Dogs today are an integral part of the family unit. They exercise with us, they watch TV with us, they holiday with us and they often sleep next to us. And just as we are becoming more conscious of our lifestyle choices, our health and our diet, we must also consider the health and diet of our dogs.
In doing this, all dogs are different, a sleepy old Labrador has different nutritional needs to a young active Jack Russell.
So. at The Dog Effect, we thought we'd start with Labradors and see what the best dog food for labs really is. Let's start with nutrition and the general components of dog food.
Food Nutrient Profiles
In order for a dog food to be marketed as “complete and balanced”, it must meet the nutritional standards established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and in order for any dog food company to claim a product is “complete and balanced” for a specific life stage, it must be validated in laboratory analysis and include actual feeding trials.
A guaranteed analysis gives you a lot of information about what is inside the bag of pet food. Once you understand how to read it, you will be better equipped to compare different varieties of pet food. In saying that, AAFCO regulations only required the guaranteed analysis to list four nutrients: crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber and moisture.
Crude protein is a measurement of the guaranteed minimum level of protein in the food. A diet that states a guarantee of 21% protein an be within 2% of the target. Your dog will benefit from a food that has protein from animal protein sources as it is more easily digested by dogs. If your dogs food is better digested, less quantity of food is required and as a side benefit, your dog will have smaller poops! After you check the level of protein, look at the ingredient listing to see where that protein is coming from. These will include muscle meats and meat by-products. By-products include the organs, blood and bone products.
This is also a minimum guarantee, with a 10% allowed variance. So, if the guaranteed minimum fat content is 15%, the minimum allowed by AAFCO would be 13.5%. Most foods very closely target the fat level, so expect very little variance in this nutrient. Fats in your dogs food will keep their skin and coats healthy. It is the fats that give your dog energy. Younger and active dogs will benefit from higher fat content.
This is typically pretty low, 2–3%, and is a maximum level. In hairball formulas for cats and weight loss formulas, you will usually see a higher level of fiber, usually 6–8%. Fiber in your dogs food will help with digenstion, diarrhea and general colan health. Higher fiber formulas will result in larger stools than low fiber formulas.
Moisture guarantee. In dry formulas, this is typically 8–12% maximum. Just by it's nature, wet dog food will have a much higher moisture content than dry dog food. Moisture will make the dog food more palatable and always have water available for your dog when feeding them dry dog food.
What make a quality dog food?
Animal protein at the top of the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed by weight, so you want to see a lot of top quality animal protein at the top of the list; the first ingredient should be a “named” animal protein source (see next bullet). Vegetable protein is high in carbohydrates which are harder for dogs to digest. A dog by nature feeds on meat so a good quality meat protein is essential for a healthy dog in most cases.
Named animal protein
Look at the lable for a named animal protein – chicken, beef, lamb, and so on. “Meat” is an example of a low-quality protein of which we should be questioning the origin. Animal protein “meal” should also be from named species (look for “beef meal” but avoid “meat meal”).
Animal protein meal
Look for an animal protein meal to support fresh meat on the ingredient list. Fresh (or frozen) meat contains a lot of water, and water is heavy, so if a fresh meat is first on the list, another source of animal protein should be listed in the top three or so ingredients.
Fresh or frozen meats do not contain enough protein to be used as the sole animal protein source in a dry food; they contain as much as 65 to 75 percent water and only 15 to 25 percent protein. In contrast, animal protein “meals” – meat, bone, skin, and connective tissue that’s been rendered and dried – contain only about 10 percent moisture, and as much as 65 percent protein. Look for a named protein e.g. Beef meal, chicken meal.
Whole vegetables and fruits
Whole vegetables, fruits. Fresh, unprocessed food ingredients contain nutrients in all their natural, complex glory, with their fragile vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants intact.
Best By Date
We all like fresh food and know that food doesn't do well over time. Look for a “best by” date that’s at least six months away or longer. This mean the food was made very recently. However be mindful of foods made with synthetic preservatives (BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin), they may have a “best by” date that is as much as two years past the date of manufacture, not so good!
What products to avoid in your dog food?
Meat by-products or poultry by-products. By-products are the lesser value parts of the animal, not the meat. These include blood, bones, organs, cartilege etc. While higher-value ingredients like meat are processed and stored more carefully and kept in good condition, by-products are not and are generally a poor ingredient for your dog.
Generic fat source
A “generic” fat source, such as “animal fat.” is also not a good ingredient. This can literally be any fat of animal origin from anywhere, including used restaurant grease and fats derived from roadkill... Usch!!! . “Poultry” fat is not quite as suspect as “animal fat,” but “chicken fat” or “duck fat” is better.
