Selecting the right dog for you and your family is easy enough – but working out what to feed your four-legged friend is another matter entirely. If you don't know you kibble from your nibbles, read on and we'll try to help you get it right...
The first basic distinction is between wet or dry dog foods, both of which are popular with owners and which have different advantages and disadvantages. Wet food is generally considered tastier by dogs, since it has more of an aroma. It is sometimes recommended for elderly or sick pets who may have a lowered appetite – or for dogs who might not drink enough water. The downsides are that it often works out more expensive, had a limited shelf life once opened, can promote dental problems and is messier than dry food. Some owners also report that their dogs create more aromas when fed on wet food.
Also known as kibble or meal, dry food usually comes in paper sacks and is regarded as more convenient by most owners. It is also more economical and better for your animal's teeth. Either will be adequate on its own or you might opt for a mix, although then there may be a risk of Fido turning his nose up at the dried offering.
As the name suggests, this is not as wet as wet dog food – but is still not dry. It's usually sold in packets at the premium end of the market.
Many pet owners report that their dog's health and vitality improves after switching to a natural, raw food diet. You could give them meat on the bone, bought from butchers and farmer's markets, or look in the freezer department of big pet stores. For example, you could give your dog frozen or defrosted poultry necks along with a ready-made vegetable and rice side (which come formed into blocks). Be careful not to heat up things like chicken though, as it can soften the bones and make it dangerous to eat.
Do dogs need different food at different stages of their lives?
There is no absolute rule, but puppies do need much more energy than grown dogs – so many owners choose to feed them with puppy-specific food which is higher in calories. When they are fully grown they can be switched to adult food, perhaps by mixing the new and old foods together and gradually reducing the quantities of the old one. As mentioned above, older dogs may find wet food more appetising. Dry food manufacturers also offer varieties for "senior" dogs, but these products are by no means necessary.
Does food need to be breed specific?
The short answer is no, but there are different formulations of dog food for large and for small breeds – and some companies even offer foods specifically tailored to one breed alone. You can also purchase feeds specific to small, standard or large breeds – and also segregated for puppies or fully grown dogs. Some manufacturers even market feeds for individual breeds such as spaniels, labradors or greyhounds – but like age-specific foods, these are not essential.
Complete or complementary?
It's easiest to just get a "complete" dog food – meaning one which provides all the nutrition your pet needs. Complementary dog foods are designed to be given to your pet as part of its diet, perhaps along with mixer biscuits.
Can't I just give my dog the same food I have?
While it might sound like a nice idea, there are a couple of good reasons not to simply serve up an extra plate of grub for Fido at dinner time. Firstly, dogs don't react well to some foods - notably pork, grapes and raisins, avocado and chocolate. Secondly, there's a good chance that your dog has different nutritional requirements to you – so while it's OK to share leftovers on a regular basis, an exclusively human diet could be too rich for it.
If offering your dog a new foodstuff for the first time, just start off with a little bit and be wary for any adverse reactions.
What do you feed your dog? Leave a comment below...