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Is A Premium Dog Food Really That Much Better For Your Dog?
==========The Scoop on Premium Dog Food========
If you are interested in premium dog food, I probably don’t need to tell you about the importance of diet to keep your dog active and healthy. You already know you want something better than “average” to your furry friend.
But how much do you really know about what’s in a premium food and what your particular pet’s needs are? I’m no vet, but I do know a thing or two about health and nutrition. (As a family dentist practicing for twenty years, I saw first hand the effects of poor diet on human health – and especially on human teeth!!).
Like you, your dog must deal with the effects of stress, age, exertion, a polluted environment, and foods grown in nutrient-poor soils. Unlike you, he must obtain practically all his nourishment from a single food. Sure, you can give him a few treats or the occasional table scrap (not too many I hope!), but otherwise he eats out of the same bag or can day in and day out. You want him to get complete nutrition from that one food.
Even the experts seem to disagree on exactly what complete nutrition is. Perhaps this explains why there are so many premium dog food formulas out there. However, there is one thing they agree on: premium dog food is better for your pet than economy and grocery brands. Even if you want to pay more, you usually get what you pay for.
Experts also agree that because premium foods are more nutritionally dense and easier to digest, your dog does not need to eat as much. One study even concluded that if you fed your dog the recommended amounts on each package, you would end up saving money on the premium formulas. This is because your dog has to eat much less of it. (You also save on pooper scoopers!)
Another way to know if your dog is getting a proper diet is simply to observe him. Are his eyes bright, his fur silky and shiny, and his skin free from dryness and itchiness? Is he a healthy weight? What about his energy level? This can vary from animal to animal, but as you get to know yours, you’ll know when your dog isn’t feeling up to it.
Any ongoing health problems should of course be investigated by your vet, as should any special dietary requirements. But in general, you want to know if your friend is doing well on the diet you feed him. If you see signs that he is not, try a different formula or brand of premium dog food.
Introduce new foods gradually, especially if you have a picky eater. And while we’re on the subject, it’s always nice if your dog enjoys eating his food. This has much less to do with taste than with smell. Dogs have fewer taste buds than we do, but about 40 times as many scent receptors. So make sure he eats with gusto and doesn’t just pick at his food.
Here are some basic guidelines you can follow:
Every dog needs the right amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. Your dog needs all of these in correct proportions to stay healthy. Needs vary with life stage, breed and activity level. Dog food companies make premium dog food for all life stages, from puppy to senior. An average adult dog needs a daily intake of about five ounces for every ten pounds of weight, with essential nutrients in the following proportions:
Protein –23% of the total intake
Fats –5% of the total intake
Carbohydrates –65% of the total intake
Additional vitamins and minerals your dog needs are: Vitamin A, D, E, B-complex, Niacin, Biotin, Folic Acid, Choline and Pantothenic Acid; Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium Chloride, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Manganese, Zinc, Iodine and Selenium.
It is generally agreed that dogs do better on a protein source that is primarily meat rather than soybeans and grains. Check the label. All US food labels must list ingredients in order of their quantity. If meat by-products are listed, they should come after the actual meat, not before it. Meat by-products are an inferior source of protein, and are essentially what is left after the good quality meat has been removed. “Crude protein” can be a similarly poor source, as it can include parts of the animal that cannot even be digested or absorbed by the average dog (hair, beak, etc.).
Omega fatty acids are a hot topic in human nutrition these days, and have been shown to be just as important in the dog’s diet. Both must be present and in the right ratio. Most premium dog food companies have researched this and adjusted the ratio, but as always, ask your vet if you are unsure.
===========Wet vs. dry=============
You can buy premium dog food in pretty much any form, but which one is best? Again, most experts seem to agree. Dry food is less likely to allow plaque to build up on the teeth, less likely to harbor bacteria if left out too long, and results in firmer, more compact stools. Semi-moist foods are convenient, but for some reason (I’m not sure what) they don’t offer the same nutritional benefits as premium kibble or canned foods.
That said, I’ve also heard arguments suggesting that an all-dry diet can be a strain on a dog’s kidneys. So to be on the safe side, check with your vet.
