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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?
Guest Post by Marlene Kingston Choosing the correct diet for your dog is very important, but it can also be difficult when factoring the lifestyle and health of your dog. You have so many brands, flavors, and ingredients to choose from anywhere you go, making the options endless. A good place to start in this quest is deciding whether you should serve wet or dry dog food to your dog. There is no “one answer fits all” to this question. In this article, we’ll give you a bit of guidance on the benefits of wet versus dry dog food to help you determine which is best for your dog. Pros and cons of wet dog food Wet food is great for dogs that are picky about what they eat. It has a stronger smell and a more natural consistency than dry food that is more likely to entice the dog to eat. The wet food will also make dogs feel full more quickly, which is helpful for weight management if your dog tends to eat more than it needs. Older dogs or dogs with teeth problems will like wet food better because it is not as hard to chew and can be swallowed very easily. Also, if your dog has a problem with drinking the recommended amount of water every day, the water content in wet dog food is much higher than dry dog food which will help them get more water down during meal times. Now all these benefits sound great, but you also want to consider a few potential downsides to wet dog food. First, wet dog food typically costs more and won’t stay fresh as long as dry dog food. That means you can’t leave it out for your dog to eat while you are going to be out of the house. Some dogs may experience diarrhea due to trying to digest the richness of the wet food. Wet dog food usually comes in smaller packages as well which means more trips to the store. If you are considering wet dog food and want it delivered straight to your door, you could consider a subscription dog food service which would make your life much easier. If you want to try serving wet dog food, it’s important to transition from whatever food they are already used to eating and monitor their bowel movements to make sure they can properly handle the new diet. Pros and cons of dry dog food Dry dog food can be considerably less expensive than wet dog food and you can get it in large bags so you don’t have to make a trip to the store as often. You can leave dry food out all day if you are not going to be home to feed your dog. Some types of dry dog food are even designed to clean the teeth of the dog that is eating it, which promotes healthy teeth and gums. You can also use dry food as a source of entertainment and brain stimulation if you pair it with dog food puzzles. The puzzles are meant to make the dog work to figure out how to get the food out of it. They are helpful for weight management because it takes the dog a lot longer to eat the food, and they will feel full before they eat too much. There are some drawbacks to feeding your dog dry food that you may want to consider. The cheaper and low quality brands of dry food may contain questionable ingredients such as dead or diseased animal parts, binders, chemicals and more because they are loosely regulated by the Association of American Feed Control (AAFCO). Dry dog food can also contain a lot of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. If you decide that dry food is the best option for your dog, be sure to choose one that is healthy and doesn’t contain any of these harmful ingredients. Now that you know some of the benefits and downsides to wet and dry food, you can look at the needs of your dog and decide which is going to be the best option for him. Both wet and dry dog food are good options in general but again, pay close attention to how your dog reacts to one or the other. If wet dog food is too hard on them, yet they don’t enjoy the taste of dry dog food, you can always mix them to give a nice balance to their diet. If any of these choices lead to any health issues for your dog, consult your veterinarian for any advice or learn more about whether they may have an allergic reaction to specific ingredients. Marlene Kingston is a breeder and trainer at My Doodle Maltipoos. She loves taking her two Maltipoos on adventures and training obedient fun, loving maltipoos to join their new family!
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.