Before the internet, purchasing dog food was fairly simple. You’d head on down to your local grocery store, look at the small selection of brands you already recognize, and choose the same dry kibble your parents fed your dog while you were growing up. These days, in a post-internet world, shopping for your dog has become a lot more convenient, but also a lot more complicated. With an explosion of new pet food brands and brand new health claims being made daily, it’s easy to get lost in fancy marketing and pet food fads. That’s why we’re here to help.
Overall, pet companies and pet parents alike are moving away from a one-size-fits-all-dogs approach, especially when it comes to nutrition. Gone are the days when you barely glance at a nutrition panel; now, picking your dog’s ideal food means having 15 product tabs open comparing protein and grain levels with another site open to cross-reference all the bad dog food ingredients for you to avoid (even if these lists vary depending on who you’re talking to!).
It’s fantastic that we’re moving toward a world where we keep our dogs healthier and happier for longer, but sometimes the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming. Is my dog’s pet food enough? What are supplements and should I be using them? The questions never stop! That’s why we spoke with DIG Labs, a company that creates individualized dog supplements, for this simple guide to boosting your dog’s nutrition from the ground up.
Every dog is different and what and how much they should consume will vary. That said, there are some constants that all animals (humans included) need:
Take a look at the food you’re feeding your dog; does it contain everything your dog needs? Dogs (unlike their cat friends) aren't completely carnivores and can derive nutrition from things other than meat. Modern day pet foods work hard to include the most important parts of your dog’s diet, but not all are created equal.
Many dry dog food options can be over-processed, meaning it takes extra effort for your dog’s digestive system to break them down and get nutrients from them. That means they don’t always have time to absorb all the nutrients they need from it, especially since dogs have the shortest digestive systems of mammals — it takes only eight to nine hours for complete digestion in a healthy dog.
The only person truly in a position to answer this question is a vet, as your dog’s age, breed, activity level, and health needs all contribute to the specific nutrients your dog requires. If you are unsure whether or not your dog is eating right, you can contact your primary vet for an appointment or chat with a vet online from the comfort of your home.
While only a vet can say for sure, there are certainly ways of determining whether certain dog foods are more nutritious than others. Take a look at the nutrition panel. Pro-tip: Ingredients are listed in order by weight — so the most important stuff is up front. Your dog should be eating a good mixture of ingredients, like meat, carbohydrates and grains, vegetables, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. Does it all look good? Or are there other ingredients that you don’t think sound so hot? Maybe ingredients like:
BHA, BHT, and Ethoxyquin
Food dyes or corn syrup
Next, you should consider the form your dog’s food takes. Are you only serving kibble? While there’s nothing inherently wrong with dry food (some of it can be quite healthy!), sometimes the nutritional aspects can be lost or diminished in the manufacturing process. And worse, some companies will promote health benefits from their products — like probiotics — that don’t really exist.
And while fresh or raw food alternatives are great ways to improve your dog’s overall health and nutrition, the reality is that there are many hurdles to changing our dogs’ diet — from refrigerator space to budget.
While the average pet owner may balk about the idea of regularly cooking human food for their pets, incorporating just a bit of fresh food can go a long way for your dog's health. It turns out that humans and dogs alike enjoy minimally-processed foods and a few studies have pointed to added whole foods as risk reduction for health problems, such as transitional cell carcinoma.
Whole food additives have some great benefits, like shinier coats and healthier skin, but they also mean firmer stools and fewer trips to the vet. We all want our furry friends to have more energy, so the less processed the food, the easier it is for your dog to glean the necessary nutrients.
Some easily available and healthy dog food additives include:
Lightly cooked chicken or beef (a GREAT source of protein)
Blueberries (a GREAT source of antioxidants and super tasty)
Another alternative to helping to provide a happy, healthy life for your pup is building their bowl by adding supplements to their mealtime. Supplements provide essential but often elusive ingredients that don’t always make it through the dog food manufacturing process, like probiotics. Or, if they do, the level of those ingredients may not be high enough to be impactful, like glucosamine. These missing ingredients can be key to many core bodily needs, like digestion, nutrient production/absorption, ligament and joint functions, and organ functionality.
Supplements, which come in many forms (powder, chew, treat, tablet, liquid, or oil), have a role in dogs’ nutrition throughout their lives, even though they’re often considered as only being for senior or illness-prone dogs. Dogs who can also benefit include:
Young dogs building their immune system
Dogs carrying a few extra pounds
Dogs who need a boost to their skin and coat
Active or working dogs
Dogs with seasonal or environmental allergies
Dogs with sensitive digestive systems or issues
Dogs recovering from injury
Dogs with behavioral issues
Supplements can provide a wide array of benefits to the following:
Joint and mobility
Digestive and immunity (over 70-80% of a dog’s immune system is located in their digestive tract)
Skin and coat
Behavioral (recent studies link the gut microbiome composition with aggression in dogs)
Antioxidants and more
When choosing a supplement, make sure there are high-quality ingredients with as few fillers, additives, and preservatives as possible. We like DIG Labs because they help make providing personalized care and boosted nutrition for our dogs easy with their Pup Sup. You can take a 5-minute health assessment and they will customize a unique super nutrient formula.
Supper time isn’t the only time we’re feeding our pets, so make sure you’re making the most out of everything your dog puts in their mouth. Determining what makes a treat quality means taking a look at the nutrition panel and making sure it’s not a mile-long.
Generally, the fewer the ingredients, the better. The same goes for all dog food; you want the treats to be as close to their natural form as possible for optimal digestibility.