How to Choose the Right Dog Food
Your dog needs to eat. The pet industry is a multi billion dollar one, and among the heavy hitters in this sector are the dog food manufacturers. One of the most frequently asked questions is how to choose the right dog food. It really depends on your definition of right.
Like people, dogs have different nutritional needs. What works for some dogs may not work for others. There are a few solid schools of thought that both time and science have proven them to be so:
You Can’t Always Trust a Dog Food Label
A recent article reported on by DVM360.com cites that 20 of the 52 dog foods that were tested for ingredients showed a discrepancy between labeled ingredients and what was in the actual diet.
That is scary stuff, folks.
The study showed that the most common ingredient was chicken and that 20 of the mislabeled dog foods either had more proteins in them or NONE of the advertised proteins. Pork was the most common undeclared protein, and two foods claiming to contain beef had none at all. This can be a problem when dog parents are trying to avoid a potential food allergen for their allergic pooch.
Many dog parents believe that eliminating “wheat” or grains from a dog’s diet is what is needed to rule out a food allergy, but they must avoid corn, wheat, egg, beef, chicken, soy, dairy and any other previously fed protein during the eight- to 10-week diet trial.
Grain Free: What Does it Really Mean?
People are all abuzz and feel good feeding their dog a “grain free” diet. After all, we don’t want our dogs ingesting grains they don’t need, right? That sounds fantastic in theory but consider this:
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has no set definition of what “grain free” means, basically allowing pet food manufacturers to define it — and market it — for themselves.
Dogs need complex carbohydrates for stool formation but they may not be getting those carbs needed from the grain free diet. Puzzling, isn’t it?
Wait, there’s more.
Raw and To Each Their Own
I am not a raw feeder but if you are and are careful and diligent about it, then more power to you. There is a strong argument from the raw feeding camp that a raw diet provides canines, you know ancestors of wolves, with the sound nutrition needed for longevity. Wild animals have a much shorter lifespan than our domestic pets, so the proper nutrition might actually be lacking in a raw diet. I am not an expert in raw feeding, but merely pointing out the schools of thought. Safety risks for freezing and freeze-dried raw diets are also a concern, as freezing does not destroy all pathogens. If you do or plan to feed raw, know the facts from the fictions. Talk to a reputable veterinary nutritionist.
Dog Food Historical Facts
Processed dog food has been popular pretty much since the end of World War II, and it has only become more popular with time. I always tell my readers that the best dog food to feed your dog is the one that works for you. Not everyone can afford a high priced dog food nor can everyone prepare a home-cooked meal for their dog.
A gentleman by the name of James Spratt is credited with the first dog food of sort: He made a biscuit of wheat meal, vegetables, and animal blood in England in 1860.
The manufacture of dry dog food has its own fi-dose of reality. I am not against feeding a dog dry food, but I do believe in understanding what a dog eats so that there is a transparency and power in knowledge for pet parents. Dry dog food is heated to a very high temperature and then processed into the form your dog sees in his or her food bowl. A spray is often placed over the kibble to make it more sensory receptive to dogs.
The only terminology that can be used on a pet food label in terms of a veterinarian is “veterinarian recommended” or “veterinarian developed” and only if the food company meets specific criteria. The term “veterinarian approved” is not allowed on pet food labels.
Only you can decide what works for your dog’s age, breed, size, and considering his or her health.
With the rise of allergies affecting dogs, there are a bevy of dog food choices available to pet parents. Keep in mind that most dogs that are itching and scratching due to their diet probably have a food sensitivity/intolerance and not a food allergy.
Breaking Dog Food Down
Human grade refers to a finished product that is deemed legally suitable, safe, and FDA-approved for consumption by a human.
Feed grade refers to the quality of a finished product which is not suitable for consumption by humans according to FDA standards. It is only legally allowed to be served to animals because of the ingredients it contains or how it has been processed. Further, it may include by-products, chemicals, fillers, and parts from “4D” meats: animals which are dying, diseased, disabled, or deceased. (re-read that last sentence very carefully. Did you shudder as we did?)
Made with human-grade ingredients does NOT mean a finished product is actually legally, human grade. An ingredient might start off being fit for people to eat it, but once it is shipped to a pet food plant and processed according to regulations for feed grade products, the term “human grade” can no longer apply. By true definition, that ingredient is not human grade.
What I Feed My Dog
I am very transparent in what my dog is fed. Dexter eats a combination of The Honest Kitchen Embark dog food, mixed with Dr. Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl, and I add some fresh cooked meat to it a few times a week.
You can click to read all about my dog’s diet here and learn more about dog food, as well.
How to Choose the Right Dog Food
Some of the qualities important to me that you may want to consider are:
- No artificial ingredients or preservatives: I want it as fresh as possible without having to cook it myself;
- Nutritious and good for my dog;
- Human grade;
- He likes the taste of it and I can rotate flavors if desired without causing digestive upset
- Made with recognizable ingredients, words I can pronounce, made with human grade ingredients that are not from rendering plants.
