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It’s easy to feel lost in the pet food aisle, as you pick up one bag of food after another trying to decipher what ingredient labels mean. Just sifting through the sheer quantity of brands is exhausting. And, unfortunately, there is an inverse relationship between the quantity of dog foods out there and the quality of them. That’s right, although there are lots of choices, only a few contain quality ingredients that will help your dog achieve a balanced diet. So, how do you navigate through ingredient list after ingredient list to determine what’s right for your buddy?
The answer is pretty straightforward. Look for the following five essential elements that balance your furry friend’s diet. These five elements make up the minimum daily requirement for dogs and are determined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). If you use the tips that follow each essential element, you will be in and out of the dog food aisle in no time flat!
According to PetMed, arguably the most important component of a dog’s diet is protein. As we all know from our middle school science class, proteins are made of amino acids, which are the building blocks for generating strong muscles and repairing the body’s tissues. Just like humans, our canine friends need protein. Protein should comprise 18-25% of an adult dog’s diet. For puppies, 21-26% of their diets should be protein.
Tips: Proteins can come from different sources. There is meat protein (e.g. organ or muscle), animal by-product protein (e.g. lips or hair), and grain protein (e.g. soy or corn). Experts debate whether one source of protein or another is better for maintaining a dog’s health. Consider doing two things: trying different pet foods, with different ratios from each source of protein to see how your dog responds; and consult your veterinarian for his or her opinion about protein sources.
Carbohydrates are another component essential to your dog's health, as they are necessary for energy production. High concentrations of carbohydrates are found in grains. The lower-quality and less expensive grains usually include wheat and corn. The higher-quality and more costly sources of carbohydrates are rice, barley and oats. To maintain a healthy weight, an adult dog’s diet is typically comprised of 30-70% carbohydrates.
Some manufacturers use small amounts of carbohydrates as fillers, in the form of leafy green vegetables. In addition to being a source of carbohydrates, they also contain fiber. Fiber both helps dogs to feel full (so they don’t overeat) and to move waste through the digestive tract.
Tips: A dog food with carbohydrates from a variety of sources is often recommended. Variety is the spice of life! However, some pet owners prefer and veterinarians advise that dogs eat a “grain-free” diet to help with common digestive issues, such as excessive gas. No one is suggesting you put your dog on some version of the “Paleo Diet.” However, there are a variety of high quality grain-free dog foods for Fido to try.
Fats are highly concentrated forms of energy. Believe or not, they give your dog more than twice the amount of energy as protein and carbohydrates do! So, don’t operate under the misconception that fat is bad for dogs. It’s essential for a healthy skin and coat as well as the proper development and function of cells, muscles and nerves. To remain balanced, your pooch’s diet should consist of 10-15% of essential fats. Although dogs don’t have to deal with the cholesterol problems humans do, their fat and overall caloric intake needs to stay within range, to avoid obesity. Otherwise, add more exercise to Spot’s daily regime.
Tips: Typical fats found in dog foods include both Omega-3s and Omega-6s fatty acids. Experts have concluded that both are important for balancing your dog’s diet. Good sources of Omega-3s are fish, flaxseed, and canola oils. Good sources of Omega-6 include, for example, safflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils. Higher quality dog foods usually contain these oils.
Vitamins & Minerals
Just like humans, man’s best friend needs his vitamins and minerals to maintain good health. Generally, experts recommend that dogs get their essential vitamins and minerals from their dog food. Vitamins, like E and A, are commonly found in foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which are included in the puppy chow you’ve already purchased. Minerals in dog foods are provided by supplements, as well as ingredients like meats, legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables.
Tips: Your dog doesn’t usually need additional supplements, like multivitamins. Manufacturers of quality dog food will ensure that their product contains sufficient nutrients. And their packaging will be sure to say as much. So, yes, you still have to read labels. But, unless your dog has been diagnosed with a vitamin or mineral deficiency, there is no need to search the dog food aisle for extra supplements.
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Last, but not least: dogs need water! Water is the main component of healthy, living cells in your dog’s body. Every important function in the body requires water, including digestion, temperature regulation, joint movement, and waste removal to name a few. Without water, your dog’s body won’t have the ability to function. Essentially, in the absence of adequate water, your sweet pup will become ill quickly and dehydrate.
Tips: Be sure to keep your dog’s water bowl clean and filled each day. As a general rule, your dog should drink one ounce of water per pound of body weight daily. The amount of water needed can vary. For example, if the temperature is warm or your dog exercises a lot, then provide him or her extra water. Sometimes you may have the lead your pooch to the water dish. But, as they saying goes, “You can lead them to water, but you can’t make them drink.” If your dog refuses water, you might try giving Fluffy a few ice cubes, cool, low sodium chicken broth or canned dog food, which contains more water than dry food.