Your Dog Food Questions Answered Your Guide to Your Dog Food Options

Wet food, dry food, large dog formula, puppy chow. Does it really matter what kind of food I buy my dog? Yes, it does, and we are here to help you navigate this ever expanding sea of dog food options.

Have you found yourself having more dog food questions lately? Over a few short years, the choices in the pet food aisle at the grocery store have doubled, or maybe even tripled. Is that all just big manufacturers trying to confuse you into buying and spending more?

Well, no. The truth is that two things have contributed: recent trends in healthier eating for humans have led many pet parents to wonder what they can do to treat their dog as one of the family. And advances in veterinary science have taught us all much more about what dogs should and can eat, and how to handle issues like dog food allergies.

Pet food manufacturers have responded with more options, so why not take advantage? Maybe you count yourself among those pet parents who want to know what goes into every scoop of dog food -- after all, your dog looks to you for care and protection. While we may not all have the time to decipher labels as we shop, it's always a good idea to be better informed. Remember there are products that are designed to achieve specific health goals such as the Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Puppy dog food the requires the vet's prescription. So it's always a good idea to ask the vet.

Decoding Dog Food Labels: The Essential Diagram 

We all want to feed our dogs the best, but sometimes that can be hard to find. Especially considering that some dog food labels are harder to read than ancient Sanskrit.

There are a lot of rules out there when it comes to dog food -- companies are required to put certain terms, numbers, and labels on their packaging, and specific phrases can actually carry a lot of meaning. Then again, there's still plenty on a dog food label that is not regulated, so some phrases could actually have no measurable or guaranteed meaning at all. There are also these specialty food products. For instance, there are specific products for large breed puppies such as the Purina Pro Plan Large Breed Puppy dog food. Here, we break down the essentials and rules of dog food labels, so you can follow along when choosing the best food for your pooch.

1: A Dog Food "With"

Labeling like this is a tricky business. Many dog foods have ingredients like chicken and rice in them, but a label like this certainly doesn't mean that there's nothing else. In order to list ingredients at the top like this, the food only has to contain 3% of each ingredient.

2: Fancy Food

We often see things like "ultra-premium," "holistic," or "all-natural" on dog food packages. Since there's little regulation on using words like this, they can't be guaranteed to mean anything about the actual makeup of the food. There are, however, regulations on certain health claims and on using the term "improved." To call a dog food formula "improved," this has to be substantiated by some evidence. Additionally, food cannot state health claims about preventing or treating a disease, and must instead be vaguer, with phrases like "helps in the management of urinary tract disease," for example.

3: AAFCO Statement

The American Association of Feed Control Officials is a legislative body that has representatives in each state government. These representatives approve all foods made for animals. They typically utilize information from the National Research Council and other literature to ensure that dog and cat foods are complete and nutritionally balanced. If this statement is not on a bag or can of dog food then it's likely not adequate for long-term feeding. Treats, for example, won't have this claim.

Here are the typical messages that mean the dog food is appropriate for feeding as a regular, everyday food: “Meets the nutritional requirements of dogs established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO),” or “Complete and balanced nutrition for dogs based on AAFCO feeding trials” mean that the food has met AAFCO standards as a daily food for dogs.

4: Net Weight

All packages of dog food must have an accurate weight on the label. Bags of dog food could range from 4 lbs to 40 lbs while can typically come in 3, 6, and 12 ounces.

5: Manufacturer Information

All pet foods need to list the company's contact address so that consumers can contact the companies if they need to. Phone numbers and websites are optional, but nearly all pet food companies list these as well.

6: Feeding Instructions

Feeding instructions are required on every package of dog food. Manufacturers do not have to stick to any strict regulation here though, other than providing reasonable instructions based on the stage of life that the food is designed for.

If it's dog food for all life stages, then typically it will list feeding directions for puppies and adults, and sometimes gestation (pregnant dogs).

For an indoor, inactive dog who is a bit of a couch potato, though, these feeding directions are often excessive, leading to obesity.

7: Ingredients List

The ingredients list has to be in descending order, in which the ingredient with the highest weight is listed first. This applies whether the ingredient is a wet or dry one.

What does that mean? Well in many cases when a label lists chicken as the first ingredient, in all actuality the major protein source may be a meal that is second, third, or fourth on the ingredients list. This makes ingredient labeling a bit difficult to understand. Learn more about reading dog food ingredients lists.

8: Guaranteed Analysis

A guaranteed analysis is required on dog food packages. It allows consumers to see what the basic substrate concentrations are in the food. The above four items listed: proteinfatmoisture, and crude fiber, are the only four things required on a guaranteed analysis, but many companies add others to the list. Find out more about the guaranteed analysis.

