We’ve all seen the huge variety of dog foods that are available in pet stores, and the amount of choice can make choosing a pet food into a tricky decision. Food brands range from very cheap products, through to really expensive ones. It can be hard to know what to choose, especially if this is your first time owning a dog.
Here, we’ll aim to give you some information on pet foods to try. And help you work out how to choose a food that suits your pet and your wallet.
Table of contents
How do you know what kind of food you need to buy for your dog?
The kind of food you will need is the first thing you need to consider. It will allow you to narrow down the choice of food available. Here are some things that you will need to think about when you are selecting a food to suit your budget:
Different breeds have different levels of energy and different requirements; A chihuahua isn’t going to need the same nutrition as a German Shepherd for example. Hopefully you will have thoroughly researched what breed you have chosen before you take on a puppy or older dog. So you may already have a good idea of the nutrition you are looking for. Some brands produce breed-specific diets too, but these tend to be more towards the more expensive end of the scale.
How much exercise your dog does will impact the food that you choose. A working dog that spends all day outside herding sheep will need a ‘working dog’ food. Whereas a family pet such as a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel will likely need a higher fibre, lower calorie diet. The working dog food will contain many more calories and different levels of nutrients such as protein in comparison to a lower calorie pet food diet. This may mean that the working dog food is more expensive than the higher fibre or ‘maintenance’ diets that are designed for dogs leading a more sedentary life.
The age of your dog will have a huge impact on how you feed them. A puppy will need a specific puppy diet to support growth and development, giving them the best start in life. Older dogs need fewer calories than younger ones, generally speaking. They are often living life at a slower pace. They may be more prone to weight gain, compared to very young and active pets. Young animals may have less body fat, more energy, increased exercise tolerance and are likely to be much more active, burning off many more calories. Therefore, those golden oldies may need a specific senior diet. Whereas those energetic youngsters will need a diet that gives them the nutrition they need for growth, development and an active life.
This is essential. The health status of our dogs is an essential consideration. Older pets are more likely to have a chronic health condition such as arthritis. Therefore they will require good quality but low-calorie food that allows them to gain all the nutrition they need, but prevents too much weight gain and therefore prevents too much strain on the limbs. Younger pets are more likely to be healthy. But if they have an injury or are recovering from an operation, they will require good quality bioavailable protein so that their body can repair and heal. Pets on cage rest will need low calorie food, and those that are super fit and healthy will need to eat enough calories to maintain a healthy weight.
So how do you know if your food is good quality, for the money that you are paying?
Most commercially available dog foods are subjected to rigorous testing. There are strict labelling requirements for pet foods in the UK. If a dog food says that it contains chicken, then it must contain a minimum of 4% chicken. However, a ‘chicken flavoured’ food does not need to contain any chicken at all.
Higher quality foods do tend to be more expensive than lower quality food. This is because the quality of the ingredients is higher. For example, they will tend to use a higher percentage of meat, and often simpler and (arguably) quality other ingredients. The higher up the ingredients-list an item is located, the higher the content. So, if the first things on your ingredients list are chicken and rice, then the food will have a higher quantity of actual chicken and rice, in comparison to a lower quality food that might list meat and “animal derivatives” (edible parts of the carcass, but ones that humans would prefer not to eat) as the first things on the ingredients list.
It’s also important to know whether you are paying for a complementary or complete food. A complete diet is one that meets specific nutritional manufacturing requirements, meaning that it should give the pet everything they need in terms of nutrients. A complementary food is one that is not labelled as complete. It is designed to be fed alongside other food products in order to achieve a nutritionally complete diet. This is regardless of the cost of the product. A good quality complete food, which may be a more expensive brand, may ultimately be cheaper than spending money on a complementary food that you need to add to in order to achieve the right balance in the diet.
Rule out inappropriate diets first
Once you have considered your dog’s age, breed, weight, health status, and exercise status, this will help you rule out some of the foods that are not suitable for your pet, and help you establish which ones are suitable. Next, you can check out whether the food is complete, and can look at the ingredients and quality to help you narrow down your selection. Finally, consider your budget. We’re not all made of money. Whilst you might be super keen to spend lots of money on the very best food, sometimes this just isn’t realistic. So it’s important to buy the best food that works for your budget. Doing this will help you narrow down your selection even further.
Ultimately, it’s important to make sure you are buying the correct food for your individual pet – that might be a lower priced diet, or it might be a higher priced one. Most ordinary pet dogs need a good quality complete food that falls somewhere in the middle of the road price bracket.
If you aren’t sure about what to feed your pet, you can pop along to your veterinary clinic and have a chat with one of their Registered Veterinary Nurses – they will be able to chat to you about the diets that are available to you and will be able to guide you in the right direction.