It's no secret that the type of food we eat affects our health, our energy levels, our mood, and even our athletic performance. It stands to reason, then, that the same might hold true for our dogs. These days, a walk down the food aisle in any pet store can be daunting, with labels touting attributes such as grain free, limited ingredients, dehydrated, and raw. With all of these options, how does one decide what is best for his or her pet?
Thomas Palvino, DVM and owner of Austin Vet Hospital, agrees that pet owners can become easily overwhelmed by the number of choices: “A good food is important—but defining a 'good' food depends on who you ask. Some folks think dog food shouldn't have corn, should be uncooked or raw, should be organically sourced, should be wet food, should include bones, etc., etc., etc.,” he said. “We know that for most dogs a bag of 'dog chow' is just fine—what's medically important is that it is made to AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards and is safe.”
However, according to Jane DelRe—CPDT-KA, canine behavior consultant, Canine Good Citizen evaluator, and owner of The Canine Center for Training and Behavior—some dog food ingredients may be more optimal for your dog than others. “I often counsel my clients that what they put into their dogs is what is coming back to them in health and behavior,” she said. “Imagine how grumpy a child can be when we feed him too many processed and sugary foods. The same can be true for our dogs.”
When DelRe is presented with dogs who are experiencing behavioral issues, she said she first counsels owners to have their veterinarians run blood work to ensure that there is no underlying medical condition. Then, she advises them to change their dogs’ diets. “Making sure that the diet is free of common irritants and [is] full of nutritious ingredients is stacking the deck in our favor,” DelRe explained. “We ask clients to avoid corn, wheat, soy, dyes, preservatives, and to look for human-grade ingredients, with a meat source as the first ingredient.” Over the years, she remarked, she has witnessed numerous positive effects in her clients' dogs after changing their diet, both in behavior and general excitability.
In the case that a dog does have a certain medical condition (e.g., food allergies, kidney disease, bladder stones, etc.), Dr. Palvino asserted that dog owners should consult with their veterinarians about selecting the right kind of food. “The diet could really impact the life of your dog[s], and choosing the wrong food might actually harm them,” he said.
At the end of the day, however, Palvino recommends that owners not over-think their options to the point of being overwhelmed. And, above all, he counsels his clients to avoid what he considers a much more common problem: overfeeding their dogs. “While some [dogs] will have issues (e.g., allergies) with some ingredients,” he said, “the issue I see the most is [that] too much food is fed: Obesity is the most common medical condition.”