Dogs, like humans, enjoy the taste of sweet foods. Your dog does not need it!!! Don't buy food with added sugars and sweeteners.
Artificial colors, flavors and preservatives
The color of their food doesn’t matter to your dog. The food should be flavored well enough with the yummy meats and fats to be enticing. Food can be preservatived naturally with tocopherols (forms of vitamin E), vitamin C, and rosemary extract. Natural preservatives do not preserve foods as long as artificial preservatives, so owners should always check the “best by” date on the label and look for relatively fresh products. Go as natural as possible.
I recently saw my dog behaving strangely. Over time I narrowed it down to a treat that I was giving him. I threw them away and the weird behavior has stopped. It was most definately a colour or preservative that my dog reacted to. Keep an eye on any strange behavior or reaction and change your dogs food.
Is too much Protein bad for your dog?
Generally, higher protein levels in pet foods is safe for your dog unless your pet is suffering from some kidney or liver diseases. Quality protein provides the necessary amino acids for your pet to remain in a healthy, lean body condition. When dogs are overfed, they become overweight, just like people. Protein can help to maintain your dogs weight, body mass and keep him lean and healthy. You can still overfeed these foods, so if your dog is gaining weight, make sure to reduce the amount that you are feeding.
What are Probiotics in dog food?
Like humans, dogs and cats have both “good” and “bad” bacteria in their digestive systems. Probiotics, or good bacteria, help to restore balance in the digestive system by suppressing bad bacteria. Probiotics help to maintain balance in the digestive system by suppressing bad bacteria and helping the body break down food and distribute nutrients more efficiently. They also help support a healthy immune system.
Labrador Retrievers General Health
Labradors are amazing family pets. They are also working dogs and great companions with beautiful temperaments. They are a strong dog or medium to large size with a thick soft short coat. Being a retriever or gun dog, the coat is waterproof and suited to swimming and retrieving in lakes and rivers. They are mostly thought to be gentle, intelligent and athletic.
When considering the best dog food for labs, consider the life and health conditions that labs are often known for. They have a lifespan of 10 to 12 years. They sometimes have bone and joint conditions like dislocated patella's or knee bone, hip dysplasia, elbow and shoulder dysplasia and retinal atrophy or blindness, hot spots and cataract. Labradors are also know to get bloat, mainly due to their ferocious appetite and tendency to eat everything REALLY fast. Because of their love of food, they are also prone to weight gain.
Bloat can be very serious so you will need to keep tabs on your Lab when eating. Bloat is the name for the abnormal swelling in the stomach, that results in the stomach actually twisting inside the dog. While not common, this twisting and pressure can end in death if not immediately treated by a vet.
Best Type of Dog Food For Labs
Here, we are talking about dry or wet or even raw. You can read more about a raw diet in our article on the Pro and Cons of a Raw Diet. A wet or dry dog food will really come down to your choice, your lifestyle and your dog's preference. As long as you are getting a good quality food and your dog is getting all the nutrition they need. Pet MD talks about the pros and cons but try both and see what works best for you and your dog.
Dry dog food or kibble is very convenient as it can be stored anywhere and with no refrigeration. It can also be a cheaper option and easy to measure out and serve. It also doesn't have the smell that some wet dogs food do and is definately less messy.
Wet dog food can be good for your dogs hydration due to it's higher moisture content. It is easier to chew if your dog is older or sick and it can sometimes be more appetising. It can have a longer shelf live and less preservatives due to the nature of the canning process.
Always have water available for your dog when eating particularly with dry food but even with wet food. This will help keep your dog hydrated and fuller. Avoid heavy exercise and play before and after meals to allow your dog time to digest and avoid bloat.
How Much and How Often to Feed Labradors
It is often recommend to feed labs smaller portions more often. This can be done first thing in the morning and then around the family dinner time. This strategy may help a labs who are prone to fast eating, bloat and weight gain. This way, your Labrador will be less likely to feel hungry and desperate for food.
Labradors are prone to over eating and being over weight. This is not the Labradors fault. As a responsible owner, we need to get the balance right between food and exercise, just like us! Monitor your Lab’s weight and if your dog seems to be putting on weight, you either need to give them less food or make sure he gets more exercise. Reduce the snacking!!
So.. What Is The Best Dog Food For Labs?
When it comes to recommending a great dog food for your Labrador, we do lots of research so that you don't have to. We take advice from professionals and suggest products with all the required nutrition and keep track of reviews and others recommendations. Here are the dog foods that we suggest you try with your beautiful lab.
