How To Choose The Best Dog Food?
All dogs are different (even if we are talking about the same breed), and we must consider many aspects when choosing the best diet for them. In this fully updated 2022 guide, you can learn what criteria you need to pay attention to if you want to provide the best dog food for your pup.
Pet Worshiper is reader-supported. This post contains affiliate links, and I may earn a commission if you buy something through these links. This means no extra cost to you.
I often come across the question of which is the best dog food. My answer is always the same: it depends.
However, this article I really hope will be a satisfactory answer for you.
With the help of my many years of experience and some veterinary and vet tech experts, I have compiled a detailed checklist.
This list will show you what to look for when choosing the best dog food brands. For example, your dog’s breed, health condition, or special dietary needs.
Each section may contain links to additional guides, in which I delve even further into each topic.
Let’s get started!
What to consider when choosing the best dog food?
First of all, I want to reassure you that most commercial dog food on the market will be adequately nutritious for healthy dogs.
It is important to note that we’re talking about healthy dogs, as different dietary needs and health conditions may justify the purchase of another formula.
However, there are a lot of similar aspects to these, which I will detail below. If you go through this inspection list, you can be confident that you will be feeding your beloved pup properly.
Choose a reliable brand
Fortunately, most of the biggest and most trusted brands spend not only on marketing but also on their products’ quality.
However, if you are not sure if the brand you have chosen meets your expectations, you can do some research.
For example, it is essential to know if experts work for the company. The best dog food manufacturers usually put together formulas with the help of veterinarians and animal nutrition experts.
Companies with low budgets do not always take this critical step.
You should pay attention to the origin of the ingredients. Few manufacturers can afford to source the ingredients from expensive US or Western countries.
If that doesn’t happen, you don’t have to despair either. If the place of production is in Western Europe or North America, you can rest assured. This is because the safety standards of these countries are much better than, for example, in Eastern Europe or Asia.
Another important consideration for brands is the processing of protein sources. Pasteurization, like heat treatment, kills pathogens.
Raw feeding has clear health benefits, but it is also a potential hazard due to the possible presence of bacteria and fungi.
In this respect, dry kibble is the safest, but you need to check the manufacturer’s website to see if the protein sources are correctly heat treated.
Well, I hope you weren’t too confused. If so, don’t worry. You can find out all about the most popular recipes in the dog food brand guides I have written:
- Farmina Dog Food Reviews
- American Journey Dog Food Reviews
- Eagle Pack Dog Food Review
- Purina Dog Food Review
- Supreme Source Dog Food Reviews
- Ziwi Peak Dog Food Reviews
- SportMix Dog Food Review
And yes, there are brands that you better avoid. This is due mainly to the low-quality ingredients. You can also learn about these brands from the guide below:
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a nonprofit organization that defines specific nutritional profiles, along with macronutrient ratios and ingredients.
However, it is important to know that this corporation does not control and regulate dog food brands, but brands have their responsibility to adhere to these standards.
In short, you need to look for a brand statement that states that the product meets AAFCO’s nutritional requirements. In this case, it can be said that the dog food is “complete” and “balanced”.
Look for one of the following three statements on the packaging of the formula of your choice:
- Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [Brand + Product’s Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [feeding goals].
- [Brand + Product’s Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for [feeding goals].
- [Brand + Product’s Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [feeding goals] and is comparable to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests.
You must be wondering what “feeding goals” means in parentheses. Well, AAFCO divides this into three parts:
- Maintenance: For most adult dogs that are not pregnant or nursing, maintenance diets will be appropriate.
- Growth and reproduction: For dogs with higher calorie requirements, growth and reproduction formulas will be good choices. Examples of such dogs are puppies and pregnant or nursing dogs.
- All life stages: These formulas are designed to meet the needs of dogs of any age. So you can give them to both adults and puppies.
And how can brands meet AAFCO requirements? There are two ways to do this. One is the guaranteed analysis, which reveals the exact nutrient profile.
The other method is feeding trials, in which animals eat a given formula under controlled conditions. The results are monitored. The latter is relatively expensive, so not all brands can afford it.
You can read more about the AAFCO guidelines in my article below:
Your Dog’s Age
The nutritional needs of dogs are constantly changing at their different life stages. In puppies, the amount of calories and protein is essential for growth.
