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We all want to ensure our doggo can maintain all-round good health, and it’s no secret that good health starts with a complete and balanced diet that is appropriate for the individual condition and nutritional requirements of your dog.
When selecting the best dog food for your dog, it’s important to consider:
- your dog’s individual condition and nutritional requirements
- what’s included on the ingredient label
- the type of food that will be most suitable in terms of nutrition, convenience and budget, and
- the service provided by the supplier.
This guide is designed to give you all the information you need to make an appropriate and informed decision about the best dog food for your dog.
Common Types of Dog Food
Good nutrition starts by selecting the most suitable type of dog food for your pooch, while also considering what your personal preferences are in terms of convenience, shelf life and affordability.
There are a variety of types of dog food you can select from. The most common types of dog food include:
- semi-moist, and
- home prepared.
Dry dog foods or kibble have a low moisture content, typically containing between 8-10% water.
While the ingredients included in dry dog food will vary between brands, they commonly include one or more protein such as beef, chicken or eggs, which are combined with cereals, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Many dry dog foods also contain grains and preservatives.
Typically the most economical type of dog food, dry dog food is also a convenient option for dog owners. Generally packaged in sealed bags or boxes, dry dog food has a long shelf-life and doesn’t require refrigeration. Dry dog food can also be beneficial for your dog’s teeth, as the additional chewing helps to reduce tartar build-up.
While some dog owners prefer to feed their dog a mixed diet, a complete dry dog food will still contain all the required nutrients your dog needs to maintain a balanced diet.
A raw or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet consists of raw meat (including organs and bones), fruit and vegetables.
Raw or BARF diets are the closest to the evolutionary biologically appropriate diets of wild or ancestral dogs, with supporters claiming they provide a range of benefits for your dog including shinier coats, healthier skin, higher energy levels and smaller stools. Raw bones also provide a natural source of phosphorus and calcium which promote strong bones and healthy teeth. As dogs also have short intestinal tracts and strong stomach acids, a raw food diet can be easily digested by most dogs.
Raw dog food can be purchased fresh, freeze-dried, dehydrated or frozen from supermarkets or pet food retailers. The shelf life of the product will vary depending on the method of preservation (fresh will spoil quickly while other preservation methods will provide a longer shelf life).
Wet or canned dog foods generally contain similar ingredients to most dry dog food varieties with a much higher moisture content, typically containing between 60-87% water.
Wet or canned dog food varieties are generally cooked at high temperatures to remove any bacteria, before being sealed in cans, pouches or foil trays to prolong their shelf life.
Typically a more expensive alternative to dry dog foods, wet or canned foods are readily available from supermarkets and pet retailers making it a convenient option for dog owners. Wet or canned dog food doesn’t require refrigeration, however it will spoil quickly once the packaging is opened. As wet or canned dog food has a higher water content than dry dog food, your dog may need to consume a larger quantity of food to receive the same nutritional value.
Semi-moist dog foods typically have a moisture content between 15-30%. While they can be convenient, semi-moist dog foods can be expensive, are often low in fibre, high in sugar and sodium, and will not meet the complete nutritional requirements for your dog.
Semi-moist dog foods often contain preservatives to prolong their shelf-life and humectants to retain their moisture. They also need to be carefully packaged and refrigerated after opening as they can be prone to mould and spoilage if not properly stored.
Some dog owners prefer to prepare and cook their dog’s meals themselves. This allows dog owners to have complete control over what is included in their dog’s diet, however it can be time consuming and expensive.
It’s important to seek appropriate nutritional advice from your veterinarian before introducing a home-cooked diet to ensure it will meet your dog’s nutritional requirements.
Understanding Dog Food Labels
The information contained on dog food labels is the best way to determine the quality and contents of what you are feeding your dog.
Here are some things to look for when checking dog food labels:
- Ingredients: Pet food manufacturers are legally required to individually list the ingredients included in their products in descending order of the quantity included. Checking the list of ingredients will ensure you know what you’re feeding you dog and the approximate quantities.
- Human grade: The label should specify if the dog food is “human grade” or “feed grade”. Where a dog food label specifies the term “feed grade”, it’s a good indication that the ingredients are of poorer quality.
- Nutrients: Dogs require six essential nutrients to maintain good health—water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. While the label won’t specify which ingredients provide each nutrient, they should list a minimum percentage of crude protein and crude fat, as well as a maximum percentage of crude fibre and moisture.
- Natural and preservative free: This indicates that ingredients are derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources and are free from preservatives.
- Complete and balanced: These are possibly the most important terms to look for on dog food labels. "Complete” means the food has all the nutrients that dogs of that life stage require, while “balanced” means the nutrients are in the correct ratios. “Complimentary” foods will only satisfy part of a dog’s nutritional needs and should not be fed exclusively on their own.
Evaluating Your Dog’s Nutritional Requirements
A dog’s nutritional requirements can vary based on a range of factors, including their age, size and weight, activity level and condition.
Before settling on what you believe the best dog food is, it’s important to evaluate your dog to determine what their individual nutritional requirements are.
The nutritional requirements of dogs will change depending on their life stage.
For example: younger dogs require more fat to aid growth and brain development; adult dogs need sufficient nutrients to satisfy their energy needs and to repair body tissues; and older dogs require a diet which is lower fat but higher in vitamin E and Beta-Carotene to keep their weight in-check and promote a strong immune system.
Size and Weight
Large and small dogs each have different nutritional needs.
Smaller breeds have a fast metabolism which means they can consume a higher calorie diet, while larger breeds need a diet which supports strong and healthy bones.
The activity level of your dog will also determine how much food they need.
Highly active dogs will tolerate a higher calorie diet far better than more sedentary dogs. Overfeeding your dog can also quickly lead to obesity. If your dog becomes overweight, they will require smaller portions of foods containing a moderate amount of fat and fermentable fibre to be able to return to a healthy weight.
Dogs who have a specific medical condition will also require some alterations to their diet. For example, pregnant or nursing dogs will need to consume significantly more calories than they would normally.
If your dog is suffering from a specific medical condition, it’s important to listen to the nutritional advice provided by your veterinarian.
Designing the Ideal Diet for Your Dog
While some dog owners opt to follow an exclusively raw or dry food diet, others prefer a mixed approach offering a combination of both raw and dry foods.
For most dogs, there won’t be one single option which represents the best dog food at every stage of their life. Most dogs will require some slight adjustments throughout their life to suit their changing nutritional needs.
If you exclusively feed your dog a dry or cooked diet and are and considering transitioning to a raw or mixed diet, it’s a good approach to keep meals relatively simple at first to avoid introducing too many new ingredients. Try starting by introducing a lean white-meant protein like chicken, before moving on to red-meat proteins like beef or kangaroo.
You should speak to your veterinarian if you are unsure about what your dog’s nutritional requirements are.
Selecting the Best Dog Food Supplier
It’s also important to find out more about your dog food supplier. To evaluate a dog food supplier, it may help to consider things such as:
- The quality of their products (e.g. Are the Australian made? Do they only include natural ingredients?).
- Product packaging (e.g. Is it eco-friendly? Will it prolong the shelf life? Are potions easy to store?).
- Do they provide good service (e.g. Do they offer home delivery? Can they provide customised meal plans?).
- Value for money (e.g. Will you receive a good quality product for an affordable price?).
At Petzyo, it’s our mission to deliver the most bang for your buck with premium quality meal plans tailored to your dog’s individual requirements delivered to your door at a lower price than our competitors. You can find out more about how it works here.