Are you looking for a good dog food formula? Well, you can pat yourself on the back for taking the first responsible step for being a pet parent. We’ve already written an article on the best dog food brands in India, you can read that to get a better idea of your options.
However, if you want to pick good dog food, you should be able to read through the labels and understand what really goes into making each formula. That will empower you to make your own decisions.
Just imagine, going through the list of ingredients and knowing exactly what will suit your dog without having to depend on product reviews – that’s a superpower!
In this article, we will tell you about the specific terms and ingredients you should look for in dog food bags. Simultaneously, we will also tell you about red alert ingredients you should keep your dog safe from. Companies try to hide these problematic ingredients with sugar-coated names, we will let you in on all those secrets so that you get the best formula for your dog.
Here Are Some Things You Need To Know About Premium Quality Dog Food.
Is good dog food always expensive? And can we find healthier alternatives within our price range?
Money often dictates our choices in dog food and it may even direct us to buy poorer quality dog food. If you are worried that good dog food is going to make a massive hole in your pocket, fear not. Here are some things you need to know about premium-quality dog food.
Firstly, when you go for a premium quality dog food, you have to feed less each time. So, essentially premium dog food lasts longer than cheaper food.
Secondly, since most premium-quality dog food is made of human-grade ingredients, it is more likely to agree with their stomach. Dogs are less likely to fall sick and therefore will not need to visit the vet as often.
Many cheap dog food contains a lot of grains, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, allergies that may lead to rashes and many other hormonal conditions. Ongoing treatment for these conditions may prove to be more expensive than the dog food itself.
Now, when you have a bigger dog or more than one dog, it is not easy to go for the most expensive food in the market. Secondly, a product’s price tag is not always a guarantee of quality. Some products are indeed overpriced and you can easily find something that is good and within your price range.
The purpose of this article is not to make anyone feel bad about what they can or cannot afford but rather to show better alternatives that fit your price range.
Now that we have addressed the elephant in the room, let’s find out what to look for in a dog food brand.
Knowing What Is Good For Your Dog
There are so many different dog species that it is sometimes hard to believe that the Great Dane and the Chihuahua are the same species! But it’s true. No matter how big or small your dog is, they all share the same ancestry.
Dogs (Canis familiaris) come from prehistoric grey wolves – Canis lupus. This species essentially split into two strains and while one strain evolved to the modern-day wolf, the other evolved to the modern-day dog. While your Pomeranian looks nothing like the grey wolf, they do have the same dietary needs.
Now, if you look at a wolf’s diet, they will pretty much feast on different parts of their prey. If it’s a small prey, they will eat it whole. Otherwise, they will finish as much as they can. They don’t just stop at the meat, but they eat a bit of the heart, the liver, the spleen, parts of the carcass and undigested grass and substances in the stomach.
Apart from hunting, they also scavenge fruits and berries.
Even if your dog looks nothing like a wolf, they should eat like one.
Of course, because dogs are not living in the wild, they may have specific health conditions that will require you to make adjustments. But for the most part, a healthy dog should eat a large helping of meat, followed by smaller helpings of fresh, dog safe, fruits and vegetables.
While there are many options in the Indian pet food market, we will focus on dry dog food as it is the most popular dog food in India.
What To Look For In A Dog Food Brand
Very few products out there are concerned with giving dogs wholesome, species-appropriate nutrition. Many companies are just trying to make a profit.
So, don’t pay too much attention to ‘100% organic’ or ‘contains real meat’ on the front of the packaging. Rather, flip the product around and have a look at their ingredients. Here’s what you should be looking for:
1. The First 5 Ingredients
When it comes to dry dog food, manufacturers weigh the meat before it has been reduced down by cooking. In case the meat was weighed after it was dried, it is labelled as ‘dry (named) meat’ but in most cases, it is weighed before it is cooked.
Proteins become a quarter of their original size after they have been cooked and therefore the second, third and fourth ingredient may exceed in quantity after the cooking process. This is why it is important to have a look at the first five ingredients before picking out a product.
While the first ingredient should be a named meat, the second, third, fourth, and fifth ingredient should preferably be a named meat as well.
