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The last time I went grocery shopping, I found myself spending at least seven minutes choosing between two different packages of corn dogs. CORN DOGS. What took me so long? Here is a breakdown of some of the considerations I was making: Overall price Price per ounce Meat source Trying to remember which ones I got last time Which was more natural/organic Calorie content Nutritional content differences And that was just for a junk food that I will probably only eat once every couple weeks when I am too lazy to wait for my instant noodles to cook in the microwave. Honestly, if I have a choice between waiting 55 seconds for food or three minutes, that seems like a no-brainer. What if I was selecting the one food item that I would have to eat for every meal? What if I was doing it for another person? What if I was doing it for a pet? When it comes to selecting dog food, what do consumers consider when choosing a meal plan for their pet? A survey of dog owners published in the Journal of Agricultural Science found that price was the most important attribute for dog owners, quality and source of ingredients came second, package size and recommendations from a breeder or vet tied for third, and having an age or size-specific formula came in last. But, what if a breed-specific formula is available? What should pet owners consider? What is breed-specific dog food? Consider this statement on breed-specific dog food from Royal Canin: "Each individual recipe is formulated to deliver the exact level of natural antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, prebiotics, and minerals that are essential to your pet’s unique health needs." Thinking that choosing a dog food by recipe/formula name will automatically be the best possible option for your dog seems like a best-case scenario. Let's delve a little deeper into breed-specific dog food. Is breed-specific food just marketing? So, are breed-specific diets just marketing then? Not completely. While the overall nutrient profiles and ingredients may be similar to diets recommended for all breeds or other breeds (because at this point, we don’t have good evidence that all members of a specific breed require different levels of overall nutrients than other dogs or cats), there may be differences in specific nutrients (within the allowable maintenance range), the calorie content, fiber types and amounts, and in the shape of the kibble that could be beneficial for some individuals of that breed (or even a dog or cat of a different breed with similar needs). The key is individualizing the diet for your pet. How does breed-specific dog foods differ from All-Life-Stages Dog Food? In The Dog Diet Answer Book: The Complete Nutrition Guide to Help Your Dog Live a Happier, Healthier, and Longer Life, Greg Martinez, DVM, explains that nutritional guidelines for breed-specific pet food haven't been issued by any of the national pet food organizations. Without industry guidelines, what are the basis of breed-specific formulas? Let's take a look at how the recipes often differ. When compared to standard all life stages dog food, breed-specific formulas may differ by several factors including macronutrient percentages, ingredients or proportion of ingredients, the amount and kind of supplements, and even the size and shape of the food itself. Due to anatomical differences, different breeds of dogs chew and swallow differently. For example, Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN, shares an example in the Tufts University Petfoodology blog: "Breed-specific diets for dogs like Labradors are often lower in calories, and one brand features large, donut-shaped kibble which are designed to slow down the eating speed of this notoriously hungry breed." Another way that foods differ is in the supplements added. Sara Ochoa, DVM is a small animal and exotic veterinarian in Texas and a veterinary consultant for doglab.com. She explains, "Breed-specific food has supplements added to the food that are targeted to that breed of dog." For example, she shares, "Large breed dogs would need more glucosamine to help with joints than small dogs." Which breeds have special foods available? "[B]reed-specific diets are designed to market to the most popular breeds" writes Dr. Martinez. "It would be a rare event for a customer to ask for a 'Puli diet' at the pet store. The most popular purebred dogs will get their own diets because those diets will sell more. That is a brilliant marketing strategy, but it does not mean that the purebred diet is perfect for every purebred dog." Is breed-specific food good or bad? If a dog food is specifically labeled for your dog's breed, many assume that it is the ultimate BEST CHOICE for Fido. If it's available, how could anything else be better for your dog? "Breed-specific dog food is very good for that breed of dog," says Dr. Ochoa. "Dog food formulated for a lab would be able to help with their fast-growing bones as