How To Choose The Right Dog Food

Choosing the right dog food for your pup can be a daunting task. With so many different brands, formulas and types of dog food on the market today, it can be hard to select the optimal choice to suit both your dog’s needs and your own.

When beginning your quest to seek out the best dog food for your best friend, start by asking yourself these 5 questions:

1. Which types of food does your dog like?

Does your dog turn his nose up at dry food but come running with droll down his face when he hears the can opener? While some chow hounds will eat almost anything, some dogs, just like people, can have flavor and texture preferences. Although a dog’s sense of taste is not as complex as a human’s (they have about one-sixth the number of taste buds we do!), your dog can still taste the difference between bitter, salty, sweet, and sour. In fact, smell has a huge impact on the way dog’s perceive taste, if it smells good, they’ll probably eat it.

2. Does your dog have allergies?

Food allergies make up about 10% of all dog allergies. Common signals your dog may be suffering from food allergies may include itchy skin, itchy ears and paws, diarrhea, or gassiness. The 9 most common allergens in dog food are beef, dairy, chicken, lamb, fish, corn, wheat, soy, and yeast. If you suspect your dog may have allergies it’s important to consult your veterinarian before trying to treat the issue yourself. If your dog is suffering from food allergies look for a food that contains limited ingredients to help you discern the cause of her allergies.

3. What is the age of your dog?

Nutritional needs vary with age, puppies have very different needs than a senior dog. Choose a food that suits your dog’s size and life stage.

For Puppies

Some puppy foods are suitable for any size breed, but if your dog falls towards the ends of the size spectrum, look for a food that is specifically formulated for your dog’s breed size. The bones of a Chihuahua puppy and a Great Dane puppy require different ratios of calcium and phosphorus to develop properly. Larger kibble pieces may also be difficult for a small breed puppy to chew. DHA is an essential fatty acid that aids in eye, ear, and brain development of your growing puppy. Some studies have shown that puppies fed higher amounts of DHA had increased memory and trainability.

For Adults

Depending on the breed, at about 1 year of age your puppy is considered an adult. At this stage, most foods that are specifically for adult dogs or for all life stages, are suitable. Grain free diets are becoming more popular among dog owners and have shown to promote healthy coat and digestion. Always refer to the product packing for feeding guidelines based on weight and activity level to promote healthy weight.

For Seniors

Small breed dogs without health issues can live about 15 – 20 years whereas larger breeds live about 12 – 15 years, generally. Big dogs are considered seniors at around 6 or 7 years whereas small dogs begin to age faster at around 8 or 9. Your dog may not be acting “old” but her needs do change as she ages. Senior dogs require less caloric intake and more fiber to promote healthy weight and digestion. Providing your dog a diet with glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate can also help with joint issues commonly experienced with age. Lack of appetite and trouble chewing can be an issue, so choosing a food that is more palatable and easy to eat may help. Lots of owners choose to switch to home cooked diets when their senior dogs aren’t eating as well as they used to.

4. Where do you shop?

Do you prefer to shop online, in pet specialty retail stores, at big box chains, or in your local grocery store? Amazon is a great source for convenient online shopping, and most brands are available for Prime shipping. With subscriptions you can get your dog’s favorite food delivered on a schedule so you don’t have to worry about ordering.

5. What makes sense for your budget?

Brands like ZiwiPeak offer a very high quality product, but also come with a hefty price tag at $14 – $16 per pound. Unfortunately less expensive brands also tend to rely heavily on fillers and additives to cut costs. There are some brands like Taste of the Wild out there that offer a great product at a more affordable price at around $1.60 per pound.

Top 9 Best Dog Food Brands

Taste of the Wild

Taste of the Wild is made with real roasted meats and fresh fruits & veggies. This popular brand of grain-free formulas offers the balanced, ancestral diet that nature intended.

ZiwiPeak

ZiwiPeak is a New Zealand based pet food company that produces air-dried raw food and canned food for dogs and cats. Their foods are 100% natural and they do not use any preservatives, fillers, or grains.

