Greenbriar Animal Hospital
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Greenbriar Animal Hospital Food handout

What should I feed my dog

This question is one of the most commonly asked in our office.  Unfortunately, there is no simple answer.  First, let's address some common misconceptions per perpetuated by dog food manufactures in an attempt to get you to by their food.

Meat versus grain based products

    Many pet food food manufactures recommend grain food diets, trying to match what "wild dogs" would eat.  In reality, domesticated dogs have the digestive enzyme necessary to ingest grain-based foods.  Unless your dog has gastrointestinal problems like vomiting/diarrhea or itchy skin (that may be an indication of a food protein allergy) grain based diets are safe to feed and nutritionally complete.  According to research, only 4% of dogs are grain-sensitive.

Meat By-Products

    Many pet food makers tout the lack of buy-products in their food.  Consumers believe that things like eyeballs, noses and skin are added to foods that contain by-products.  In reality, these by-products, such as liver, spleen, kidney and heart are more nutritious than muscle meat.  Many people don't eat them, and thus don't want to feed them to their dogs. The controversy about by-products is largely fictional to entice you to purchase their brand.  Blue Buffalo, for example, spent millions of dollars on TV advertising to have you take the "Blue Challenge" touting they had no by-products and your dogs food might.  Less than a year later, Blue Buffalo was forced to admit that their product did indeed have by-products, but they blamed their supplier.

Raw Diets

    It is still unknown whether there are benefits from feeding raw foods versus cooked, but would you eat uncooked meats daily?  What is known is that independent testing has shown that 30-40% of comercially prepared raw diets are contaminated by bacteria that cause disease such as Salmonella, E. Coli, Listeria and others.  Any potential benefits to feeding commercially prepared raw food are outweighed by the dangers of illness from bacterial contamination.  Avoid these foods.

Home-Prepared Diets

    Aside from the inconvenience of cooking far one or more "extra family member," a home cooked diet may be a good solution for dog owners who are concerned about commercial pet foods.  However, the diet must be prepared following EXACT recipe directions without substitution, or illness from lack of proper nutrition can result.  
    A great site for proper recipes is called  They offer numerous correct recipes for homemade diets, supervised by a veterinary nutritionist.

Scary Stuff

    A recent 2015 study verified the results of an earlier study, which found that about 40% of 52 diets studied may contain meat not listed on the label, or did not have one or more of the meat(s) listed on the label!

So what should you feed?

    Chose a major manufacturer (Science Diet/ Hills, Iams/Eukanuba), Purina or Royal Canin are all  Association of Americian Feed Control Officials [AFFCO] certified) and select an appropriate diet for your dogs age (puppy, adult or senior) and size (small breed or large breed).   These large companies have professional nutritionist on staff and do extensive research on their foods before production is even started.  Many small companies use formulated diets that have never been studied by feeding trial before being sold.
    For pets with chronic medical conditions that require special diets, always check with your veterinarian before making any changes.
    When changing diets, brands or even flavors, mix the old diet with the new one for 3-5 days; some dogs will develop vomiting or diarrhea from a quick change.
    If you are changing to a limited ingredient diet at your veterinarians recommendation (often for suspected food intolerance or skin allergies suspected to be related to food), slowly change the food, but realize that it can take up to SIX WEEKS on the new food before we see significant improvements.  During that six week trial, there can be no people food, snacks (milk bones, Greenies, rawhides etc), other foods, etc.  Your veterinarian may even recommend an alternative oral flea/tick or heartworm medication if your current product is flavored with real meat.  If the trial is successful, a single new food type per week at a time may be introduced (to challenge the system and see if the dog reacts)

For additional information
    See the attached fact sheet producted by the World Small Animal Veterinary Associate Global Nutrition Committee (WSAVA)  You can contact the pet food manufacturer directly and ask them the questions on this list.  If they are unwilling or unable to provide you with the requested information, be very cautious about buying their foods.  


Factual information must be provided on pet food labels but it. is important to be aware that the label is also a promotional tool, to attract pet owners. This means that much of the information.provided - including the ingredient list and use of unregulated.terms such as 'holistic'; 'premium' or 'human grade' - is of.little practical value in assisting nutritional assessment. The.veterinary team plays a vital role in helping pet owners make.informed decisions based on two key pieces of information:
A. The manufacturer's name and contact information..this allows a member of the veterinary team or the pet
owner to contact the manufacturer to ask the following questions:

1. Do you employ a full time qualified nutritionist? (Appropriate qualifications are either a PhD in animal
nutrition or board-certification by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN) or the European College of
Veterinary Comparative Nutrition (ECVCN). What is this nutritionist's name and qualifications?)
2. Who formulates your foods and what are his/her credentials?
3. Are your diets tested using AAFCO feeding trials or by formulation to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles? If the latter,
do they meet AAFCO nutrient profiles by formulation or by analysis of the finished product?
4. Where are your foods produced and manufactured?
5. What specific quality control measures do you use to assure the consistency and quality of your ingredients
and the end product?
6. Will you provide a complete nutrient analysis for the dog or cat food in question? (Can they provide an average/
typical analysis, not just the guaranteed analysis which is only the minimums or maximums and not an exact
number)? You should be able to ask for any nutrient - e.g. protein, phosphorus, sodium, etc. - and get an
exact number. This should ideally be given on an energy basis (i.e. grams per 100 kilocalories or grams per 1,000
kilocalories), rather than on an 'as fed' or 'dry matter' basis which don't account for the variable energy density
of different foods.
7. What is the caloric value per gram, can, or cup of your foods?
8. What kind of product research has been conducted? Are the results published in peer-reviewed journals?
If the manufacturer cannot or will not provide any of this information, owners should be cautious about feeding that

 In some countries, the AAFCO adequacy statement is included on the label. This statement confirms three
important facts:
1. Whether the diet is complete and balanced. All overthecounter foods should be complete and balanced.
If the statement reads 'for intermittent or supplemental use only,' it is not complete and balanced. That may
be acceptable if it is a veterinary therapeutic diet and is being used for a specific purpose - e.g. in a case of
severe kidney disease - but should be avoided in overthe counter pet foods.
2. If the food is complete and balanced, what life stage is it intended? AAFCO provides nutrient profiles and feeding
trial requirements for growth, reproduction, and adult maintenance, but not for senior/geriatric pets. A food
that is formulated to meet the AAFCO profiles for all life stages must meet the minimum nutrient levels for both
growth and adult maintenance.
3. If the food is complete and balanced, how did the company determine this? Labels may include one of two
statements regarding nutritional adequacy.

• "[Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient
Profiles for [life stage(s)]." (Analysis of food.)
• "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate [Name] provides complete and balanced
nutrition for [life stage(s)]." (Feeding trial evaluation of food.)

Formulated foods are manufactured so the ingredients meet specified levels, either based on the recipe or on
analytical testing of the finished product, without testing via feeding trials. While feeding trials help to test for the food's
nutritional adequacy, the use of feeding trials does not guarantee that the food provides adequate nutrition under
all conditions. It is important to ensure that the criteria in section A also help to ensure that the food is made by a
reputable and knowledgeable company with strict quality control measures.