2. Meat Terms To Look Out For
You may have noticed that different dog food formulas label the meat differently. Believe or not, but the way a meat has been labelled speaks a lot about the formula in general. Here are some terms you may have seen in dog food packages:
Unnamed Meat – An unnamed meat refers to anything labelled as ‘meat’ or ‘meat meal’, ‘meat by-product’ etc. This is a no go! Meat can be anything from healthy chicken or fish, or it can be roadkill.
A recent survey revealed that some dog food companies use meat from euthanised dogs and cats as ‘meat’ in dog and cat food. So, if you see ‘meat’ as one of the ingredients, you should steer clear from the product.
Meat By-Product – Now the next on our list is by-products. Having the meat listed as ‘chicken by-product’ or ‘pork by-product’ is better than having something saying ‘meat by-product’ but it is not an ingredient to look for!
Stay away from products that say ‘by-products’ because it refers to everything that is left over after the commercial parts of the meat is removed. So for instance, if a product says ‘chicken by-product’ it refers to everything that is left after removing the breast, legs and wings.
Some by-products are good. Kidney, heart, liver etc are also considered by-products, and they are very beneficial for dogs. Hence, if pet food companies use organ meat, they tend to mention the exact by-product. You may see it listed as ‘chicken liver’ or ‘tripe’ etc.
In most cases, if the formula says ‘by-product’, they usually refer to beaks, fur, entrails and other rejected body parts.
Meat Meal – Now we’re getting better with our meat choices. If the recipe contains something like ‘chicken meal’, it means that it contains parts other than the by-products. This refers to healthy parts of the chicken like the meat, the bones, parts of the skin (without the fur) and the fat.
The word ‘meal’ also refers to the meat weighed after it has been dehydrated. So, it is usually a superior choice of meat. It may be labelled as ‘dried chicken’ instead of ‘chicken meal’.
However, there’s a catch. Not all ‘meat meals’ are healthy for dogs. No policy requires pet food companies to disclose whether the meat comes from a diseased animal. So, we’d suggest using good judgement when you pick the right kind of dog food.
Learn a little about the company before making the purchase.
Whole Meat – If there’s something you want to give your dog, whole meat is the way to go. It may also be labelled as ‘fresh chicken’, ‘whole chicken’ or just ‘chicken’.
The main difference between whole meat and meat meal is that when a product is labelled as ‘whole chicken’ it is weighed before it is dried and cooked into kibble. Hence, if the formula claims that it has 40% chicken, it may just have 5-10% chicken.
Whole meat is not a bad ingredient if the second, third, fourth and fifth ingredient is also a meat and a named meat meal.
Here’s an example of what a good formula looks like: Freshly Prepared Salmon 21%, Dried Salmon 16%, Freshly Prepared Blue Whiting 11%, Freshly Prepared Haddock 10% & Salmon Stock 2%…
It tells you the exact percentage of each ingredient and while the first ingredient is a freshly prepared meat (which will reduce while cooking), it is immediately followed by dried meat.
You may also notice that the above formula is a blend of two different types of meat. We always recommend giving healthy dogs a multi-meat formula or rotate their diet with many single meat formulas. Every meat has a unique health benefit and giving them more than one meat caters to their overall health and development.
3. Other Terms To Look Out For
Other ways to know if the product is good and if the source of meat comes from reputable places is to look for certain terms like:
1. Human grade – Though the formula is not for human consumption, all the ingredients are fit for human consumption.
2. Ethically sourced – All produce used in the formulas were taken from ethical sources
3. Organic – All the produce is natural and chemical-free
While the terms vary slightly from each other, having one of those terms on the description means that the formula is largely safe for your dog.
Red Flag Ingredients In Dog Food Recipes – Make Sure The Recipes Are Free From These Ingredients
While we know what to look for in a recipe, you should also know a few warning ingredients. If you see any of these ingredients, remember to put the dog food down and move on to a different brand.
There are many pet food companies out there and all of them are not trying to create a nutritionally balanced, wholesome diet. Most of them are trying to earn a profit.
There are many types of dog foods and we are strong advocates for grain-free dog food. However, we do understand that all grain-free varieties in the market are not healthy for your pet. So it’s always important to keep a lookout for the ingredients below.
So let us look at some ingredients and terms that you should look out for when buying dog food.