a puppy and help with their high energy demands." As an example, she explains, "A chihuahua would not need the same diet as a lab. They would need a diet to help keep them slim and one that would help with heart problems." "You do not necessarily have to feed breed-specific food," Ochoa advises. Additionally, she adds, "There is no one breed that I would say requires to feed a breed-specific food." Kim Smyth, DVM agrees with this sentiment. Writing for Petplan, she explains, "While there’s certainly nothing wrong with feeding breed-specific diets, you don’t have to feed them to give your pet a great diet." What should you consider when choosing your dog's food? If a dog food that is labeled specifically for your dog's breed can't always be a perfect answer, what should pet parents be taking into consideration when selecting a food option? Which factors are more important than your pup's breed? "Breed-specific dog foods are not necessarily harmful," explains Ashley Gallagher, DVM, "they are just somewhat redundant if you (and your veterinarian) are already correctly assessing your puppy’s nutritional requirements based on life stage, size and specific health needs." Let's take a look at these and other factors that you should consider when choosing your pet's diet. 1. Life stage "While dogs of all breeds, ages, and sizes do have similar nutritional needs," writes Jennifer Coates, DVM, "there are some subtle but important differences that owners should be aware of. I’ve talked before about the importance of lifestage feeding. In other words, puppies should eat puppy food, adults should eat adult food, and so on." Let's take a look at the different needs in the realm of lifestage feeding. First, a dog's daily recommendations for proteins, fats, and calories vary based on lifestage. The educational guide Your Dog's Nutritional Needs: A Science-Based Guide for Pet Owners explains, "The growing puppy starts out needing about twice as many calories per pound of body weight as an adult dog of the same breed." Puppies need food with higher fat, calorie and protein density for their bodies to grow big and strong, while adult dogs (ages one to six) don't need as many calories per pound. This necessitates a switch from puppy food to adult dog food. They aren't changing as drastically in size as puppies do during their first year, so weight-maintenance is the name of the game. Pregnant and nursing dogs' caloric needs are based on the number of puppies they are caring for and how far they are into lactation. Just like humans, as dogs get older, their metabolism and body composition change. Senior dogs (age five to seven+) expend less energy. Their metabolism can also slow down. Older dogs need 20 percent fewer calories than younger adult dogs. Feeding a diet with a reduced caloric density helps to avoid weight gain while keeping protein intake high enough to maintain muscle mass. 2. Breed size Different breeds age differently. "You do not necessarily have to feed breed-specific food," advises Dr. Ochoa. Instead, she suggests, "You can feed large breed dogs food designed for a large dog, and small breed dogs food designed for small dogs." Think of it this way: "A small breed dog’s metabolism, for example, is much different from a large breed dog, but it is unlikely that a Yorkie’s dietary needs vary all that much from a Shih Tzu's," explains Dr. Gallagher. To help break down the different food recommendations, dog breeds are split up into general categories: Small breeds — Up to 20 pounds at maturity Medium-sized breeds — 20 to 50 pounds Large and giant breeds — Over 50 pounds at maturity "Consider a large breed puppy formula for breeds such as Saint Bernard," writes Dr. Martinez. "Large breeds need fewer calories and the proper balance of calcium and phosphorus. Staying on the lean side may prevent bone or joint problems leading to lifelong painful arthritis." 3. Health needs While "high-quality breed-specific diets could provide some benefits," Dr. Heinze explains, "they aren’t a replacement for therapeutic diets for many common breed-related and diet-responsive health conditions." If your pet has a health condition, ask your vet for advice before just grabbing the breed-specific formula. Managing your pet's medical conditions trumps the possible benefits of a catch-all diet. 4. Other factors "All dogs have essentially the same basic dietary needs, which can vary based on activity level, not breed," advises Dr. Oscar Chavez, a professor of canine clinical nutrition and the Chief Medical Officer of JustFoodForDogs. "Certain breeds are more active, so if you have a working breed, like greyhounds, whippets, or sled dogs, then you do want a high caloric density food formulated to support their increased activity, as in human athletes, for example. Otherwise, there is no real practical advantage." Working dogs require more nutrients because they're expending more energy. Activity level plays a big part in deciding what and how much food your