How do you know which food is best for your dog?

HOUSTON – From the grocery store shelves to specialty foods you find at your veterinarian's office, there are dozens of dog food choices marketed to certain types of dogs. How do you know which one is best? And does price have anything to do with quality?

Choosing the right food for your dog means understanding what the labels mean and if the fancy food is worth the price.

The marketing of dog food is changing from the shot of a dog getting excited about Kibbles 'n Bits to a shot of slow-roasted chicken, carrots and other foods you would see in nutritious recipes. So why the switch?

Dr. Richard Hill said it's a reflection of society.

"There's very much a trend where people want to feed their dogs like they feed themselves," Hill said. "They really should pay less attention to the ingredients and more attention to the nutrients that are present in the food."

Hill said to look for "complete and balanced" on the label and make sure that the food meets the nutritional profile by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO.

"If it's complete and balanced, if a dog eats this food, the dog will get all the nutrients it needs and it doesn't need any supplements," Hill said.

What about the words "byproducts" and "meal?"

He said meal just means the meat has been cooked and rendered into a dry product. Byproducts refers to the rest of the carcass.

"What does a cat normally eat? It eats mice. It eats birds," Hill said. "It doesn't just pick up the meat. It doesn't just slice off the breast and leave the rest. It eats the whole thing. It needs to eat the whole thing, because the whole thing contains the nutrients it needs."

Hill said one of the biggest myths about dog food is that dogs can't eat carbohydrates and that foods containing carbohydrates are unhealthy.

"In fact, dogs are able to deal with them quite well," he said. "People think they're making bad food. It's not in their interest to make bad food."

Should you buy the fancy brands, or just stick to what you find at the grocery store?

"It's a bit like if you buy different cars. You can buy an expensive car or you can buy a cheap car. They'll both probably get you to Orlando, but one might be a better experience," Hill said.

Hill recommends pet owners keep their dog's food in an airtight container.

"Buy smaller bags of food," he said. "The animal needs to be eating this inside a month."

And most of us are feeding our pets way too much.

"Make sure your animal stays lean. It will stay healthier. It will live longer. It will do much better and will be much less likely to have problem with its joints and diabetes," Hill said.

Finally, cut down on the treats.

"Probably a third to half the calories they're getting are coming from treats, and that's a problem, because most treats are not complete and balanced," Hill said. "Just keep it less than 10 percent of the calories."


Hill said the best advice on your dog's diet and the pet foods available will come from your veterinarian.

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