Our dogs rely on us to choose the proper nutrition. We can’t leave it up to them. After all, you’ve seen some nasty things they like to eat!
However, choosing your dog’s food 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.
Here are some factors to consider that can help you select the right dog food brands and specific products that your pet likes to eat.
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 for dogs in the bag does no good if your puppy 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, 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 their older dogs' muscle tone and agility.
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 from itchy skin or vomiting by eating foods that contain unusual ingredients they’ve never encountered—like salmon or turkey.
In case your pet becomes allergic to food, you will have to find the ingredient that's causing the problems and remove it from the diet. This can be time-consuming. Hence, you might want to consult with your vet and give your dog an anti-inflammatory medicine like Prednisone for dogs. Prednisone in dogs works by blocking the symptoms of the allergens for a temporary period, providing relief and comfort to your pet.
You can use foods that have limited ingredients like the Zignature Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Turkey. This turkey from the Zignature dog food brand comes with limited unusual ingredients and additives. Hence, you can start with this if you want to add turkey to your dog’s diet.
Other health challenges often benefit from therapeutic foods that help relieve symptoms of arthritis, for example. Veterinarians can recommend a therapeutic food 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’s Food?
What is in my dog food? From grain-free products like the famous Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain Free Large Breed Puppy food to homemade to organic and raw diets, the dog food landscape is overflowing with expensive, complicated answers to that question. However, some pet parents don’t even think to ask that question. Why spend the extra money and time on finding the best dog food when there’s an excellent option 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 pull 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 choose the ones that suit your philosophies and budget.
While the premium quality foods are expensive, they come with quality food that can help improve your pet’s health. Moreover, some food recipes like the Royal Canin Veterinary Diet food are also approved by the veterinarians, ensuring the best for your dogs. Hence, it is always best to try to adjust your budget to buy quality products like the Royal Canin dog food and other brands, especially if you don’t have a very tight constraint on 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.
Meat should never be referred to generally. You want all your meat products, 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.
Similarly, even the Natural Balance Original Ultra Chicken & Barley Formula Dry Dog Food comes with all the ingredients specifically named and listed. The crux of the story is that always pick the packed or canned dog food that comes with specifically listed elements.
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 rejected for human consumption because they came from dead, dying, disabled, or diseased animals.
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 considering budget limitations. To adjust this principle, avoid foods whose first, second, or third ingredients are corn, wheat, or grain, like corn gluten or soybean meal. Corn may not be so terrible on its own, but it's not great as the primary ingredient in your lovable carnivore’s diet.
Always prefer grain-free food products like the Nutro Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Large Breed Adult Lamb and Sweet Potato Dry Dog Food, Diamond Naturals Grain-Free White Fish, and Sweet Potato Dry Dog Food, etc. It’s not like the grain shouldn’t be up there in the entire ingredient list, but try to ensure that it’s not there in the first three or five.
Be a Back of the Package Person
There are dog food brands even non-pet owners can name simply because their branding is 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 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 with a higher protein 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 die of old age; or that their old age didn’t have to take them so quickly. The average pet parent is increasingly 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 budget.
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.