How do you decide which dog food to buy?
I suppose you can trust the dog food companies and their persuasive marketing, ask a Vet, a fellow dog lover or the pet store salesman which dog food is best, but you'll most likely be doing disservice when it comes to your dog's health.
Our dogs are like family and life without them would be terrible, it's absolutely on us to assure pet health and good dog nutrition. Our aim is to help you rummage through sacks of kibble and find a diamond in the rough. A dry dog food that not only meets the nutritional needs of your dog, but helps it to thrive both physically and mentally. So the million dollar question is.. How do you know which dog food is best?
We're going to narrow it down now, but first, understand that there is no single dry dog food that fits every dog. Hold that thought. After we get rolling on picking out a good dog food formula we'll follow up with additional selections in easy to follow articles for large breeds, small breeds, puppies, adolescent and old dogs, working breeds and more.
TIP: Specific articles for different breed and size dogs can be found at our Feeding Dry Dog Food main page.
Access Your Dog, Activity Level & Age
No single food works for every dog, even an all natural dog kibble of the highest quality ingredients. As a matter of fact, some dogs just won't stomach a super quality natural dog food recipe. For breeds like Great Danes, upset stomach, gas, and gastrointestinal issues can be common on premium dog food. With breeds like this, it may be necessary to go with a mid-grade kibble that's easier on digestion.
Activity level should be considered when deciding on which dog food recipe is best. Working, hunting, sporting dogs and dog breeds with above average activity levels can use three to four times more energy than a dog with average activity levels. Driven and athletic dogs will benefit from a dog food recipe with higher protein and fat levels to support muscle health. Vitamins and minerals plus added glucosamine and chondroitin will also help maintain joint health. A quality grain free kibble really fits the bill here.
TIP: While carbohydrates do provide energy, dogs don't need carbohydrate in their diet. Quality specified animal fats are the best choice to support an active dog's energy. Avoid corn and cheap carbohydrates including grains like barley, wheats, rice and potatoes to name a few. Check out our dog food analysis for more info.
Keep your dog's life stage in mind and consider a dog food that is age appropriate. Dog nutrition for a puppy as a general rule, mandates higher calorie and protein content. There is an exception with giant breeds however, when a quality all life stages or adult maintenance formula is best. We'll discuss which dog food is best for giant breeds and suggest a few brands in that section. Contrary to a puppy's nutritional needs, middle age and senior dogs require a food with moderate calorie levels to avoid becoming overweight.
Ingredients Check.. Reality Check
Dog's are meat eaters and low quality dog food made from cheap ingredients are mostly grain. Flip over any bag of cheap kibble dog food and I guarantee there's corn or grains in the first few ingredients, I promise. As much as your budget can afford, when deciding which dog food to choose, quality specified meats spell out healthy dog food.
While plant based dog food provides plant based proteins, inexpensive mill run ingredients are not easily digested. This is a bad recipe to say the least for dog health and overall dog nutrition. Yes, many cheap foods meet nutrient profiles and minimum allowable percentages of protein & fat but the poor quality and source of these essential ingredients renders them difficult to be metabolized by a canine.
You'll feed more with low quality kibble as intended nutrients can pass through your dog's digestive tract without being used. Excess stool is also by-product of cheap kibble. If you're picking up big piles of poop, this is a good indicator which suggests reconsidering your dog's food. Feeding more of a poor food, at the end of the day, may break even or actually cost you more than feeding lesser amount of a good quality natural dog kibble
What To Look For
If we've sparked your interest, deciding which dog food is best begins with looking at ingredients. As discussed, the FDA requires labels are accurate and that ingredients are listed in relation to weight. This translates into the greater ingredients listed first, next greatest second, and so on. Best dog nutrition comes from foods with primary content a quality named animal meat. Look for specified meat, specified fish, specified meat meal or named fish meal in the first few ingredients. These meat based protein sources have a high biological value, meaning the essential nutrients, protein, fats, amino acids, oils and enzymes are easily digested and used by a dog's body.
About Guaranteed Analysis
Printed on each bag of dog food, adjacent to the ingredients panel, you'll find a guaranteed analysis chart that states amounts of individual ingredients used in the dog food recipe. With dry kibble dog food, the stated values must be converted to dry matter basis to achieve accurate ingredient content. An example of this can be found under the "Guaranteed Analysis" heading on our Understanding Dog Food Labels page.
About AAFCO Statements & Nutritional Profiles
You can compare dog food ingredients to Association of American Feed Control Officials, a.k.a. AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles chart. There are two standards mandated by AAFCO for a dog food to be labeled "Complete & Balanced". However, I don't personally put a ton of faith in these standards as you'll learn by our Dog Food Regulations article. We are our dogs best advocate and I believe that by scrutinizing ingredients, we can one-up AAFCO determining which dog food is best for dog nutrition & dog health.
If Switching Foods..
Especially from a poor quality to one of high quality, take it slow. As a rule of thumb, mixing half of the new food with half portion of old per feeding over the course of a week works well. As mentioned, some high caliber, calorie dense foods can play havoc on a dog's GI tract. Switching slowly will minimize stress to your dog's system and allow time for digestive enzymes and digestive bacteria to colonize at appropriate levels to process the additional nutrients.
Changes in stool, loose and mucous covered stool can result. This is normal due to changes in intestinal flora or can be detoxification of the gut after years of eating poor kibble or one of primarily plant based proteins. We see this all the time when switching a kibble fed dog to a raw food diet!
After dealing with some of these minor transitional issues, you can rest easy knowing you've done a great job providing the best possible dog nutrition to your favorite friend. In a month or so, you should see a happy dog with even energy levels, shiny coat and good solid weight. You'll grin from within knowing which dog food is best for your dog, it's the one that you picked! Great job :)
Thanks for following along through our dry dog food intro section! Up next, check out our Recommended Dog Food brands, or follow the link below to access our library of feeding dry dog food articles again from the start.