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How to select dog food

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Puppy formula should include DHA for brain and vision development. (&copy Hemera / Thinkstock) Puppy formula should include DHA for brain and vision development. (© Hemera / Thinkstock)
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By Jennifer Viegas
 
When perusing the pet food aisle at your local store, what criteria do you use to select your dog's meals? An Ipsos poll conducted last October surveyed pet owners on this very issue. Over 1,000 randomly selected adults, serving as a nationally representative sample, were interviewed online to determine how they select pet food. See how your own decision-making process rates in comparison to that of the survey respondents.

How Americans Choose Dog Food
Based on the survey results, Americans consider four primary factors when purchasing food for their dog or cat.

1. Listen to the experts. Thirty-six percent of pet owners cite personal recommendations from trusted sources, such as veterinarians, as the most important factor of diet selection.

2. Read labels. Thirty percent rank ingredients as the most important criteria when selecting food. "If you pick up a bag of pet food and you see a vegetable-based protein (glutens) in the top few ingredients, keep moving down the aisle," says Dr. Katy Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va., who is also a member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council. "High-quality foods are made with animal-based proteins and high-quality refined meals."

3. Invest in your pet. Nearly 25 percent rank price as a deciding factor. But good deals may not be all that you've bargained for. "The ‘least cost' formulation could certainly explain the finickiness of many animals," says Nelson. "If a company is scrimping on the cost of the food, they're likely to leave out -- or at least decrease the level included -- of something that would greatly enhance palatability, as it is likely to cost the most to add."

4. Consider the age of your dog. Only 11 percent of U.S. pet owners take their pet's age into consideration when determining which formula to feed their pet. "I always tell my patients that healthy checkups start on the inside," says Nelson, who encourages feeding a pet a high-quality diet specific to an animal's age.

What Is Your Dog's Stage of Life?

It's important to consider the stages of life for dogs when deciding on your choice of pet food. "Diet requirements -- including protein levels, calories and vitamins and minerals -- vary over the life of a pet," says Nelson. "In turn, an animal's needs change as he grows from a puppy or kitten, to an adult into a senior."

Nelson shares these basic guidelines:

  • One to 12 months Puppy formula at this stage should include DHA for brain and vision development. Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical service veterinarian, explains that DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. "The benefits of a diet rich in DHA starts in the womb, much like pregnant women taking prenatal vitamins," says Dicke.
  • One to 7 years Adult-formula dry dog foods should have crunchy kibbles to help keep teeth clean and tartar-free. Look for phrases like "dental care" on dog food labels. Foods for adult dogs should also contain a balanced omega 6-to-3 ratio for healthy skin and coat.
  • Seven years and older A senior formula with L-carnitine helps burn fat and keeps muscles lean. L-carnitine is a vitamin-like compound that helps turn fat into energy. Losing weight can mean losing muscle as well as fat, but adding L-carnitine to a diet helped overweight dogs maintain muscle and lose fat. Weight loss diets may also feature enhanced levels of vitamin A to reduce weight regain.

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Dog Daily. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics. 

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