- I am not as concerned with price of food if I know I am feeding quality because I either pay now or pay later in costly medical bills due to an inferior grade of food;
- No ingredients from China (or as little as possible since most vitamins and minerals in dog food come from China).
To provide you the most accurate information and to give you a full perspective of health-related issues, we enlist the assistance of Rachel Sheppard of My Kid Has Paws blog for her side of things. As a former vet tech, Rachel shares her take on dog food in the latest Medicine Versus Mom series with Fidose of Reality. Click here to read Rachel’s take on choosing a dog food.
Your budget and what works in your dog’s lifestyle are important and to each their own. Here’s to a healthy, long life for you and your dog(s)!
QUESTION: What type of food(s) do you feed your dog?
Note: I am not being compensated to share any of this and what works for your dog may vary. Always check with your dog’s veterinarian and/or nutritionist for specific health-related questions.
When we adopted our dog, they told us at the shelter what he ate, so we just stuck with it. He likes it 😉
We have been having this very discussion.I feed Bella Blue Buffalo but I travel and my SIL keeps her during my trips. She has settled on a different food and we need to meet in the middle. One thing we agree on is the raw foods are not Bella’s thing. We do need to reach an agreement to avoid the digestive upset you mention. I look forward to researching your dogs diet and see if it fits our needs.
We feed Dr. Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl, Canine Health, and Oracle. I brown fresh meat or use a freeze-dried food like Raw Boost Mixers to their meals. The change in them from kibble has been astounding. I’ve discovered that you can’t always trust labels either. ☺
We are huge Dr Harvey’s fans and use a lot of their line: both pet products and food and treats
I don’t have dog …. but I do have cats and I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent researching cat food. It is so important to know what your pets are eating. Most people would not believe the crap some of these companies put in food.
Dog food labels are so complicated to read and understand. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. I feel a lot more prepared when I select the food for my dogs.
Happy to help, Joyce, and if you have any questions, let us know.
It’s always important for the right dog food. I used to work with an animal rescue and our animals need the best!
My sister made her own dog food for her pups and it seemed like a heck of a lot of work but at least she knew what she was feeding them. We are “window shopping” for a pup but haven’t found the right breed yet that will help with my allergies. Any suggestions?
I am really picky as to what my dogs ingest. Right now they’re on Natural Balance but I really love I and Love and You Dog Food. They’re both high quality foods but my dogs just prefer I & Love & You.
Love this so much. It is just as important to feed our fur-babies the good things just as we would!
For us, food is an evolution that never ends. We only choose foods with very high ratings for one, but we have also moved to more of a raw infused rotation diet. Currently we have two brands, each has three flavors and a bag lasts about three weeks. The variety is something we all love and the brands are similar enough it is easy to switch from rabbit to quail with no issues and the raw infused is delicious. Everyone has to figure it out on their own what works for their dog, budget, and philosphy.
That is so true: And each dog, like people, has different needs, likes, requirements, etc. I love it that you said ” Everyone has to figure it out on their own what works for their dog, budget, and philosophy.”
I’m not a fan of the raw food diet either. And, these are all important things to consider when making food choices for our dogs.
I have pretty much stayed away from raw. To each their own, but not for my pup.
Knowing what is actually in my pet’s food is a major concern of mine. I try to buy the best brand of food for them without compromising taste.
I’ve asked the service and guide dog schools why they choose certain brands of dog food. Part of the reason for their choice is it being accessible and affordable for the clients. Many clients are on fixed incomes and cannot always afford the high end dog foods. We feed our own dogs Wellness Core and Honest Kitchen.
Dog food labels are so complicated to understand. Thanks for sharing all this great information with us!
So many factors to think about when choosing a food for your dog. You’ve given lots of information for folks to do their research and figure out what’s best for their pet!
I love the breakdown and the video you included! Very comprehensive!
It can be confusing. Even more so if manufacturers are permitted to define ‘grain free’ on their own!
I have always had dogs and have always struggled with food choices. It seems like even when I have chosen what I thought was most healthy – they end up on some sort of recall list. Choosing a pets’ food is quite stressful actually.
It seems horrible that pets can be served food from animals that are dying or diseased. That deeply disturbs me.
This is one of the best posts I’ve seen on choosing a dog food. Thank you for the terrific, unbiased, educational information!!
YOU are more than welcome. Thanks for the kind words!
These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to find dog food that doesn’t have any artificial ingredients. My husband and I are going to be getting a dog in a couple of months, and we want to be sure we take care of him properly. We’ll definitely look for some good food that doesn’t have anything artificial in it so he can stay healthy. Thanks for the great post!
Carol, I like the idea to pay careful attention to your dog’s food ingredients. I want to make sure that my dog remains as healthy and vibrant as possible. I better find some food that could help him to feel much more energized and playful.