Acana

Acana is considered one of the top dog food brands on the market offering biologically appropriate pet foods. Owned by Champion Pet Foods, Acana is produced in the USA and Canada.

Orijen

Orijen’s award winning dog foods are widely considered to be one of, if not the best dog foods on the market. Their biologically appropriate dog foods are also made by Champion Pet Food in the USA and Canada.

Nulo

Nulo Pet Food is based in Austin, TX and is one of the few independently-owned pet food companies in North America.

Stella & Chewy’s

Stella & Chewy’s promotes raw nutrition with its freeze-dried offerings. They produce their products in their own kitchen and are committed to the highest levels of food safety.

Lotus

Lotus manufactures their own foods in their Torrance, California manufacturing facility. Their oven-baked kibbles are slow cooked to retain their vitamin and mineral content.

Fromm

Fromm is a family owned and operated artisanal pet food company based in Wisconsin. Fromm offers a wide variety of pet foods at an affordable price.

Earthborn Holistic

Earthborn Holistic is a family-owned company that promotes an earth-conscious, environmentally-friendly attitude. Their products offer a solid nutrition profile for a great value.

Types of Dog Food

There are several different types of dog food to choose from. This guide will help inform you of the pros and cons of each type to find a food type that best suits your needs.

Dry Food

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Pros
  • Dry food lasts longest after opening compared to other types of dog food, it’s and easy to store. Most dry food will last several weeks after opening with proper storage. Refer to your manufacturer’s specifications for how to store. If you use plastic storage containers, always keep the bag your dog food came in to reference feeding guidelines and for lot information in case of recalls. It isn’t always best to buy the biggest bag if your dog can’t eat it fast enough before it loses freshness.
  • Dry food is also easy to portion out with a measuring scoop. Refer to your brand’s guidelines for feeding based on weight and activity level.
  • Because of its texture, dry food is much easier to clean up than wet food. Also, it won’t end up all over your dog’s face.
  • Dry food is widely available and convenient for busy pet parents.
  • Dry food is also versatile, it can be used as training treats or lures if you dog loves the taste.
  • Dry food travels extremely well and is great for feeding on the go.

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Cons
  • Because it’s often cooked with high temperatures during processing, dry food usually contains less nutrients.
  • Unfortunately, cheap brands contain lots of fillers. While meat meals can be a good source of protein, ideally they shouldn’t be the first ingredient, and the protein source should be clearly identified. Corn, wheat, and soy are cheap sources of carbohydrate used to bulk up food, but they offer little nutritional value to your pup.
  • Because there are so many different options, it can be more difficult to find a reputable brand if you don’t know what to look for.

Wet Food

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Pros
  • Wet food is usually less processed than dry food, preserving the nutritional content.
  • Wet food tends to have a higher protein content and more identifiable ingredients so you know what you are getting.
  • Most dogs absolutely love wet food and lick the bowl clean after each meal.
  • Because it’s less calorically dense, wet food tends to promote weight loss and reduce risk of bloat.
  • Wet food is easy to digest and easy to eat if your dog has a hard time chewing.

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Cons
  • Per portion, a good quality wet food is more expensive than try food. If you have a large dog this can really add up.
  • Although unopened cans have a long shelf life, wet food must be refrigerated after opening.
  • Because of the higher water content, wet food can cause loose stools in some dogs.

Raw Dog Food

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Pros
  • With raw food, you can see exactly what your dog is eating.
  • Raw food has no fillers which keeps your dog trim and healthy.
  • Many raw feeding proponents claim various health benefits such as increased energy and shinier coat, although, this is evidence is anecdotal.

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Cons
  • Nutritional deficiencies can occur if not you aren’t supplementing properly. Always consult a veterinarian when adding supplements to your dog’s diet.
  • Some dogs do not tolerate raw food as well others so it’s best to introduce raw food to your dog’s diet slowly to ensure she tolerates it well.
  • Bacteria such as e.coli and salmonella, although not a health risk to your dog, can be present in their feces, dog bowl, and areas around your home exposed to the raw food. This could cause issues for children, the elderly, or immunocompromised members of your household. Proper handling and a stainless steel dog bowl can help reduce risk of exposure and cross contamination.
  • Bones can be a concern if swallowed. You should never feed your dog poultry bones, fish bones, or cooked bones as they can splinter and cause choking, gastrointestinal distress, or even life threatening perforations of the intestinal tract. Raw bones can be a great treat and they’re great for dental health, just make sure to use the right kind and never leave your dog unattended with a bone!

