Different Types of Dog Food

A walk down the pet food aisle of the local pet supply or grocery store can put your head in a spin. There’s canned food, dry food and food that looks like soft, moist chunks of meat. There’s gourmet food, natural food and food that’s made with everything from basic ingredients, such as beef and chicken, to exotic meats, such as lamb, turkey, venison and catfish. It’s an amazing array, and of course you want to get what’s best for your food – loving friend.

If you stick to well-known brands that offer tested by feeding trials, it’s hard to go wrong. Whether you buy canned, semi-moist or dry dog food is a matter of preference – yours and your dog’s. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Canned Food:
Paws down, canned food is probably the favorite of most dogs. Although a human nose may wrinkle at the first whiff from an open can, a dog is generally delighted by the smell and taste of what’s inside. The palatability of canned food makes it a wise choice for small dogs that are sometimes finicky, for dogs that have trouble keeping weight on and for dogs that are aging and whose teeth are no longer in the best condition.

Canned food is expensive, however, when you consider that have trouble keeping weight on and for dogs that are aging and whose teeth are no longer in the best condition.

Canned food is expensive; however, when you consider that it contains as much as 70 percent water by weight. It also spoils quickly once it’s opened, so you can’t leave it out for him all day.

To help keep canned food appetizing, here’s a tip from Christine Wilford, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Seattle and a regular columnist for the American Kennel Club Gazette. “If you haven’t used a full can, always take the remaining food out of the can, always take the remaining food out of the can and wrap it tightly in plastic, pressing out all the air. This will keep it as fresh as possible and prevent oxidation, which is what makes in unpalatable,” she says. Refrigerated in this way, the food will last for two or three days.

If your dog likes it and you don’t mind having to refrigerate it or the way it smells, a high quality canned food is a good choice.

Semi-Moist Food:
Another canine favorite is semi-moist or soft-moist food. Like canned food, it tastes good, but it’s not as messy and doesn’t spoil as quickly. There’s no need for refrigeration after opening, and packets often come in single-serving sizes, making them handy for owners in a hurry.

Semi-moist foods have such a long shelf life because they are high in sugar and preservatives, and that’s their only potential drawback. “For healthy dogs, semi-moist foods are fine,” says Lisa Freeman, D.V.M., Ph.D., clinical nutritionist and assistant professor at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts. “But dogs with certain diseases, such as diabetes, might do better on canned or dry food.”

Dry Food:
If you want to provide your dog with good nutrition while making less of a dent in your wallet, dry food is the way to go. Dry food is crunchy, so it’s less likely to accumulate on teeth and contribute to dental tartar and plaque. And it is every bit as nourishing as canned food. “Canned dog food that looks like meat is no more nutritious than dry food that’s made with meat meal or other sources of animal protein,” says John Hamil, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Laguna Beach, California. And dry food can be left out all day without spoiling, so your dog can nibble when he pleases.

For the best of both worlds, you can add some punch to your pooch’s dry chow by mixing in a little as feeding him canned food only, and your dog will definitely lick his chops at dinnertime.

Premium, Name-Brand or Generic?
Whatever you feed your dog, always be sure it’s a high-quality food. But what does that mean when it comes to choosing the brand of food? Should you be stocking up on a high-priced premium brand from a pet store, or can your dogs nutritional needs be met just as well by a name-brand food from the grocery store or even by a no name generic food? Vets differ in their answers, but what really matters is your dog’s individual nutritional needs. There is no single wonder food to meet the needs of every canine.

The Virtues of Premium Foods:
Premium foods are the five-star meals of canine cuisine. These are the foods that often have the exotic ingredients that include more meat protein to grain protein and use different kinds of dyes preservatives. But the main difference between premium foods and their more humble cousins on the dog shelf is the density per volume, says Dr. Wilford. A tablespoon of a premium food is likely to contain more digestible, absorbable nutrients than a tablespoon of a premium food. Your pooch can eat a smaller amount of premium food to be well-nourished; with non premium food, he’ll need to eat more.

“Premium foods, being more digestible, make it easier for the dog to extract the nutrients, to get what he needs out of the food,” says Margaret Duxbury, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Amery, Wisconsin, and a contributor for Dog Fancy and Dogs USA magazines. If your dog needs to put on a few pounds because he’s a picky eater, a premium food is a wise choice.