But pay special attention if you have a large breed puppy, as rapid growth can cause bone and joint problems in these dogs. Fortunately, plenty of brands have puppy formulas and large breed puppy formulas.
You should consult your veterinarian regarding your puppy’s diet for safety reasons.
The situation can also be complicated for senior dogs. Most aging dogs tend to be overweight due to decreased metabolism.
However, there are old dogs who are more underweight. This can be due to deteriorating tooth condition, selectivity, and reduced ability to absorb nutrients.
This is why the senior formula should contain the highest quality ingredients with moderated calories.
Your dog’s size
The size of your dog will significantly determine his or her dietary needs. Large breeds definitely need a large breed formula that supports bone and joint health, especially in puppy age.
On the other hand, small dogs require a kibble size that their tiny jaws can handle.
Your Dog’s Breed
Knowing your dog’s breed size can help a lot in choosing the right dog food.
However, there may be differences between dogs of the same size but different breeds. Examples are activity or a predisposition to various diet-related health conditions.
I’ve collected the most suitable dog foods for specific breeds in the guides below:
- Best Dog Food For Bulldogs
- Best Dog Food For Blue Heelers
- Best Dog Food For Cocker Spaniels
- Best Dog Food For Chihuahuas
- Best Dog Food For French Bulldogs
- Best German Shepherd Treats
- Best Dog Food For Golden Retrievers
- Best Dog Food For Hunting Dogs
- Best Dog Food For Maltese
- Best Dog Food For Labs
- Best Dog Food For Pitbulls
- Best Dog Food For St Bernards
- Best Dog Food For Yorkies
- Best Dog Food For Pomeranians
Your Dog’s Health Condition
If your dog has specific health problems, the recommended diet can vary accordingly.
Think, for example, of certain dog food allergies. In this case, you need to eliminate the problematic protein or carbohydrate sources from your pup’s diet.
But there are also weight problems. Underweight and overweight dogs need recipes with a different calorie and macronutrient composition.
And if your dog has too much stool, you should prefer low-fiber products.
Well, I could go on for a long time. The following guides can help you choose dog food for different health conditions.
- Best Dog Food To Prevent Gas
- Best Dog Foods For Arthritis
- Best Dog Food For Allergies
- Best Dog Food For Acid Reflux
- Best Dog Food For Bladder Stones
- Best Dog Food For Less Poop
- Best Dog Food For Liver Disease
- Best High-Calorie Dog Food
- Best Dog Food For Urinary Health
- Best Dog Food For Seizures
- Best Tasting Dog Food For Picky Eaters
- Best Puppy Foods For Sensitive Stomach
Individual dietary needs (based on specific ingredients)
Of course, this point is similar to the previous one in many ways.
But now I’m thinking that you’re looking for dog food products that don’t contain certain ingredients. This may be because of some allergies, intolerances, sensitivities. or you just think you might want to exclude specific components from his diet.
But some formulas contain more of some compounds that may have benefits (e.g., glucosamine, fiber, taurine, etc.).
As you can see, we can talk about health considerations here as well, but sometimes it’s worth focusing on just one ingredient.
Below you can read guides where I have selected the best dog foods by looking at the ingredients:
- Best Chicken Free Dog Food
- Best Dog Food With Glucosamine
- Best Diabetic Dog Treats
- Best Legume Free Dog Foods
- Best Low Carb Dog Food
- Best Low Sodium Dog Food
- Best Low Phosphorus Dog Food
- Best Potato Free Dog Food
- Best Dog Food With Taurine And Carnitine
- Best Yeast Free Dog Food
- Best Grain-free Dog Food
Comparing dog food brands
Finding the best dog food can be a challenge, not least because there is more than one good brand.
If you come across two potential dog foods, you should compare them based on as many criteria as possible to see which one is better. Examples of such criteria are the quantity and quality of nutrients, price, product range, recalls, etc.
