Food choices

EQUUS - - Barn Dogs -

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!

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