Filtering out the noise so you can make better food choices for your dog!
There has never been a better time to be a pet parent than today. With an estimated $60B dollars being spent on American pets this year alone, companies have taken notice. From toys to healthcare to food to accessories, the options for our pets are seemingly endless and are growing everyday.
This deeper investment by manufacturers and retailers points to a cultural shift where dogs, cats, gerbils, birds and bearded dragons and other critters are no longer “just pets”. For millions of Americans, pets are now viewed as family members.
A wider array of products and services means that pet parents are better able to meet the needs of their dogs. While this is good news for dog moms and dog dads, it is fantastic for the dogs we love. It has never been easier to meet their nutritional, social, medical and safety needs.
But all these choices can easily complicates things.
The mountain of products and information that pet parents have to sift through when making decisions can be paralyzing. With expert opinions from veterinarians, veterinary technicians, social media influencers, Dr. Google and well-intentioned yet uninformed coworkers all weighing in on which choice you should make, it makes sense to figure out a system for filtering out the noise so you can focus on making a better choice.
Nowhere else is the decibel of voices more distracting and confusing than the dog food aisle. Kibble, canned, freeze-dried, grain-free, Paleo, raw, rotational, holistic, all-natural; these are just some of the marketing terms and feeding philosophies that five minutes in the food section at PetSmart will reveal.
So what is a pet parent to do?
I’ve been asking myself that very question and I’ve come up with 5 easy steps to help pet parents choose an appropriate, nutritious food that aligns with her or his unique goals, values and budget.
This is a framework for how to think about it, not what to think or what to choose. Consider this a road map, give it a shot and let me know what you think.
- Know Your Values
Spend some time thinking about what is important to you in your dog’s food. Despite all the shouting, there is no wrong answer. The right choice is only right because it works for you. So I ask you,
- Is convenience important to you? Do you want to be able to run into your corner grocery store to stock up on food for your pooch?
- Do you subscribe to raw feeding principles? Here’s what Dr. Patrick Mahaney wrote about raw feeding.
- Or does rotational feeding make the most sense to you? To learn more about this approach, check out what Dr. Karen Becker has to say.
- Do you think that organic is fine but not probably not all that it’s cracked up to be?
- Did you live by Paleo philosophies and want the same for your dog?
- Do you want to try a more natural approach to nutrition but aren’t ready to spend two or three hundred dollars a month feeding your fuzzy shadow?
Knowing what is important to YOU is key to making the best decision. Though emerging evidence suggests that a more natural approach to canine nutrition may prevent health issues and prolong life expectancy, grocery store brands are not all equal. I have known dogs who were fed $10 bags of food from the shelf at Piggly Wiggly who lived long, healthy lives. Raw feeding may be right for you, but then again, maybe it’s not. The same goes for rotational feeding or Paleo-inspired approaches.
There is no right answer. Figuring out which approach makes the most sense to you and aligns with your values is a great starting point for making a decision that you are most comfortable with.
- Know Your BudgetLet’s face it. Budgets are tight, and most people can’t afford to their spend hard-earned money without consideration. Compromises have to be made and, sometimes, that means you have to choose a more affordable food option for your dog.Do not let the food snobs of the world- folks who have their own unique financial considerations and have made food choices, at least in part, based on their economic station in life- make you feel ashamed. You may not be able to afford a $90 bag of food every two weeks, but you can afford a $25 bag. The good news is that there are now excellent food choices at every price point. You may not be able to afford an ultra-premium brand of dehydrated raw food, but you can afford a step-up from the grocery store.
- Know What Your Veterinarian ThinksYour veterinarian is an excellent resource for you and can make helpful recommendations when choosing a food. In fact, she might be one of the first people I suggest you ask.Your dog will have different nutritional needs at different points of his life; the metabolic needs of puppies are quite different than those of senior dogs.As well, the health status of your dog is also quite important when selecting food. Certain diseases or health conditions can be significantly improved or exacerbated by diet. Talk to you veterinarian, find out what she thinks but know the final decision is yours and yours alone.
- Know What The Experts SayThere are lots of other experts beyond your veterinarian that are available to you. Veterinary technicians know quite a bit about the importance of nutrition, can explain how to read food labels and tell you exactly what “extruded” means.There are also many excellent pet bloggers and social media influencers out there who know their stuff and can help guide you. Pet bloggers are, above all else, pet lovers and they want to help pets live better lives.One way they do this is by providing information to their readers. Follow your favorite pet blogger, one you trust to give you honest information and consider his or her opinion. Many times, they have their ear to the ground and know of new options and trends before most consumers or veterinary professionals do.
A third “expert” I’d suggest is Dog Food Advisor. Dog Food Advisor is an independent website staffed by nutrition experts veterinary professionals and dedicated pet lovers. They research, evaluate and rate pet food from an unbiased point of view. Each rating is explained in great detail with a special emphasis, and explanation, of the first ten ingredients. It only takes a few minutes to look up a food option and learn some important information that may seal the deal!
- Know Your Dog
So, after thinking about your values and goals, considering your budget, consulting experts from your veterinarian to social media influencers to independent researchers, you’ve decided on a food that you are comfortable with. Now, it’s time for the ultimate test…What does your dog think?Even if everyone under the sun agrees that Brand A is the best food for your dog, if he doesn’t like it, are you really doing him any favors by insisting he eat it? Are you really meeting your goal of improving your dog’s life if you feed him something he doesn’t like? I know of a few excellent brands that I would happily recommend to people that my dogs just don’t like. Others do, mine don’t, so I make a different choice.If this happens to you, the solution is easy: Try one of the other options you had in mind! There are literally thousands of food choices out there and one is bound be both nutritionally appropriate and loved by your dog!
What are your feeding goals and values?
Who do you consult as an expert?
Try this road map to filter out the noise and let me know if works for you!