of your veterinarian to make the best decision on what to feed your dog to keep him or her happy and healthy for a very long time.

Dr. Steven Hicks is a 1995 graduate of The Ohio State University 
College of Veterinary Medicine. He is at Akron Medina Veterinary Hospital, 
686 Medina Road, Medina  330-239-1271  AMTotalPetCare.com