How to Choose the Best Dog Food

How to Choose the Best Dog Food

Being a dog parent is a huge responsibility. While it is indeed beautiful and rewarding, it also comes with a lot of hard work, especially that which goes into understanding your pet’s nutritional requirements and making sure you are providing for them. Often, well-meaning dog parents end up harming their pets because they are misguided or because their dog’s diet is based on poor research. There are several nutritional facts and tips you need to acquaint yourself with to ensure your pet is getting the absolute best, since this is what will keep them healthy, energized and happy.

A dog’s nutritional needs are more varied than you might think; they need water, protein, carbohydrates, minerals and fats in different quantities. It is also important to realize that every dog is different. Just like humans, they all have their own needs and preferences, and that is what you as a dog parent need to decipher. Of course, there are several factors that will help you in doing so, and we are going to explain each one of them.

Different Types of Dog Food

Before deciding what is best for your pet, you must acquaint yourself with the different kinds of foods available.

  • Dry Food – This is usually kibble, but also includes biscuits and mixers. Dry dog food, as the name suggests, is low in water content. It is the most common type of dog food since it is convenient, hassle-free as well as economical. However, not all brands are the same and it is extremely important to correctly choose your dry food.
  • Wet Food – Usually characterized by canned dog food, this comes with high water content and has a moist texture. It is soggy and easier to chew, which is why it is often preferred for very young puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with dental problems.
  • Freeze-Dried Food – Freeze-dried dog food is very healthy and commonly recommended, though it also comes with added expense. That being said, high quality dog food is worth spending the money on, since it will ensure you avoid common health problems associated with cheap food.
  • Dehydrated Raw Dog Food – Dehydrated raw dog food includes air-dried and freeze-dried dog food, the main difference being the method of how the food is treated before packaging.

To find out more about Dehydrated Dog Food, please take a look at Understanding The Raw Dog Food Diet.

Or read about Dealing With A Picky Dog to read more about meal toppers and wet food.

How to Read Dog Food Labels

When it comes to choosing the best dog food, you can find nearly everything you need on the packaging of the product. Since all dog food is required to be regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), knowing what information to look for on the package will ensure you get the best for your pet. Here is everything you should be looking for.

Essential Ingredients

Dogs are primarily carnivores that are capable of having an omnivorous diet. They gain nutritional benefits from eating meat, vegetables and grains. However, this does not mean anything and everything that goes into their diet is acceptable. Make sure you look for the list ingredients section on dog food packaging.

    • Meat – The first ingredient on the list should be meat, since this legally signifies the prime ingredient in the food. Note that ‘chicken’ and ‘chicken by-product’ are not the same. A product that says ‘chicken’ includes primary meat like muscle tissue and major organs, while by-products may include bones, blood, and other nutritionally unreliable parts of the animal. Similarly, ‘meat’ and ‘meat meal’ are different. Meat contains water weight which amounts to lesser overall protein, while meat meal refers to meat only and is, in fact, more protein. If fresh meat is first on the list, look for another source of protein in the first few ingredients.
    • Vegetables and fruits – These are highly nutritious and contain minerals, enzymes and antioxidants. Natural fruits and vegetables are great, but you might also find fractions of these, like tomato pomace. However, these fractions are not highly appealing when they are among the first couple of ingredients, unless your dog has a special requirement for a vegetarian diet.  
    • Grains – Ingredients like rice and barley are not particularly harmful if placed lower in the ingredient list. However, if the list contains multiple fractions of grain or if these are on top of the list, it is recommended to stay clear of the brand. Grains also need to be avoided if your pet is sensitive and has trouble digesting them.
    • Added supplements – While some general supplements like prebiotics and Omega oils are ideal for almost all dogs, you must know your dog’s particular needs before buying anything with added supplements. Read Should I Add Supplements to My Dog’s Food? to determine the functions of different supplements and whether they suit your dog’s needs.