dog should be eating. Depending on the size of dog, the difference between average energy needs per day are about 30 percent more for active adult dogs compared to inactive adult dogs. Activity level is also affected by seasons. Dog's have different energy requirements in warm and cold seasons. "Whatever food you choose you want to choose a food that has gone through feeding trials and has been researched for toxins and digestibility," advises Chavez, "that’s more important (nutritionally) for the dogs than anything else." He adds, "Food utilizing fresh, human-grade ingredients in recipes nutritionally formulated for pets would provide a health advantage over breed-specific kibble (which is filled with feed grade materials and preservatives)." Often, choosing the best food for your dog will be based on some combination of these factors. For example, a formula for large breed puppies or a food for senior dogs with a grain allergy. The most important thing is that your dog is getting the nutrition it needs to be healthy and strong, and stave off preventable health conditions. It's not a matter of finding the perfectly labeled food, but a formula that benefits your dog holistically. Lastly, if you're not sure what that is, ask your veterinarian for some suggestions. Related reading: Is Wet or Dry Dog Food Better for My Dog? Dog Food Advice BestCompany's Online Pet Store Rankings Dog Food Reviews: Which Brand is Best-Ranked?
As babies develop, they transition from nutrient-rich liquids to soft foods to hard foods. But these are not discrete steps. They build on each other. When it comes to dogs, are these transitions similar? L.A. dog trainer Russell Hartstein points out, "Foods are created and designed to be fully balanced and complete for a specific life stage of a dog. A dog requires a different nutrient, vitamin, and mineral profile at different ages." How and why should their food be transitioned as they move from one growth stage to the next? In this article, we will explain the differences in puppy and adult dog food, as well as when and how to transition between these stages. Weaning and puppy food As mammals, newborn puppies start out on a liquid diet of milk, usually provided by their mother, but sometimes in other forms. From there, "Puppies are typically introduced to solid food at six weeks of age while still nursing," explains Jim D Carlson, DVM CVA CVTP, owner and holistic veterinarian of Riverside Animal Clinic and Holistic Center. He adds, "This timing helps introduce proper intestinal microbes to transition to a solid food diet. The diet consists of dry puppy food moistened with milk replacement or wet puppy food in pouches or cans." Additionally, puppy food has several other intentional benefits. "Puppy food is made to support rapid bone growth and body growth during your puppies first few months, explains dog trainer Marlene Kingston. Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today. She explains a few examples of puppy food's special qualities. "For example," she says, "puppies should eat more protein, fat, and certain minerals and amino acids than should most adult dogs. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet has also been shown to promote healthy brain and eye development in young animals." Not all puppies' needs are alike. In addition to different puppy and adult dog food options, some puppy foods are specifically designed to meet the needs of different sized dogs. Why? Dr. Coates explains, "Large breed puppies have some extra considerations due to their increased risk of orthopedic problems like hip and elbow dysplasia. In comparison to "regular" puppy foods, large breed puppy foods are a little lower in fat, contain a little less calcium and phosphorus, and have a carefully balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio." How do you know which is best for your dog? Danel Grimmett, DVM, Sunset Veterinary Clinic advises, "Owners should ideally consult with their family veterinarian (not the breeder) regarding which puppy food is appropriate for their new baby, how much food they puppy needs each day, and when and how often to feed the new baby." While pet parents can be overly concerned with their fur baby's food intake and health, "No puppy should ever be given any supplement without consulting a licensed veterinarian," cautions Dr. Grimmett. "Supplements can cause health problems ranging from digestive problems to life-threatening and debilitating orthopedic diseases." The big switcheroo "Puppies and adult dogs have different nutritional needs," says Dr. Coates. That's why their foods are formulated differently and the switch to another type of food is necessary. For example, "Puppy food has 22.5 percent protein. Most adult foods have between 18-25 percent protein," says Dr. Carlson. These differences are formulated for a reason. Read More: The Difference Between Puppy Food and Dog Food When should you transition from puppy to adult dog food? So, when should you make