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Best Dog Food Choices


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When it comes to nutrition, dogs are a lot like people. They're omnivores, meaning they can live healthy lives while eating a variety of food.

Meats, vegetables, and grains all can be a part of a dog's diet.

But also like us, dogs need balanced, moderately-sized meals that fuel their activities, not an overindulgent diet that will expand their waistlines and put them at risk of diseases like diabetes.

Foods Your Dog Should Never Eat


Know Your Dog's Needs

How much you feed your dog mainly depends on three factors:

  1. Age
  2. Activity level
  3. Ideal weight

A young Australian shepherd, for example, needs a lot of exercise, and that means a lot of food to keep him going. A tiny, 10-year-old Chihuahua, though, may be more accustomed to spending her day in your lap rather than building up a big appetite.

Dog food labels often provide some guidance on portion size, but your vet will know best how much food your dog needs to maintain a healthy weight, says veterinarian Louise Murray, DVM. She's vice president of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York.

"Diet should be based on a dog's condition, and it should be very tailored to the dog," Murray says. "Talk to your vet."

Your vet can also recommend foods that may help protect your dog against disease, says veterinarian Chea Hall, DVM, of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Large dogs may be more likely than smaller dogs to develop arthritis, for instance. Proper nutrition may help protect your dog's joints and reduce the risk of arthritis.

Know Your Dog's Food

Your vet can calculate how many calories your dog should get each day, but most dog food labels don't tell you how many calories the food provides.

"One cup could be 200 calories or it could be 400, and that's a huge difference," says Hall, who recommends a mostly dry food diet because dry is generally lower in calories than canned food.

Hall's advice: Contact the food's maker for calorie and other nutritional information. You should also look for a statement on the package that says the food meets at least the minimum requirements for a healthy diet set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) for your dog's life stage.

Food labels often use terms like "gourmet," "natural," and "premium," Murray notes. Those words may sound appealing, but they have no standard definition when it comes to dog food -- so they tell you nothing about what's in the food.

"They are not something to go by," Murray says.

Your vet can be a good guide to selecting an appropriate dog food both for your dog's health and your budget. Hall often recommends the foods sold by animal clinics, but since that's not always a convenient or affordable option, she works with people to pick out a food that works for both owner and dog. Your vet can do the same.

Would you rather make your dog's meals yourself? It's crucial that you talk to your vet first to learn how to meet your dog's nutritional needs, Hall says.

You have a lot of dog food choices, and you won't know whether you've made a good one until after feeding time.

"Dogs tend to show if they are thriving on their food," Murray says. "If they look great and have firm stools, they're likely doing fine."

Of course, if your dog develops diarrhea, vomits, or gets gassy, it's time to rethink your food choice.

If you decide to switch your dog's food, Murray advises doing so gradually. She recommends giving your dog 75% old food mixed with 25% new food for a few days, followed by a 50-50 mix for another few days. Finally, a mix of 25% old with 75% new before retiring the old food altogether.

"Don't make a more rapid switch unless the old food really upsets your dog," Murray says.

When to Feed Your Dog

If your dog is an adult, Hall and Murray recommend two feedings a day. Puppies will need to eat more often to keep up with their faster metabolism and to fuel their growth.

This is especially true of puppies of small breeds like toy poodles and Chihuahuas, which eat small amounts and digest food quickly, Hall says.

If you like to reward your dog with a biscuit or other snack, that's fine, says Murray, but keep in mind that small morsels of food add up throughout the day.

She has a quick tip to avoid calorie overload: "Portion out your dog's treats at the beginning of the day, and that's it," she says. "And no greasy, fatty, unfamiliar foods. Instead, feed them what you would a toddler: something bland and cooked."

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