It’s not getting any easier: more and more varieties of ready-to-eat feed are coming onto the market with the greatest promises. At the same time, the number of dog owners who do not trust all this and rely on self-prepared food for their four-legged friends is growing. How should one orientate oneself? What is right and what is wrong? The following guide will help you to find your way in this jungle. In the first part we deal exclusively with dry ready-to-eat food.
The following explanations are based on the latest scientific findings regarding the feeding of dogs and refer in this article, unless otherwise stated, to healthy, normal-weight, adult dogs. There are two decisions that need to be made at the very beginning before you go into the feed jungle.
Is my dog doing well with the current food?
That means: Does he like to eat his food? Does he make a healthy and lively impression? Is his coat all right? Does he not set off excrement more than twice a day, which is reasonably firm and not too large in relation to the amount of food? Does he suffer from flatulence?
If the first questions were answered with Yes and the last with No and you give a dry ready-made food, you probably don’t have to change anything. Today’s convenience food, unless it is a very new or exotic variety, contains the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients in the right amounts. If you want to know more, you can, for example, consult the latest Stiftung Warentest dry food test.
Basically you can feed a dog equally well with dry food, wet food or self-prepared food, be it cooked or raw. If you don’t give any usual dry food, but moist food without added vitamins and minerals or cook or barfen yourself, it is worth taking a closer look at the composition and the content of minerals and vitamins.
Because even if the dog is doing well at the moment, health problems can occur in the long term due to deficiency symptoms. We will deal with this feeding in part 2 of the next issue of the “Schweizer Hunde Magazin”.
Am I doing well with the food?
This may sound strange, because hopefully you will eat something other than what ends up in the dog bowl. It is about the following and similar questions: Can you buy, store and prepare the food for your dog at a reasonable cost or is it more of a burden for you?
Do you have a persistent uneasiness to throw the same dry balls into your dog’s bowl every day and would like to give something more natural because you also pay a lot of attention to your diet? Do you feel that the food is too expensive compared to what it contains? If you don’t feel well, change something.
Dry ready-to-eat feed – the analytical values
Let’s start with the most common and simplest case: You give your dog a dry ready-made food and he and you are fine with it. Especially if you give your dog one of the newer varieties that have not been on the market long, it is worth taking a look at the analysis data. The following explanations will also give you an orientation if you want to continue giving dry food but want to try a different variety.
This value indicates how much protein is in the feed, regardless of quality and origin. A high protein content does not necessarily indicate a high meat content because the proteins can also come from potatoes, maize or pulses. If the dog digests and tolerates the food well, you don’t have to worry about which sources the protein comes from. However, the value should preferably be above 20 percent.
This value indicates the total fat content, again regardless of the sources. If the dog is not overweight, then 10 to 16 percent is fine as a rule of thumb.
There are always funny speculations here. This number indicates how many minerals are left in the food, if the food would be burned at high temperatures. The upper limit should be 10 percent. High raw ash values are an indication of a high bone content in meat meal.
These are the indigestible substances in a feed, but they are important for a functioning digestion. The higher the crude fibre content, the lower the digestibility and the higher the amount of faeces. If the dog should not lose weight, values from 1 to 4.5 percent are fine. Dogs that tend to have soft faeces are better fed a food with a lower crude fibre value.
Calcium and phosphorus
These two values must be given and should be in a ratio of 1 : 1.1 to 1 : 1.9, which they almost always do. However, the individual value also plays a role. Calcium levels of over 1.4 percent are practically always much too high for an adult dog. Excessively high calcium levels can lead to urinary stones or a secondary copper and zinc deficiency, which in turn can lead to coat problems, among other things.
Vitamins A, D and E
These are the important fat-soluble vitamins. Since surpluses are not excreted, massive overdoses can cause problems. Vitamin A in particular is often massively overdosed in dry foods. According to current knowledge, this is harmless for dogs, but I personally hesitate with vitamin A contents below 12,000 and over 20,000 IU per kg.
Vitamin D should be around 1000 IU per kilogram, then the ratio is usually correct. Vitamin E is practically always enough and never too much. These are all rough clues to check without exact analysis tailored to the needs of the individual dog to see if a food is very out of the ordinary.
Meat content and carbohydrates – the composition
In the relevant internet forums, the meat content is usually invoked as the most important criterion for the selection of the finished feed. There are then the most adventurous demands such as, for example, that at least 70 percent meat must be in the feed, otherwise it could be fed directly to chickens or rabbits. In fact, the meat content of a feed is an important criterion for an omnivore with a clear meat preference.
Nevertheless, our dogs have been used to using our food leftovers as food for thousands of years and if they were not lucky enough to live in a butcher’s household or to be a hunting dog, meat was rather a rare ingredient in a dog’s bowl. So if the dog tolerates its finished food well, you don’t have to worry about the meat content. For those who still want to know exactly, here are a few criteria for estimating the meat content.