Would you build a house on sand and expect it to endure?
Likewise, to give a dog the best start in life, means selecting his puppy food with care.
What you feed your puppy today, lays the foundation for his future well-being. Feed a poor quality food and you could stunt his growth. But surprisingly, offering a food too rich in minerals, especially calcium, does harm by forcing rapid growth and creating joint problems.
So how do you tread the difficult path down which lies a healthy adult dog? Follow these golden rules and you won’t go far wrong.
#1: Choose a Life Stage Diet
Walk into any pet store and you’ll see a section for “Puppy food.”
Is this just cute marketing?
Nope, pictures of sweet puppies on the packaging aside, puppy food makes sound sense scientifically speaking.
Think of all the growing a puppy has to do. This means a big demand for the building blocks of muscle, bone, and soft tissue. In other words, puppies have a high requirement for protein, energy, and minerals. These special requirements are supplied by…ahem…puppy food.
Golden rule #1 is to choose a puppy food and leave the one-food-suits-all-ages diets on the shelf.
#2: Choose a Puppy Food Suited to your Dog’s Adult Size
Some puppies have a lot more growing to do than others. Think of a Chihuahua vs a Great Dane and you appreciate the difference. However, whilst you might assume that the bigger the dog the more fuel for growth is needed, you’d be wrong.
Actually, the big danger is causing a large or giant breed dog to grow too quickly. A puppy food balanced for the growth of a Yorkshire terrier reaching adult size at 6 months is not suitable for a St Bernard who matures at 18 months.
The bones of large or giant breeds grow in a slow sustained manner. Force them to grow too quickly, by offering the concentrated nutrition suitable for a toy dog, and the result is poor bone quality leading to joint damage. This is why there are special “Large breed growth” foods, designed for dogs with an adult weight over 25 kg. These foods foster slow sustained growth leading to strong bones and healthy joints.
In practical terms you have two choices: Feeding a regular puppy food or a ‘large breed’ puppy food.
#3: Choose Quality Ingredients
Puppies need protein for growth. However, not all proteins are created equal. Some proteins are easier to digest than others, and these are said to have a ‘high biological value.’ Therefore, soya and steak both provide protein, but soy has a low biological value, whilst steak is high.
Biological value matters for two reasons.
- Poor quality protein means the puppy must eat more of it to meet his daily protein requirements. Given that puppies have small stomachs, this may not be possible.
- Good quality protein is easier to digest, which means it’s kinder on a puppy’s delicate gut. On the other paw, poor quality protein is often plant based which ferments in the bowel causing flatulence and diarrhea.
Thus, when choosing puppy food go for brands that use meat as the primary protein sources and avoid those with soy high on the ingredients list.
#4: Read the Label
Don’t take the claims on the packaging as gospel; instead, take a close read of the ingredients label. Once you know how this is simple to decode and makes all the difference to your decision making.
Know the ingredients are listed by quantity. Thus, the first item makes up the majority of the food. Go below sixth on the list you’re talking tiny, almost homeopathic quantities (so beware when chicken meat appears at item 10.)
Look for meats or meat-products listed as the first and second ingredients, and preferably also the third and fourth. Also, does the label read like a menu listing delicious sounding ingredients such as sweet potato, parsley, blueberries, and peas. Or does it sound more like an inventory of chemicals?
Bear in mind that additives such as colorings, and flavorings have their place, but when a food is well-balanced with good ingredients, the need for such additives is reduced.
#5: Identify Quality
Which do you think is easier to digest and represents better nutritional value to your pup?: chicken meat or poultry by-products.
No surprise that the correct answer is chicken meat.
Whilst meat by-products and meat (or fish) meals have their place and are perfectly nutritious, when you want the best puppy food, look for a named meat (such as chicken, beef, lamb, or salmon) heading the list of ingredients.
Meat meals and meat by-products are of lesser quality, often being made up of those parts of the carcass that would otherwise be discarded, such as guts, lungs, or skin! The quality can vary tremendously making it hard to know how nutritious the food really is.
It’s useful to know that when a label lists “meat meal” or “meat byproducts”, the manufacturer isn’t committing themselves to what goes into the food. They tend to purchase whichever meat is cheapest on the day, hence another potential compromise on quality.
If your ultimate goal is to feed the best puppy food you can, then looked for named meats and cut down on the by-products and meals.
A Last Word about Puppy Health
If you’re left feeling confused and overwhelmed about what to feed, then relax. When a food is AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) approved, then it contains everything a dog needs for good health. The rest is fine tuning.
And last of all, you can feed too much of a good thing. The best puppy food in the world has the potential to harm your puppy when you feed too much. For a long and healthy life, take care to keep your puppy lean and active.
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