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Dog Food: Why Ingredients Matter

By Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM

Is your pup's coat a little dull? Or maybe he could lose a few pounds, has icky teeth, or the occasional tummy problems.

You may be able to help. Start by taking a look at his dog food.

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"These days you can find a dog food that is specifically engineered for pretty much whatever you're looking for,” says Kwane Stewart, DVM, chief veterinary officer of the American Humane Association.

Skin and Coat

If your dog has skin problems, the first stop should be your vet, suggests veterinary nutritionist Amy Farcas, DVM. "There are many reasons why a dog could have itchy skin and flaky skin, and most of them have nothing to do with food."

Once your vet rules out problems like fleas, mites, and allergies, you may be able to help your dog get a shinier coat by choosing food with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids or by giving a fish oil or flaxseed oil supplement. Talk with your vet about the best way to do that.

Stomach Problems

For a dog that has a short bout with vomiting or diarrhea, your vet might suggest feeding him chicken and white rice for a couple of days. That's just a short-term fix, cautions Stewart, and shouldn't be his regular diet.

"A lot of times a home-cooked meal is just a Band-Aid. Chicken and rice is bland and easy for a dog's stomach to digest, but those foods long term aren't nutritionally balanced," he says.

Stewart suggests a diet with prebiotics -- a type of fiber that helps feed the good bacteria in your dog's gut. One of the most common types of prebiotics is FOS (fructooligosaccharides). Look for it on the label.

If that doesn’t help or you’re concerned that it is something in your dog’s food that is causing the problem, it may take some trial and error to figure out what it is, Stewart says. "A lot of time we just don’t know what ingredient your dog is sensitive to."

Your vet may suggest trying a low-fiber diet or a low-fat diet, to see if it helps.

Age

Puppies need foods specially made for growth, while senior dogs need food that can help with aging. The labels will tell you which foods are made for puppies or seniors, but Stewart suggests also looking at the ingredients. Look for antioxidants, specifically vitamin E and beta-carotene.

"Antioxidants help protect the cells and tissues from damage," he says. "In the case of younger dogs, it helps as the immune system is developing. With geriatric dogs, their immune system is starting to decline, so helping to protect it is very important."

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