Puppies need more calories and essential nutrients than adult dogs. They need up to twice as many calories per ounce of body weight and should get 25% to 30% of their energy from protein depending on the breed.
Most premium dog food brands account for this in their puppy formulas, but it doesn’t hurt to check the label. By six to eight weeks of age, a puppy should be completely weaned and eating its dry food consistently. After that, different breeds reach their mature weight at different rates, ranging from 9 months to 24 months of age. So it is difficult to give an age or weight at which you should take your pet off puppy food. Again, your vet can help here.
Also, remember not to try to “rush” the growth process by overfeeding. If she grows too fast, a dog can develop bone growth disorders. A puppy should get three to four meals a day because it grows fast but still has a small stomach, but don’t overdo it with portion sizes.
Adult dogs must eat according to their size and energy needs and should be fed two meals a day. This is often referred to by premium dog food companies as a “maintenance diet”.
Unlike cats, dogs are not exclusively carnivores. In fact, a dog is more like an omnivore and will eat almost anything, whether it’s good for him or not! A certain amount of vegetable matter is part of a dog’s natural diet. Dogs love vegetables like broccoli, carrots, zucchini, peas and beans and fruits like bananas, apples and melon. These make great low calorie treats too!
One thing you should never feed your dog is chocolate – it contains a chemical called theobromine, which is toxic to dogs.
Senior dogs need a premium dog food that helps stave off and manage the effects of aging. Since different breeds vary so much, it is difficult to give an age at which you should switch to a senior diet. The ASPCA recommends using weight as a guideline and offers the following:
Small breeds or dogs weighing less than 20 pounds: 7 years
Medium breeds or dogs weighing 21 to 50 pounds: 7 years
Large breeds or dogs weighing 51 to 90 pounds: 6 years
Large breeds or dogs weighing 91 pounds or more: 5 years
The ASPCA recommends that you start dealing with the symptoms of aging before they are evident. Like us, dogs will begin to accumulate more body fat as they age, even though they consume fewer calories. (At least we’re not alone!). Muscle mass will tend to decrease, but that doesn’t mean you have to lower your senior dog’s protein intake. If anything, protein is more important than ever to help maintain muscle mass, so avoid senior dog food formulas with reduced protein.
One thing you want to feed him less of is calories. Obesity is a real problem in adult dogs, and many owners are not even aware that their dog is overweight. Aside from portion size and calorie content, one way to avoid an overweight dog is to resist feeding him table scraps. Most human food is not good for your dog.
============How much to feed=============
How is your dog’s weight? You should be able to feel your dog’s spine and ribs with light finger pressure, but not actually see them. If you have to “dig” to find them, your dog is overweight, and if you can actually see her ribs, she is underweight.
If you’re not sure how much to feed, you’ll love the interactive dog food calculator on the PetsMart website! It is the result of significant research that has been published in scientific journals and accepted by industry experts. You can determine the right amount of food to feed your dog and find out how long that 40-lb bag will last!
If you are all set to feed a nutritionally complete premium dog food, do you still need supplements? This is another hotly debated topic. As a rule, it seems that most dogs do fine without supplements. For certain dogs and certain conditions, supplements can make a difference. For example, a dog that is not thriving and there is no other medical explanation for it can be improved with nutritional supplements. Or dogs with certain skin conditions have been known to improve on supplements. Since there is a danger of doing more harm than good, you definitely should discuss supplements with your vet.
If you decide to use one, choose one that is made from natural sources and is designed as a multivitamin formulated specifically for dogs. That way, she gets everything in the right quantities and proportions. Add it to the diet twice a week so you don’t overwhelm or suppress your dog’s own internal regulatory mechanisms.
There are many reasons why a dog may be put on a special diet. Some dogs are very sensitive to certain ingredients in commercial dog food. Even if you are feeding her the best of premium dog food, if your dog is not thriving, it is possible that her diet is a problem for her. Owners have turned to alternative diets—holistic, raw food, even kosher—to optimize their pets’ health. Some choose these diets simply because they think they are better, not because their dog has problems.
We will discuss special diets in a future article. For now, I hope you have gained some useful insights about the benefits of premium dog food over economy brands.
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