Maybe we should start with another question… How to choose the right diet?
Dry food with or without cereals, cheap or holistic food, raw meat diet with or without supplement, household ration (preparing meals for your dog) … Difficult to choose when you are not an expert you might say! Well, even the experts cannot find a consensus: veterinarians, agronomists, food advisers in specialized shops, everyone has a different opinion and everyone has good arguments … So, let’s dissect these questions, including grain free puppy dog food.
Feeding Your Dog = The Basis of Good Health
One thing the world is beginning to be aware of and on which all dog professionals are unanimous is that good nutrition is the key to good health (as in humans). Yes, it’s worth taking a good look at it, but how do you know what a good diet is? The goal here is not a kibble debate versus a raw meat diet. We will focus only on kibble and only on dogs!
Is the dog carnivorous or omnivorous?
The dog, Canis lupus familiaris, is part of the mammal family, and of the order Carnivore. The shape of its jaw, the prominent canines, the absence of flat molars, the length of its intestine (very short: about 2 meters), the musculature of the cheeks, neck and mouth are characteristic of carnivores. Saliva, free of amylase (essential for the digestion of starches) or cellulase (which allows the digestion of plant cellulose), is not that of herbivores, or even omnivores.
However, the pancreas can still make amylase, allowing it to digest starches more or less well, and fruits and vegetables once ground can be digested and assimilated. But can we say that the dog is a carnivore with an omnivorous tendency, or an opportunistic carnivore? This is debatable … Again? You tell me! Yes again!
One thing is certain! A dog is not a hen and carbohydrates or starches should not be the main ingredients of his diet even if he is able to digest them (partly and by making his pancreas work hard)… And yet…. Most croquettes are stuffed with it!
Dog food with or without cereals?
You will understand that since the dog is a carnivore (or opportunistic carnivore 😉), its diet should consist mainly of meat or meat products (meat, bones, organ meats) and as little carbohydrate as possible.
The fashion is for “grain-free” or “grain-free” feeds, but don’t be fooled by the label: cereals are necessarily replaced by legumes, sweet potatoes or potatoes … which, themselves, contain starch, and a higher or lower glycemic index!
What you should watch to choose your dog’s feed
The quality of these ingredients in terms of digestibility, nutritional intake and glycemic intake is therefore also to be taken into account. Isn’t oat better than potatoes? We like the sweet potato for its low glycemic index and its satiating side. We avoid (like the plague) corn, wheat, soy and potato.
The quantity of the ingredients is also important. Choose croquettes with as much meat as possible, even if there are cereals rather than a grain-free recipe, but with a majority of potatoes and legumes and very little meat. Standards do not require this, but most brands list the ingredients in order of quantity. If your feed starts with corn flour or wheat gluten, run away!
Pay attention to the separation of ingredients which allows to place the meat in first position! An example of what you might read on a dog food product label: 25% chicken, 15% corn flour, 14% corn gluten, 9% wheat gluten, 8% rice… etc.
We have the chicken as the first ingredient, we say to ourselves “Good! … the meat is in greater quantity so it’s a good kibble! “Nay! Count the cereals: 29% corn products (so ultimately the first ingredient) and the rest… More cereals! Here I put the percentages, but in some countries they are not indicated.
Commercial feed: Meat, meat meal and by-products?
Put the priority on meat (muscles) rather than by-products (what remains after the meat is extracted: bones, organ meats, tendons).
Regarding the meat or meat meal debate, the line is less clear-cut: fresh meat contains 70 to 80% water so once cooked it loses 2/3 of its weight and can then be the first ingredient the second or third after cooking unlike meat meal. However, it is more cooked and processed and may therefore have lost nutrients.
You will find all the definitions concerning, meats, flours, poultry, by-products on the AAFCO website.
What does a dog need to be healthy?
Ideally, you want the dog ‘s nutrition to include water, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals … But, no carbohydrates! We are therefore looking for a good percentage of protein and fat which are the main source of energy for our pooches. But beware! Another debate persists… again! Too much protein (cooked) would be harmful to health and especially to the kidneys.
So then … What percentages to aim for? A good base would be around 35-40% carbohydrates, 35-40% protein, 22-25% fat and our 8% minerals.
The right price for food
It is obvious that the price of a kibble with a large quantity of quality meat cannot be the same as that which essentially contains corn or meat by-products.
There are even feeds with organic ingredients, fish from respectful fisheries or “holistic” ranges. Be careful however on the marketing side: brands play a lot on anthropomorphism to make us want to serve this beautiful recipe that looks so much like a great chef’s dish (sun-dried tomatoes, shiitake mushroom, wild rice). This does not mean that the recipe is balanced!
Dry dog food, allergies and health problems in dogs
If your dog has health problems or food intolerances, refer to a nutritionist veterinarian or an agronomist who will help you find the most suitable food for your pet’s specific needs. Certain breeds are also more sensitive on the digestive side. Ask your breeder or veterinarian.
So what about grain free puppy dog food?
Puppies need more nutritious food or at least more calories than adults. You will find “special puppy” feeds which essentially contain a little more protein and fat than their adult equivalent but also a DHA supplement, an amino acid essential for the development of different organs including the brain, the heart, the retina or the bones. For a food to be labeled as “special puppy” or “all stages of life” it must contain it.
Be careful foods that are too rich in fat especially if you own a breed which is prone to panosteitis (pain and limping due to a growth spurt that is too fast).
It is best not to change your newly arrived puppy’s food. The change of environment is a big upheaval for him not to add more … After a couple of weeks, start to introduce the new feed gradually.
Transition to grain free puppy dog food
Do you decide to change brands or recipes to give your dog a better diet? Make sure to make a gradual transition from old food to the new one. Start by splitting in half and gradually increase the new food over a week or so. Some dogs have more difficulty than others … go at your dog’s pace.
Unraveling Your Dog’s Nutrition Puzzle
To help you dissect the ingredients and the protein, fat and carbohydrate ratios of many brands, I recommend the Dog food advisor site. The analysis and the assigned score are only based on the ingredients used and the guaranteed analyzes (and not on experiences) however it provides a good base evaluation of the food.
The best way to know if your dog’s food is of good quality and well suited to him is to observe the results: skin, coat, quantity and quality of stool (we talk a lot about droppings when we take a close look at the animal feed), flatulence, vomiting, allergies or energy level.
Watch your dog, find out from competent people and don’t forget to be critical when it comes to the answers you get!