Shopping for dog food can be intimidating. Almost anywhere you go to buy dog food will have dozens of brands and varieties.
How do you choose what’s best for your pet? Shopping for our own nutrition can be tricky business, never mind trying to choose for an animal that can only sort of communicating their preferences.
Purina Pro Plan has developed a reputation for being a healthy and tasty dog food, but is it right for a golden retriever?
Should you buy Purina Pro Plan for your golden retriever? Purina Pro Plan is a good choice for balancing quality and price. The main appeal of Purina Pro Plan is its high volume of meat and other proteins. There are plenty of superior dry dog foods for larger breeds, but they can be difficult to find or prohibitively expensive.
You can’t shop intelligently for dog food if you don’t understand what nutritional factors are important for your animal. Let’s go over what nutritional considerations are important for dogs, including a few items specific to golden retrievers. Then we can run through each of Purina Pro Plan’s ingredients and how they contribute to your dog’s health.
What’s Important to Look for in a Dog Food
Not all dog foods are created equal. Lots of dog foods take shortcuts by using grains and cereals to cut costs and drive up profit margins. These ingredients are essentially empty calories with no nutritional value. Quality ingredients, such as meat, are generally more expensive.
You’re looking for a dog food that is as natural as possible with few preservatives or additives. Great dog foods avoid a lot of processing and leave ingredients raw. The key things to look for are dog foods with lots of meat, few or no grains, a balanced profile of essential vitamins and minerals, and of course, a top-notch taste.
High Meat Content
Meat is the most important element of your dog’s diet. Dogs are carnivores and require meat as the base of their food intake. Meat provides an essential source of protein. Meat is also more filling than most other dog food ingredients, preventing overeating, and excessive weight gain.
Meat can be a tricky ingredient in dry dog foods, as it can be difficult to process meat in a way that it won’t spoil. Meats are usually dehydrated before being used in dog food.
Low Grain Content
Grains such as corn and wheat are cheaply available and can provide bulk and structure to bits of kibble. The problem with these ingredients is that they do nothing for dogs. Grains are completely devoid of nutritional benefits for dogs.
These ingredients are high in calories and carbohydrates, which can cause obesity and heart problems. Wheat is also high in gluten, which has become something of a controversial ingredient in recent years.
Many claims that gluten is harmful to dogs. However, there is still some debate on this point. Considering that these ingredients are not helpful in any meaningful way, it’s best to avoid them whenever possible.
Well-Balanced Nutritional Content
Most dog owners feed their pets a single brand of dog food, sometimes for the animal’s entire life. Given this lack of food variety, it is absolutely essential that you choose a dog food that contains essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
These nutrients can come from a variety of different ingredients, but the key is to make sure that all the major boxes are ticked.
It may be a good idea to bring in some additional variety to your dog’s diet. Leftovers from certain meals can make a good snack for hungry dogs and bring a change of pace for your dog.
However, unless you’re ready to attend doggy culinary school, you’ll want to pick a dog food that will keep your dog healthy and happy without any additional effort from you.
Taste is king. It doesn’t matter how healthy dog food you buy if your dog won’t touch it. You want to see your dog greedily cleaning the bowl when it’s feeding time.
To determine whether or not a dog food passes the taste test, you’ll probably have to put it in front of your dog and see how they react to it.
If the dog avoids the food you put out or leaves food leftover in the bowl, there’s a good chance that they simply don’t like it. Dogs that don’t like their food are more likely to try desperately to steal table scraps.
Dog’s palates are different from people’s, so popping a kibble in your mouth is unlikely to give you a good indication of how your pet will respond. Even the most delectable of dog foods would probably taste pretty awful to you.
Considerations Unique to Golden Retrievers
While dog nutrition is generally pretty universal, there are a few specific considerations to make for golden retrievers and other larger dog breeds.
These considerations vary depending on the age of the dog. Puppies have very different nutritional needs from adult dogs. You’ll notice that Purina Pro Plan (and many other brands) have separate formulas for puppies and adult dogs.
Golden retrievers specifically are a larger dog breed and require a diet with the proper balance of protein, fat, and carbs. Large dog breeds are more prone to obesity, orthopedic disease, and gastrointestinal bloat, so it’s important to get the right food in the right quantities.
