Written by: Rob Evans of The Doggypedia
Picking out a dog food is no easy task. There are dozens of dog food brands on the market, with hundreds of formulations that all claim to be the “best” for your canine.
Sifting through the mess and choosing a dog food can be nearly impossible. Luckily, there are a few easy tips you can follow to help select a formulation for your canine.
1. Pay Attention to the Ingredient List
Your dog is what he eats, so it’s important that his food contains only the best ingredients. Choosing a dog food with many different ingredients can be difficult, however. Not everything is how it appears.
When possible, some sort of meat should be listed as the first five ingredients. Ingredients on the back of the bag are listed from the highest amounts to the lowest amounts included in the food. By choosing an option with meat as the first ingredient, you’re ensuring that your dog is getting a diet of mostly meat.
Of course, not all meat ingredients are made equally, though most of them are completely fine for your canine. Whole meats should be chosen when possible. Meat by-products are also okay as long as the source of the by-product is listed. “Chicken by-product” is fine, but you want to avoid vague descriptors like “meat by-product”, simply because you have no idea what the ingredient actually is.
Furthermore, not all veggies are made equal either. Certain vegetables and fruits are toxic to dogs, like onions and mushrooms. Other vegetables are currently under investigation by the FDA for possibly causing heart problems in dogs. These vegetables include peas, lentils, and starchy vegetables, so you may want to avoid them for now.
2. Check the Macronutrients
Macronutrients are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Most animals need a mixture of these nutrients to survive, though the exact composition varies from species to species.
For dogs, the proper formulation should be around 30% protein, 67% fat, and 7% carbohydrates. This is what dogs choose to eat naturally and is, therefore, likely what is best for their health.
Sadly, it is very difficult to find a dog food that lines up with this formulation. Most are very high in carbohydrates, which dogs don’t naturally eat much of at all. In a chance to reduce obesity,
some dog food brands have lowered the overall fat in their food as well. However, we now know that carbohydrates are more closely linked to fat gain than eating fat.
It can be difficult to find the macronutrient content by just looking at the back of a dog food bag. This is because companies are only required to put a “guaranteed analysis” of their dog food on the bag, which often doesn’t include carbohydrates.
To figure out the exact formulation of a dog food formula, you’ll need to convert this “guaranteed analysis” to the “dry-matter basis”. This is what the dog food is made up of when you subtract all of the moisture. Luckily, you can do this easily using an online calculator. And thankfully, there are some great resources that do scientific-based research to find the best dog food using this method.
3. Check for Recent Recalls
Some companies are notorious for recalls or might be experiencing a current recall. In these cases, you might decide to avoid that dog food brand altogether, or at least until the recall is over.
Recalls are caused by all sorts of problems- some large and others minor. Dog food can be recalled because it was contaminated with bacteria, contained an unapproved herbicide, or had too much of a vitamin. You should consider the reason for the recall when deciding whether or not to avoid a brand. Some recalls aren’t the manufacturer’s fault, but others are.
You can see a complete list of all the pet-related recalls on the AVMA website.
4. Avoid Fillers and Preservatives
Many companies will fill their dog food with fillers, which are simply cheap ingredients that don’t have much dietary value. Commonly, these include things like corn bran, oat hulls, and cereals. However, grain-free dog food will use cheap vegetables as fillers, like potatoes and peas.
Often, high-protein foods won’t include actual meat to increase the formula’s protein amount. Instead, they use some sort of vegetable protein, like pea protein.
It is best to choose food without these fillers when possible.
5. Don’t Fall for Grain-Free
Dogs have evolved to eat grains. The average canine does not need a grain-free food. Grain allergies are actually quite uncommon, with more dogs being allergic to common protein sources than grain.
Furthermore, choosing a grain-free food when your dog does not have an allergy can be harmful. Most grain-free foods include vegetable-based fillers, which are worse for your dog than whole grains.
Plus, most grain-free foods are much more expensive than grain-inclusive foods. Instead of spending more money to avoid grains, go with a grain-inclusive food, and use the extra money to select a food that is higher in protein.
Simply put: the extra money spent on grain-free foods is wasted on most canines. Most grain-free foods are not higher in protein or meats. Instead, they’re stuffed with cheap veggies.
Don’t Search for That One “Perfect” Dog Food
There is no perfect dog food out there. However, some dog foods are much better than others. You should select a dog food formula that checks off as many bubbles as possible while still being in your budget.
If your budget is very strict, aim for the highest quality ingredients you can afford and select a grain-inclusive food unless your dog has a grain allergy.
Furthermore, if possible, we recommend switching between multiple different dog foods. Because no dog food is perfect, this ensures that your dog is getting a more complete diet. Plus, it may also help protect your dog from recalls.
By not eating the same foods continuously, your dog will also be protected from developing certain food allergies. Try to mix up your dog’s main source of protein every now and then.