In recent years Australia has witnessed a huge increase in the number of dog dry foods readily available. The bulk of the products are actually imported, the produce of foreign countries, and in most other cases the companies are actually based overseas although using local ingredients to produce the dry food in Australia.

The range is so large, that your ultimate decision will probably rest with local availability. No one is going to traipse into their vet every couple of weeks if the nearest surgery is some miles away and there is a local produce merchant who stocks another brand.

Not only is the range of brand names large, but the varieties offered by each manufacturer is comprehensive also. Covering weaning, puppyhood, young adulthood, performance, and old age.

To help you make an informed choice in dry food our staff have drawn up an easy to use assessment chart. The results are of course subjective, but who knows your dog better than you! Two columns have been provided to allow direct comparison between two products, and for a more even handed approach we have chosen a fortnight for the assessment. A few explanatory notes are also given as guides on the table, but lets run through the assessment procedure.
Fill in your dog’s name in the top square, and perhaps somewhere find a place to write the commencement date of the trial. This slip of paper is bound to reappear in a few years time and you will want to know when you did the trial!
Next to “product” write down the dry food’s common name, and flavour; against “cost” is the $ price you paid; and below that record the package size in kilograms. Dividing the cost by the bag size will give you cost per kilogram.

“Flavour and texture” is for your dog’s response to the product, a food will fail if it is unappetizing or difficult to pick up, however good the formulation of the nutritional ingredients.

“Main ingredient” is the product listed at the head of the ingredients list which you will find on the packaging. For a carnivorous animal such as the dog, an animal based main ingredient is preferable to a vegetable based ingredient. Man is brilliant at manufacture and marketing, however, he has not sufficiently changed the digestive system of the dog in the last one hundred years to make it a vegetarian!

“% protein” is also listed, higher protein levels are of course required for growth as this is achieved by using protein to multiply and replicate cells to effect growth. The 5% given by the NRC (Subcommittee on Dog Nutrition, Committee on Animal Nutrition Board on Agriculture, National Research Council 1985) is of course a bare minimum to sustain life in a dog not receiving any level of exercise. It is also a measure of digestible protein – most labels won’t specify if the protein they cite is digestible or not.

“% fat” should also be given, and readers are reminded that for the dog “Dietary fat is a concentrated source of energy and provides essential fatty acids.” (NRC) and digestible fat is about 2.25 times more effective than carbohydrate in supplying energy.

“% salt” is an interesting point, dogs have little requirement for salt as a source of sodium or chlorine, enough being available in other ingredients in diets. Salt is often included at 1% in dry dog foods, well above the minimum required sustenance level for a dog. Initially salt was included in dry foods as a preservative.

The actual assessment we have set you is done on two days over a fourteen day period, records being made on the first day of feeding and then fourteen days later to see if there is a significant change in character and attitude and weight.

What you are looking for in a “new” diet for your dog is maintenance of good health, improved health if possible. To judge this we have select weight, water consumption, exercise tolerance (and we don’t envisage you performing an endurance test on day 1 or day 14, normal regimes only please!), and the attitude of your dog first thing in the morning and when retiring. A perky, cheerful, happy dog in the morning is one who has eaten well, digested well, and slept well, a dog that settles down comfortably and quietly in the evening is a dog well nourished, feeling well, has exercised well without exertion. A dog that holds or gains weight slightly is a happy dog, a dog that consumes a regular amount of water isn’t eating too salty a food nor needing to excrete an unusual amount of waste or toxic products, a dog that maintains his fitness with his regular amount of exercise (measured here by exercise tolerance) is gaining enough nutrition from his diet. Another very important indicator of health and food utilization is the amount, quantity and quality of excretia. Foul smelling, soft droppings are not a sign of good metabolism and usually not indicative of good health. A firm, warm, not unpleasant smelling dropping is the ideal. Also urine quality and quantity are important indicators, fair volumes that are not odoriforous are optimum, small volumes, dark colour, destorying grass and sharp on the nose are not good signs.

There is one main overriding consideration to also adjust for, and that is radical changes in temepratures, a dog will drink more and not exercise as well on a very hot day. So we have also left a space for you to record that day’s temperature as well.

Even if you do not find a dry food that meets your dog’s requirements with this personal assessment, perhaps we have lifted your awareness of your dog’s basic health. =