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First time dog owners are often overwhelmed by the variety of dog food available at a pet store. There are so many types to choose from: dry, canned, semi-moist with labels like natural, holistic, super-premium and organic. Choosing the right dog food for your pet can be daunting, at best, if you do not know what to look out for.

Don't assume that the expensive price tag on a bag of dog food automatically means that it will be the best for your dog. Look at the information provided on the packaging. It should include the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement, which indicates the food provides complete and balanced nutrition. It should also indicate the life stage for which the food is recommended. Life stages include growth (for puppies), adult maintenance, gestation/lactation (pregnant dogs), senior (appropriate for older dogs), and "all life stages."

The Right Balance

Like all living creatures, dogs require a right balance of nutrients like proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. However, dogs are unable to digest some foods well. For example, grain is not the best source of protein for dogs and does not provide all the amino acids they need.

Purchase dog food which contains vitamin and mineral supplements in balanced proportions. If a dog consumes too much of one mineral, it may interfere with absorption of another. Similarly, too little of a mineral may interfere with vitamin use or other mineral use.

Meat is a good source of protein for dogs, and it's a good idea to choose foods that contain meat or fish as the main ingredient, which is listed first on the ingredient list. However, in some dog foods other ingredients, such as cereals and vegetable derivatives may add up to more than the meat content, even if meat or fish is stated first on the ingredient list. It is definitely worth checking the actual proportions with manufacturers.

Fit For Consumption

It is also good to read packages carefully to see if the food contains meat by-products, which are the parts of an animal not fit for human consumption (heads, necks, stomach contents, organs). There has been much debate on whether these foods are "good-enough" for our furry friends. Some people would argue that wild dogs usually eat these parts of an animal and it is natural for their dogs to do so as well. Others will not even consider serving their dogs food they would not eat themselves and regard by-products as "contaminated".

If you belong to this school of thought, do not worry, as there are many dog food companies that produce food made out of meat fit for human consumption. There are also other dog food companies that produce natural dog food that is made with organically raised meat and contains no chemical additives. Once again, do read the labels on the package as not every "natural" dog food is produced the same way. Since no chemical additives are used, these foods usually have a shorter shelf life.

Some dog foods are even touted as being hypoallergenic, which means they do not cause allergic reactions. These foods usually use ingredients like lamb, turkey, venison, fish and include rice or barley as the major carbohydrate source. If your dog is allergic to common dog food ingredients, you should consider trying these foods for your dog.

Keep A Watch Out

When you find the appropriate food for your dog or puppy, make sure to monitor them closely for 6-8 weeks. Watch for any allergic reactions, loose stools, vomiting or change in behaviour. If this happens, the food may not be appropriate for your dog and you should try another brand of dog food.

Whenever you are introducing new food to your dog, you should never change its food abruptly. First of all, your dog may not even want to eat the new food if it seems too unfamiliar to them. Secondly, changing your dogs diet abruptly can cause vomiting or diarrhoea. The process should take at least four days.

You should first try mixing a portion that consists of 1/4 of new food and 3/4 of old food. Do this for about 2 days and monitor your dog closely. After two days or so, try mixing a portion with 1/2 new food and 1/2 old food. Try this for another two days. Next you can try serving your dog a portion with 3/4 new food and 1/4 old food. This should be done for two days, after which you can phase out the old food completely.

*This article was updated on 15 Aug 2020. It first appeared in on 29 Aug 2015