Naturally, owners want what’s best for their pets when it comes to nutrition. But, you may be making mistakes when it comes to dog food without even knowing it. Here are eight common dog food mistakes and how to remedy the situations.
1. Buying Too Much Dog Food
Generally speaking, you don’t want to buy an enormous bag of dog food for a smaller dog. Excess dog food can turn rancid before your dog gets a chance to eat it. Dr. Carly Fox, a staff doctor at New York City’s Animal Medical Center recommends buying dog food in appropriate-sized bags, based on the size of your dog.
2. Not Storing Food Properly
Although Fox sympathizes with owners who don’t want to run to the store every six weeks to buy a fresh bag of dog food, she says what’s even more important is where you keep the food you already have. She adds that many people simply open a bag of dog food and just take cups out of it. What you really want to do is properly store and seal the dog food in an air-tight container so it doesn’t go rancid or stale. An air-tight container also will help keep the food fresh and prevent insects from getting to it.
“Not storing food properly, so it doesn’t go bad, is a big mistake that most people make,” says Fox. “Most people should invest in a good Tupperware-like container that prevents food from going bad. You’ll want to store it someplace cool and dry so there’s no excess moisture.”
3. Not Checking the Expiration Date
If your dog suddenly stops eating their food, check the expiration date on the bag. It can be helpful to mark the expiration date on the calendar or set a reminder on your phone so that you know when you should stop feeding your dog food from that bag.
4. Overfeeding Your Dog Treats
Although many dog treats are small in size, they tend to be higher in calories. Fox says she’s seen many pet owners with overweight dogs who don’t feed a ton of dog food but give way more treats or table scraps than they should.
“Treats should only be about 10% of your dog’s diet,” says Fox. “I think it’s a huge source of calorie intake that people just don’t realize. Treats are not to be mistaken for complete and balanced dog food. Pet owners shouldn’t rely on treats just like you wouldn’t rely on like on snacks for yourself to maintain a healthy diet.”
She realizes that many owners use treats as a key part of training, but even this should be done mindfully. Two low-calorie treats she recommends are air-popped popcorn and snap peas. You can even just feed them pieces of dry dog food.
“Some dogs respond to rewards,” says Fox. “A lot of people train their dog with treats, but they should do so with low-calorie options.”
5. Playing Into Marketing Gimmicks
Many pet owners will purchase dog food that’s being marketed as healthier, even if there’s no scientific proof that those diets actually are better for dogs. A recent example of a marketing trend is “grain-free diets,” which have not been scientifically proven to be healthier.
“Everyone plays into advertising on a daily basis no matter what they’re looking into, but pet food is notoriously not finely regulated,” says Fox. “The pet food companies use that to their advantage. They use a lot of words with no legal definition that are purely used for marketing purposes, like ‘human-grade food’ or ‘holistic ingredients.’ A lot of those mean nothing in real life, but appeal to people buying dog food.”
6. Feeding From a Boutique Brand
When it comes to picking a nutritionally sound dog food, a bigger company is often the better option. Don’t assume that a more expensive food from a boutique brand is inherently better.
“Bigger companies — although they’re less ‘sexy’ to the regular consumer — have a veterinary nutritionist on staff and people with PhDs actually doing research that goes into formulating this food,” says Fox. “That’s super important. They’re people that are putting these ingredients together and making sure that it’s an acceptable food for your dog. They also have higher quality controls.”
7. Not Looking for Food Endorsed by AAFCO
One way to ensure you’re feeding your dog a high-quality dog food? Check the fine print on the bag to ensure it meets standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The AAFCO is a voluntary membership association of local, state, and federal agencies that regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.
Food that has been put through an AAFCO feeding trial is even better, says Fox, and is likely complete and balanced for your dog’s life stage.
8. Cooking Dog Food Yourself
If you’re planning on feeding your dog a home-cooked diet, it’s best to consult with an expert first.
“The nutritionist can help you formulate a balanced diet for your dog,” says Fox. “It’s very important, if you plan on home cooking for your dog, that you speak to a veterinary nutritionist and make sure that what you’re feeding them is complete and balanced.”