Remember the last family gathering (how could you forget??) when you talked about your 12-year-old dog’s latest ailment, and someone said, “Well, it’s kind of almost their time, isn’t it?”
After recovering from shock, you calmly reminded yourself that your dog will live forever and these “non-dog-people” just don’t get it.
We get it. Your dog will indeed live a very long life, and their diet and eating habits play a big role in that. But most pet parents don’t really know what to feed their dog or even how much to feed them. They just read the instructions on the label and sort of follow them, and pick out food that sounds good and their dog seems to like.
There is a better way–giving your pup the right nutrition and the right amount of food for their age, breed size, and health issues. Here are some insider tips on how and what to feed your dog to keep them happy, healthy, and living their best, longest life.
Check the First Few Ingredients
Did you know that the ingredients are listed in order of how much is in the food? So the first five ingredients make up a good portion of what’s actually in it.
Dogs need protein because it delivers essential amino acids that they can only get from their diet. Animal protein delivers the most amino acids, so you’ll want to look for things like turkey, chicken, salmon, beef, or another animal protein as the first and/or second ingredient.
Organ meats like chicken liver or beef heart provide great protein sources, too. You may also see egg listed in the first five ingredients, which is also a great source of animal protein.
Look for the AAFCO Statement
In order for your dog to get the nutrients their body needs, they should be eating a food that has an AAFCO statement. AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. They create dog nutrient profiles that say how much of certain nutrients dogs need. These include protein, fat, and certain vitamins and minerals. If you want to make sure that your pup is getting at least the minimum nutrition to keep them healthy, look for one of these statements:
Puppies and Pregnant or Nursing Dogs:
(Food name and brand) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth and reproduction.
(Food name and brand) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth and reproduction, including the growth of large size dogs (70 lb or more as an adult).
Adult / Senior Dogs:
(Food name and brand) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for adult maintenance.
Watch Those Portion Sizes
If you want to know the truth, how much you’re feeding your dog might be even more important than what you’re feeding them. And it’s important to note that you might end up feeding less air-dried food compared to kibble or fresh/frozen. That’s because air-dried dog food like Sundays for Dogs is ultra nutrient dense and only contains healthful ingredients that carry more benefits than fillers and other additives.
Two different studies–one that was done in 2002, and a recent one from 2019, confirmed the same thing: dogs that are in a normal weight range live longer than those that are overweight or obese.
The 2002 study also showed that keeping your dog lean throughout their life meant that they didn’t develop symptoms of common chronic diseases, like arthritis, as soon as they would if they were fed a lot more.
This one goes along with keeping your dog at their ideal weight. Step one is to ask your vet how many calories your dog should be getting every day. This should be based on your dog’s age and activity level.
Step two is to actually count the calories you’re feeding your dog. You can even feed some wet food and some dry food, but make sure you know how much food equals how many calories, and don’t forget to include any treats you give in the daily calorie count!
Say No to Scraps
Yes, it’s very difficult to deny your dog scraps when they’re as cute as they are. But you know they’re not starving–you’re the one that fills their bowl every day!
Even the tiniest amount of scraps, from just letting your dog lick your empty bowl, racks up extra calories that your dog does not need. So unless you want to do some serious math to try to figure out how many calories that salmon skin is, just say no.
Remember–keeping your dog at their leanest with the right amount of calories will help them live longer!
Feed Them Right for Their Age
Make sure you have a diet that’s right for your dog’s life stage. Before that even, you need to know whether your dog is still actually a puppy, or an adult, or if they’re now considered a senior dog. You may well be in denial of your little baby growing up and getting older.
Here’s a little guide:
Puppy food up to about 10 months
Adult food 11 months to 7 years
Senior food 8 years and up
Puppy food up to about 1 year
Adult food 1 to 6 years
Senior food 7 years and up
Puppy food up to about 18 months
Adult food 18 months to 5 years
Senior food 6 years and up
Now you can look for food labeled for your dog’s life stage. And remember to look for the AAFCO statements that match.
Beware of Trendy Diets
Your dog’s diet does not need to match yours or follow diet trends. Dogs are not meant to be vegetarian, and they don’t need a grain-free diet, either. Your best bet is to stick with brands that have done clinical testing on their formulas or have veterinarians on staff.
Choose Less-Processed, Whole Food Formulas
The more processed a food is, the more heat it faces, which means it keeps fewer of its valuable nutrients. They’re basically cooked out. On one end you have dry dog food, and on the other end, raw. Both have plenty of downsides. Canned food is still highly processed, and freeze-dried raw on the other end is pretty expensive and has the risk of bacteria. A more cost-effective compromise is something like air-dried food that’s only gently dehydrated to preserve nutrients but kill bacteria.
Another thing to consider is how the food supplies vitamins and minerals. Many pet food companies use synthetic vitamin and mineral packs, and you’ll see all the vitamins and minerals listed out in the ingredients panel. An alternative to this is using fruits and vegetables that are naturally full of these same vitamins and minerals, like pumpkin, kale, spinach, strawberries, and apples.
Look for Bonus Nutrients
There are certain nutrients that can help keep your dog at their best health at each life stage. Here’s what you should look for:
Adult dog foods should have the minimum 18% protein. Added probiotics are a bonus for digestive health. You may also look on the Guaranteed Analysis panel for omega-3 and omega-6, fatty acids that do all kinds of amazing stuff for your dog’s body, plus glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.
Senior dogs can benefit from probiotics and omegas, too, but also higher amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin for aging joints. You also want to watch for weight gain as they get older. Look for L-carnitine, an amino acid that helps your dog’s body turn fat into energy.