The higher cost of premium food is made up in savings on the amount served, and on the amount later eliminated by the dog, explains Dr. Wilford. “If you’ve got a big dog and you’re feeding him a premium canned food, you’ll be buying less, and there’ll be a whole lot less coming out the other end,” she says. “There’s much less odor, and the stools are usually firmer, so they’re easier to scoop up.” For the average healthy dog, the biggest difference between premium and non premium foods is stool volume.

Name Brand Quality:
Name brand grocery store foods are just as nutritious as premium brands, according to some vets. Like most premium brands, they are produced by well known companies that spend huge sums on product testing, research and customer service. So what’s the difference?

Sometimes it’s just a matter of the amount of animal protein versus grain protein, or that the more expensive products contain more exotic ingredients, such as organic grains or unusual meats. Or they may have differing types of dye and preservatives.

“In my experience, premium foods are really nota whole lot better than moderately priced foods,” says Dr. Hamil. “Premium products, I think, sell because of their snob appeal: ‘We cost more; therefore, we must be better.’ On the other hand, you should certainly make sure that whatever food you decide on does contain high-quality ingredients.”

Animal protein, eggs or cheese are all high-quality ingredients that should appear first or second on the ingredients that should appear first or second on the ingredients list, says Dr. Duxbury. She recommends that you pick a food and stick with it for as long as your dog is doing well on it.” A food is doing its job when your dog has a shiny coat, he doesn’t have trouble maintaining his weight and has plenty of energy to do the things he likes to do,” she explains.

Any Generic Foods Okay?
With premium and name brand foods you can be sure of the nutritional quality, but is it really necessary to pay those steep prices? Wouldn’t a generic food do just as well? Often, the answer is no. while the labels on some generic foods says the contents are complete and balanced, the food’s nutritional benefits have not necessarily been tested on dogs. That means you don’t really know what the food is doing for your dog.

“A dog food can claim to be complete and balanced in a couple of ways,” explains Dr. Freeman. “One way is to do feeding trails on dogs, where you measure certain things according to specified parameters. The other way is just to calculate how much of a particular nutrient – vitamin A, for instance – you need for a dog and put that much in the mixture.” If the latter method has been used, it’s impossible to know whether nutrients in the food are actually being digested and absorbed by the dog, says Dr. Wilford. A label might claim that a food contains 20 percent protein, but maybe only 10 percent of that is in a form that a dog can readily use.

In addition, generic foods have fewer calories than more expensive ones, so your dog must eat more of a generic food to get the same amount of energy as he would from a name – brand or premium food. “You’re not really saving money when you buy a generic food,” says Dr. Wilford. “It looks like 12 ounces, but if you boiled it down to the nutrients, there would be less in the can. It pays to buy better food.”

The other factor is that ingredients in generic foods may change, according to what’s cheapest. This can result in your dog having an upset stomach when his food is suddenly different, even though you think it is the same.

When you have a dog in a special life stage, such as pregnancy or puppyhood, or your dog has a particular illness or is an athlete, it’s probably better to spend the money for a higher quality food, Dr. Hamil advises that you find one that meets the standards set by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which governs the manufacture of pet food. “Unless a bag has the AAFCO Label, you have no way of knowing whether what it says on the label really is in the bag, and whether it’s proportioned properly, you don’t know about the digestibility of the products that are included.”

Dr. Wilford agrees, saying, “Without an AAFCO label, you don’t know what’s in a generic food. And that’s why it’s cheaper.”

Homemade Food:
For the dog with medical problems or special nutritional requirements, or with allergies to certain foods, colorings or preservatives, a home-made diet can be a good idea. For instance, if he has kidney disease or a skin problem and turns up his nose at commercially made therapeutic diets, he may find a homemade diet much more to his liking. “I often tell people that the best food in the world is not worth anything if your dog won’t eat it,” says Dr. Hamil. Homemade diets such as boiled rice and chicken or hamburger, can also be used for short-term problems such as upset tummies that cause vomiting or diarrhea. The bland diet will soothe your dog’s stomach.

To prepare your dog’s food at home, you’ll need lots of time and a recipe that is nutritionally balanced for your dog’s needs. The main advantage of commercially prepared dog food is convenience, points out Dr. Hamil. Do it your self food can also work out to be more expensive than buying dog food at the store pet food manufacturers save by bulk purchasing.

Don’t go in for experiments. “Get a recipe that’s tried and true, preferably from a vet or a reliable source, such as a veterinary technician,” advises Dr. Wilford. “The ingredients in a home made diet should be comparable to what you eat yourself – and everything must be fully cooked.”