Ingredient 1: Grains
While dogs can digest grains, we strongly advise pet parents not to feed their dogs any grains. Grains have inflammatory properties and may aggravate other allergies, like seasonal allergies and protein allergies.
Grains are also loaded with carbs and your dog does not need so many carbs. They can get an adequate amount of carbs through dog-safe seasonal fruits and vegetables. They don’t need grains for it.
You may notice that many recipes make sure that the first ingredient is a protein (so that you buy it) and they add grains as the second, third ingredients and so on. Though this type of formula may seem better, we strongly advise you not to feed this to your dog.
As we said earlier, the meat reduces in size and volume after being cooked. So, when you see a product that has meat as the first ingredient, followed by grains, you are still largely feeding them grains.
Ingredient 2: ‘Flavour’
Anytime a product says chicken ‘flavour’, or meat ‘flavour’, you should immediately put the product down without any hesitation. Because a flavour is just that – a flavour. It does not have any nutritional value and is only intended to make the product more palatable.
Ingredient 3: BHA and BHT
BHA and BHT are synthetic antioxidants added in inferior quality dog food. It is mostly added to stabilise the other ingredients in the recipe.
There are many environmental concerns to feeding your dog recipes that contain BHA and BHT. These ingredients have been known to cause cancer in humans and can do the same for dogs.
Ingredient 4: Propylene Glycol
Propylene Glycol is used to remove moisture from the ingredients so that they have a longer shelf life. While this ingredient is very harmful, it is not banned for the pet food industry.
Long term consumption of Propylene Glycol leads to lethargy and anaemia. But of late, Propylene Glycol poisoning has become very popular amongst dogs.
Large amounts of Propylene Glycol can cause central nervous system failure, tremors, seizures etc. Needless to say, this product should be far and away from their reach.
Ingredient 5: Sugar and Salt
Let’s be real, foods that have high amounts of chemicals, colours and preservatives are not appetizing for dogs. Hence manufacturers think of cheap alternatives to make the product tastier.
Sugar and salt make recipes extremely palatable. And since sugar is addictive, pet food companies are assured that your dog will get conditioned to like their product over time. You may have heard many pet parents say that their dog only likes one brand. That usually happens when a brand uses addictive ingredients.
Since pet companies have understood that their consumers are quick to read and understand labels, they are using new ways to hide all the harmful ingredients.
Sugar is often labelled as glucose, fructose etc or syrup (malt syrup, corn syrup etc). While salt may be labelled sodium chloride, or other chemicals ending with ‘-ide’.
If you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients, or have to look up each ingredient on the recipe, it is better to put the packet down and move on.
What To Look For In A Dog Food Brand For Dogs With Specific Needs?
If you have a healthy adult dog, following the steps above should be ideal for you. However, not all dogs are built the same way and some dogs do need more dietary attention than others. So, here’s what to look for in a dog food brand for dogs with specific needs.
1. Dog Food For Physical Agility Dogs
By physical agility dogs, we mean dogs that partake in dog sports and events, and police dogs, military dogs etc – those dogs who have to rely on their physical strength and agility to perform a task.
Most working dogs work 7-8 hours a day and when they are not working, they are training and learning a new skill. Their bodies are constantly pushed to their limit. Hence they need a specific diet to meet their needs.
Unlike humans, dogs that run for more than 30 minutes at a time (without breaks) tend to burn fats. Hence they need a diet that is rich in proteins and fats.
If you have a very high agility dog (who runs for more than 4 hours a day) you can feed them a recipe that contains more than 40% fat derived from healthy sources. These formulas tend to have more than 80% meat and more than 35% protein.
Remember to have a word with your vet before following through with the diet.
Feeding a high-calorie formula to a pet dog with no physical activity, or a working dog offseason can do more harm than good. If the calories are not being used up, it will lead to obesity and may even cause kidney problems.
2. Dog Food For Dogs With Meat Allergies
Allergies may seem harmless but they can get really bad for some dogs. Protein allergies may give dogs some of the worst rashes, that may draw blood and even need medical attention.
Imagine the frustration that comes with every itch, and scratching only makes it worse. If you suspect that your dog has a food allergy, you should have a word with your vet and get a thorough check-up done to rule out everything else.