9: Calorie Count

What we usually think of as "calories" are actually "Calories" with a capital "C," or kilocalories. If kilocalories are listed on a dog food label, they must be labeled as kilocalories per kg of food. This is not very useful to the average dog parent wondering how many calories are in a scoop or cup, but many companies list the kilocalories per cup or can as well, which is currently optional. Recent regulations will soon require kilocalories per cup or can be on all AAFCO approved foods.

Dog Food Ratings - 9 Dog Foods to Know

Some dogs foods just seem to rise to the top when it comes to consumer reviews and dog food ratings. If you're looking for a dog food that's already pleased plenty of pet parents, look no farther than these ten best-rated dog foods, which consistently receive good reviews.

Dog Food Ratings

1. Forza 10 Depura Nutraceutic

Forza Depura is nutritious, holistic dog food made from the finest ingredients. Contrary to big-name diets, all of Forza 10 Depura's protein comes from lean, healthy sea fish, rich in nutritious omega-3 fatty acids.

What You Get

2. Canidae Grain Free Pure - Line of Dog Foods

All four "elements" in this line of dog foods from Canidae (Sea, Sky, Land, Elements) rank highly on Dog Food Advisor, with 4 to 5 stars, and Sea and gets top marks from PetCareRx customers.

What You Get

3. Forza 10 OTO Nutraceutic

Oto Active Canine Formula is a holistically formulated diet put together by a team of veterinarians to benefit dogs specifically plagued with otologic problems. Every dog has the ability to naturally heal itself, and this formula assists in maintaining ear health.

What You Get

4. Wellness CORE Grain-Free Ocean Formula

This food makes's list of the best dry dog foods, got 5 stars on Dog Food Advisor, and it's also highly rated right here on PetCareRx!

What You Get

5. Dogswell Nutrisca Dry Dog Food

This dog food option gets top marks here on PetCareRx, and it's not hard to see why. These foods are grain-free, high in antioxidants, and you can choose from two flavors: chicken or lamb. The lamb is sourced right here in the US, and the chicken is raised cage-free, both with no added hormones.

What You Get

6. Evanger's Grain-Free Chicken Adult Dry Dog Food

Both the chicken and the meat lover's medley get 5 stars from Dog Food Advisor, and the chicken recipe was named Top Approved Dry Food by the Whole Dog Journal. With these two foods, you'll know fresh meat is always the first ingredient.

What You Get

7. Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet

This food is a favorite among PetCareRx customers, and it's a great choice for pet parents whose dogs are suffering from food allergies. Limited ingredient diets are usually used to introduce new protein sources into a dog's diet, helping to identify what ingredients might be giving your dog an allergic reaction.

What You Get

8. Solid Gold Canned Dog Food

This snazzy green can of food receives great reviews on Dog Food Advisor, along with other Solid Gold options, and is top-rated on PetCareRx.

What You Get

9. Taste of the Wild Dry Food

These foods get just as much love from PetCareRx customers as the canned, and rate 4 to 5 stars on Dog Food Advisor. With plenty of flavors and proteins to choose from, you're sure to find one for your dog.

What You Get

Here are the top dog food questions -- and answers! -- to help you navigate all those options.

Wet or Dry Dog Food: Which Is Better?

Does the Size of Dog Kibble Matter?

What Are "Natural" Dog Food Flavors?

What Is Packaged Raw Dog Food?

What Is Ash in Dog Food?

What Is Moisture in Dog Food?

Should Fiber Be in Dog Food?

Is Fat Important in a Dog's Diet?

Which Protein for Dogs Is Best?

Is Fish in Dog Food as Good as Meat-Based Dog Foods?

Are Soy and Corn in Dog Food Okay?

What Should I Look For on a Dog Food Ingredients List?

Are Fruits and Vegetables Good for Dogs?

What Are Hypoallergenic Dog Foods and Novel Protein Diets?

Can Dogs Eat Wheat?

More on Feeding Your Dog

6 Pet Food Ingredients that Burn Fat
The Proper Nutrition for a Puppy
Nutrition for Active and Working Dogs

Great Dog Foods

Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream All Natural Dog Food
Wellness Core Grain Free Original Formula
Canidae All Life Stages Formula Dry Dog Food
Natural Balance L.I.D - Limited Ingredients Diets
Halo Spot's Stew Wholesome Chicken Adult Dog Food
Nutro Natural Choice Venison Meal/Brown Rice Dog Food
Nature's Variety Instinct Grain-Free Lamb Canned Dog Food
Merrick 5-Star Canned Dog Food

Join our mailing list
Join our mailing list