Freeze Dried Dog Food

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Pros
  • Freeze dried dog food is a convenient alternative to wet or dry food. It also travels extremely well and is lightweight to carry.
  • Freeze dried dog food has the long shelf-life due to the low moisture content. It can last years in package unopened.
  • Also a great alternative to traditional raw feeding, freeze dried dog food maintains nutrients without the mess.
  • Because it’s less processed, freeze dried dog food has a higher nutrition value than kibble.

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Cons
  • Because of it’s higher protein content and special production process, freeze dried dog food can be pricey.
  • Some brands can be eaten as is, but most recommend rehydrating and this can be a pain especially if you have a dog who comes running at the sound of the bag crinkling.
  • Some dogs don’t like the texture of freeze dried food as it is usually a bit mushy.

Home Cooked Dog Food

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Pros
  • Since you are in control, home cooked food can be a great way to ensure your dog stays away from foods he is allergic to.
  • With proper cooking techniques, you can ensure the ingredients retain nutritional value.
  • If you use whole foods, you can control exposure to artificial ingredients.
  • Home cooked food can be more cost conscious than raw diets that contain mostly meat.
  • Cooking your dog’s meals also allows you to tailor to your dog’s taste, especially if she is a picky eater.
  • You can freeze large batches for freshness and convenience.

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Cons
  • It can be hard to achieve a balanced diet without the right supplements and ingredients, there is a lot of research involved. You should always consult a veterinarian before switching to a home cooked diet to ensure your dog is getting proper nutrition.
  • No preservatives means your home cooked dog food has a shorter shelf life.
  • Home cooked food can be more expensive if using high quality ingredients and proteins.
  • If using raw meats there is risk of food-borne illness.

What to Look for In A Reliable Dog Food Brand

Choose a food produced and with ingredients sourced from a country with high safety standards. Ideally you should select a brand make in the United States, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, or Australia.

Choose a food that features meat as the first listed ingredient. While meat meals like chicken meal are not necessarily bad ingredients, they should not be the primary source of protein listed. Never select a food that lists byproduct as an ingredient, these mystery meats are generally not of high quality and could contain an ingredient you are trying to avoid.

Choose a food with no unnecessary additives like artificial colors or flavors. Brands made with quality ingredients to not need artificial flavors to make their food palatable for your pooch. Artificial colors make the food look appealing to humans but your dog could care less. Added flavors and colors are not necessary and can be a source of your dog’s allergies.

Ideally you should look for brands have not had any recalls. Does the brand conduct regular quality assurance testing? Do they source ingredients from reputable sources? A recall may not have been the manufacturers fault but did they deal with the issue effectively? The pet food industry is big business, and it’s important to have peace of mind that the brand you are buying is as committed to safety as the bottom line, if not more so.

How to Read a Dog Food Label

Feeding Guidelines

When introducing a new food it’s important to slowly transition the new food into your dog’s diet over the course of a few days. Your dog’s stomach may be sensitive to rapid changes in diet so you want to avoid any gastrointestinal distress. Some brands claim this is not necessary because their food is so high quality, but there’s really no harm in doing so to avoid any potential issues.

Most brands will have a guideline on how much to feed your dog based on weight and activity level. All dog’s are different and this should only serve as a starting point. Some foods are more nutritionally dense so the scoop you used to use may end up being way too much food! If you find your dog is starting to gain or lose weight without any other health or gastrointestinal issues, try dialing up or scaling back the portion accordingly.

It’s best not to make a habit of giving your dog any table scraps… no matter how hard they beg. This can really add up, especially for a smaller dog and lead to weight gain if not kept in check.

A Note From the Editor

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