Healthy pets lead to happy pets. If you've ever wondered just what is in dog food, you're likely to pick the highest quality food for your four-legged friend, which is essential to many long, memorable years of companionship.
Just like with humans, meals that include balanced amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fats, oils, along with essential minerals and vitamins are key to a dog's long-term health. But unlike their human owners, dogs can't choose from an array of fruits, vegetables, meats and grains every day. Instead, dogs typically eat the same food at each meal, which is why picking a food that uses scientific research to formulate a precise balance of nutrients is important. It's also important to realize those needs change depending on your pet's life stage, size or special needs.
Serving Your Dog's Needs
Since no two dogs are exactly alike, it's important to feed your pup a food specially formulated for him and his needs. For instance, a puppy needs food that is more calorie-dense and higher in protein and fats than food for adult and senior dogs. With how fast their bodies are growing, they require high-calorie nutrition with balanced ingredients.
A large dog is more likely to develop arthritis than a smaller breed of dog. So adding ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, both of which promote joint health, to a food like
Hill's® Science Diet® Adult Large Breed Dog Food, help address his needs as a larger dog that is more susceptible to mobility issues as he ages.
Dogs with certain special needs, like sensitive skin, may be able to find some relief by visiting their veterinarian and switching to certain therapeutic dog foods that are specifically designed to alleviate skin irritations through a blend of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, vitamin E and other nutrients. These all work together to promote healthy skin and a glossy coat. Be sure to ask your vet if a therapeutic dog food is right for your dog if he suffers from a range of health conditions including weight, sensitivity, mobility and certain diseases. You can learn more about Hill's Prescription Diet products here.
Creating the Perfect Formula
So, how do companies decide what is in dog food? Quality dog food companies rely on evidence-based scientific research when it comes to developing foods with the right nutrition for your dog. Top-quality ingredients are an important part of the equation, but so is the proper balance of nutrients supplied by those ingredients. Hill's relies on more than 200 veterinarians, nutritionists and food scientists to develop products that meet a dog's nutritional needs, whatever his life stage, size or special needs. Every Hill's food goes through rigorous research, testing, and quality and safety standards before it ever hits the store shelves.
As a dog owner, you may have never considered the taste, size or texture of your dog's food, but all these factors—and more—are key to researchers as they look for ways to improve food to meet nutritional standards appropriate to a dog's health history and age. The pet food studies look at specifics like:
- High quality ingredients: You might notice the list of ingredients can be similar to what's in your pantry: salmon, chicken, whole grain wheat, apples, broccoli and green peas, just to start. Companies that are interested in providing top quality dog food look for quality ingredients—many of which are familiar to you—to formulate dog food. In addition, quality dog food companies accept only ingredients from suppliers whose facilities meet stringent quality standards. Be sure to consult your veterinarian if you are wary of any ingredients that you might be feeding your pup, as they will be able to provide you with the best decision on feeding your pup. Don't automatically dismiss certain foods because of ingredients that you've heard aren't good for dogs. A lot of people think that grain is bad for dogs and is often used as a lower quality filler protein, but in actuality it is a great source of carbohydrates that can give your dog the energy he needs to play and exercise, as well as helping balance out the amino acids profile of his meal.
- Nutrition: Is the food formulated correctly for a dog's needs? Minerals, for instance, are essential to dogs. Minerals work to form bone and cartilage, control nerve and muscle function, produce hormones, regulate fluid balance, and transport oxygen in the bloodstream—all important jobs! But too much of a mineral may cause catastrophic problems in a dog. Calcium, for instance, is vital to a dog's nutrition to strengthen bones and help them grow properly. But too much calcium, especially in younger, large-breed dogs, may lead to abnormal growth and development. A proper balance of ingredients is vital to your dog's overall health, similar to proper portion control of certain foods is important to your own.
- Taste: Just like humans, a dog's sense of taste depends upon his taste buds. But dogs only have one-sixth of the number of taste buds as humans. A dog's nose, however, is much better than his human owner's. That's why the way something smells is much more important to a dog than how it tastes. That being said, a dog may turn up his nose at a food that doesn't smell good to him. Some dogs can be finicky eaters. Researchers and nutritionists try to develop a food that appeals to a wide variety of dogs.
- Size: How much pressure does it take for a dog to crush a kibble? Is the kibble density appropriate for each life stage? You don't want a senior dog with worn and loosened teeth, for instance, chewing on the same formula as a young dog with puppy-sharp teeth. The overall size of the kibble is important too as smaller dogs will struggle to chew on to large of pieces of kibble, and larger dogs may end up swallowing small kibble without chewing. You can often find kibble formulated specifically for your size of dog to ensure it meets his needs.
- Texture: Since you're not eating it, you might not realize how much texture matters to a dog. But think about how important the texture of a food is when you eat it. Perhaps you like your noodles al dente, not squishy. Or maybe you avoid eating peaches because of the texture of their fuzzy skin. The texture of dog food can be especially important if the dog is a picky eater. Researchers look at the hardness, smoothness, cohesiveness, and elasticity of a food—all of which may make a difference in a dog's decision to eat.
- Digestion: Dogs have to be able to digest the food properly in order to receive the necessary nutrients. But owners also don't want dogs reacting badly to the food, like getting an upset stomach. A food that is easy for a dog to digest is essential for his comfort and health.
You should understand the vital role nutrition plays for your dog, because the food you choose can transform your pet's life and give you a chance at many years of happiness together. Just like you want to eat delicious food that keeps you healthy, you should be purchasing dog food that keeps your pup happy and feeling his best. Dog food manufacturers that put time, scientific research and testing, and passion into their product are the ones that you should be looking for. If they are willing to take the amount of time and effort into making their food it shows that they care about what they do, and that they want to ensure the best dog food for your dog.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.