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What's the best dog food? — Read the label

For pets, and particularly sporting dogs, we want to feed them the best food so that they can perform at their best. But what is "the best" food to feed? Although there are as many testimonials as there are brands and types of food, there really is no one "best" food. But there are some general guidelines that can help you choose a good diet.

There is a lot of information on a pet food label that can help you in your choice. And the most important part of the label is the nutritional adequacy statement. The nutritional adequacy statement tells you what life stage (growth, pregnancy, lactation, and/or adult) the food is intended for and how the pet food company verified the food's adequacy for the life stage or stages.

For example, a label may read: "AAFCO feeding trials confirm that Dog Food X is complete and balanced for adult dogs". Or it may read "Dog Food Y has been shown to be complete and balanced using testing procedures as outlined by AAFCO".

But what does this mean?

AAFCO is an acronym for the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which is responsible for ensuring the adequacy of pet foods. A pet food can be shown to be adequate by feeding trials or by chemical analysis of the food.

AAFCO sets the guidelines for performing feeding trials. What this means is that if a dog food is intended to be fed to adult dogs, it is actually fed to adult dogs following AAFCO guidelines and is shown to maintain the health of those adult dogs.

The nutritional adequacy statement will contain the words "feeding trial" as in the first example for Dog Food X.

However, dog foods can be marketed, manufactured, and sold without having been fed to living dogs. In this case, the nutritional adequacy is confirmed by performing a chemical analysis of the food and comparing the nutrient profile to AAFCO standards, as in the second example for Dog Food Y.

A chemical analysis of a food may tell you that there is enough protein or fat, but it does not give information as to how digestible and available the nutrients in the food may be.

Foods that have been through feeding trials give you indirect information that the digestibility of the food and the availability of the nutrients in the food are adequate.

So when choosing a food, read the nutritional adequacy statement and look for the words "feeding trial". This gives you information that the dog food has been fed to living dogs before the food was sent to market and that the dogs did well.