5 common dog food and nutrition questions

Q&A: 5 Common Dog Food & Nutrition Questions

Customers ask us all kinds of questions when it comes to dog food and feeding their furry friends the proper nutrition. It makes sense; the food you choose to give your dog plays a big role in his or her health and happiness. We’re happy to help you sort through food options that meet your dog’s needs, but don’t forget to consult with a veterinarian when it comes to establishing your dog’s particular needs, and keeping your dog in optimal health.

 We took the five most common questions Murdoch’s customers ask us about dog food and nutrition to Dr. Shari Skifstad Bearrow, a veterinarian at All West Veterinary Hospital in Bozeman, MT. She has given her unbiased opinion to help you out when you go dog food shopping.

Question 1: Protein

Is there a recommended amount of protein I should feed my dog? Why have I heard rumors that I should feed my dog 20% protein for optimal health?

Puppies need 25-30% protein in their diet, based on dry matter basis.

The amount of protein dogs require will change throughout their life. Puppies, pregnant & nursing dogs need 25-30% protein. Adult and mature dogs need 18-22%. These values are based on a “dry matter basis.” Unfortunately, most pet foods do not list protein as a percentage of dry matter; rather, they list the “guaranteed analysis.”

The guaranteed analysis includes the minimum crude protein and moisture level, among other values. Because moisture levels will vary from product to product, it makes it difficult for consumers to compare protein levels between products. To compare protein levels between different dog foods (as a percent of dry matter basis), you need to do a little math to account for the moisture.

For example, Canned Food “A” has a guaranteed analysis of 8.5% protein and 78% moisture.
1. Subtract moisture % from 100 (100 – 78=22)
2. Divide resulting number into the crude protein (8.5 / 22 = 0.386)
3. Multiply the result above by 100 (0.386 x 100 = 38.6%). 38.6% is the protein level on a dry matter basis.

Question 2: Guidelines

How do I know if it’s a good food? What guidelines do you suggest I use to determine whether my dog is getting the right nutritional intake?

The guidelines we suggest owners use to determine if their pet is receiving the correct nutritional intake:

  1. Look for the “AAFCO Statement.” AAFCO is an organization that sets nutritional standards for pet food sold in the US. This statement should say that the product provides complete and balanced nutrition for a specific life stage. For a pet food to be able to carry this label, it had to be tested on a population of dogs and shown to provide adequate nutrition.
  2. Be wary if the product states the food supports “all life stages.” The product likely contains excessive levels of some nutrients necessary for the most demanding life stages, like growth, which are generally inappropriate for an adult or senior pet.

  3. Read your pet food ingredient list (see below).

Question 3: Ingredients List

I read the ingredients list on dog food bags, but what should I be looking for?

Customers should be reading the ingredients.

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. This is the one of the best ways to determine the quality of the food. The high water content in chicken, beef and lamb makes these ingredients weigh more than dry ingredients such as grains, meals and vitamins, so they should be listed first in a quality pet food.

Be wary of pet food that separates one ingredient into several smaller ingredients, listing them individually, which lowers undesirable ingredients farther down the list. For example, a product list of: chicken, ground corn, corn gluten, ground wheat, corn bran, etc. If we grouped all the corn ingredients together, they would out-weigh the amount of chicken.

Question 4: Chicken and Corn

Why have chicken by-products and corn gotten a bad name?

Meat should be listed first on dog food ingredients, followed by whole grains and meat by-products.

There are very strict definitions of the food listed on pet food labels. “Chicken” essentially means the parts of the bird you would find if you purchased a whole chicken at the grocery store, which includes bones, skin, heart and fat. “Chicken by-products” includes the whole chicken AND can include heads, feet and giblets. These are items considered lower quality parts of the chicken, but these parts would be readily ingested by wild dogs, like wolves. Meat by-products DO NOT include hair, horns, teeth or hooves.

Whole grain corn is a well-rounded and versatile grain. Corn is a natural, wholesome nutrient that supplies essential fatty acids, protein, carbohydrates and antioxidants like beta-carotene and Vitamin E. It is a highly digestible carbohydrate used for energy. It has gotten a bad name because of its cousin “corn gluten meal.” Corn gluten meal is the by-product after the manufacture of corn syrup and is the dried residue after removal of the bran, germ and starch. So, corn gluten meal is less nutritionally complete and lower in nutrients than corn, but can boost the reported protein level on a pet food label.

Again, signs of a quality pet food would be meat (chicken, beef, pork or salmon) as the first ingredient, with meat by-products listed lower. Ideally, whole grain corn or other whole grain carbohydrates like rice would be listed next.

Question 5: Allergies

Is it true that food allergies are becoming more prevalent in dogs? What are some signs that a dog has food allergies and needs to see a vet?

Dogs with food allergies can have skin problems.

Food allergies have become more prevalent in dogs over the last 30 years. We know allergies can have a strong genetic link. Breeding practices over the last 30 years have likely contributed to the increase incidence of allergies in dogs.

Dogs with food allergies can exhibit chronic gastrointestinal upset, skin symptoms or both! Gastrointestinal symptoms may include one or more of the following: excess gas, soft stool, diarrhea, increased bowel movements and chronic intermittent vomiting. Skin symptoms may include: itchy skin, repeated ear infections, skin infections, chewing at paws, rubbing the face or scooting on the bottom, especially in young dogs and older dogs.

Blood tests are available for food allergies, but the best test is your dog’s response to a hypoallergenic diet. The top food allergens in dog food are: beef, dairy, wheat, chicken, egg, lamb and soy. Unfortunately, many dog foods are marketed as “allergy formulas” and “grain free,” which only addresses one of the top 7 allergens in dog foods.

If you suspect food allergies in your dog please talk with your veterinarian about an appropriate hypoallergenic diet. Simply trying different dog foods is not likely to help. Many of the symptoms listed above are similar for environmental allergies, parasites or inflammatory bowel disease. So, please seek veterinary care if your pet shows any chronic symptoms listed above.