With there being so much information about dog food to read through online, we wanted to make things simpler and easier, and put together one refined guide that outlines some of the most important foundational information for all dog owners (new and existing owners) to consider.
We’ve separated it into three parts:
- Understanding every dog is different and has individual requirements
- TL;DR – What might be the essential information to know?
- More detailed information, and additional considerations
Let’s take a look …
(NOTE – this guide contains general information only. It does not contain any professional advice, and is not a substitute for professional advice. Speak to a qualified veterinarian or animal professional about the health of your pet/s, and specifically about your pet/s diet and feeding)
Our Most Complete Guide On Dog Food, & What To Feed Your Dog
All Dogs Are Different, & Have Individual Requirements
All dogs are different in their feeding and dietary requirements.
This is because all dogs have different factors that are relevant to just them.
The food you feed your dog, and how much food you feed them, might be influenced by factors such as:
- Life stage (puppy, adult, senior, etc.)
- Existing, or at risk health conditions (determined in part by the individual dog, or genetics)
- Body composition and size (small, medium, extra large, giant)
- Gender (whether neutered or not)
- Whether they are pregnant, sick, or there are other health related or physical factors at play
- How much exercise they get
Your dog’s vet is well placed to recommend a diet, and dog food feeding plan for your dog, as they are generally aware of these factors and have the expertise in regards to dog health and nutrition.
Additionally, commercial dog foods are usually reasonably well labelled in countries like the US and Australia in terms of specifying the life stage (puppy, adult, senior, all life stages, and so on) the food is intended for.
As your dog progresses through life from puppy, to adult, to senior, your dog’s vet make recommend changing the formula you feed them.
TL;DR – What Might Be The Essential Information To Know?
If we were to put together a checklist of the essentials to consider with dog food, they might be:
Look For Food That:
- Is nutritionally complete/meets your dog’s complete daily nutritional requirements i.e. the total amount/grams of each macro and micro nutrients they should be getting each day – proteins (high quality meat based), healthy fats and healthy fatty oils and omega fatty acids, carbohydrates (usually from grains or non grain sources like vegetables), vitamins and minerals (iron, copper, calcium, zinc, etc.), and water
- Is nutritionally balanced i.e. it contains the right mix/% shares of the major nutrient groups listed above (some sources say to balance especially protein in meat, with a whole cooked grain like brown rice or barley)
- Has a high quality, full/whole meat listed as at least the first ingredient (and some sources say to choose a conventional meat over an exotic meat)
- Has ingredients that are easily digestible, and easily absorbed by a dog
- Comes from a company with no history of recalls, and outlines their ingredient sourcing and production processes
- [It may also help if the food is specified as being one of or all of – all natural, certified organic, human grade, meeting AAFCO nutritional requirements (luminer.com lists how a food product can make the claim it’s nutritionally balanced according to what AAFCO requirements), and that the ingredients are sourced and processed locally in the US for example and not in a country with lax ingredient regulations]
Be Wary Of Food That:
- Has meat by-products, or meat ‘meal’ as the primary ingredient, or the first listed ingredients. By products and meat meal are are considered by some sources as being a rung or two rungs down from real and full meat ingredients. Although, it’s worth noting that meat meal generally has the fat and water content removed, so it’s more concentrated with protein
- Has too many highly processed carbs, too many highly processed ingredients, or too many low quality filler ingredients (such as cheap grain, or refined grain)
- Has greasy bad fats
- Has too many artificial colors, preservatives and other artificial ingredients and additives (like high fructose corn syrup and benzoyl peroxide)
- Is very high in sugar, salt or calories per serving
- Has ingredients that studies indicate are strongly linked to specific health problems in dogs (for example, according to consumeradvocate.org – on FDA study suggested peas, lentils, potatoes or sweet potatoes, or legumes, along with grain-free formulas, were the top risk factors for canine DCM – a specific dietary link is still being investigated. Determining a causal relationship between diet and DCM is complicated by numerous factors, including the age, health, and breed of the animals in the study)
- Might trigger an allergy, intolerance or sensitivities in your dog
- Has ingredients or nutrient concentrations that are problematic for your specific dog – for example, large breeds may have specific nutrient requirements, and some dogs may need a low protein diet to minimize their risk of kidney issues
- Is a supplemental food only (you don’t want to be feeding a dog supplemental food for a main meal as it doesn’t have the
- Uses marketing words that mean nothing legally (holistic might be one example of one of these words in some countries)
In addition to a complete and balance dog food diet, some vets might recommend give an adult dog a raw, uncooked, meaty, large bone once a week.
As mentioned above, if all this sounds complicated and overwhelming, your dog’s vet is who you can speak to for a quick and simple expert opinion on the food and feeding schedule suitable for your dog/s. They can also help you with topics such as transitioning to new dog foods, and how to do that, if required.
There are pet and dog nutrition companies that specialize in either direct pet diet advising to veterinary practices, pet owners and pet food manufacturers, or support to vets. You will want to check each company’s certifications, and that they are suitably qualified for the services they provide before you engage with them. Some companies employ qualified vets that specifically focus on pet nutrition.