Remember!! Just like us, dogs can have allergies or bad reactions to a variety of different foods including natural ones. Test out any new food on your dog and keep an eye on them for the first day or so. A small amount of diarrhea may be normal as your dog transitions but if you are not sure or your dog looks unwell, see your vet.
1. Wellness Core® Natural Grain Free Dry Dog Food
This grain free kibble is a complete balanced all natural nutrition for your dog. High in real meat protein and essential vitamins and minerals. It is also made in the USA so we have some idea of what is really in the pack.
Wellness Core does NOT contain wheat, corn, soy, meat by-products, artificial colours, flavors or preservatives. Just all the good stuff that your dog will love.
We care for animals from the inside out, and your dog's long-term well-being is at the CORE of everything we do. That's why we've developed an extensive quality assurance program, guaranteeing that our products are safe, pure and balanced. See the guaranteed analysis below for Wellness Core.
The team at Wellness CORE aims to provide a healthy, happy, long life for your pet through the power of natural nutrition using a small number of simple, pure, authentic ingredients. They are passionate about providing your pet with safe, uncompromising nutrition.
2. Royal Canin Labrador Dry Dog Food
Some brand have started developing dog food for specific breeds of dog. This generally related to their activity levels and their known health problems. Royal Canin Labrador Dog Food make a dog food for Labradors that supports healthy joint function and mobility. It also promotes health skin and coat because who can resist giving a Labrador a bit ole pat.
Because the Labrador Retriever is a breed that tends to eat quickly without chewing his food. The donut-shaped kibble of this dry formulas helps to slow the rate of ingestion and encourages the Labrador to chew his food. For more info on dogs that like to hoover their food, you may like this article: How can I stop my dog eating so fast?
An athletic, like the Labrador Retriever, with a solid body, strong bones and his natural predisposition to gain weight are among the factors which can put stress on his joints. The Labrador Retriever Adult formula helps support healthy bones and joints and helps maintain ideal weight. Enriched with EPA and DHA.
A dog's skin and coat reflect the dog's state of health. An appropriate food is important in maintaining healthy skin and coat. The Labrador Retriever Adult formula helps support the skin's role as a barrier with an exclusive complex of nutrients and helps maintain skin and coat health. This is a balanced and exclusively designed dog food for pure breed Labrador Retrievers over 15 months old. Note that this dry dog food is specially formulated for adult, non-reproducing dogs over one year old. Puppies and pregnant or nursing mothers may have special nutritional requirements.
3. Taste Of The Wild Grain Free Dry Dog Food
We love the Taste of the Wild kibble. It is grain free and high in protein. A grain-free formula with sweet potatoes and peas provides highly digestible energy for your active dog. Made with real roasted meat, this formula offers a taste sensation like no other. Supplemented with vegetables and fruits, this hearty formula delivers antioxidants to help give your Labrador a healthy lifestyle.
Taste of the Wild also has K9 Strain Probiotics are developed specifically for dogs and processed under strict quality and safety standards to ensure purity. Each pound of Taste of the Wild provides 80,000,000 colony forming units (CFU) of live, active cultures that help support healthy digestion and help your dog maintain an active lifestyle.
Taste of the Wild dog food comes in loads of different flavours and proteins. Real meat is the #1 ingredient and comes in varieties including salmon, duck, venison and bison. It is also available in a variety of sizes suitable from 5 - 30lbs.
Transitioning To A New Food
When transitioning your dog to a new food variety, it takes a few days for your dog's body to adapt to the new nutrient levels. Gradually mix in the new dog food over a 5-7 day period, increasing the amount each day until you are only using the new food.
I recently swapped Tiger to a new food and the transition was seamless, no upset stomach and no fussiness. He's a bit of a grazer and doesn't always eat regularly but he can't get enough of this new food.
Our secret to controlled eating...
If your Labrador is a fast eater, like most Labradors, try this cool little feeding bowl. You can read our article here: How Can I Stop My Dog Eating So Fast. But this neat little bowl is a real game changer for some dogs.
The Outward Hound slow feeder has been running off the shelves and, not just a fad, it has incredible reviews. I may be able to avoid bloating and canine obesity which are both real factors of poor digestion in dogs, particularly Labradors. The SloBowl Fun Feeders with puzzles challenges your dog while helping them digest their food.
The bowl is a decent size too. Large Outward Hound SloBowls hold up to 4 cups of dry kibble and Mini SloBowl Fun Feeders hold 2 cups. Both sizes are great for dry, wet and raw fed diets. And don't worry about the dirty messy bowl, your dog will clean up most of it, then just pop in in the dishwasher to give it a good clean.