aggression, disobedience, and destructiveness. This is because behavior is regulated by neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain, and nutrition impacts the availability of these chemicals. To optimize your pet's nutritional intake, follow these tips:
Tip #1 - Remember that Dogs are Not Humans
Dogs have different nutritional needs than people. Feeding your pet a diet of only “people food” may lead to nutrient deficiencies and related health problems, as well as obesity and finicky eating behavior.
Tip #2 - Read Labels
Although pet food labels may look intimidating, you can simplify label reading by zeroing in on a few specific things. First, ensure that the pet food is labeled “complete and balanced,” indicating the food’s adherence to requirements set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) — a non-profit organization that sets standards for both animal feeds and pet foods in the United States. While this does not guarantee optimal nutrition, it is a basic point in pet food consideration, since it recognizes ingredient content that will sustain life. Also, when seeking food for a puppy, look for a pet food that is formulated “for puppies.” This will help ensure that the food contains ingredients and nutrients that are of special concern for puppies.
Tip #3 – Consider Pet Food Forms
Commercial pet foods are available in three basic forms: moist, semi-moist, and dry. Moist foods contain from 60% to over 87% moisture, and are preserved with heat sterilization and vacuum preservation in an anaerobic environment. Nutrient stability is considered excellent for up to 18 months, however, a single freeze-thaw cycle seriously damages the food. Many moist foods that are packaged in cans or trays are considered “complete and balanced,” yet those packaged in tubes (called “chubs”) tend to be less so. Semi-moist foods have a moderate water content of 25% to 35%, and are exposed to a heat-based extrusion process, after which humectants and organic acids are added to control water activity and inhibit mold growth. The finished product is packaged in pouches or wrappers, which may offer feeding convenience; however, semi-moist foods also usually contain more meat meals, sugars, and artificial flavors than moist or dry foods, and can be relatively costly. Dry foods contain between 3% and 11% water, and are usually formed through a heat-based extrusion process. Some dogs prefer moist or semi-moist foods over dry, yet the energy density and nutritional value of dry foods makes them a more cost-efficient option, with dry foods costing about one-third as much as moist or semi-moist foods on a cost-per-calorie basis.
This means a diet containing substantial levels of meat-based protein and natural fats and oils, as well as some healthy carbohydrates from high-quality grains, vegetables, and/or fruits. Raw foods can indeed be a healthy part of this diet, yet care needs to be taken to ensure that the foods are safe, since raw meat has been known to contain bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Clostridium perfringens. This is true even when freezing, freeze-drying, or applying grape seed extract to the meat, since these practices do not adequately kill microorganisms. Bacterial pathogens pose health risks to animals, with symptoms including severe vomiting, diarrhea, pain, weakness, and/or cutaneous ulcerations. People too, may be impacted by these pathogens, which can be transferred via direct contact with food/utensils, or by contact with the contaminated environment shared between people and pets (including contact with pet feces). Thus, extreme care needs to be taken with raw food diets in order to protect both animals and people.
Tip #5 - Be Cautious
Note that ingredients listed on labels are in descending order by their predominance in weight according to the product’s formula. This means that ingredients that are high in moisture have a higher weight than dry ingredients, and therefore, appear at the top of the ingredient list. This can be deceiving because moisture-rich meat may appear at the top of the list, along with “water for processing.” This suggests that the primary ingredient in the food is meat, when it may actually be dry grain (e.g., soy, corn, oats, etc.), which is mixed with the water during processing. In such situations, you may need to consider the overall reputation of the manufacturer in order to best assess the food’s quality.
Certain labeling terms also give reason for concern. Be cautious of the term “by-products,” especially when it is at the top of the ingredient list. While some by-products (e.g., liver, kidney, lungs) have nutritive value, others (e.g., udder, bone, and connective tissue) do not. Also, avoid products with high-listed or multiple forms of sugar (e.g., molasses, sucrose, caramel, corn syrup), high levels of sodium, or an abundance of artificial flavors and colors. Beware too of the additive, ethoxyquine, which is a synthetic preservative linked to skin allergies, reproductive problems, and organ failure in dogs. Note that dry foods preserved with natural antioxidants (e.g., Vitamins C and E, rosemary, citric acid) may have a somewhat shorter shelf life than those containing synthetic preservatives, but they also have fewer toxic and allergenic effects.
Tip #6 – Ask the Experts
A veterinarian can assess if your dog or puppy needs a special food or medication to treat any current health issues. Veterinarians are also knowledgeable about breed-specific concerns that may influence what your dog or puppy should eat. This includes issues involving large- or giant-breed puppies and their graduated need for certain nutrients to enhance orthopedic health. Additionally, veterinarians can determine if your pet needs a nutritional supplement, as some pet foods or pet food forms may contain nutritional gaps due to its inherent qualities or mode of processing. You may also find the following online resources to be helpful in evaluating dog foods and supplements:
Bosch, G., Beerda, B., Hendriks, W. H., van der Poel, A. F. B., & Verstegen, M. W. A. (2007). Impact of nutrition on canine behavior: Current status and possible mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 20(2), 180-194. doi: 10.1017/S095442240781331X
Crane, S. W., Moser, E. A., Cowell, C. S., Millican, J., Stout, N. P., Roman, P., & Crane, S. E. (2010). Commercial pet foods. In M. S. Hand, C. D. Thatcher, R. L., Remillard, P. Roudebush, & B. Novotney (Eds.) Small animal clinical nutrition (5th ed.) (pp. 157-190). Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute.
Debraekeleer, J., Gross, K. L., & Zicker, S. C. (2010). Feeding growing puppies: Postweaning to adulthood. In M. S. Hand, C. D. Thatcher, R. L., Remillard, P. Roudebush, & B. Novotney (Eds.) Small animal clinical nutrition (5th ed.) (pp. 311-319). Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute.
Lee, E. (2009). How to read a dog food label. WebMD Pet Health. Retrieved from http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/how-to-read-a-dog-food-label
Miller, E. P., Ahle, N. W., & DeBey, M. C. (2010). Food safety. In M. S. Hand, C. D. Thatcher, R. L., Remillard, P. Roudebush, & B. Novotney (Eds.) Small animal clinical nutrition (5th ed.) (pp. 225-249). Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute.
Remillard, R. L. (2008). Homemade diets: Attributes, pitfalls, and a call for action. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, 23(3), 137-142. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1053/j.tcam.2008.04.006
Roudebush, P., Dzanis, D. A., Debraekeleer, J., & Watson, H. (2010). Pet food labels. In M. S. Hand, C. D. Thatcher, R. L., Remillard, P. Roudebush, & B. Novotney (Eds.) Small animal clinical nutrition (5th ed.) (pp. 191-206). Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute.
Sagman, M. (2013). What would the ideal dog food look like? Dog Food Advisor. Retrieved from http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/ideal-dog-food/