One example of a dog food that is human grade, and processed in the USA is:
- The Honest Kitchen Whole Grain Chicken Recipe Dehydrated Dog Food (on Chewy)
- The Honest Kitchen Human Grade Dehydrated Organic Whole Grain Dog Food (on Amazon)
More Detailed Information, and Additional Considerations
Additional information and things you may want to consider about dog food are:
- Do Your Own Research
Go to the manufacturer’s website if buying commercial dog food, and don’t be afraid to contact customer service and ask additional questions.
Look at things such as the manufacturing process, where ingredients are sourced from (the country, and the standards adhered to), whether qualified PhD veterinary and nutritional science experts are employed to help develop the formula, and so on.
You might also look at things such as what % of the total weight of the food each ingredient makes up.
You can also read the product label and packaging, read other customer reviews, speak to other pet owners, and speak to a vet.
- Be Aware Of Potentially Undesirable Ingredients
Such as some meat and bone meals over real and full quality meats, offal, animal digest, sucrose and/or fructose, animal by products, low quality grain fillers, highly processed ingredients, artificial ingredients, and so on.
- Complete List Of Ingredients
Hard to pronounce ingredients or ingredients with long complicated names may be a red flag.
Although it looks good for marketing purposes – an extended list of trace ingredients like vitamins and minerals in the food can often be for advertising purposes, and might not provide any significant benefit for a dog.
- Cost Effective
How cost effective is the food for you to buy? Is it affordable.
You may not want to buy food that is too cheap if you’re sacrificing quality and healthy ingredients.
How easy is it to store, and how long does it last in storage?
Wet food in cans can have a relatively long shelf life
Dry food in packets can last a few months when sealed
- Water Content
What is the water content of the food?
Wet food is notorious for a higher water content
Water content may not be a bad thing as long as the food still contains enough nutrition for your dog (it can actually be a good way of ensuring your dog is staying relatively hydrated)
But, you may want to steer clear of foods with very high water contents, as it leaves less room for nutrients in the food
- Understand That Each Country Has Different Regulations, Standards, & Labelling Requirements For Pet Food
Pet food generally doesn’t have it’s own specific and enforceable regulations in any country.
There are general regulations for animal food in some countries.
In the US for example, ‘The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled’ (fda.gov)
There’s also a voluntary membership association called AAFCO that outlines some standards in the US.
In Australia, Pet food is essentially self-regulated with voluntary industry standards applied through the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA) (kb.rspca.org.au)
In different countries, regulations, standards and labelling requirements can differ.
So, be aware of what these are, and where the gaps and limitations in them might be.
You will be required to do additional research to ensure what you are getting in each pet food product, and cover information you might not get given on a label.
- Understand That The Perfect Commercial Dog Food May Not Exist
You may come up with a custom diet plan for your dog/s developed in conjunction with your dog’s vet, that contains natural and fresh ingredients, and it may be very healthy for your dog.
But, when it comes to mass produced commercial dog food, a perfect product may not (yet) exist.
There’s currently a lack of standard enforced regulations for pet food in many countries, which impacts things such as identifying whether meat comes from a sick or diseased animal (bad meats may also mean meat that doesn’t pass human inspection, and/or contains animal antibiotics and hormones), preventing ingredients linked to specific health conditions and problems being included in formulas, and so on.
At the moment, there may be some food products that might be better than others, but there might not be a perfect one.
There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement in providing healthier, safer and higher quality pet foods in the industry.
- Puppies and Senior Dogs Might Have Their Own Feeding Requirements
Read more about feeding a puppy or senior dog in this guide by medicanimal.com
- Research Brands & Products That Have Been Recalled In The Past
You’ll be able to see the reasons, and how often it’s happened. Poor fillers, poor meats, and so on have been some of the reasons
- Other Notes
All dogs are omnivores with a carnivore bias, but dogs can metabolize starches and carbs (unlike wolves)
Proteins can vary in quality, composition and digestibility
Excess protein can might lead to increased risk of health issues like obesity, or kidney issues
Carbs generally come from plant-based ingredients such as peas, potatoes, squash, carrots, as well as fruits and a number of other vegetables.
Grain free means no wheat, rice or corn, but grain free might be overhyped. Quality grains like quality whole grains (over refined grains) can be digested by dogs and provide them with nutrients. Grain sensitivities and problems might be rarer than reported. Although, low quality grains (like cheap corn grains) and flours may cause issues with energy levels, obesity, etc. Additionally, some dogs may experience issues with gluten in some grains
Some very cheap dog foods might use low quality ingredients and might have lower energy values, lower grade protein, more filler ingredients, and might be be sub-optimal for digestion, absorption and overall health
In relation to preservatives, Petmd says you might choose to limit artificial preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, in favor of natural preservatives like Vitamin A, Vitamin C and plant based preservatives like rosemary in the dog food you buy. The trade off obviously is that natural preservatives don’t keep the dog food from going off for as long.
In some countries, labelling requirements might stipulate that ingredients have to be listed in descending order by weight – so, the first few ingredients listed might make up majority of the weight of the food.
Some general contaminants to look out for in pet food might be mycotoxins, and also salmonella (bacterial contamination can be a concern for saw raw food diets)
It may be worth double checking the level of mercury in your dog’s food
Some ingredients like avocado and garlic can be risky for dogs
Interestingly, consumersadvocate.org mentions that ‘most researchers and veterinary associations agree that carbs should actually make up a larger percentage of a dog’s diet than animal-based proteins, though this changes as dogs get older’
You can usually get pet food from online sellers, from pet shops, from supermarkets, or from a vet
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