Put Your Dog Food to the Test
Do you have a quibble with your dog’s kibble?
How do you know if your dog chow choice meets your pup’s daily nutritional needs? Your furry friend can’t exactly take a taste test or raise a paw and tell you if he’s not getting his recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.
As a dog owner, you can try to assess your dog’s health by behavior, activity level, outward appearance and the consistency of your pet’s stool. You can also read pet food labels and opt for foods that meet or exceed pet food industry standards. But canine nutritional experts say there is a lot more you can learn. Take the quiz to find out.
1. What is the optimal amount of protein your dog’s food should contain?
A. 18 percent
B. 24-30 percent
C. 50 percent or higher
Protein is an important dog food ingredient because it helps your pup maintain lean body mass, bone integrity and enzymatic system. Canine nutritional standards -- established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the organization that sets pet food industry standards -- require that dog foods contain a minimum of 18 percent protein for adults and 22 percent for puppies. But a growing number of pet foods exceed those minimum standards today, arguing that contents of 20, 30, 40 or even 50 percent protein make the food more evolutionarily sound, since in the wild, canines would eat more meat. Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, a professor of clinical nutrition at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, doesn’t completely buy that argument. Many of the dog breeds people keep domestically are a far cry from their wild ancestors. The AAFCO minimum is “adequate,” says Dr. Wakshlag, but he personally advises feeding dogs food that contains “somewhere between 24 and 30 percent protein.”
2. Are all added fats and oils created equal?
A. Yes, fat is fat
B. Mineral and vegetable oils are better than animal fats
C. Fish oil can help add needed omega 3 fatty acids
Added oils and fats can help keep your dog’s coat shiny and reduce flakiness and dryness to the skin underneath. Most foods add some animal fats for taste, and vegetable fats from grains. The addition of fish oil can help balance out the fatty acids in your dog’s diet, says Dr. Wakshlag. The reason is that the industrial revolution has created a very grain-based world, not only for humans, but for our pets as well. Grains added to most commercial pet food provide our dogs with their necessary omega 6 fatty acids, but they need additional omega 3s to better achieve a more natural balance to their diet, according to Dr. Wakshlag. Omega 3s also have potential health benefits aside from coat and skin health in that they may be able to help dampen chronic immune problems in your dog.
3. Should you supplement your dog’s food with table scraps?
A. Yes, add scraps to your kibble at every meal
B. A few pizza crusts or bits of protein per day can’t hurt
C. No, table scraps can lead to obesity and throw off the nutritional balance of prepared dog foods
Most foods that meet AAFCO nutritional standards don’t need to be supplemented, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University. “We can unbalance a diet by adding to it,” Dr. Beaver says. “The big problem we run into is obesity.” A good test to determine whether or not your dog is overweight is to see if you can feel its ribs through the coat without an effort. If you can’t, your dog may be overweight. However, if you can see the ribs, your pet might be too thin.
4. Should I look for a source of glucosamine in my dog’s food?
A. Yes, glucosamine may help keep joints healthy
B. No, this is just another myth
Glucosamine can be found in several dog food ingredients, such as poultry and meat products. This substance helps protect and maintain cartilage, which safeguards your dog’s joints and bones. Throughout your pup’s lifetime, your dog will naturally wear down some of this cartilage. Glucosamine can help prevent cartilage degeneration, Dr. Wakshlag says.
5. Are antioxidants, like vitamin E and beta-carotene, important to boost immune system health?
Antioxidants are naturally occurring nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. They’ve proven to have benefits for dogs in terms of slowing the aging process, improving immune responses and helping vaccines work. Antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and compounds such as beta-carotene. Dog food ingredients such as tomatoes, spinach, peas and carrots all contain antioxidants.
Ultimately, you may have to rely on your dog to communicate to you whether it is getting the nutrients it needs. The best way to determine if your dog food is appropriate is to look at your dog, says Lisa Peterson, communications director for the American Kennel Club. “A shiny, healthy coat, clear eyes, pink gums and ideal weight are all signs that speak louder than words.”