As Golden Retriever puppies mature into adults, their bodies rapidly grow and expand. A baby golden retriever will grow from 5 lbs. to 55 lbs. in the span of less than a year. Because of this rapid growth, its important that puppies are not undernourished or overnourished.
Most pet owners understand the problems associated with undernourishment. It’s actually more common to see owners that over nourish their pets, thinking that they’re doing what’s best for their puppy.
Over nourishment can cause puppies to grow too quickly, leading to developmental orthopedic disease (DOD). DOD can result in a number of conditions including the following:
- Hypertrophic osteodystrophy
- Retained ulnar cartilage core
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
Providing set amounts of food and avoiding overfeeding can eliminate over nourishment issues. However, if the food you’re feeding has too much of certain nutrients, preventing over nourishment may be difficult or impossible. Growing puppies need to avoid
- Too much fat
- Too much calcium
- Too much phosphorus
- Too much vitamin D
Calcium is the one that really throws people, as this is not the case with smaller dog breeds, and you would think that a bigger dog would need more calcium to support proper bone growth.
Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Studies of larger breed dogs, including golden retrievers, show that excessive intake of calcium and phosphorus in puppies can lead to problems with DOD later in life. Hip dysplasia is a particularly common complication due to excessive calcium in a young dog’s diet.
If you’ve got a golden retriever younger than a year old, look for a large breed puppy mix. Be aware that puppies do need more calories than older dogs and should eat about twice as much as adults.
Adult golden retrievers need to maintain the weight they gained as puppies without becoming overweight or obese. The key is to select a dog food which provides a good balance of fat, protein, and carbs. Be careful about feeding too many calories. Adult golden retrievers should avoid
- Too much fat
- Too many carbs
- Too many calories
Ensuring the proper balance of nutrients and continuing to avoid overfeeding will allow your golden retriever to maintain a healthy weight and avoid other health complications. Common diet-related health problems for larger breeds are
- Orthopedic disease
The best way to avoid orthopedic diseases such as hip dysplasia, arthritis, and osteochondrosis in golden retriever adults is to avoid over nourishment as puppies. Once you’ve got an adult dog, ensure proper weight maintenance. Many dog foods intended for larger breed adults contain the joint supplement glucosamine to promote bone and joint health.
Obesity is a massive problem in large breed dogs. It is estimated that over 50% of large breed dogs in the US are overweight. Extra weight on these already large bodies can be particularly taxing.
Obesity can lead to heart and lung problems as well as exacerbate or cause stress to joints and bones. Get a dog food that is high in protein and low in fat and calories, avoid overfeeding and give the dog plenty of exercises to maintain a healthy weight.
Bloat or gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV) is a very serious condition that is caused by gasses rapidly expanding in the dog’s stomach. Bloat can be fatal, sometimes in as little as a few hours. While there are treatments, prevention is the best approach.
Essentially you need to avoid a buildup of gases. Avoiding foods high in fat can cut down on gases produced, and spreading meals out through the day can prevent a sudden buildup of gases.
Purina Pro Plan Options
Purina Pro Plan is not a single dog food mix, but rather an entire line of products. Purina Pro Plan has a product intended for any type of dog. There are a number of different categories that Purina divides the Pro Plan line into, to help consumers get the right mix for their dog.
As we’ve already discussed, dogs of different ages have different nutritional needs. Because of this, Purina offers dog food intended for
Puppies need a nutritional profile that will help them add weight and grow big at an even pace. The right mix of nutrients early in a dog’s life can prevent heart, lung, joint, and bone issues later in life.
Adults need to maintain weight. They also need proper nutrients to maintain healthy coats and energy levels. Adult dog food is all about keeping things level.
Senior dogs become more prone to a number of conditions, including loss of healthy brain activity (think of it like doggy Alzheimer’s). It’s important to transition to a diet that staves off these old-timer issues and promotes healthy brain function.
Dogs come in a wide range of sizes. It may not come as a shock to you that a Saint Bernard has different nutritional needs from Chihuahua. Purina Pro mixes are made for
- Toy dogs
- Small dogs
- Large dogs
- Giant dogs
The proper mix for your size dog will ensure a healthy balance of fat, protein, and carbs. Golden retrievers are large dogs, so this is what you should be looking for.
