Dog Food: So Many Choices

So many choices! Photo credit: Tractor Supply Company (food bags)

So many choices! Photo credit: Tractor Supply Company (food bags)

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A couple of months ago, I asked people on a general dog forum the kind of question that usually starts arguments: “What do you feed your dog?” People, and in particular dog people, often have strong opinions on what should go into their four-legged friends’ stomachs: some swear by commercial foods they can pick up at the supermarket, others follow their veterinarian’s recommendation, yet others rely on homemade or raw diets.

I specifically asked my question on a general dog forum that has participants from all walks of life. On this forum, some have rescue dogs and others have purebreds. Some are active in dog sports, conformation shows, or other types of dog events, some never do anything with their dogs but go for a leisurely stroll. In short: the forum has a good cross-section of average dog owners.

I quickly learned that opinions on feeding fall on a sliding scale. On one end of the scale are hardcore dog owners who keep up with the latest scientific research regarding health and nutrition. They often disagree with their veterinarians (or go for second and third opinions), are heavily involved in dog activities, and have some pretty strong opinions about what everyone else should be feeding and doing with their dogs, too. On the opposite end of the scale are dog owners who love their pets but don’t really spend much energy differentiating between food. It’s all good to them. They dutifully follow their veterinarians’ advice, don’t get involved with any dog activities other than walking, and bring home whatever bag of food was on sale at the grocery store. Between these two polar opposites, you’ve got the vast majority of dog owners.

The results of my poll were as follows:

What do you feed your dog?

35% – Commercial brands (like Beneful, Purina, Iams, Pedigree)
19% – Any kind of food, as long as it’s on sale
12% – I feed raw, without vegetables
12% – I frequently change brands. Dogs need variety.
08% – I feed mostly table scraps.
08% – Holistic brands (like Evo, Canidae, TimberWolf)
04% – Premium brands (like Blue Buffalo)
04% – I’m not sure / don’t know
00% – Home-made food using human-grade ingredients
00% – I feed raw, with vegetables

The people who feed commercial brands (35%), any brand that’s on sale (19%) and those who frequently change brands (12%) are all people who purchase their dog foods at the local grocery store. This means that 66% of people polled feed “grocery store” brands: Beneful, Purina, Iams, Pedigree, and so on.

Additionally, I also asked them how they selected their dog’s food and most answered that they followed recommendations from their veterinarian, a family member, a friend, or the price and availability of the food. I also asked them whether they had ever researched the food they’ve chosen, and most said they read the front of the bag, but hadn’t read the ingredient label and hadn’t looked up or compared foods online.

Even though most dog owners have never done any research into their dog food, most people I know have their pet’s best interest at heart and want to do what’s best for their dog (or cat, or horse, or really any pet). One way to meet your pet’s needs is to know what they are, understand why they are what they are, and try to make the best choices you can. When it comes to food, those choices are often limited by availability and cost, but they are still choices.

One way to make good food choices for your pet is to make sure the food you’ve got currently in your home has not been recalled or withdrawn. You can go to the FDA’s Recalls & Withdrawals website for a list of current problem foods. A great website for learning about dog foods in general, such as how to read food labels, what the ingredients actually are, and which ones you might want to avoid (and why) is the Dog Food Project. If you just want a list of good dog foods to take with you on your next shopping trip, the Dog Food Advisor is worth a look. And if you feel very brave and want to get started with raw feeding, the Raw Dog Ranch is a great place to begin.

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