Decoding Puppy Food Labels

You are what you eat — and so is your puppy. If your puppy is eating well, you’ll be able to see it in its energetic play, its curious approach to life and its beautiful, healthy coat.

What you’re seeing is an external articulation of what’s happening inside: Its skeleton is developing properly, muscles are building and neural pathways in the brain are expanding. High-quality commercial foods are best, as they can guarantee the antioxidants the puppy needs for its developing immune system, which helps its body combat common canine diseases like distemper and parvovirus.

A Recipe for Your Pup’s Health
Your puppy’s food should include a carefully calculated blend of protein, carbohydrates and fat necessary to ensure good health. A quality commercial food should include:

  • Digestible carbohydrates, such as corn and grain sorghum (to meet energy needs)
  • Fermentable fibers, such as beet pulp and the prebiotic fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a type of fiber found in certain fruits, vegetables and grains (to support digestive health)
  • Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (to keep skin supple and coat shiny)
  • Antioxidants, like beta-carotene and vitamin E (to boost immune system)

Decoding Dog Food Labels
Read labels carefully so you know exactly what you’re putting into your puppy’s system. Here’s what you should notice:

  • The food’s name can tell you how much of a particular ingredient is in it. Brands that mention an animal protein source in the title (e.g., “Beef formula”) indicate that at least 25 percent of the product is beef. Names that include “With” in the title (e.g., “With chunky chicken”) or “Flavor” (e.g., “Turkey flavor”) contain as little as 3 percent of the ingredient.
  • Labels on the back of puppy food can also clue you in on the primary ingredients in the food. Those listed first, second and third are present in higher quantities than those listed fourth, fifth and sixth. (Though this is according to weights taken before cooking.)
  • The law requires manufacturers to list their names and addresses on their packages. If you ever have a question about a product, you should be able to call the company’s consumer affairs line to receive a thorough, researched response from a company representative.
  • The label should include a statement from an organization called the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

“I prefer to see that most, or all, of the ingredients are wholesome,” says Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary in Chicago. “I love to see if the ingredient list makes me want to eat it myself! You shouldn’t freak out too much over natural preservatives and ethoxyquin (an antioxidant used as a preservative). There hasn’t been any known health risk to dogs and cats, and it’s even found in human foods.”

Feeding Tips
Once you’ve purchased your puppy’s food, it seems it would be simple to feed him — just open the bag and pour, right? But take as much care in feeding your pup as you do in selecting the right food.

Measure portion sizes, avoid letting him graze between mealtimes, offer fresh water, and don’t mix things such as cottage cheese, egg or hamburger in with your puppy’s chow.

Buy the right food and follow proper feeding requirements, and your puppy’s food will meet all its dietary needs.

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