Purina Pro Plan mixes carry a wide assortment of different meats. There is no one size fits all solution for meat choice.
Some dogs will simply prefer the taste of some meat over others. Sometimes dogs can be allergic to certain ingredients, including certain meats as well. Try a few things and see what works best for your pet. Available meats are
Bear in mind that you won’t be able to find every possible combination of the age range, breed size, and meat option. Take a look at what ingredients are available for the age and size that match your dog.
Some dogs will be sensitive to certain ingredients. These sensitivities can range from full-blown allergies to minor stomach irritation. Regardless of the cause, if you notice your dog avoiding his or her food or exhibiting allergic reactions, try a stomach sensitive option. These mixes deliberately avoid ingredients that many dogs find problematic.
If you look at user reviews, many dog owners swear by Purina Pro Plans Sensitive Stomach options.
Purina Pro Plan Nutritional Facts
Now that you know what you’re looking for in dog food, how does Purina Pro Plan stack up? Let’s take a look at the big picture and then look at the major ingredients individually to get a sense of how good Purina Pro Plan is for Golden Retrievers.
We cannot go into detail about each of the many Purina Pro Plan dog food varieties. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be discussing Purina Pro Plan Adult Shredded Blend Large Breed Formula. This is a brand-appropriate and popular for retrievers and should be fairly representative of the entire line.
Performing an analysis of nutrient content on the dry matter basis of the dog food, Dogfoodadvisor.com determined the following nutritional content breakdown
- Protein: 30%
- Fat: 14%
- Carbs: 49%
For context, these numbers put Purina Pro Plan at above-average protein, below-average fat, and below-average carbs. Compared to more premium brands of dog food, this is still a little high in carbs, but the protein content is right up there with the best of them.
The only downside of this high protein measurement is that much of it comes from plant-based protein, which isn’t ideal for dogs.
At a glance, it’s easy to see why Purina Pro Plan is so raved about and oft-recommended by pet owners and veterinarians alike. This dog food has a good balance of essential nutrients and promotes healthy growth.
Let’s take a look at the top ten ingredients by volume as well as a few mentionable lower down in the list and break down how they contribute to or detract from the attractiveness of Purina Pro Plan as a dog food choice.
Purina loves to hype up the fact that they were the first dog food to make meat the first ingredient. This is significant and should impress you, but maybe not as much as Purina would like it to impress you.
The reality is that they weigh in the chicken before cooking. Raw chicken contains around 70% water, and most of the moisture is lost when the meat is cooked and prepped for the mix.
In actuality, chicken accounts for a much lower percentage of the total than Purina would like you to believe.
2. Ground rice
Ground rice is generally used as a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour. This is used as a binding agent to hold the kibbles together. Avoiding gluten helps with nutritional value, but obviously, having starches or grains so high up on the list is not ideal and drives up the calories counts.
3. Whole grain wheat
Like other grains, wheat has little nutritional value for dogs and contributes to high caloric content. This is an inexpensive filler to add structure and mass to the kibble.
4. Poultry by-product meal
Poultry by-product is the dried, ground-up leftovers from poultry slaughterhouse processing. Essentially, it’s what’s left after the cuts of meat have been removed. We’re talking a mix of organs, feet, beaks, undeveloped eggs, and sometimes bone fragments.
Poultry by-products can vary vastly in quality. Depending on the quality of materials and the care given to the cleanliness of by-products in the slaughterhouse, it’s tough to know exactly how much to worry about this ingredient. On the plus side, poultry by-product contains nearly three times as much protein as fresh poultry. This stuff may sound gross, but it isn’t the worst thing for your dog.
5. Soybean meal
Soybean meal is a by-product of soybean production. While it’s high in protein, this protein has a relatively low biological value. This means that the protein is harder for your dog to digest and use. Not all protein sources are created equal. These sorts of additions are designed to cheaply boost the protein amount reported on the label.
6. Whole grain corn
More cereal grains here. Corn is going to have the same issues previously discussed with rice and wheat. This stuff isn’t doing your dog any favors.
7. Corn gluten meal
We’ve previously talked about gluten’s controversial status. This is the rubbery substance that gives things like bread their structure. Corn gluten meal is included because it contains 60% protein. Like soybean meal, this isn’t quality protein and is somewhat of a nutrition label pad.
