When I was a kid growing up, there wasn't a whole lot of discussion about what you should feed your dog. You decided if you wanted to feed him dry or canned food, then picked the brand you liked best either by price or advertising. It was pretty much presumed that all the canned foods were basically the same and all the dry foods were also pretty much the same: you just got whatever you and your dog liked best.


I don't know how much (if any) of that was true, and how much was just a child's perception. In any event, though, things have certainly changed now. There are far more brands of food than there used to be, and it seems each type of food has a variety of formulations and flavors. So what really is the best thing to feed your dog?


That's easy -- read, watch or listen to any dog food advertisement or commercial and you'll quickly learn that the product being advertised is the best for your dog. That is, after all, the point to good advertising copy. Unfortunately, the advertising claims that a dog food is a "complete and balanced diet" for your dog may be more hype than truth.


In fact, which food is the best food for your dog actually does depend, in part, on your dog. You definitely need to consider your dog's age. A puppy has different nutritional needs than an adult dog. A senior dog has different health concerns than an active adult dog.


Breed also makes a difference, especially in puppy food. A Labrador, Boxer, or Great Dane grows and develops at a different rate than a toy Poodle. A miniature Schnauzer's tasty morsel isn't worth trying to eat to a Saint Bernard. On the other hand, the perfect size kibble for a German Shepherd is hard for your Dachshund to chow down on.


Individual dogs also may have health concerns that can affect which foods they eat. Thyroid conditions, obesity, and gastrointestinal issues may all call for a special diet.


In a normal, healthy adult dog, though, there are certain things you should look for, both from an ingredient standpoint and from a nutritional standpoint. You need to read the dog food bag (I am focusing more on dry food than canned food in this article). The first ingredient should be a specific meat -- beef, chicken, etc.; not just "meat" or "meat by-products."


The "Guaranteed Analysis" should have protein at 25% - 30% or more. Fats and oils should be around 18% - 25%. The food should contain some Omega fatty acid. There should be NO food coloring. Dogs do need some fiber, but 2.5% - 4.5% fiber is quite adequate.


What about table scraps? Be careful what you give your dog, and watch that you don't upset the balance of his diet. That being said, though, the occasional table scrap won't hurt your dog -- especially if it's plain meat.


A healthy diet goes a long way to maintaining a healthy dog. Dogs' lives are far too short as it is: the better care we take of our dogs, the longer we can keep a healthy, happy, fuzzy friend at our side.