Remember, much like horses, most dogs do best if their diet doesn’t change too often.
Q:I’ve recently adopted my first dog and, honestly, I’m overwhelmed by the choices of dog food at the pet store. How do I decide which one he is best for him? Can I just let him “sample” a bunch over the next few weeks and go with whichever one he likes best?
A:Congratulations! Yes, the choices in dog foods make buying horse feed seem easy, don’t they? Luckily, there are a lot of great foods out there.
However, I wouldn’t count on your dog making the healthiest choice based on sampling. How many of us would pick ice cream over salads if we were allowed to select our foods based on taste alone? Instead, pick a brand of food that is supported by good nutritional research. To do that, start by reading the label, looking for a food that says it is “complete and balanced.” You want a brand that offers different formulas for different life stages, and as a bonus, look for one that also offers prescription versions of their diet for dogs with specific health problems; these brands generally have generous research budgets. Check their websites; do they employ PhD nutritionists? Avoid any brands that make unrealistic claims. No food can cure cancer, for example. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. People often try to avoid dog foods with “byproducts” and “fillers,” but remember that these terms are human-centric, and many of these ingredients can be part of a healthy, well-balanced pet food. Claims about being “grain free” are also more hype than science. Next, choose a food that matches your dog’s life stage, breed and activity level. (You probably do this for your horse, too.) A small dog needs smaller kibbles and less energy density than a big one. A dog who is kept on leash or spends his time sitting quietly at ringside needs fewer calories than one who is headed out on the trail with you. Remember, much like horses, most dogs do best if their diet doesn’t change too often. So once you’ve made an educated choice and your dog is consistently finishing the food you give him, stick with “your” brand.
For my own dogs, I use a major brand, picking the life-stage foods that suit them. Oh, and don’t forget the measuring cup---pet obesity is just as big a problem as horse and human obesity. Start by feeding the amount recommended on the label, or maybe slightly less if your dog is already a little chunky or a bit more if he is thin. Your last challenge, then, is to avoid giving in to the temptation to feed your dog table scraps.
Good luck, and enjoy the dog love!