8. Beef tallow
Beef tallow is a fatty by-product of beef rendering. While it’s good to get more animal protein in the mix. This ingredient really drives up the fat quantity and is considered a lower quality ingredient.
9. Fish meal
Like poultry meal, fish meal is a dried meat concentrate. This is essentially ground whole fish and fish cuttings. It usually comes from commercial fishing operations. Fish meal is extremely high in quality protein, however, because the specific species of fish is unlisted, it’s hard to know the exact nutritional makeup of this ingredient.
Of all the grains listed, Barley is actually the least problematic. Barley supplies fiber and other nutrients and can support stable blood sugar levels.
11. Fish oil
You may have heard fish oil touted as a wonder ingredient for human nutrition. This is because of its richness in EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are essential for healthy bodily function and have a wide array of health benefits in people and in dogs. The addition of fish oil increases the overall health value of Purina Pro Plan.
12. Wheat bran
Like barley, this is another grain that you shouldn’t be worried about. Brans are rich in dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. These contribute to a well-balanced diet.
13. Garlic oil
Unfortunately, garlic oil can cut both ways. On the one hand, it has health benefits such as being a rich source of Manganese, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Selenium, and fiber. On the other hand, garlic oil has been linked to Heinz body anemia in dogs. We’re talking about a pretty small quantity at this point. But, it’s valuable to consider both sides.
14. Dried fermentation products
Fermentation products are additives designed to help the animal with digestion. These can help prevent the dangers of bloat.
Menadione is a cheaper form of vitamin K. Menadione is linked with liver toxicity, allergies, and the abnormal breakdown of red blood cells. This ought to be considered a black mark.
Overall, we think it’s fair to say that the hype is justified. Purina Pro Plan contains a large amount of meat and is free from many controversial or dangerous ingredients.
The mix has some thoughtful, high-quality additions that round out its nutritional profile nicely. There are some obvious cut corners with large amounts of plant-based protein and high volumes of filler grains.
Purina Pro Plan dog foods are pretty great overall but have some specific drawbacks. This may be the best option available at your local grocery store, and it isn’t going to break the bank.
What if you want the best of the best and you’re willing to spend the money and the effort to get it? Here are a few alternatives to Purina Pro Plan that will have your golden retriever looking and feeling great.
Health Extension Grain-Free Chicken and Turkey Dog Food
With the first four ingredients being organic deboned chicken, chicken meal, deboned turkey, and turkey meal—Health Extension packs a meaty punch. Purina is so proud of putting the chicken in that number one spot, but the first four slots dedicated to meat products puts them to shame.
Compared to Purina Pro Plan’s price of about $1.20 per lb., paying almost double for Health Extension at about $2.20 per lb. may seem like a lot. Balancing nutrition and cost is a game you’re going to have to play.
Horizon Complete Large Breed Adult
Horizon Complete gets most of its animal protein from the chicken meal. It also uses healthy grains such as barley, oats, and rye to round out its nutritional profile. Dogfoodadvisor.com “enthusiastically” recommends this product.
At about $1.50 per lb., Horizon Complete is the most affordable of our alternative dog foods, which still is easily beat by Purina. Top-quality doesn’t come cheap.
Sport Dog Food Active Series Dock Dog
Based on buffalo and pork meal proteins, this mix is intended for dogs with active lifestyles. This mix has a very high volume of quality protein and will help your dog stay lean and active.
This stuff is pricey. I guess buffalo meal is hard to come by. At $2.50 per pound, this is the most expensive dog food on our list and costs nearly double what Purina Pro Plan costs.
So, should you buy Purina Pro Plan for your golden retriever? Lots of dog owners say yes. In many supermarkets and pet stores, Purina Pro Plan might be the most ideal dog food available. It’s got a good balance of essential nutrients, contains relatively high amounts of protein, and avoids many of the most worrisome ingredients.
On the other hand, there are dog foods out there that easily beat out Purina. These brands are more expensive and more difficult to find, but they contain a higher concentration of quality ingredients and avoid cheap fillers such as grains and plant-based proteins.
The choice of what to feed your golden retriever is up to you. But understanding the basics of dog nutrition and how Purina stacks up will help you make an informed choice to give your pet the happiest, healthiest, and longest life possible.