The best way to address a dog with meat allergies is to completely remove the meat from their diet. While we always recommend multi-meat formulas, allergy-prone dogs always fare better with single meat formulas.
Since chicken is most commonly used in dog food, most dogs develop a chicken allergy. However, some dogs may even develop allergic reactions to meat groups, like poultry meat, or fish meat etc.
It can get tricky to address this issue but the best way to get their allergies under control is to feed them meat they have never tried before. So, if your dog has been raised eating chicken, and now has a poultry allergy, try going for something like pork.
Diet rotation is important for all dogs. However, for an allergy-prone dog, your vet may advise you against it, because the dog is quick to develop allergies towards different meats. So it is good to have a few unintroduced types of meat in the mix, in case they need new meat introduced in the future.
Remember that food allergies are very rare in dogs. So, don’t be afraid to experiment with meat varieties, most dogs will thrive on it.
3. Dog Food For Senior Dogs And Dogs With Weight Issues
Senior dogs and overweight dogs have similar dietary requirements. Because with age and weight gain their body tends to slow down. So, they need formulas that encourage their body to work without putting too much strain on their organs.
Secondly, senior dogs often struggle with weight issues because their body slows downs and is not able to burn as many calories as it used to.
Many dogs tend to gain weight with age but obesity is never a good thing. To start with, it can reduce a dog’s lifespan by years! So, if your dog is starting to gain weight, or is obese, you should put them on a weight loss diet.
Talk to your vet to know the exact measurements to feed your dog. The last thing you would want to do is to overfeed them the weight loss diet.
Additionally, we’d suggest that you look for a low-calorie diet. Just like humans, dogs also gain weight when they eat more calories than they burn. So, by giving them a calorie deficit, low-fat diet, we ensure that they don’t gain more weight.
Look for a dog food that uses lean meat as their primary ingredient. Varieties of fish and poultry meat are great for dogs that need to lose weight. Additionally, you should look for formulas that promote lean muscle development.
Senior dogs have similar requirements. Look for formulas that contain easy to digest lean meat, and put less pressure on the joints.
4. Dog Food For Puppies
Puppies need quite the opposite of what an overweight/senior dog requires. They have a lot of energy and they need a diet that can provide them with enough energy for their day to day lifestyle.
Puppies often need double the number of calories they’ll need as adults. But since they are so small, they can’t eat like an adult dog. This is why they need a calorie-dense diet.
You should give them a multi-meat recipe that has a range of fatty meat and lean meat. Large breed puppies should have moderate amounts of calcium while small to medium dog puppies should have a moderate to a high amount of calcium.
Other key ingredients to look for include DHA and prebiotics. DHA is an important component found in the mother’s milk. It is essential for the brain and nervous system. Weaned puppies should continue having it for their overall health.
Prebiotics stimulate the digestive system to burn their meal and sustain a healthy immune system.
Additionally, you should also take your dog out often and let them explore different environments, people and dogs. This helps them build a healthy immune system.
What To look for in Dog Treats
Dog treats are a whole new world with a plethora of dangerous ingredients. Companies are even more carefree with treats because consumers are less likely to pay attention to what’s in them.
Most pet parents don’t pay too much attention to treats because it is usually fed in lesser quantities and hence is not believed to be harmful. But remember some treats should be an absolute no go even in small amounts.
Before we look at some ingredients to look for in dog treats, let us look at some ingredients you should avoid.
Dog Treat Ingredients To Avoid
The ingredients that you should avoid in dog food, extends to dog treats as well. However, there are a few other harmful ingredients often added to dog treats. Let us look at a few:
Ingredient 1: Artificial Colours and Flavours
Have you noticed those colourful bags of treats? Did you want to buy them immediately? Stop right there! Those colours are meant for your eyes and not for their stomach. They mostly cause allergies however some colours have shown to cause tumours and cancers. So avoid colourful treats.
Usually, when a company uses cheaper ingredients, their ingredients are either not appealing or the healthy ingredients are just not enough to make the product palatable. So, companies use artificial flavours to interest dogs in the treat.
While flavours may not have severe side effects and most of them cause mild allergies, it is best to avoid products that make you pay for artificial colours and flavours
Ingredient 2: MSG
Cheaper treats (and dog food) often use MSG, or Monosodium Glutamate, to enhance the flavours by using lesser quantities of real healthy ingredients.
