Digestibility and dog food

Have you ever compared two equal size bags of dog food and assumed the less expensive one is a better value?

Although we all love our dogs and want to feed them quality food, it’s reasonable to be cost conscious.  Learn a bit about pet food nutrition and you’ll know how to get the most for your money.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some important nutrition information so you can make better pet food buying decisions.

Here’s the first tidbit… digestibility.  It’s one of many important factors in determining nutritional value. Digestibility is the portion of nutrients in the food absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream.

It’s basically what your dog’s body uses.  And it’s important in determining if that “super premium” dog food you’re paying for is worth the extra money.

Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to find out a food’s digestibility.

Most reputable food manufacturers do digestibility studies but the Association of American Feed Control Officials—they set the standards for what goes into pet food—doesn’t allow digestibility claims on pet food labels.

You may get the information from the manufacturer’s website or by calling them. But it’s important to know there is no standard for digestibility testing.  So if you’re looking at several foods, you could be comparing apples to oranges.

Usually, pet food makers calculate digestibility using feeding trials. What’s a feeding trial, you ask?

It’s pretty simple, really. It’s the measure of input vs. output. They feed their food to several dogs and measure what comes out. This is the undigested part… the part the body can’t use. There’s a little more science to it, but that’s the gist.

Dog’s that eat low quality food with a low percentage of digestibility will have larger more frequent poops. On this kind of diet, the body isn’t able to use a lot of what goes in so the dog poops it out.

Calculating digestibility

Let’s see how the math works. If a dog eats 300 grams (about 3 cups) of food per day and poops 50 grams of poop per day, the dog is absorbing 250 grams of the food. The food is 83% digestible and 17% waste. For simplicity sake, this doesn’t account for water.

250 grams/300 grams X 100% = 83% digestible

If you can get digestibility data, select a food that has a digestibility of 80% or better. Less than that, and you’re paying for a lot of filler and low quality ingredients with no nutritional value.

Factors that affect digestibility

Digestibility comes down to three things:

Formula – the type and quantity of ingredients influences digestibility – protein vs. fiber – fiber isn’t digestible

Ingredient quality – high quality ingredients are more digestible than low quality ingredients – protein from byproducts like beaks and bones is less digestible than protein from actual meat

Processing – cooking temperatures and storage procedures can impact digestibility – excessive heat damages protein and decreases digestibility

Signs of digestibility

If your dog is eating a highly digestible diet, their poops will be formed, regular and consistent. They will seem normal in volume… not too big, not too frequent. They will not contain mucus, blood or anything recognizable.

If your dog is excessively gassy, and consistently has loose stools or diarrhea, it’s possible their diet isn’t very digestible.

But understand that no food will be 100% digestible. In fact, the digestive system needs some indigestible material like fiber to pass through it.

Not to mention dogs on a weight-loss diet… they need a food with some lower digestibility ingredients because fiber makes them feel full.

Some other health conditions could call for low digestible ingredients as well. With this in mind, there should still be mostly high quality highly digestible ingredients in your pet’s food.

Here’s another indicator of digestibility. When comparing two foods, look at the recommended feeding amount. Does one recommend that you feed your dog substantially more than the other to support healthy body weight?

That could be a sign that the food isn’t highly digestible making it necessary for your dog to eat more to get the nutrition it needs. Suddenly your less expensive food is more expensive in the long run because you’ll be buying a lot more of it.

Do you consider digestibility when you choose a dog food? Share your comments at the top.

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