How to Choose the Best Dog Food

golden retriever puppies eating out of bowls

The quality of the food you eat has a big effect on your health and the same is true for your dog. But, there are a lot of types of dog food to choose from. How do you know which one is right for your precious pooch? Here’s how to choose the best dog food:

1. Ask Your Vet for Recommendations

Whether you’re just starting out with puppy visits or your dog has been going to your vet for years, your veterinarian is a good resource for questions about your dog’s health and how you can support them.

If you’re wondering about the best dog food for your dog, ask your vet for recommendations. At the very least, you’ll have some things to consider and a few types to research and check out before you make a decision.

2. Consider Your Dog’s Characteristics, Overall Health, and Behavior

There are a lot of factors that affect what will be the best dog food options for your dog. Your dog’s age, overall size, breed, and more will affect the best type of food as well as the amount they should be fed.

Generally, lactating moms, puppies, and highly active dogs will need more calories than senior pets. Depending on your dog’s health and situation, you may need a dog food that focuses on certain nutrients more than others. Your vet can help you determine if this is the case.

3. Read and Understand the Labels

Checking the ingredients and the amount of them in the dog food you’re considering is important. You want to make sure you’re feeding your dog the right nutrients and in the right amounts. In addition to reading these labels, there are also some tricks you can use when evaluating the words used on the package.

Look for Simple Labels

A general FDA analysis on pet food labels requires that certain wording must have a certain amount of that ingredient. For example, in order to include something like “Beef for Dogs” on the label, the product must include at least 95% of the named ingredient without counting water or other things added for processing. With these things included, the total has to be 70%.

Additionally, the ingredient with the highest predominance must be the first ingredient. This is true for combination food as well. The analysis used “Chicken ‘n Liver Dog Food” as an example. In this case, chicken and liver combined without water or additives must be 95% of the product. And, because chicken is listed first, there needs to be more chicken than liver in the product.

Pay Attention to “Dinner”-Type Wording

If you see something like “dinner”, “platter”, “entree”, “nuggets”, “formula”, etc. in the name, then you know the named ingredient is at least 25% of the product without added water for processing, but is also less than 95%.

Using “Beef Dinner for Dogs” as an example, beef must comprise at least 25% of the product, not counting added water for processing. So, beef might be the third or fourth ingredient on the list.

See if There Are “With” Side Bursts

Also, be aware of additions following “with”. If something has a side burst, like “with cheese”, at least 3% cheese must be added. So, something like “Dog Food With Beef” only needs at least 3% of it to be beef in order to label it that way. In the case of “Beef Dog Food With Cheese”, the product must contain at least 95% beef and at least 3% cheese not including added water for processing.

Be Cautious if Something is a “Flavor”

If something is labeled as a “flavor” as in “Beef Flavor Dog Food”, the product must have a sufficient amount of beef so that beef is detected in the product. But. it does not have a specific percentage required for labeling.

4. Make Sure You Check the Ingredients List

This is why it is important to read and understand the dog food labels including the ingredient list. Since they are ordered by weight, it’s also important to pay attention to the order of ingredients in the list.

Look for “Meat” or “Meat Meal” as the Primary Ingredient

In general, you want a dog food with “meat” or “meat meal” as the first ingredient and not a vegetable, tuber, or grain. If your dog is not grain-free, it’s fine for your dog’s food to have some corn or grain in it – you just want to make sure it’s not the first ingredient.

“Meat” can include skeletal muscle and tissue from an animal. It can also include some fat and gristle, just like meat for human consumption. “Meat meal” is used for any product rendered from animal tissue. “Meat by-product” contains the non-rendered parts of an animal without meat like the brain, lungs, blood, bone, etc. “Meat by-product” is fine in dog food, but not as the primary ingredient – stick with “meat” or “meat meal” for a better, high-quality protein for your dog.

Depending on the food and the ingredients, you may not want to feed your dog some of the primary ingredients used in a particular dog food. At the same time, there may be other, smaller ingredients that might not be the best for your dog. It all depends on your dog and what they need most from their dog food.

5. Check the Nutritional Adequacy Statement

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) establishes standards and laws to regulate the distribution and sale of animal feed. It is a private non-profit corporation that is comprised of local, state, and federal agencies and companies and is voluntary to join.

Because they have high standards for feed, you can look for an AAFCO statement regarding the nutritional adequacy of dog food. It’s usually listed on the back of the package or can and says something like, “provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of…” and then specifies puppies, adult dogs, all life stages, etc. This can help you identify some good options for high-quality, nutritional dog food.

6. Research What’s NOT on the Label

There are plenty of things you can’t determine from a dog food label. After all, information about the quality control measures a manufacturer uses or where they source their ingredients isn’t something they’re required to put on the label.

Once you have a specific brand or type of dog food in mind, do some more research to find out these extra things. It will give you peace of mind that you really do have the best dog food for your dog. Plus, it could help you avoid those scary dog food recalls you see in the news every now and then.

These are just a few tips to help you choose the best dog food for your dog. Knowing you have the right dog food for their needs can help you support their growth and health long-term. Your pup, you, and your vet will all appreciate it!