Choosing the Right Dog Food

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dog-foodWhile it seems as if dogs will eat almost anything, not all Pet foods are the same. When you start looking for dog food, you’ll find hundreds of choices available on the market. Keep in mind, however, that what’s good for one dog may not be the best for another. When choosing dog food, start with the veterinarian. This expert will give you guidance on ingredients to look for and those to avoid to ensure its wholesomeness and safety. At the heart of finding the best dog foods, keep quality ingredients a priority. Just because a product is marketed as “food,” it isn’t always the best choice.

Pet Food Packaging

The Association of American Feed Control Officials, which creates guidelines regarding nutrition labels on Pet food, states that if a food product lists an ingredient on its packaging, the product must contain at least 95 percent of that ingredient (excluding water). Therefore, if a product states that it’s made of beef, it must contain 95 percent beef, not a blend of beef with pork and chicken byproducts. Similarly, if the ingredients advertised are a combination, the combination must make up 95 percent of the food.

When you see the words “entrée,” “dinner” or “platter” on Pet food, the food must contain at least 25 percent of the named ingredient. If the package states that the food consists of the main ingredient with another ingredient, such as lamb with rice, only 3 percent of the food must contain the second named ingredient.

When the packaging states that the food has a specific flavor, such as chicken, it must contain a detectable amount of the respective ingredient.


Don’t Miss Our Checklist on the Top Foods to Avoid When Choosing Dog Food!

Nutritional Labels

Manufacturers of Pet food list ingredients by weight. This weight includes moisture content. In wet Pet food, poultry, beef or pork might be at the top of the list because the moisture in the products makes it weigh more. In dry food, however, these types of proteins might be lower on the list if the manufacturer removes the moisture from them during processing.

Some common ingredients that you’ll find in many dog food products, even higher-end varieties, are animal byproducts and meal. Animal byproducts are organ meats that are easy to digest and nutritious, such as liver, hearts and lungs. Byproducts do not include hooves, horns, fur or bones. While most processed foods made for humans do not contain animal byproducts, byproducts are fit for human consumption.

When you see the word “meal” on dog food, as in chicken meal, this is a mix of clean chicken flesh and skin, derived from whole chicken carcasses. The meal may or may not contain the accompanying bones. Meal does not contain feet, entrails, heads or feathers.


Like humans, some dogs tolerate grains, gluten and grain byproducts well, while others do not. Many types of dog food contain grains because they’re a source of carbohydrates, which dogs use for energy. Grains are only problematic if a dog is allergic or intolerant to a certain type.

A Dog’s Age and the Nutritional Adequacy Statement

The Pet food you purchase should have a nutritional adequacy statement, which states the age or life stage for which the food is most appropriate. The statements generally start with a phrase similar to, “This food is complete and balanced for…,” and end with phrases like, “…all stages of life,” “adult maintenance,” “growth and reproduction” or “senior maintenance.”

When looking for the best dog food, consider your pup’s age and look for products with adequacy statements that meet its nutritional needs.

Guaranteed Analysis and Feeding Trials

The best Pet food products undergo feeding trials and post the results near the nutritional label, as a “guaranteed analysis.” This analysis indicates how the manufacturer substantiates its nutritional adequacy statement. It lists the amount of protein, fat, fiber and moisture in the food by percentage. The moisture analysis on dry dog food should be converted to a dry matter basis, or it may skew the comparison. Keep in mind that the analysis does not speak to the quality of the ingredients or their digestibility.

In this section of the food label, you might find a statement from the manufacturer that says that it performed feeding trials or formulated its product to meet a nutrient profile. In general, products that undergo feeding trials are superior because they were fed to living dogs. These dogs were in a Pet-friendly environment, ate the food willingly and remained healthy.

Expert Opinion

A dog’s age, genetics, lifestyle, general health and reproductive status play a role in what your dog should eat and how much. If you are not sure about the best type of food for your dog or how much to feed it, talk to a veterinarian. While packages of dog food provide serving suggestions, your pooch may need a bit more or less, depending on factors such as level of physical activity, how many treats your pooch receives, etc. A veterinarian can determine this during a wellness check.

Do Your Homework

After narrowing down your choices regarding dog food brands, investigate the companies that produce them, as they are not required to post quality control or sourcing information on a package or food label. The best companies post this type of information on their websites. If not, the consumer relations department should be able to tell you where the company sources its ingredients when you call them. A reputable company is happy to disclose this information.

Take your research a step further and learn if the company creates the dog food in its own processing facilities or outsources the work to another company. If it does outsource the food production, learn about the quality, control, safety and inspection measures that the manufacturer takes.

Your dog deserves the best. While it might seem tempting to purchase inexpensive dog food products, they may not meet your pup’s nutritional needs. Even though higher-quality products might be more expensive, they generally contain ingredients that are more wholesome, so you don’t need to feed your dog as much to make it feel satisfied. You’ll know that a brand is right after about a month, when your dog’s coat is shiny, its eyes are bright, and its energy is high.

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