Commonly Used Terms and Buzzwords

    • Product Titles – Did you know you can find out about the primary contents of dog food merely by the name written on it? Packaging that comes bearing titles like ‘Chicken Food’ or ‘Beef Food’ signifies that the item is made up of 75-90% meat. On the other hand, titles like ‘Beef Dinner’; ‘Salmon Platter’ or ‘Chicken Entrée’ contain only 10-25% meat. Others that come with terms like ‘With Beef’ or ‘Chicken Flavor’ are likely to contain only 3% of actual meat.
    • ‘Complete and Balanced’ – While you might think this is just something dog food manufacturers generally say as part of advertising, they can actually only legally use this if the food is indeed complete and balanced. These foods come from trusted brands and meet the minimum nutritional requirements, including protein, fats, fiber and water.
    • ‘Guaranteed Analysis’ – This is another term that signifies the ideal inclusion and trusted breakdown of nutrients, and the detailed analysis should be present on the packaging. While it is impossible for even the best manufacturers to suit the needs of individual dogs, they usually include recommended portions according to the weight of your dog.
    • ‘Natural’ – As per the AAFCO, foods labeled ‘Natural’ are clear of all artificial preservatives and have not been exposed to any artificial processing. These are comparatively more expensive than other foods and while they are not absolutely necessary for all dogs, they are great for those with sensitive digestive systems. You must ensure that you see exactly what is labeled natural. For example, ‘Natural Meat’ and ‘Natural Meat Flavor’ are not the same. Also note that ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’ are not interchangeable terms, since the latter is not recommended by AAFCO and has looser regulations surrounding it.
    • ‘Grain-Free’ – While this is great indication if you are looking for products free of ingredients like rice or barley, you must look for more details. Grain-free must not be taken as meaning low carbohydrates or low fiber, since there may be other sources present. Make sure you thoroughly check the list of ingredients to avoid those that bother your pet.
    • ‘Crude Protein’ – This merely refers to the chemical analysis and breakdown of the food and may include protein from grains, or from carcasses or waste of animals. Make sure you further delve into the details to see where the protein is exactly coming from.
  • Finally, you must also see where the product comes from. All dog food packaging is required to carry the name and address of the manufacturer and distributor. The best foods will also include some details about the manufacturing process. If not, they will always contain contact details and should be reached out to in case of any doubts or queries.

    What to Avoid

    While many ingredients are not harmful if correctly included, there are some you should outright avoid.

      • By-Products – Unless clearly stated what these by-products are, these could contain anything from waste to skeletal mass, and should either be avoided entirely or should not be seen anywhere near the top five ingredients.
      • Unexplained Fat Sources – Merely mentioning ‘Animal Fat’ or ‘Animal Digest’ is not sufficient. Unless a product specifically names the meat the fat comes from, it is preferable to avoid it.
      • Artificial Flavors – Foods that contain sufficient natural meats or fruits and vegetables do not need artificial flavoring, and those that do are definitely doubtful.
      • Artificial Colors – Your pet does not need colorful food, and definitely not that which comes with unnecessary added chemicals.
      • Artificial Preservatives – While preservatives like BHT, BHA and Ethoxyquin are rather common, they should be avoided wherever possible. The best quality dog food comes with natural preservatives like Vitamins A or E, and Rosemary instead. A good way to confirm this is to check the expiration date of the product; if it is made to last for more than 9-12 months, it definitely contains potentially harmful preservatives.
      • Sweeteners – Dogs definitely do like sweets. While products with artificial or even natural sweeteners like corn syrup may sound appealing, they should be avoided since they can lead to health problems. To appeal to your dog’s sweet tooth, the occasional sweet treat can be given separate from the main meals.  

    Note that while this essentially means you will have to invest in more costly products with guaranteed qualities, this is a worthwhile investment, as it ensures your dog will be protected from possible health problems and that you will avoid ensuing vet bills. Luckily, the best quality food is easily available at Kohepets, with a range of brands catering to various dietary needs.

    Individual Factors to Consider

    Regardless of how high-quality a type of dog food is, it cannot possibly cater to all dogs. While some brands may make foods for specific breeds, they still cannot account for all factors; individual needs will differ and your knowledge of your dog will determine what is best for them. Here are some factors to consider.

      • Physical activity – In simple terms, the more active your dog is, the more calories they will need to consume. You will be able to gauge your pet’s needs simply by how hungry they seem when they are given food, and whether they seem to desperately want more when their food finishes. You must also keep a check on the ideal weight according to the age and breed of your dog.
      • Age – Growing puppies have more requirements than adult dogs, so they will need higher protein levels and will digest fat well. For adult dogs, however, the risk of obesity is higher and lesser fat as well as smaller portions in general are recommended.
      • Environment – Dogs that live in severely cold environments have higher energy needs than those who enjoy moderate climates. Other factors like the thickness of their coat and their body fat will also weigh in on this.
      • Reproduction – Naturally, pregnant and lactating mothers have different and higher nutritional needs that need to be adequately catered to.
      • Allergies or Sickness – There are certain breeds, like Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Chihuahuas and Dalmatians, that are more prone food allergies. Regardless of their breeds, dogs with specific illnesses will need specific ingredients, like those with urinary tract infections need food with lower PH levels, and those with metabolic disorders need to avoid zinc and copper. While not all of this information is legally required and present on dog food packaging, manufacturers can be reached for all queries or for special formulations.

      If you find that your dog has very specific requirements or you just prefer not to rely on commercial food, home-cooked dog is a great idea! While this does need to be handled with a lot of responsibility, it is becoming increasingly popular among dog parents. Detailed information and guidance can be found in our blog post, Benefits of Home Cooked Food for Dogs.

      Lastly, while it is of course recommended that you consult your vet before making any major decisions regarding your pet’s diet, it is also important to ensure that you speak to the right expert. Not unlike doctors for humans, many vets are what would equate to ‘General Practitioners’ and are not trained specifically in dog nutrition. Make sure you consult the adequately trained expert to ensure that your pet gets the best, because that is what they deserve!