In the following articles, I compared famous and popular dog food brands and, in each case, tried to find out which one was better:
- Acana vs Orijen
- Blue Buffalo vs Blue Wilderness
- Wellness vs Blue Buffalo
- Natural Balance vs Blue Buffalo
- Taste of the Wild vs Merrick
- Taste of the Wild vs Blue Buffalo
- Pedigree vs Purina
- Purina vs Iams
- Purina Pro Plan vs Purina One
- Royal Canin vs Science Diet
- Purina Pro Plan vs Blue Buffalo
- Kirkland vs Blue Buffalo
- Purina vs Blue Buffalo
- Royal Canin vs Blue Buffalo
- Blue Buffalo vs Science Diet
If there are a lot of complaints about a pet food brand or a specific product, the result can be a recall.
The problems that cause complaints to come can be many and varied. These include defects in packaging or texture, but also harmful issues such as too little or too many vitamins and minerals, contamination, and so on.
The recalls can be voluntary or ordered. In the former case, the company initiated them, and in the latter case, by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Understandably, you expose your dog to potential danger if you give him a product that is currently being recalled. Therefore, you should be aware of the detailed list, which you can, of course, find on the FDA website.
I think it’s clear that there is some correlation between price and quality. After all, expensive ingredients increase costs and vice versa.
If you want to provide the best diet for your dog, you will have to spend a lot on premium formulas.
However, many people need to be on a low budget. But this does not mean that you necessarily have to buy the cheapest poor-quality product; it is important to look at the list of ingredients.
The following guide contains affordable dog foods that have been manufactured with high-quality ingredients in mind:
Talk to your vet
Whatever diet you choose for your pup, you may want to consult your veterinarian. After all, he is the one who knows the health status of your dog, his activity, the nutritional needs of his breed, and so on.
Your vet is maximally educated in pet nutrition and will tell you if there is a problem with the product of your choice.
Some dogs can be pretty picky. However, many owners don’t really pay attention to the appealing taste of the dog food they choose.
While the less mouth-watering taste has no health consequences, I still think our dogs deserve the recipes they enjoy.
As with humans, individual preferences can develop in canines. Your pup may love chicken, but he can’t stand fish.
Finding the right taste can take time, but believe me, it’s worth spending time, energy, and money on these things. You definitely won’t go wrong with recipes made with fresh and natural ingredients.
The following guide contains the best tasting dog food recipes for dogs:
What Ingredients Should the Best Dog Foods Contain?
The above considerations will clearly help you make the best possible decision about feeding your dog. However, we did not talk about what important ingredients and nutrients are needed in good quality dog food. You can see a list of this below.
Meat or meat meal as the first ingredient
However, dogs are omnivores, protein is the most important nutrient in their diet. After all, these are the building blocks that make up the muscles and essentially all the cells.
Animal proteins should be preferred as they are complete sources of protein. So you can be sure that your dog will have all the essential amino acids in his diet.
In dogs, we can talk about ten such amino acids that their bodies cannot produce. These are:
- Melanin Tryptophan
Strive for a formula that lists real meat or meat meal first among the ingredients. After all, the list always starts with the most abundant ingredient in the product.
The best protein sources are chicken, beef, lamb, duck, bison, fish, pork, etc.
Because meat meals are more concentrated versions of meat and often contain cartilage, they can also be considered nutrient-rich protein sources.
Fats are also crucial in the canines’ diet. On the one hand, they are excellent sources of energy, and on the other hand, they make the food delicious.
In addition, they contain essential amino acids whose health benefits are unquestionable for dogs. These essential amino acids are omega-3 and omega-6.
Animal fats are excellent ingredients, but they do not contain many omega fatty acids except fish. However, fish oil, flaxseed, and canola oils have a lot of these valuable compounds.
As I mentioned, dogs are omnivores, so they can digest plant sources, including carbs. Moreover, carbs prove to be a good source of energy and nutrients in dog food.
They contain valuable vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The latter has a good effect on the health of the intestinal flora and can help prevent chronic diarrhea.
Choose carbs that your dog can easily digest. Examples include whole grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, legumes, and various vegetables.
Vitamins and minerals
I don’t think I need to explain much to you about the health effects of vitamins and minerals. The point is that whatever product you choose should contain these vital micronutrients.
The most important vitamins:
- Vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C, D, E, K
- Folic acid
- Pantothenic Acid
And the minerals:
The best sources of vitamins and minerals are fresh fruits and vegetables (blueberries, blackberries, carrots, spinach, kelp, pumpkin, etc.). However, manufacturers can also add them to their recipes in the form of supplements.