the switch? For this, we got a variety of answers from our experts: "As a general rule, dogs should be fed puppy food until they are anywhere between 9–24 months old. This large range is due to the differences in growing rates between breeds." — Richard Cross, The Dog Clinic "The timeline to switch a puppy to adult food is dependent on the size and breed of the puppy. Some puppies need to remain on puppy food until they are a year old, while others may need to be switched to adult food by the age of 3 months." — Grimmett, DVM "At one year of age, your puppy's growth plates have closed (some breeds take longer) and they are considered young adults, similar to human teenagers. It's time for them to transition to adult dog food." — Carlson, DVM CVA CVTP "I recommend my patient to switch from puppy food to adult food around 6–12 months of age. The exact time depends on the size of the dog. The smaller dogs less than 25lbs I will switch around 6 months of age or right after there spay or neuter. Medium size dog 25 to 50 lbs I will switch around 8 months of age. The large to giant breed I switch to adult food around 1 year." — Sara Ochoa, DVM, Veterinary Consultant for doglab.com "Bigger breeds usually take longer to reach physical maturity, so they should be fed puppy food for longer too. The largest dogs, such as Great Danes, may need to remain on puppy food until they are two years old. Smaller breeds, such as those that won't reach more than 20lbs in weight, typically need to be weaned onto adult food at around 9–12 months." — Cross "Make the switch from puppy food to adult food when dogs have reached their expected height (they'll still have some filling out to do). This occurs at different times based on a dog's size. For toy breeds, it may be as early as 10 months of age. For medium-sized dogs, 12 months is typical, while giant breeds can keep growing until they are 18 months old or more. Appropriate timing will also vary based on an individual dog's weight, activity level, and health, so ask your veterinarian for a precise recommendation." — Coates, DVM "Puppies can be given adult dog food when they have reached approximately 80 percent of their expected adult size. Dog weight varies and this occurs at different times for different breeds. Extremely small dogs, for example, reaches this point at about 8–9 months. Medium-sized dogs, on the other hand, can consume puppy food until they are about 12 months old. Large or giant dog breeds take a longer time to reach maturity. You should switch to an adult dog food diet when your pet is anywhere from 18–24 months old."— Madeleine Seah, Pet Lovers Centre "Puppies are weaned ideally at 8–10 weeks of age and remain on the transition diet. The fastest growth rate occurs from weaning until 6–7 months of age. At this stage of development, puppies will have grown their main adult teeth but their molars can take another year to fully emerge. The puppies can then transition to a primarily solid dog food. Raw food diets may be introduced slowly at this time if preferred. Be sure to discuss transitioning to raw with your veterinarian." — Carlson, DVM CVA CVTP No wonder why it is so complicated. This ideal time to switch from puppy chow to pet food formulated for adult dogs isn't exactly on your dog's first birthday, just like it isn't for humans. Everyone, including dogs, grow, develop, and mature at different rates. Ideally, says Grimmett, pet owners should consult their veterinarian about "when to make a switch to adult food." How should you shift your puppy to adult food? The big switch to grown-up food can be trying on your dog's digestive system, so a cold-turkey approach is not advised. To get an idea of how this transition works, here is an example from Danielle Mühlenberg, a dog trainer with Pawleaks: "I transitioned my Rottweiler from puppy food to a raw diet when she was six months old. I was feeding my dog a high protein ‘growth' food which should be transitioned earlier at about 6–12 months of age. A healthy raw diet was always my long term plan and with this diet, you have to be even more careful than just switching to adult food. A dog is naturally made to eat raw meat but a puppy that has been raised with commercial food is not used to this. I slowly started sprinkling raw meat, organs, vegetables, or fruit over her daily meals and always monitored her well-being by checking the stool. Then I began to replace small amounts of puppy food (about 10 percent) with her new diet. Depending on how well your dog takes it, you can start with a smaller or larger amount. Gradually build up the replaced amount over time. This transition can take a few days or a few weeks. I tried it really slowly so it took me about three weeks. A few days in, my puppy started vomiting. If this happens to your dog, it means that you have switched too fast and you should take a step back. She felt immediately better the day after that. Six months later, she loves her new food and is healthier than ever." As