How to Choose Dog Food
Learn how to choose dog food and weed the good from the bad when searching through dozens of kibble brands with this how to guide. Your search for the perfect Great Dane formula ends here!
Quality dog food is a must for Great Danes! aaGD.com recommends Innova, Solid Gold WolfKing, Eagle Pack Holistic, and Chicken Soup as wonderful choices for Great Danes. But be aware, some large/giant puppy blends may contain too high a level of protein and the adult blend would be a better choice. Ingredients such as Beet Pulp and Wheat can be found in Eagle Pack Holistic. Nothing is perfect yet we can try our best to find the best mix that works for our Danes.
Regardless what premium kibble you look at there will always be something that shouldn't be there. We firmly believe that what matters is the source of these not so ideal ingredients, where they are coming from and why they are added. As in EP Holistic, you'll see they use it for different reasons, verses what poor quality kibbles use it for and the quality of the source from where it is coming from.
How to Choose Dog Food The Right Way
First of all don't believe the hype, TV commercials, dog show sponsors and similar. Many of these widely marketed kibbles are garbage. Rather than name drop let's avoid legal repercussions and focus on the ingredients panel. Forget about the wonderful fresh meats, fruits and vegetables pictured on the label, this in most cases has nothing to do with the quality of the food and is simply real good marketing tactics.
Before you go running around stores flipping over bags of dog food please know that most on line vendors such as Pet Food Direct have published ingredient panels and crude analysis on most all of the many brands of dog food. Which you will soon find out the majority will be cast out as a poor choice. The key most important factor ESPECIALLY when growing a Dane puppy are protein and fat level combined with calcium and phosphorus ratio.
Treats are Fair Game
Don't forget that treats apply to the same set of guidelines below! After all the hard work in choosing a quality kibble, it's easy to forget that most pet store treats can be very poor quality! Many choose, and this is a good idea, all natural treats such as cut liver, beef, or sweet potato. The same chemicals, poor grains, fats, binders and everything else are fair game to treat manufacturers! Good news is many premium dog food manufacturers such as Wellness, Natura & California Natural also have some excellent treats available.
TIP: You can access the ingredients panel of almost any brand of dog food here at Pet Food Direct . The link will open in a (new window or tab). As you read this article you can scan the ingredients of any brand you're considering as you go:)
How to Choose Ingredients
First step here is protein and fat levels, with Dane puppies we need a food with low protein fat levels. Typically 23 to 24% protein and 12 to 14% fat is right on the money for growing a Dane. There are many brands available that have these levels including many premium large breed puppy formulas. So far so good!
Now grab a pen and paper and jot down all the brands you've come up with that have the proper protein and fat levels. Here's where the fun starts as we are going to critique and nit pick the ingredient list to weed out poor quality kibble, leaving the cream to rise to the top. Of course as we weed out the lesser brands, price of the kibble is sure to increase with quality.
The First Five Ingredients:Right off the bat, the first 5 ingredients are a good indication of the quality of any dog food! The first 3 ingredients are actually primary protein sources of the kibble. The ingredients in dog food are required to be listed in order of weight so the first five ingredients would basically make up the bulk of the food. Since dogs are carnivores it is important that the first ingredient, the greatest part of the food be a defined meat, or, defined meat meal.
Ingredients like Turkey, Chicken, or Chicken Meal are an example. Are there other defined meats, or defined meat meals in the important "first 3" spots? Most likely in super premium blends yet it's not uncommon for a grain or two such as brown rice, oatmeal or similar with some brands.
The more defined meats in the first three ingredients the better. Yet within the first 5 ingredients it is important to see two or more defined meats, or meat meals. Keep in mind that all grains are not similar, none are really much good but you can't avoid them with kibble. We'll get to grains in a moment. So the first five ingredients look OK? Start crossing off lesser brands on your list and let's keep digging.
Being honest, there are no grains that offer much nutritional value to a carnivore, yet some grains are worse than others. As previously mentioned you will most likely find some sort of grain in just about every kibble. Grains provide a cheap source of carbohydrates that can metabolize into sugars, feed certain cancers, cause unstable temperament and more. Key here is to try and find a brand with grains listed lower on the ingredients panel and watch out for bad grains (below).
You should also watch for the same type of grain listed twice, such as "ground brown rice" & "brewers rice". Here we have two of the same grain "rice". Many manufacturers will "split" and list these ingredients separately. It is not uncommon for certain manufacturers to "split" the ingredients to make it appear the food is of higher quality containing less grain. Here is a partial list of very poor grains, avoid a food that includes these grains.
Avoid Brewers Rice, Cereal Food Fines, Feeding Oat Meal, Grain Fermentation Solubles Maltodextrins & Fermentation Solubles, Potato Product, Soy Flour.
Further, look for "anything" corn and try to avoid it as corn is very difficult to digest!
This includes.. corn, corn meal, corn syrup, corn gluten meal, etc.
Corn is also a known allergen and has little to no nutritional value. Some formulas, even premium brands, may contain wheat, beet pulp, or other grains, these may show up in the ingredients yet should never be too high on the list.
Many manufacturers of quality dog food include probiotics and this is considered a plus. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients. They help to keep harmful bacteria from colonizing and creating digestive problems, and thus support the body in fighting illness and disease. If beneficial bacteria become depleted or the balance is disturbed, potentially harmful (pathogenic) bacteria can overgrow, causing health problems.
Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfate:
Another thing to look for in a quality dog food is glucosamine and chondroitin, especially when feeding Great Danes. While the amount of glucosamine and chondroitin per serving is typically minimal to me it adds a bit of reassurance that we are promoting overall good joint health. It is also wise to further supplement with a glucosamine and chondroitin program such as Cosoquin with any giant breed from 2-years on.
Digging Further on Ingredients and Things to Avoid
By-Products: Look for and avoid any by-products, especially unclassified by-products. While the AAFCO allows the use of by-product the regulations are sparse and often old, low quality "parts" are used as there is no use for them in the human food industry.
Poor Protein Sources: Protein is the building block of a dogs body and it is imperative that protein sources are from quality meat ingredients. Since dogs are carnivores their bodies are designed specifically to process these meat proteins and fully benefit from the nutrition. Unfortunately meat protein sources are expensive and this is why many manufacturers try to cut corners using alternative forms of protein. This is also why we stress to check the first three ingredients, preferably the first, and look for a good quality meat protein! These protein sources are often found in low quality kibble and should be avoided!
Avoid Beef & Bone Meal, Blood Meal, Chicken Byproduct Meal, Corn Distillers Dried Grains With Solubles, Corn Germ Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Fish Meal, Liver Meal, Meat & Bone Meal, Pork & Bone Meal, Poultry Byproduct Meal, Poultry Meal, Soybean Meal.
Poor Fat Sources: Fats and oils are essential to a canine diet and required mainly for healthy skin and coat. Fats and oils also are essential to other critical functions of the body, even brain function. While some fats are nutritious containing valuable fatty acids, others such as beef tallow are high in saturated fat and used more for flavor than nutrition. Check food ingredients for specifically named fats and oils such as chicken fat, herring oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, flax oil, etc. The following are poor sources of fat added to certain kibbles that have little nutritional value yet increase palatability of certain brands.
Avoid Animal Fat, Beef Tallow, Lard, Poultry Fat, Vegetable Oil.
Fiber: Fiber is the part of carbohydrates that can not be digested by the dog. Depending on nutritional goals, varying levels of dietary fiber with different properties are necessary to make a highly processed food source like commercial kibble "work", since a dog's digestive tract is not designed to process a diet with such high levels of carbohydrates - most dry foods contain 40-50%, poor quality brands even more. Low quality fibers that should be avoided!
Avoid Cellulose (Can be a processed wood powder in certain poor kibble!) Corn Bran, Corn Cellulose, Oat Hulls, Peanut Hulls, Rice Hulls, Soybean Mill Run Wheat Mill Run.
Fruits and Vegetables: Many, many premium kibbles promote fruits and vegetables and include them in their ingredients. While fruits and vegetables do offer vitamins and minerals they are typically not included in enough quantity to be significant. If they are in your ingredient list this is fine and probably a better choice than a food that doesn't include them.
Fruits and vegetable ingredients to avoid are apple pomace, grape pomace & citrus pulp.
Binders: Avoid binders at all cost they are simply a by-product of human food processing and serve mainly to bind food together offering almost no nutritional value. The second binder listed was actually a major ingredient of the most recent major pet food recall.
Avoid Corn Gluten, Wheat Gluten.
Flavoring agents: Flavoring agents should be avoided, ever open a cheap bag of kibble and get hit with a strong whiff of something? These agents are added to poor quality kibble so it is more palatable and to entice a dog to chow down.
Avoid ingredients such as Animal Digest, Digest, Flavor, Glandular Meal.
Sweeteners:Avoid brands that contain artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. Sweeteners are often added to make food more palatable. They offer no nutritional value and should be avoided. As previously mentioned, any product that can metabolize as sugar can do all sorts of nasty things to a dog.
Avoid Cane Molasses, Corn Syrup, Fructose, Sorbitol, Sugar, Dl-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate.
Artificial Colors: Artificial coloring agents are widely used in poor quality kibble.
While not all agents are proven to cause health problems "yellow 6" is known to cause tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney. In addition, small amounts of several carcinogens contaminate "Yellow 6". Other popular coloring agents may not cause no problems at all, to occasional allergic reactions.
Avoid Blue 2 (artificial color), Red 40 (artificial color), Yellow 5 (artificial color), Yellow 6 (artificial color).
Supplements: Salt should be avoided yet is relevant in many brands, if you do see salt be sure at least it is very low on the ingredients list. Other unnecessary supplements found in poor quality kibble are..
Avoid Salt, Bone Phosphate, Mineral Oil, Yeast Culture, Yeast Fermentation Solubles.
Other Preservatives and Additives (Nasty Stuff):
Avoid Glyceryl Monostearate, Phosphoric Acid, Propylene Glycol, Titanium Dioxide, BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, Propyl Gallate.
Synthetic Vitamin K: This synthetic vitamin is unnecessary in dog food period!
Avoid Menadione Sodium Bisulfate (Vitamin K3, synthetic vitamin K) Also listed as Menadione Dimethyl-Pyrimidinol Bisulfate, Menadione Dimethyl-Pyrimidinol Bisulfite, Menadione Sodium Bisulfate Complex, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite and Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex.
This synthetic version of vitamin K has not been specifically approved for long term use, such as in pet food. It has been linked to many serious health issues.
YES this seems like a lot to look for but trust me, good quality dog food DOES NOT include many of the above toxic ingredients yet MAY include one or two questionable grains! Keep on researching those ingredient labels, you will see for yourself.