All dogs have to eat. I know it, you know it....everyone knows it. And nobody knows it better than dog food manufacturers. There are TONS of manufacturers out there who produce hundreds, maybe thousands, of dog foods. It can be very difficult to sort out the good ones from the bad ones. The first thing you need to do is to learn how to read those dog food labels. Instead of trying to explain that to you, I think this link would do the job much better. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?cls=2&cat=1661&articleid=668
The biggest thing to remember when reading labels is you don't want the first 1 or 2 ingredients to be, corn, corn products or any other grain products. Your food should have a good meat base of some kind. Also, watch out for by-products....many foods have them. Dog food ingredients are listed the same as human food ingredients, in order of the amount used in the food. So the first ingredient would be the ingredient that is used in the largest quantity. Therefore, you definitely do not want a food that lists by-products in the top 10 ingredients.
Next, you need to determine what your dog needs. Remember, small breeds and large breeds have different needs. Because we are familiar with the needs of the small breed dogs, we'll concentrate on that. A small breed puppy needs only slightly more protein than fat in their diet. Some dog food manufacturers understand this better than others. Normally, we look for a food that has at least 26% protein and 16% fat...more of either would be better, and a smaller difference would be ideal. When looking for a puppy food, it is usually best to stay away from goods made specifically for small breeds. Food manufacturers correctly assume that small breeds need quick energy sources. However, they normally use corn to supply that, and dogs simply do not digest corn. So, it is best to get a regular puppy food rather than a small breed food. Your puppy should remain on puppy food for the first year of it's life, but the same is true for small breed adult foods. It is usually best to just stay away from them.
As your puppy reaches one year of age, you'll want to research the foods for adult dogs. Now you want to look for higher protein and lower fat, as small breeds have a tendency to become overweight. In the end, you'll probably end up with a food similar in protein and fat content to the puppy food you fed, but if possible, seek a food that has at least 26% protein and less than 14% fat. Be sure that you follow the feeding instructions on the package too. Many dogs will eat till their food is gone, whether they really need to or not. Overfeeding is a major cause of weight problems in dogs. Generally speaking, small breeds should not eat more than 1 cup of food a day (and depending on their actual size, it may be much less than this.)
Next, many dogs have allergies to some of the ingredients in food. The most common allergies are to beef products and to wheat. So, if your dog is on a food that contains one of these products and he/she is having digestive or skin/coat issues, the beef or wheat in his/her food may be the culprit.
Ok, so now that you have a basic understanding of your dog's nutritional needs, we can discuss the actual food.
First, let me stress that you should NOT feed canned or semi-moist food as your dog's exclusive diet. Generally, these foods are very poor quality and have very few nutrients in them. They are also terribly bad for your dog's teeth. So, feed canned foods only if your vet says you need to for some reason.
Second,let us recommend that you stay completely away from store or generic brands. These are the lowest quality foods on the market.
Next, we'd like to point out that most food manufacturers make numerous different kinds of foods...and they label some as "premium" and some not. Generally speaking, the "non-premium" foods are those that can be found in grocery stores, or our favorite place, Wal-Mart, while the "premium foods" are found in pet supply stores only. We have found very little difference among the non-premium foods. And we've also found very little difference among the premium foods, with the exception of grain-free foods. The difference between the two seems to be the amount of meal and corn they use, but to be honest, even that is not always different, all depending on the brand. But there are a few exceptions. There are "health foods" for dogs. These foods are all natural, holistic and claim to offer a perfectly balanced diet for your dog. Those brands include "Wellness", "Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul", "Nutro Ultra", "Natural Balance", "Solid Gold", "Missing Link" and there are others, but those are just to name a few. In the end, you should choose a food for your dog that provides for his nutritional requirements. It matters little what brand or whether or not it's a premium food. We know of at least two "non-premium" foods on the market that are just as good as many premium foods....the Iams line and the Purina One line.
Many people nowadays are taking to feeding their dogs raw foods. There are many raw food providers, especially online. While this seems ideal because of the fact that in nature a dog would eat an entirely raw diet, we do see some possible complication to it as well. For instance, you must purchase food more often because you cannot purchase a large quantity, lest it should spoil. And spoiling is another complication. It's not uncommon for a pet owner to unknowingly feed their pet spoiled raw food which makes for a stout case of food poisoning and a very sick dog. Believe it or not, it's not always easy to tell if raw food is spoiled or not. It can be spoiled enough to cause food poisoning before it really develops any noticeable odor. And feeding your dog a raw diet is also quite expensive. Finally, when feeding a raw diet, it is essential to maintain a very strict cleaning regiment to prevent contamination and sickness for the humans in your home. Dogs can digest salmonella without getting sick, but people cannot. Since the basis of most raw diets is chicken, you must keep your dog's bowls and meal area very clean, using bleach products, to protect your family from getting sick.
Finally, some manufactures are offering an alternative to both raw diets and kibble. These cooked "meat" diets, which is what I call them, include some types of meat as well as vegetables. They may come in the form of a roll or loose, prepackaged food. They do carry one risk that is similar to that for raw diets...they must be kept cold and if they get too warm, they may spoil. Also, as with canned food, these soft diets are not particularly good for your dog's teeth, so they should not be the exclusive diet. One important role of hard kibble is its ability to help keep your dog's teeth clean.
When choosing a food, just keep in mind these few things and you will make the best decision for your dog.
1. Do NOT feed canned food unless there is some reason to do so.
2. Dogs don't digest corn, so there should be as little as possible in their diet.
3. Other types of grains, such as wheat and barley, serve as quick energy sources for small breed dogs, so they are acceptable as long as your dog is not allergic to them, but they should not be the main ingredient.
4. It is generally best to choose a premium food, but grain-free is not necessary for small breeds. Corn-free would be ideal for any dog though. The notable exceptions are Iams and Purina One.
5. A raw diet is great if you are able to manage the risk associated with it. Otherwise, it is best to choose another form of food for your dog.