you can see, helping your pup to transition to a new diet isn't exactly a picnic for both parties involved. We asked the experts for guidance and found that while all of them recommended a slow transition, there isn't an exact right answer. There are several techniques for gradually and safely transitioning your dog to a new diet. Here are a few examples: "When transitioning diets, expect to add one quarter of the pet's new food to the meal weekly. This gives the intestine time to adjust to the new diet and reduces the risk of transitional diarrhea and stomach upset." — Carlson, DVM CVA CVTP "When switching dog foods, it is helpful to go slowly to prevent upset stomach and diarrhea. Change only 1/8th or so of your puppy's old food for their new food and monitor your puppies stool to see how they are digesting their new dog food." — Hartstein, CDBC CPDT-KA "To help their digestive system adjust, we recommend combining the two dry foods in one bowl in order to wean your puppy off the food they are used to. This is an important transition in a dog's life because as they grow, they need more nutrients and calories as an adult dog than they would as a puppy." — Shawn Hostetter, President, Keystone Puppies "When switching, it's important not to make an abrupt switch. Your puppy has been processing this puppy food all of their life so switching too fast can hurt their digestive system. I recommend starting with 10 percent adult food in their puppy food for a few days and then gradually increase by 10 percent every few days until the switch is complete." — Kingston "Changes to a dog's diet should always be made slowly, regardless of the reason. Take a week or two to gradually mix in increasing amounts of the new food with decreasing amounts of the old. Revert to the old food and talk to your veterinarian if, at any time, your dog stops eating or develops vomiting or diarrhea." — Coates, DVM "When switching to adult food, make sure you take into account your dog's metabolism and activity levels. Keep a close eye on your dog's weight and talk to your vet about his diet." — Cross If we have learned anything from our panel of experts, it's that all dogs are different. They mature at different rates and transitioning techniques that will work for one dog may not work for another. As your fur baby is growing and maturing, be sure to check in with your veterinarian to make sure that you are feeding him the best diet possible.
Many dog food companies proudly state that their high-quality food contains no harmful "fillers." What exactly does this word mean? Is it really as sinister as they make it sound? The subject is disputed by the dog food community. The Association of American Feed Control Officials, which establishes the recommended nutrient profiles for dog food, doesn’t define what fillers are. We asked experts for help decoding this industry jargon. Here’s what they said: What are dog food fillers? Jonathan Rose, Managing Director at Aurora Pets explains, “Fillers have always been and will probably always be a part of commercial dog foods as they are inexpensive and make a cost-effective production, increase shelf life, and keep the cost of the food down.” “Generally, a filler is an ingredient that provides little to no nutritional value,” says Krystn Janisse from Homes Alive Pets. “These are typically carbohydrates and can reduce the cost of the components of the food and bulk up some of the guaranteed analysis stats to meet AAFCO regulations.” What ingredients are commonly considered to be fillers? Commonly reported as fillers are ingredients like grains, rice, and legumes. Are filler ingredients good or bad for dogs? “In smaller quantities,” explains Janisse, “these ingredients often provide nutrients and fiber, but when heavily added, they mostly just take up space and provide texture for dry foods.” The American Animal Hospital Association publishes a 2017 article “Myth Busters: Corn Edition” about the roles of grains, including corn, in pet food. Here are some key takeaways: Corn is a grain. When a dog’s diet has lots of grains, protein digestibility is decreased. However, when cooked, corn’s cellulose layers are easy to digest. How ingredients, including grains, work together to create a nutritional profile is what is important Animals need energy. They get it from protein, carbs, and fats. They all work together to create an efficient energy mix. A diet of just one is inefficient. In the article, Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, DACVN says, “Grains, and any other single category or individual ingredients, are neither good nor bad.” Let’s take corn for example. “Fillers are an ingredient added to dog foods that provide no nutritional benefit, but many ingredients that are sometimes called fillers, like corn, actually can provide nutrients to dogs when used appropriately,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today. Corn provides an essential fatty acid that dogs need and nutrients that