Proper nutrition and a good diet underpin your dog’s health and wellbeing. Yet when it comes to choosing the right food for your dog, the answer is not always clear cut. With a range of feeding options, brands, and ingredients it can often be daunting for dog owners who are faced with an abundance of information to navigate through – some of which is often conflicting! We help you break down the different options available so you can choose the right dog food for your best friend.
Canine nutrition 101
Before you can evaluate what form of dog food is best for your dog, it’s helpful to first understand canine nutrition and the type of foods dogs thrive on and will suit their digestive systems. You’ve probably heard the saying before – ‘dogs have descended from wolves and are therefore carnivores’. While dogs and wolves do share a common ancestor (the grey wolf), it is now believed that dogs and wolves split from their shared ancestor over 25,000 years ago. There is now scientific evidence available to support that since that time, dogs have evolved separately to digest plant-based food as well as meat. In fact, not only can dogs digest plant-based foods, they also possess 3 genes that allow them to digest glucose and starch allowing them to digest grain-based carbohydrates.
Another factor that helps determine if an animal is a carnivore, omnivore or herbivore is the length of an animal’s intestine. As a general rule, carnivores (for example cats) have shorter intestinal lengths than herbivores as meat is easier to digest than plant-based material. On a relative basis (adjusting for size), a dog’s intestines are longer than that of cats (carnivores) but shorter than that of humans (omnivores). This suggest that while dogs are omnivores, they are closer to carnivores than humans and as a result their bodies are designed to eat a greater amount of meat than humans.
Taking into account the above factors, we recommend feeding your dog a diet that is higher in protein than a typical human diet – for example a diet that has at least 50% meat, including some organ meats – however balancing this with the right vegetables and fruit to provide a nutritionally complete diet for your dog.
What type of food is best for my dog?
When it comes to the different types of food you can feed your dog, the most common forms of dog food are dry (kibble), wet, raw and more recently, we have started to see a lightly cooked diet for dogs gain popularity. The type of food you decide to feed your dog depends on a number of factors – most of these factors will depend on your dog (for example if they have any specific health needs) and some relate to your lifestyle and what is feasible for you (for example feeding a raw diet can often be more expensive and time consuming than feeding dry food). While there is no ‘right’ choice, to choose the right option you’ll need to consider all the factors relevant to you and your dog. If your dog has special needs (for example needs to gain or lose weight or has special medical conditions), we also recommend speaking to your vet and working with them to determine the best option for your dog.
We go through some pros and cons of each different type below:
Dry food – Most popular type of dog food with many options available including options for specific needs – for example for dogs on a diet or dogs with special medical conditions. Dry food is very easy to feed however given the nature of the food, commercial brands can often include dubious ingredients (including nasty fillers) that you need to look out for. When it comes to choosing kibble, we recommend carefully reading the ingredients listed on the back of the pack. In particular, pay close attention to the form of meat in the dog food. Dry dog foods often use meat meal – a form of meat that is dried and cooked to remove extra moisture content and then ground up. As a rule of thumb, we’d recommend avoiding dog foods that contain a generic form of meat meal that does not specify the animal source (for example ‘Meat Meal’ or ‘Animal Meal’) or uses the word By-Product. The best meal meals in dry food are ones where the meat source is specifically named – for example Chicken Meal, Beef Meal, Turkey Meal, etc. One of the benefits of feeding dry food is that most dry foods are formulated specifically for dogs and usually have all the vitamins and minerals that dogs need.
Wet food – Similar to dry food, canned wet food has been around for a number of decades and is nutritionally similar to kibble. The key difference between dry food and wet food is the moisture content – wet pet foods can contain up to 80% water whereas dry foods typically contain up to 10%. The key benefit of wet food is that the increased moisture content can increase the palatability of the food which is great if you have a picky eater on your hands. Unlike dry food, wet food requires different storage and handling and will need to be kept in the fridge and fed within days of opening.
Raw food – A raw food diet for dogs (commonly referred to as the BARF diet) has gained a lot of popularity over the last decade. A raw food diet typically consists of fresh muscle & organ meat, bones (ground or whole), raw eggs, vegetables, fruit and some dairy. Because the food is fresh and unprocessed, supporters of the diet claim to notice many health benefits for dogs over time. Unlike commercial dog foods, you also know exactly what is in your dog’s food and can tailor the ingredients to your dog’s specific needs – which can be particularly handy for dogs with special needs or allergies. Raw food diets however can be more time consuming and expensive to prepare and there is always a risk of spreading harmful bacteria as raw meat can contain parasite and bad bacteria. The other thing to be watchful of when feeding a homemade raw diet is ensuring that your dog is getting all the vitamins and minerals they need – specifically calcium and phosphorous.
Lightly cooked food – In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in popularity in lightly cooked diets for dogs. This type of diet involves gently cooking fresh meat, vegetables and fruit at low temperatures. Similar to raw, this diet gives you greater control over what goes into your dog’s bowl. Being lightly cooked, it also greatly reduces the risk of spreading bad bacteria while preserving the nutritional integrity of the ingredients. A lightly cooked diet can be time consuming (involves cooking, packing & storing appropriately) and like all home cooked diets, in order to ensure your dog’s food has all the necessary vitamins and minerals, you may need to do some additional research and add supplements as necessary.
While there are many different feeding options out there, keep in mind that you also don’t just need to go with just one option. A great way to provide your dog with a balanced and varied diet is by mixing two options together to give them the best of both worlds – for example feeding a half dry / half raw or half lightly cooked food. While it can be daunting to figure out what food is best for your dog there is really no right or wrong answer – by balancing out your dog’s needs against the pros and cons of each option, we’re sure you’ll make the right decision to keep your dog happy & healthy!