Nancy Kerns: Hi, I am Nancy Kerns, Editor of the Whole Dog Journal and today we are going to talk about how to select the best food for your dog. In our opinion, the best healthiest diet is a home-prepared, well-formulated diet with fresh ingredients followed by canned, frozen, dehydrated and least of all kibble. However, given that most people feed their dogs kibble and it can't be all that bad and there are certainly some good ones to choose from.
If you are set on feeding your dogs a dry food diet and are committed to buying the best possible quality food, how do you determine which one you should choose? The best way to do this is by trying different foods and seeing how your dog responds to each of them. I recommend keeping a journal or even just notes on your calendar, noting every time you open and start feeding a new bag of food and indicating any changes you observe in your dog or any signs of intolerance.
Also note the eruption of any signs of allergies such as licking or chewing himself. But how do you choose? Where do you start? I recommend shopping at small independent pet supply stores or small quality chain pet supply stores. Supermarkets, big-box superstores, and discount pet chains rarely carry quality foods.
Then look at the product labels examining the ingredients lists. Look for top quality, real food whole ingredients. I don't recommend buying foods that contain any proteins or fats that come from unnamed species such as animal fat or animal protein. Instead, look for whole ingredients from named species such as duck meal, chicken, beef, lamb meal, and so on.
Organ meats make a part of what's called byproducts, but only a part. If a food contains organs of top quality, they will be added and named separately such as beef heart or lamb liver. Other than named organs from named species, I avoid byproducts.
Look for whole grains and other carb sources such as wheat, barley, quinoa and sweet potatoes as opposed to processed fractions or other remnants from the human food industry such as brewer's rice, wheat mill run or rice wholes.
Pet food formulators sometimes use one or two food fractions for a specific purpose such as beet pulp or tomato pumice as a fiber source to improve the quality of the dog's stool, that's one thing. But if the entire ingredients list is comprised of one fraction after another, it's likely that you're looking at an over-processed, inexpensive food.
Don't buy any foods that contain artificial colors or sweeteners. Dogs have sweet receptors just like we do and they love sweets as much as we do, but they are not any better for dogs than they are for us. Sweeteners are added to foods to increase the palatability of the foods, but if the quality is there, they won't need the sugar.
Don't buy foods that are preserved with artificial preservatives. However, natural preservatives don't preserve foods for as long as the artificial ones, so always check the date codes on the bag.
Ideally, the code lists both the date of manufacture and the best buy date. Each manufacturer sets the date by which it believes the food will still be wholesome, full of vitamins which can degrade overtime and fats that have not gone rancid.
Don't buy any product that was naturally preserved and marked with a code that suggests it's good for longer than a year. Look for one that was manufactured as recently as possible.
Look for a product that best matches your dog's needs for protein, fat and calories. If he is thin or a hard keeper, look for a higher fat, higher protein food. If he's fat or inactive, look for a food with high quality protein sources but a lower percentage of fat.
I also look for ingredients that I know from past experience work well for that dog. Does lamb make him itchy? Avoid products that contain lamb. Does rice give him gas? Avoid products that contain rice. That's why it pays to keep a food journal.