Guest author: jill!
Jill lives in Toronto with her husband and their two dachshunds, Winston & Matilda (the Turds).
What are the most frequently asked questions regarding picking out dog food? Puppy food?
- Aren't dogs carnivores? Shouldn't they only eat grain-free?
- This food has TONS of protein- that means it's the best, right?
- What flavour do dogs like best? / Do dogs like ________ ?
What advice do you have for picking out food?
Try not to let personal preferences enter into consideration- just because the owner does not like lamb, or fish, or pork, does not mean that their dog should do without these healthy options. As long as the dog or cat is being fed a biologically-appropriate diet, they will be strong and healthy! Also, become a label-reader- if the majority of the ingredients are whole-food based (not supplement based) and there are minimal ingredients, again it's a decent choice.
Be wary of food, especially kibble, with a price tag that seems too good to be true. Usually a very low price point comes from lower quality ingredients or unclear ingredient sourcing (especially meat products). With raw diets, make sure the fat content is moderate- some companies will sell raw at a relatively low price, with a high fat content that tells me that a lot of their product's weight comes from fat, not muscle/organ meat, and since most raw diets are sold by the ounce and pound, this is an important inclusion of which to take note.
What should people keep in mind when choosing a food?
One consideration that doesn't occur to most consumers, I find, is making sure the company they're buying from owns and operates their own manufacturing facility, and doesn't share that facility with other companies. This doesn't seem overly important at face-value, but the level of quality control is much higher when a single company is operating, as they're more aware of the condition of the raw food materials coming in. A lot of the food recalls we hear of come from companies that share their facilities with other brands, sometimes not even from the same industry. This information won't necessarily be printed on the bag, but is easily accessible through a quick online search.
When it comes to food for a new dog (puppy or adopted), I've always advised new owners to stick with what the breeder/rescue sent them home with for at least 2 weeks, even if it's really junky- the new family member's system will be a little thrown off by the whole 'homecoming' process, and changing their diet will, most times, result in an upset digestive system- this situation makes it hard to determine whether their stomachs are upset because of an ingredient in their new food, or all the other changes with which they are dealing.
Do you think it's necessary to talk to a vet before picking a food?
If you're looking to switch your pet's food because you feel they're getting bored of the same flavour, then no- just follow the recommended steps to transition them onto the new food. If you're looking to target a specific issue (weight gain/loss, hair loss, skin issues, digestive issues, illness, etc.), it might not be a bad idea to hear their suggestions. Most vets will offer some basic advice, usually related to the prescription kibble or canned diets. If you're concerned about a specific issue, it's best to consult a canine/feline nutritionist- yes, they exist! Again, a quick online search should bring up specialists in your area. It's always a good idea to keep your vet in the loop regarding your pet's eating habits, so make sure they're well informed.
Puppy food is where you're going to see the most important discrepancies between large, small and all-breeds. Large breed food should have a lower fat content than small breed. It is formulated to support an animal whose body will go through more significant growth spurts and to make sure they grow too quickly and put excess strain on their joints. . Also, kibble size is a consideration- large breed kibble is usually much bigger and, depending on the brand, a different shape. Small breed kibble is usually close to a cat-kibble size, with a slightly higher fat content than large-breed, usually to account for their fast metabolism and excitability.
If you're looking at whole-food based diets and are clearly labelled for large breeds, or for small breeds, there isn't much too stay away from. Keep in mind that small-breed puppy food is commonly produced for dogs that will be 20-25lbs at full maturity, while large breed puppy food is usually for dogs that will be 50lbs+ at full maturity. If you have a dog that will be between 20-50lbs, a general, all-breed puppy food is typically the right fit. Most important is the ingredient list! Again, go with common sense- an ingredient list of whole foods that are nutrient rich will always be a good choice.
In your experience, what has been the most popular puppy food option?
A high-quality, size specific (ie: large/small breed) puppy food option is usually the most popular. Brand-wise, I've always preferred to suggest Petcurean's NOW Fresh! line, Acana, and Fromm Family Gold/Fromm Heartland Gold- I find that their puppy options (including small breed, large-breed and all-breed) have excellent, regionally-sourced, nutrient rich ingredients with a great balance of animal products, fruits and vegetables with minimal processed ingredients.
Although I am a strong advocate for raw diets, I don't always suggest jumping into raw with a new puppy, especially large breeds. There is a relatively accurate formula for determining an adult dog's daily feeding amount for a raw diet, however puppies require up to double the amount an adult dog consumes. Since a puppy's weight changes so drastically, so quickly (especially with large breeds), it takes a very committed owner to adjust their daily portions, sometimes on a weekly basis. Raw is a very healthy diet for a puppy, however it can be tricky to make sure they're getting the proper amount of fats to make sure they're growing at the proper rate (raw is a lean diet that is digested quickly). So, if the owner is on board with the extra work and attention that feeding raw to a puppy takes, then it's a great option! However, for most full-time, busy owners, I suggest sticking with a dry option that is formulated for a growing puppy's needs, until the dogs are about 6-8 months old (done the bulk of their growing, depending on breed size).
What do you personally feed your pups?
At this point in time, my two miniature Dachshunds are eating a fully-raw diet, however through the winter I tend to do a combination of kibble for breakfast, raw for dinner (yes, this is safe to do; as long as there's digestion time- approx. 6 to 8 hours- between cooked and raw meals, there shouldn't be any stomach or digestive upset). When I do the combo diet, it's mostly just me not wanting to give them a cold breakfast on a cold morning- I'm sure they wouldn't care either way! I've been doing a raw diet/combo diet for probably about 6 years now (I've had my senior guy, Winston, for 9 years, and I started my younger girl, Matilda, on raw when we adopted her 3.5 years ago). For snacks after a long walk, they each get either a frozen raw chicken foot or a frozen raw chicken neck (...yum).