It is important to note that neither too few nor too many vitamins are beneficial in the long run. Fortunately, most commercial products have been put together by animal nutrition experts. This way, you can ensure that your dog will get the right amount of nutrients.
However, you may want to do a little research on the subject and seek the advice of your veterinarian.
As their name suggests, supplements are unnecessary for all healthy adult dogs, but they can benefit. Examples of such supplements are probiotics, which promote intestinal health, and glucosamine, which can treat or prevent joint problems.
What ingredients to avoid in dog food
The list of ingredients to avoid can be pretty long, depending on how strict you follow the rules.
The common language often calls certain carbohydrate sources fillers (wheat, corn, soy).
Well, corn and soy really have less nutritional value than rice, but what’s more worrying is that they can cause indigestion in many dogs.
The same is true with wheat, which can be very nutritious but can also cause allergic reactions.
On the other hand, husk and hull (e.g., corn husk) are real fillers that make your dog feel full, but their nutrient content is zero.
In addition to the above, some ingredients can pose a potential threat to your dog’s health. These are the following:
- Artificial colors
- Garlic and garlic oil
- Propylene Glycol
- Sodium Hexametaphosphate
What are the different types of dog food?
Many different words come to mind when thinking of dog food types. The most common are wet and dry foods, but you can also find fresh food and organic food. I would like to take a look at these varieties.
Wet dog food vs dry kibble
Both wet and dry dog foods have pros and cons.
Wet or canned dog foods contain a lot of moisture (on average 75%), so have a much more desirable taste and texture.
Plus, such recipes don’t burden teeth, so they can be a good choice for dogs with dental issues.
In contrast, dry kibble is less mouth-watering but has several advantages over wet versions.
On the one hand, these products are cheaper and have a much longer shelf life. In addition, because they require constant chewing, they keep your pup’s teeth and gum clean and healthy.
And which one to choose? Consider the above aspects and decide according to your own and your dog’s life situation.
As the name implies, this type of food contains the freshest ingredients. Thus, with such products, you guarantee impeccable taste and high quality for your pooch.
However, all of this comes at a price, literally. Fresh dog foods are costly and can only be afforded by pet parents who have a huge budget.
Organic dog foods
More and more commercial brands are putting the “organic” tag on their products. This term means that a given formula does not contain hormones, pesticides, preservatives, antibiotics, and other harmful chemicals.
In addition, the animal and plant sources found in the product have not been genetically modified or treated with fertilizer.
What are the most common dog food myths?
Misconceptions are born in almost every scientific topic, and the dog food topic is no exception.
You can defend yourself against false information very easily: always check your source.
If the article you are reading is not backed up with any scientific evidence, always be suspicious.
The surest way to check the authenticity of the information is to ask your veterinarian.
Myth 1: Dogs do better on grain-free diets: This is an absolutely false statement. Grains are common allergens, but if your dog has no complaints, he won’t go better with products that contain other sources of carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes or legumes. In my guide below, I write in detail about this topic:
Myth 2: Pork is bad for dogs: You will probably find many resources on the internet that classify pork as dangerous to dogs.
This could be because of the excess fat or some mysterious toxic compound in the pig.
Don’t believe these writings. Pork is less fatty than beef, and there are no secret chemicals that are dangerous to dogs’ health.
Myth 3: high protein content is bad for the kidneys: There is much debate about whether reducing the amount of protein ingested in dogs with kidney damage is beneficial.
However, everyone agrees that high-protein diets may not only be safe but, in some cases even recommended, for healthy dogs. Examples are hunting dogs or working dogs.
There are still many myths about dog food (e.g., that meat is better than a meat meal or that lamb is hypoallergenic), but you can find the most common above.
How should you read the dog food labels?
The marketing and packaging of dog food can often be misleading to regular users.
Beautiful colors and bright inscriptions can easily convince everyone that they buy a high-quality product.
However, by reading the dog food labels, we can easily find out if we made the right decision. Manufacturers must include the following information on the packaging of their products:
- Name of the product
- Guaranteed analysis
- Ingredients list
- Net weight
- The manufacturer’s name and address
- AAFCO statement (or another statement of nutritional adequacy)
- Feeding guidelines
It isn’t easy to establish an order of importance from the above. But the name of the product can reveal many things.
