What to Feed My Dog?

One of the most common questions asked during my day is: What should I feed my dog?

Not an easy question to answer since there are so many variables involved. But I can also sympathize that your willingness to buy a high quality product is very confusing with the choices available. We have all been down the pet food isle looking at all the different colors, exclamation marks and cute sayings on the foods and not know what to buy. Today I hope to save you some time and money in your quest to making the best decision possible for your four legged friend. Don’t forget, we are always here to help you, so feel free to bring in the bag of food or take a picture of the front and back and bring it in. Also, at the end of the blog I have listed some websites to help you with your choice.

In the meantime, let’s see if we can help narrow down your choices.

When looking at the food choices, ask yourself:

· Is this made by a reputable company?

· Is there a contact number on the bag to call the company?

Go ahead and call the company and see if you like their answers.

Good questions to ask:

a. Is there a veterinary nutritionist on staff formulating their diets? If not, who formulates and regulates the diets?

b. Where are the foods produced and manufactured?

c. Are the diets formulated using feeding trials? If not, how do you back up your claims?

d. Have they done product research to prove their claims? If so, can they send you the information?

e. What quality control measures do they have in place?

1. Reading labels: Avoid being manipulated by what is stated on the front of a bag as this is often very misleading and is not generally well regulated.

So let’s look at the information on the back of the bag. Just remember there are very few regulations in this area as well but hopefully we can make some good choices.

· The ingredient list: This list really boils down to personal preference and what flavors your pet likes. Keep in mind this list is based on weight not nutritional content so, the pitfall here lies in the fact that ingredients with high water content such as meats and vegetables are going to be listed higher than a similar amount of dry ingredient. The nutritional value of ingredients cannot be identified from the ingredient statement. In a perfect world the list should be based on the ingredients nutritional content. Also, similar ingredients such as chicken meat, chicken fat and chicken by products can be split or not thus complicating things further. So look at this list with that in mind and try to find ingredients your pet likes and does well with.

· Is having “by products” a bad thing? Absolutely not. By definition a by- product is the remaining organ meats and tissues that are not generally consumed by Americans such as the heart, kidney, liver etc. Often these by-products are more nutritionally dense than muscle meats. Finally, by-products cannot include hair hooves, horn, hide trimmings, manure and intestinal content.

· AAFCO nutrient profile: This statement is generally found in small print close to the ingredient list. So far there are only two statements.

1. “Formulated for all life stages”: This meets the nutritional requirements for growth (puppies), gestation (pregnancy), lactation (nursing) which then meets the minimal requirements for adults also. Foods having this statement are appropriate for young growing and active dogs and breeding females.

2. “Formulated for maintenance”: this meets the nutritional requirements for the adult dogs and is a better choice for the adult dog, especially with a more sedentary lifestyle. AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way. Currently, there are no AAFCO requirements for senior dogs so talk to your veterinarian about what is best to feed a pet over 7 years of age.

*Just a side note, the best dog foods will be those which state that “feeding trials” have been performed on their foods. This is usually printed within the AAFCO statement.

I hope this has been helpful and given you a good start! For even more information go to the websites listed below. Finding just the right food for your best friend can be difficult and confusing so call us anytime if you need help.

Coming up next: Dog food myths

In the meantime, send us your questions about choosing foods for your pet.

Helpful veterinary nutrition websites:



aahanet.org (pet health library, general pet health)



Dr. Nicky Polson is a veterinarian and owner of Animal Care Hospital in Morris, IL.