In the long run, small quantities of MSG can harm the brain and the nervous system. It may also cause insulin levels to fluctuate and is best to avoid products using MSG.
Companies know that the secret is out, so they try new and better ways to hide this troublesome ingredient. They may label it as ‘Monosodium Glutamate, ‘hydrolysed protein’, ‘protein isolate’, ‘natural flavours’, ‘autolysed yeast’, ‘hydrolysed yeast’ etc.
Keep an eye out for these terms because MSG is a completely unnecessary ingredient and you can easily find treats that don’t contain it.
Ingredient 3: Corn Syrup
If there is something worse than sugar, it is corn syrup. And yet, it is commonly used in the pet food and the human food industry. Treats are often loaded with corn syrup because it is cheap and sweet.
Dogs have a much more sensitive stomach and they are more intolerant towards sugar. Corn syrup also affects the insulin and may cause it to fluctuate in their body. It may lead to diabetes or other hormonal disorders, pertaining to the Pancreas, in the long run.
Your dog should be away from regular table sugar. Corn syrup is a whole new level of toxins.
Ingredient 4: Xylitol
Xylitol is another sugar substitute that you must avoid at all costs. Humans have become tolerant towards it but dogs are not. Xylitol can cause seizures, liver failure and even death!
You should keep an eye out for xylitol, not just in dog food but dog safe human food as well. Unsalted peanut butter, for instance, is safe for dogs. But more often than not, it also contains xylitol. So, always make sure you read the labels before you share something with your four-legged furry friend.
Ingredient 5: Vegetable Oil
While we highly encourage you to give your dog seasonal, dog-safe vegetables, ‘vegetable oil’ is not the way to go. When a company labels ‘vegetable oil’ as an ingredient, they are often referring to oil extracted from cheaper vegetables that have no nutritional value for dogs.
What Are Healthy Dog Treats?
Now that we mentioned so many ingredients that aren’t good for dogs, we’re sure that we ruled most of the treats that you picked out for them. Don’t be upset. We have some healthy choices lined up for you as well.
So, what, exactly do you give your dog? What is a good healthy dog treat?
Some of the best treats are single-ingredient dog treats where you can see the primary ingredient. Treats like dried fish (where you can see the fish) are usually some of the best treats you can give your dog.
Secondly, a treat does not always have to come out of a bag. Small quantities of dog-safe seasonal fruits and vegetables work as excellent treats throughout the day.
You can also give them small quantities of boiled chicken breast. They work as excellent training treats because dogs tend to love them so much that they are ready to jump in hoops to have a taste.
Why Is It Important To Find Good Dog Food In India?
Feeding a dog good dog food is more than just looking out for their well being. It is a social responsibility. Majority of dog foods and treats in the market are just junk food and while you may argue that the human industry has junk food as well, we usually know what we’re getting into when we sink our teeth into a burger.
When it comes to dog food, so many unhealthy products are marketed to us as ‘wholesome’ and ‘nutritional’ dog food.
The worst thing that we can do for our dogs is to make uninformed decisions for them and pick a cheaper alternative that is doing them a lot more harm than good.
This has more damaging effects than just bad health. Many products have high amounts of unhealthy fats and sugars that lead to weight gain and poorer quality of life. It may even lead to hormonal issues.
If dogs with a poor diet have litters of puppies in the future, they may pass on these harmful genes to their offspring. Most Labradors in India are struggling with obesity. While poor breeding practices are one of the major reasons why obesity is a problem, we cannot omit bad food as well.
Bad eating habits can shorten a pet’s lifespan and alter genes so there are a lot of damaging effects of picking a cheaper formula. By saving up on a bag of dog food, you may end up spending heavily in the future.
Let’s not forget that some cheaper formulas are incredibly addictive for dogs. So, when you do realise that you are feeding them an unhealthy product, it may be very difficult to switch them to something healthy.
We believe in empowering pet parents. Hence we are always giving out in-depth information on the dog food industry. Now you can use the tools given above to distinguish between good and bad dog food and only pick the best products for them.
We hope this article helps you make better dietary decisions for your dog. All the best!