In addition to the type of meat, it is even possible to deduce the exact percentage since if a manufacturer enters “chicken” in the name of a product, that product must contain at least 70% chicken.
Different words, such as paté, entrée, or dinner, mean less meat (about 30%).
You can expect even less meat if the name of the dog food says “with chicken”.
The worst-case scenario is when you only see next to the name that it is chicken flavored. In such cases, the product may contain less than 3% meat.
With the help of the guaranteed analysis, you can deduce whether the given product is suitable.
If your vet suggests a lower fiber intake for your dog, it doesn’t make sense to choose recipes above 6%. The same goes for protein content.
Manufacturers are not obliged to indicate the total carbohydrate content on the packaging. But based on the guaranteed analysis, you can quickly determine this by the subtraction method.
By subtracting the protein, fat, fiber, moisture, and other micronutrient content from 100%, you can get an approximate value for the amount of carbs in the recipe.
The ingredient list will not inform you about the quality of the ingredients, but you will know exactly what is in the formula.
This way, you can easily filter out products that contain ingredients that have a terrible effect on your dog’s health (e.g., in case of allergies).
You can get a more accurate picture of the quality of the production processes from the geographical location of the manufacturer.
Feeding guidelines can be helpful, but keep in mind that these are only recommendations. You should consult your veterinarian about your dog’s calorie intake, and it doesn’t hurt to monitor your pup’s weight regularly.
Is homemade dog food better for dogs?
Homemade dog food has clear advantages over commercial dog food. On the one hand, you will be able to control the number of ingredients included in the recipe with complete accuracy.
On the other hand, you get full control over what protein and carbohydrate sources you use. This gives you access to a so-called elimination diet that can be helpful for dog food allergies.
However, homemade dog food recipes are pretty expensive and easy to prepare improperly. In any case, consult your vet if you want to give your pup a self-made formula.
You can find all the helpful information on this topic in my guide below:
Can dogs eat anything other than dog food?
In most cases, dog food manufacturers work with veterinarians, animal nutritionists, and other experts to create their formulas.
However, every pet parent may come up with the question during Sunday lunch: Can my dog eat this?
Well, canines can eat human food, but significant exceptions exist. Chocolate, grapes, raisins, xylitol, and macadamia nuts, for example, are very toxic to all dogs.
Some foods can only be consumed in moderation, and some are entirely safe.
The following guides can be of great help to anyone who asks, “Can dogs eat…”
- What if my dog ate chocolate?
- Can dogs eat grapes?
- Can dogs eat fruits?
- Dangerous and safe human foods for dogs
How Much Should I Feed My Dog?
As I mentioned, you don’t have to stick to the guidelines on the back of dog food at all costs. Think of them as starting points.
After all, how many calories your pup needs depends on his breed, age, health status, and activity.
Obviously, a dog whose owner walks for hours needs to eat more than a dog that leans around all day.
Consulting with your vet and monitoring your dog’s weight can help by answering the question.
Obesity can hide serious health problems, as can malnutrition. The so-called Body Condition Score (BCS) can help you determine your dog’s current body composition.
What about raw diets for dogs?
Raw diets mean exactly what their name suggests. You give your dog the various ingredients unprocessed in raw form without cooking or baking.
Most raw diets include raw meat, bones, internal organs, dairy products, eggs, vegetables, and fruits.
Some experts say raw feeding is the best possible choice for dogs, but some protest against it. This is because this diet has potential dangers and is very easy to do wrong.
Poorly chosen ingredients can cause various bacterial infections, and your dog can easily be malnourished.
Of course, if you seek the help of an expert, raw feeding can have huge benefits for your dog.
Final words of choosing the best dog food
In this guide, I have tried to show you the considerations you need to consider when choosing the right dog food in as much detail as possible.
Additional links can also help you delve even deeper into the topic.
As you can see, it’s hard to find the best dog food for your pup, but by being here and reading articles like this, you’ve already done a lot to make your dog live the longest and healthiest life possible.
My name is Amber, and I am a licensed vet tech with 10 years of experience in the field. I spent the majority of my career working in emergency medicine but recently transitioned to creating accurate pet care information online. There is nothing more important to me than helping pet owners understand their furry friend’s health, and giving you the tools you need to offer your pet the best future possible!