The Importance of Dog Nutrition
What is a healthy dog diet? With the wide variety of options on the market, this question can be difficult to answer. Nutrition is a critical component in dog wellness and behavior, and what you choose to feed your dog is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Ideally, you will reach the right diet decision for your dog through a combination of research and consultation with your veterinarian.
There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to selecting a healthy dog diet: home-prepared vs. commercially available. There are subsets within each category. Within the home-prepared diet category there are home-cooked and raw feeding options, and within the commercially available diets category there are a wide variety of kibbles and canned foods (of all quality levels) and some pre-made frozen raw diets.
Within the realm of home-prepared diets are the options of home cooking and raw feeding. Raw feeding can further be divided into two additional subheadings: prey model raw (the "dogs are carnivores" camp) and BARF/Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (the "dogs are omnivores" camp).
Providing optimal nutrition through home prepared diets will take more time, commitment, and research than feeding commercially available diets. Expect to spend a few hours a week to a few hours a month on preparing your pets' diet.
Both choices can also be more expensive than many commercially available diets, but advocates of both home prepared diet camps will argue that what is spent on quality nutrition results in long-term savings through the reduction of expensive medical bills. If you are looking to save money on preparing your pet's home made diet, it is worth checking to see if there are any co-ops in your area. Co-ops are cooperative buying groups where a number of individuals interested in similar products pool their resources to buy in bulk and thus pass on the savings to co-op members.
Many veterinarians will try to dissuade dog owners from feeding home-prepared diets and will try to encourage the feeding of commercial foods for dogs; citing risks to both human and dog health. Keeping a sanitary kitchen and following the same protocols you would when handling/preparing meals for your family will reduce these risks. Home-prepared diets can be a great alternative to commercial diets, but research is needed before you can prepare these diets correctly and preparing them incorrectly can be dangerous for pets. A high quality commercial food is preferable to a poorly constructed home prepared diet.
Commercial Dog Diets
Perhaps home-prepared diets are not your style, or you would like to offer kibble or canned pet foods in addition to meals prepared at home. Dog nutrition is big business, and companies have recognized our love for dogs and responded by offering a cornucopia of options and widely divergent quality from one brand to the next.
The most important thing to remember when shopping for healthy dog diets is that dogs are meant to eat meat. If you are in doubt, just look at your dog's teeth! Animals that are meant to eat primarily herbivorous diets do not have pronounced canines but flat teeth well suited for grinding. Any diet for your dog or cat should have high meat content. Ideally, meats or meat meals should constitute the first three or four ingredients on the label.
Dogfoodanalysis.com is a great website offering one to six star ratings on hundreds of dog foods. For additional questions on what foods might be best for your dog, check out the Food & Nutrition forums on Dogster. Also worth checking out is the Whole Dog Journal's annual dry and wet dog food reviews, available with an annual subscription.
It may take a little research and experimentation to find the right food for your dog, but you will be repaid for these efforts by many happy, healthy years with your favorite animal(s).