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Buying Food for Your Dog continued...

Avoid being swayed by ingredients in small amounts. Some dog food makers put in small amounts of healthy-sounding ingredients just so they'll look good on the label. If you see vegetables included after salt or vitamin/mineral supplements in the ingredient list, they're "probably not in any amounts that are useful," Heinze says. That's because ingredients are listed by weight, and makers don't put much salt or vitamin/mineral supplements into food compared to other ingredients.

Be careful when comparing foods. Another part of a dog food label is the guaranteed analysis. This tells you how much of the food is protein or fat at a minimum, and how much may be fiber and moisture.

Comparing the nutrition in canned and dry foods isn't easy, Heinze says, and it's not something the average person can do at the store.That's because:

  • Water -- in other words, moisture -- accounts for a much higher percentage of a canned food's weight (roughly 70% to 80%, compared to about 10% for dry food).
  • Meat is mostly water, not protein.
  • Levels of nutrients such as protein and fat are usually lower in percentage on the label of canned food due to the water. But they're often higher in a dog's diet on a calorie basis compared to similar dry foods.
  • Comparing the nutrients in canned and dry foods is possible, but it requires some math, which even some veterinary students have trouble doing the first few times, Heinze says.

Get good advice. If you don't know which of the hundreds of pet foods on the shelf are best for your dog, ask your veterinarian, Remillard says. "Everyone's trying to sell you something, but no one's trying to figure out what's best for your pet except your vet," she says. Your vet can take into account your pet's age, health, and other factors when making a suggestion.