There is no one-size-fits-all best food; instead, a dog’s food should fit their activity level, life stage, breed, and particular health concerns.
Protein is the most important component of a dog’s diet. It helps build muscle and support a dog’s immune system. While quantity is important, quality should be your focus. Dogs’ bodies need to get 10 types of amino acids from their diets in order to survive. These amino acids come from protein, primarily from the protein in animal meat. Many cheap dog foods cut costs by using soy and corn to boost percentages of protein without delivering the amino-rich protein your dog needs. Check the ingredient label of your dog’s food to make sure that animal meat is somewhere in the top three ingredients, if not higher, and avoid foods that have soy as one of the first three ingredients.
Animal by-products, despite the negative stigma, are a cheap ingredient that does benefit your dog: truth is, liver, heart, intestines, and other unmentionables in animal by-products are stocked with healthy amino acids that your dog needs, without pressuring your wallet. Still, if you don’t like the idea of your dog eating the leftovers from the slaughter house, choose foods with ingredients that name a specific meat source like “chicken” or “beef.”
Working dogs, pregnant dogs, lactating dogs, puppies, and sick dogs often need more protein than most adult dogs, so try to stay closer to the 30-40% range of protein. Dogs with kidney trouble, however, will need a food lower in protein.
Carbohydrates have been under attack recently as a dog food “filler,” and there’s truth to the hype. Plants are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but not all carbohydrates are created equally. Look for ingredients like vegetables, fruits, oats, sweet potatoes, or potatoes; and avoid corn, cornmeal, and soy.
If your dog has allergy problems, the carbs they eat might be the source of the problem. Put them on a diet of limited ingredients until their allergic reactions disappear. Slowly reintroduce food groups one at a time, noting when they have a reaction. Many food allergies in dogs come from corn, soy, and oats, so carbs are a great ingredient to eliminate when figuring out food allergies.
Because of their short intestinal tracts, dogs don’t need all of the fiber humans need. Still, too little or too much fiber is unhealthy; look to your dog’s stool to make sure it’s of the right consistency: not too hard and not too soft. If you have a senior dog, look for a food that has more fiber to ease the strain of digestion.
All dog owners should be aware of bloat, the second leading killer of large breed dogs after cancer. Don’t fret through, bloat can be prevented with good dietary habits. If too much gas builds up in your dog’s stomach, it can twist and lead to a real medical emergency. Check your dog’s breed to see if they are predisposed to gastric torsion, and consider switching them to a low grain food that still has significant amounts of fiber (at least 4%). High fiber, low grain foods combined with more frequent, smaller meals will keep gastric torsion at bay.
Fat is an integral part of your dog’s health. For adult dogs with no special health concerns, the rules are simple: overweight dogs need less fat in their diets; dogs with skin problems and lack-luster coats need more fat. As always, not all fat is created equally. Look for fats that are high in Omega-3 and Omega-6, which support healthy skin. If you’re having trouble finding a food that has good fat, find a salmon based food or simply introduce a fish oil supplement to their diet.
Because puppies need twice the calories of an adult dog, they also need a larger serving of fat every day. Look for a puppy brand dog food to give them the nutrients they need, but never let a puppy get tubby. Lean puppies have fewer hip, bone, and joint problems later in life. In fact, dogs that stay lean throughout their lives have longer and healthier lives with fewer joint, bone, and digestion problems.
Senior dogs often fit into two different categories with regards to fat. Sometimes, senior dogs that lose weight might need a higher fat content in their food. Most senior dogs, however, gain weight as they age because their metabolism slows as they become less active. For these seniors, consider switching to a senior food that cuts fat and carbohydrates without sacrificing too much protein.
Finally, if you have a working or competing dog that needs more calories, focus on introducing good fats and proteins into their diets, as carbohydrates don’t metabolize very well for dogs.
This rule is simple: keep your dog away from scraps. We love to watch our pups go crazy for our food, but rich human foods weren’t made for your dog’s metabolism, and they put your best friend at greater risk of obesity, joint problems, and pancreatitis. Not to mention, a lot of our favorite treats are poisonous to dogs. You don’t eat your dog’s food, so don’t let them eat yours.
Read More About Your Dog's Dietary Options
Good Diet, Good Health: Using Nutrition to Prevent Disease in Your Dog
The Most Poisonous Foods for Dogs
Natural Dog Food: Holistic and Organic Dog Food Diets
Raw Food Dog Diet
Grain Free Dog Food: Cut Down on Carbs
What is in My Dog Food?
Finding the Right Food for Your Dog
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.