Essential Ingredients and Vitamins to Look for in Dog Food
- by Rufus and Coco
Picking the right dog food can be a challenge, especially if you're a new fur parent or an unexperienced one and aren't familiar with what to look for in a dog food.
In this article, we delve into some of the essential nutrients your dog needs to stay healthy, as well as ingredients you should be on the lookout for in both kibble and wet dog food.
What to Look for in Your Dog’s Food
All vitamins are important, and while they might address different health issues, they are all involved in the various processes happening inside your mate’s body.
B vitamins are great for immunity and brain health, while fat-soluble vitamins such as A and E are great for skin and eye health. Vitamin K, on the other hand, makes it possible for your dog’s blood to coagulate in the event of trauma.
Fortunately, most dog food labels clearly specify the number and IU of vitamins included in the recipe.
Like vitamins, minerals are diverse and they also perform various functions. Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin D are all essential, especially in large dog breeds whose bones grow a lot in a short period of time.
Other important minerals are iron (the core component of red blood cells) and zinc. Ideally, your dog’s kibble or canned food should have as many minerals as possible.
All dogs need protein in order to thrive, but the fact is that our canine friends can develop food intolerance if fed the same protein source repeatedly over time. The best way to address this is to switch your dog's food at least every week, daily if you can afford to do so.
‘Meat meal’ is another ingredient added to a large proportion of commercial dog food that you should be aware of. Unlike real meat, meat meals are from animal parts that aren't typically allowed to be sold for human consumption. These include residual meat, ears, cartilages, connective tissues, and in some cases, bones, which are cooked under extremely high temperatures and essentially dehydrated into a brown powder.
Meat meals are perceived to be less nutritious than fresh dog food, thus making it a rather cheaper alternative for dog owners. At the end of the day, real meat and fresh food will always trump meat meals.
Dogs need a balanced diet composed of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, but the carbs that they can digest adequately aren’t the same as what people can. While we can do quite well with a diet containing pasta, bread, polenta, rice, and other such carb sources, dogs’ bodies aren’t built the same way.
Carb and fibre sources such as legumes and pumpkin or sweet potato are much better than grains, and that’s because they don't cause bloating, diarrhea, or tummy aches.
Fat is essential for good brain and nerve development. Dogs that do not get enough fat in their diet might be more predisposed to developing cognitive dysfunction (a form of dementia) in their senior years.
Fat can also be found in your dog’s joints as it basically lubricates them. But there are different fat types, and some sources just aren’t as recommended for dogs as others.
Healthy fats come from plant oils, eggs, fatty fish (like salmon), seafood (like mussels), some seeds (including flax seeds and hemp seeds), as well as some dairy products such as yogurt made from goat milk.
How to Read the Label
Knowing the difference between a great dog food and a variety that you might not want to give to your mate is quite tricky, since most brands now market themselves as being ‘the best.'
When looking at the label, consider the type of food - whether it’s beef, lamb, or salmon - and then look at the exact percentage (or quantity) of protein coming from that source. You might be surprised, but there are dog food types out there with just 2-3% of actual beef in them, yet are marketed as ‘beef dog food’.
You then have to ask yourself what the rest of the ingredients are in that case. It wouldn’t be incorrect to assume that they are just extras that bulk up the recipe, such as wheat, corn, or legumes such as peas or beans.
Good dog food has at least 18 to 25% protein and 5% fat, and less than 50% carbohydrates (from healthy sources, not grains).
You don't have to make any complicated calculations as to the number of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in the recipe and the amount of food you should offer to your dog since most labels clearly state the recommended serving size per breed, age, or weight.
What to Avoid in Your Dog’s Food
Most dry dog food varieties have some types of preservatives because they need to be shelf-stable for at least six months, as well as mould-free for several months after you open them.
The worst preservatives for dogs are BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), propylene glycol (yes, that’s antifreeze!), and propyl gallate.
All of these can cause irregular bowel activity, tegument issues (poor skin and coat health), or depression, so they shouldn’t be present in any recipe for dogs. Propylene glycol can be deadly for dogs as it can cause acute kidney failure.
Almost all artificial colours are dangerous for pets, whether they’re red, orange, blue, yellow, green, or purple. But out of all of them, Yellow 5 & 6, Red 40, and Blue 2 are the worst as they have been linked to cases of cancer.
When it comes to your dog’s nutrition, picking a natural alternative that you know is manufactured following the guidelines of a veterinary nutritionist is the best course of action.
Diet and Nutrition: The Artificial Food Dye Blues, Carol Potera, 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957945/
How to Choose the Best Dog Food, Anna Burke, American Kennel Club, 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/best-dog-food-choosing-whats-right-for-your-dog/
Propylene Glycol Intoxication in a Dog, Melissa A. Claus et al, 2011 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22316262/