Find the Right Food For Your Dog Get Your Dog Some of What They Want

Find the Right Food For Your Dog

Wellness Simple Salmon & Potato Formula Dry Dog Food

Dry Food
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Choosing the ideal food for your dog is easier said than done. Here are some helpful things to keep in mind the next time you're combing the pet food aisle at your local market. Your dog will surely thank you for it later.

Our dogs rely on us to choose the right nutrition. We can’t leave it up to them. After all, you’ve seen some of the nasty things they like to eat!

Choosing the right food for your dog, though, requires more than simply filling up the bowl. A wide range of appropriate commercial diets are available, from the grocery store “cost cutter” brands to premium and super-premium foods such as Diamond Naturals pet food or Taste of the Wild products as well as therapeutic diets from the veterinarian. The ultimate choice depends on a couple of factors.

Questions to Ask Yourself (and Dog) to Find the Perfect Food

First, what kind of nutrition does your dog need? Second, find out the type of foods available and what you can afford. And finally, will your dog eat the food? Some dogs do great on dry diets while others prefer wet foods. Bottom line, the best food in the bag does no good if your dog refuses to eat it. Try mixing things up by introducing new flavors other than chicken such as the Nutrisource Trout And Rice dog food.

How old is your dog? Growing puppies need different nutrition than healthy adults, for example, so choose an age-appropriate diet. The manufacturers call these “life stages” and label products according to what life stage they’re designed to meet. For instance, pet parents of senior dogs are often recommended to give specialized food products like the Nutrisource Senior Dry Dog Food to help maintain the muscle tone and agility of their older dogs.

Most healthy adult dogs do well in diets labeled for an adult life stage. Something like the Purina Pro Plan Adult Shredded Blend Salmon And Rice is a good example. These are considered maintenance food for moderately active canines. Remember, though, that the amount to feed varies depending on the dog and that product recommendations are only a starting point. You’ll need to adjust the amount up or down for your special dog.

Competition and working dogs do better on performance food. These premium and super-premium foods such as Diamond Naturals pet food or Taste of the Wild products tend to have more calories and higher quality ingredients because hunting dogs or other canine athletes burn enormous energy during competitions. Pet parents also supplement the high-calorie diet with enzyme support supplements like Prozyme for dogs for better digestion and absorption.

Food sensitive or allergic dogs may need special foods that avoid certain ingredients. While only your veterinarian can diagnose such a problem, these dogs often can find relief of itchy skin or vomiting symptoms by eating foods that contain unusual ingredients they’ve never before encountered—like salmon or turkey.

Other health challenges often benefit from therapeutic foods that help relieve symptoms of arthritis, for example. Veterinarians can recommend a therapeutic food that’s specific to your dog’s health challenges. But the best measure of success for any food is how well the dog does on the food.

What is in My Dog Food?

What is in my dog food? From grain-free products like the popular Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain Free Large Breed Puppy dog food to homemade, to organic and raw diets, the dog food landscape is overflowing with expensive, complicated answers to that question, which is one some pet parents don’t even think to ask. Why spend the extra money and extra time on dog food, when there’s a perfectly good option right there on the grocery shelf?

Is all the hype about grains and fillers in dog foods true? If so, how are we supposed to extend our limited budgets for our pets, when doing so for our human family members may be hard enough?

Primary Concerns with Budget Dog Foods

As in most areas of our lives, we must make compromises if limited budgets are pulling the strings. Knowing which of the biggest pitfalls to look out for can help any pet lover make the smartest decisions for four-legged family members and their diets. If you can’t adhere to all the guidelines, you can pick and choose the ones that suit your personal philosophies, as well as your budget.

First 5 Ingredients

The FDA requires that ingredients be listed in the order of quantity. The first ten ingredients tend to make up 80% of the food, even though some dog foods have more than thirty-five ingredients! Still, what matters most are the first ten, and even more so, the first five.

Anonymous Meats

Meat should never be referred to generally. You want all your meat products, and especially those in the first five, to be specified whole proteins. For example, “chicken” is whole, specified meat; “poultry” is not. Specified protein parts may be “chicken giblets”; not “animal by-products”; specified animal fats may be “chicken fat,” but not “animal fat”. For instance, Whole Earth Farms Adult Recipe Dry Dog Food uses all-named meat ingredients like chicken, turkey, buffalo, and duck.

Avoid By-Products Altogether

This is especially true if by-products are listed in the first five ingredients. By-products may include rendered carcass parts including feet, lymph nodes, intestines, and feathers, all of which are “meat” products with no nutritional value. Many by-product meals are derived from meat sources that were rejected for human consumption because they came from animals that were dead, dying, disabled or diseased.

Grains, Fillers, and Carbohydrates in General

It’s best to avoid dog foods that list grains among the first five ingredients, but that’s a tall order when taking budget limitations into account. To adjust this principle, avoid foods whose first, second, or third ingredients are corn, wheat, or grain meals like corn gluten meal or soybean meal. Corn on its own may not be so terrible, but as the primary ingredient in your lovable carnivore’s diet, it’s not great.

Be a Back of the Package Person

There are dog food brands even non-pet owners can name, simply because their branding is so ubiquitous. From halfway down the grocery aisle, you can spot that bright yellow bag with the cartoon dog on the front. No matter how recognizable the brand, no matter how convincing the commercials with their utopias of raining vegetables and silky coated leaping dogs, we recommend you flip that bag over. The front doesn’t count. It’s what’s listed on the back - and what’s inside that bag - that does.

Adhere as closely as you can to the First Five guidelines listed here, and also check out the guaranteed analysis section on every bag, can, or box of dog food. The FDA requires dog food companies to report minimum protein and fat content, and maximum fiber and moisture content. Companies are not required to report carbohydrate content, but if you add up the previous four, the balance (up to 100%) is likely to be the percentage of carbohydrates in the food. Shoot for foods and treats that have a higher protein content than carb content.


Many long-time dog owners are committed to their brightly packaged, heavily advertised kibble and swear by the less expensive brands. They point to the generations of healthy, happy, dogs they’ve raised as proof that organics and raw trends in pet foods are hoaxes, designed explicitly to manipulate pet lovers into parting with ever more cash.

However, it’s possible that all those “happy, healthy dogs” didn’t actually die of old age; or that their old age didn’t have to take them so quickly. More and more, the average pet parent is moving away from dry, grain-based dog foods. Many are making their own pet foods, and are saving money. Pet food companies are changing tactics to meet the growing demand of pet lovers, and are working to provide healthful, safe, modern alternatives for every household, and for every budget.

Related Content

Diets for Dogs: Here’s What You Need to Know
Raw Food Dog Diet
Grain-Free Dog Food: Cut Down on Carbs
Natural Dog Food: Holistic and Organic Dog Food Diets
Homemade Dog Food for Your Pet

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. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, consultant to the pet care industry, and award-winning author of 23 pet care books.
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