are good for dogs, in a balanced diet. What about food allergies? In the pet food industry, grains are often put forward as a common allergy, and therefore bad for your pup. To that point, in the AAHA report, clinical veterinary nutritionist Martha G. Cline from Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Fall, N.J., says, “At this time, there is no evidence to support that animals on grain-free diets have less incidence of food allergies than animals on conventional diets. Food allergies, in general, are uncommon.” Are fillers good or bad for Fido? As long as dog food is tested to meet the AAFCO’s nutrient profiles for your dog’s developmental stage, then it is safe and healthy to feed to Fido. While looking at pet food labeling can be helpful, it is important to look at nutrients over ingredients, says Ann Wortinger, a veteran veterinary nutritionist. She suggests that pet parents “Look at nutrients, not marketing.” This data is often easiest to glean when looking at the data from feeding trials, which more transparent food companies make public.
Pet owners are always trying to do the best for their fur babies. When it comes to meal time, some wonder whether feeding Fido the same kibble everyday is helping or harming him. To understand the complexities of this question, we reached out to industry experts, asking for advice. Here is what they said. Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today. She advises that “As long as your dog eats a nutritionally complete and balanced diet and is doing well on it, there is no need to switch between different foods.” Sara Ochoa, DVM is a veterinary consultant for doglab.com. She agrees: “If your dog is doing good on one type of food they never have to switch from that food. The saying ‘If it ain't broke, don’t fix it,’ applies here. If they are doing great on a type of food, do not change.” What about nutritional needs? “It isn’t harmful to feed your dog the same food every day as long as it meets all of his nutritional needs,” says Li-ran Bukovza, founder of Puppy Tip. He adds, “That said, it's always a good idea to check with your vet or a pet nutritionist that the food you give your dog is complete and balanced.” So, what is the deal with all of the different dog food choices? “Just like in the wild,” explains Krystn Janisse from Homes Alive Pets, “animals are designed to eat a variety of foods to get all of their essential nutrients. While dog food is "formulated to be complete and balanced," this doesn't mean that every diet is right for every dog.” To switch or not to switch? Dr. Amanda Nascimento, DVM, MVSc., PhD. explains, "If it is a balanced diet, you can feed your pet with the same diet every day. However, they will enjoy it much more if they have a variety of different ingredients in their diet." “Dogs do fine eating the same thing every day, but some do enjoy a change in food so even having a mixture of two different types of food will help change up their diets just a little bit,” says Ochoa. “[S]witching up foods just for the sake of variety can be hard on your dog’s digestive system,” Bukovza warns. “However, if your dog isn't sensitive to diet changes, rotating dog food every few months can have great benefits and may even help with picky eating habits.” How does rotational feeding work? “For rotational feeding purposes, switch your dog's diet at least 2–3 times per year,” suggests Janisse. “More experienced rotational feeders switch much more frequently, sometimes every week or even daily if their pet has adapted to the transitions well.” When should you definitely switch Fido’s food? “While you don't have to switch up your dog's food regularly, there are times in a dog’s life when it’s appropriate to change his diet,” says Bukovza. “For example, puppies need more calories than adult dogs since they're still growing and senior canines often require other types of nutrients to keep their joints and brains healthy.” Nascimento adds, “It is recommended to change the diet, if your pet has health issues, such as allergies, diabetes, heart problems, and etc. Or if the diet is not adequate for their nutritional needs." “Sometimes a food switch can be prompted by changes in the dog's appearance, digestion, activity or health,” says Janisse. She adds, “Allergies are a very common reason for switching foods, but not always the most effective. Many ‘food allergies’ are related to poor digestion, so removing ingredients from their diet is like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. The results are temporary, and the underlying problem is still going to rear its ugly head. Finding food that better supports digestion, using digestive supplements like probiotics, and talking to your vet about potential health concerns are much more likely to resolve the problem.” If you do notice any changes in your dog’s appetite, appearance, or health, always contact a specialist to see if a change in food could improve your dog’s health, digestion, and happiness.