The Right Food for Your Dog

By Emily Hoppmann, DVM

There are over 5,000 types of dog food on the market right now and they all have their own sales pitch.  So how do you get to the facts so that you know you are buying the best dog food for your pet?

Most owners read food labels and the first thing they look at is the ingredients list.  People have heard tons of wrong information from all types of sources, including word of mouth from friends or family, commercials, breeders, sales people, etc.  For example, the commercials that say if chicken by-product is at the top of the ingredients list it must be a bad food, that your dog needs nuts and berries in its food, or if it contains corn it is going to give your dog allergies.  None of these are true statements based on facts.

So where do we find the facts that make us more comfortable that we are feeding our pets the best possible food?  It is not by looking at the ingredients list on the back of the dog food bag.  As a veterinarian, I feel that all pet owners have a right to know what they are feeding their animals so I will just touch on how to tell the biggest difference between the quality of a food.

The pet food label contains a wealth of information, if one knows how to read it.  That is what I am going to try to help you do – be able to read and understand the labeling.  Do not be swayed by the many marketing gimmicks or eye-catching claims. If there is a question about the product, contact the manufacturer or ask an appropriate regulatory agency such as the FDA or AAFCO.  You are also always welcome to talk to me about finding the right diet fit for your pet.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal foods.  Their purpose and function is to try to achieve three main goals: Protect the buyer (or owner), keep our pets safe, and provide a system where foods can be compared and picked fairly.

These goals are achieved by developing and implementing uniform and equitable laws, regulations, standards, definitions and enforcement policies for regulating the manufacture, distribution and sale of animal foods.

According to AAFCO’s guidelines each bag of dog food sold must have a Nutritional Adequacy Statement, but that statement is often purposely well hidden. You can often find it on the side or the back of the bag in small print.  This little statement can help reveal all the facts that the eye-catching claims would rather you not uncover!

By law, all pet foods must have a pet food statement that the food is nutritionally balanced and fit to eat, but how the pet food statements are written makes all the difference in the world.

On most of the statements, the food will say it has been formulated.  This usually means the food is sent off to a lab for chemical analysis, which is not very expensive to have done.  This means that the nutrients listed are probably in the bag, but gives you no idea of the quality or the digestibility of those ingredients.  It gives us no indication if the ingredients you are paying top dollar for are even going to be available for digestion.  As a veterinarian, I do not recommend foods that have been formulated.

The second type of pet food statements say that the food has undergone animal feeding tests. This statement means that a group of dogs was studied while eating the food.  The food was fed to a colony of dogs and they had a physical exam, blood work and body weights at the beginning and throughout the study. These studies always last at least 6 months and cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars.  However, by seeing how dogs actually respond to a food and being able to analyze the ingredients going into the dog and what is coming out of the dog, we get the facts.

As a veterinarian, I always recommend foods that have undergone an animal feeding test.  To go to the trouble and expense that these companies go through, you know that they are invested in your pet’s health.  Do not be fooled by all the hype, trust the facts.