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How to Choose the Best Dog Food

Best Dog Food: The Search

By Lorie Huston, DVM

Feeding your dog a high-quality well-balanced food is one of the best things that you, as a pet owner, can do to keep your dog healthy. A good food will keep your dog’s hair coat shiny and sleek. It will strengthen his immune system. It will keep his digestive system in good health. But when it comes to choosing a dog food, the options seem almost endless.

Know What’s in the Best Dog Food

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established guidelines for regulators to govern claims a pet food company can make on its label.


If the food is said to contain a single ingredient, it must contain at least 95% of that ingredient, not including water. If a combination of ingredients is advertised, that combination has to make up at least 95% of the food. For instance, if the food claims to be made solely of beef, beef makes up 95% of the food.


Phrases like dinner, platter and entrée means the foods must contain at least 25% of the named ingredient. If the name states “with” a specific ingredient (such as “with cheese”) only 3% of the named ingredient is required. Products that advertise specific “flavors” need to contain only a detectable amount of that ingredient.

Read Ingredients

Next, look at the list of ingredients. Keep in mind that ingredients are listed by weight. Ingredients that contain large amounts of moisture (such as beef, poultry, chicken, or fish) are likely to be at the top of the list because of the moisture content. Ingredients further down the list may offer even more key nutrients such as protein but may weigh less because the water has already been removed for a dry pet food.

Take Glutens and Grains into Consideration

Some of the controversies that surround pet foods include the use of grains, glutens and by-products. Grains are used in many pet foods and provide an excellent source of carbohydrates. Dogs can easily metabolize these carbohydrates and use them as an energy source. However, some people prefer to avoid grains in their dog’s food. Avoiding grains for those dogs that are allergic to them is a valid choice. However, allergies to other ingredients, including meats, are much more common than allergies to grains.


Gluten allergies are common in people and many pet owners choose a gluten-free food for their dog believing that the same is true for the canine species. However, gluten allergies are actually very rare in dogs.

Check the Facts on By-products

Pet food ingredients labeled by-products include highly digestible and nutritious organs, such as the liver and lungs. They do NOT include things like hair, horns or hooves, as advertising gimmicks would have you believe. It is a misconception that by-products are “unfit” for human consumption, though it is true that they are less popular ingredients for human food in the U.S. Most of the meat that we eat is derived from skeletal muscle rather than organ meats and other by-products.


Reputable dog food companies choose quality by-products to include in their foods so choose a company you can trust.

Look for Adequacy

You’ll also want to check the pet food label for a nutritional adequacy statement. This statement will read something like “This food is complete and balanced for all life stages,” “This food is complete and balanced for adult maintenance” or “This food is complete and balanced for growth and reproduction.”


Puppies have different needs than senior or adult dogs. So choose your dog’s food accordingly.

Find Feeding Trial Info

Along with the nutritional adequacy statement should be a statement that indicates how the adequacy statement was substantiated. This may be through feeding trials or through formulation to meet a nutrient profile. Foods that have undergone feeding trials are preferred. This indicates that the food has actually been fed to living dogs to make sure that the dogs not only were willing to eat the food but remained healthy while eating it.

Consider the Guaranteed Analysis

A guaranteed analysis lists the minimum amount of protein and fat by percentage and the maximum amount of fiber and moisture, also by percentage. Moisture can skew the comparison, though, so look for one converted to a dry matter basis, especially if you’re looking to compare dry food to wet food.


Although the guaranteed analysis provides a measure of nutrient categories, it does not indicate quality or digestibility of ingredients.

Ask Your Vet’s Advice

Genetics, age, life style and reproductive status all play a role in how much food your dog should eat. Ask your veterinarian to perform a body condition evaluation for your dog and make sure you know the basics too. It’s the best way to make sure your dog’s weight is on-track. It’s even better than the scale. The main point to remember is that you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs.


You might find that your dog needs a little less or a little more than what your dog food packaging suggests. Some dogs need special foods to help them lose weight. Ask your veterinarian for a dietary recommendation.

Do Homework on Your Brand

Information on sourcing and quality control in manufacturing is not required on pet food labels. You may be able to find the information on the company’s website but if not, call their consumer relations department and ask where its ingredients are sourced. Any reputable company with a quality product will be happy to engage with its consumers.


Next, see if the company manufactures in its own facility rather than outsourcing. This provides better control and safer food for your pup!

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  • Wired Fox Terrier
    12/28/2012 11:56pm

    My Dog will not eat dry food or any kind of canned food. I've used Purina, Mighty Dog, Ceasar's, Alpo. He is even picky with human food.

  • Re: Picky Eater
    01/04/2013 03:56pm

    Hi Pet-Lover,

    Try reading this article:

    Finicky Eater? Suggestions on Maintaining a Healthy Diet

  • Best Dog Food
    01/28/2013 05:33am

    I have a shih zhu/ Austalian cattle dog mix. her food is giving her gas & diarrhea. she has been on this brand for awhile. Unfortunetly I had to get a different flavor once and than just stuck to it. Is there a dog food that is realitively cheap but good for the dog???

  • 01/28/2013 09:48am

    Nature's Domain. Costco has it. They have fish and sweet potato and also a turkey formula.

  • Byproduct = waste product
    01/31/2013 05:46pm

    You write: "Pet food ingredients labeled by-products include highly digestible and nutritious organs, such as the liver and lungs. They do NOT include things like hair, horns or hooves, as advertising gimmicks would have you believe. It is a misconception that by-products are “unfit” for human consumption, though it is true that they are less popular ingredients for human food in the U.S. Most of the meat that we eat is derived from skeletal muscle rather than organ meats and other by-products."

    I disagree. The AAFCO definition of "poultry by-product meal" "Consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcasses of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines, exclusive of feathers except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices."

    "By-products" contain no muscle meat and are the dregs of a carcass. They are included in dog food only because they are cheap waste products.

  • dry and wet
    03/28/2013 06:56am

    HI My papillon is fat fat all over sadly to say.I started him on low cal natural balance plus some dry Fat dogs. I also switch and will give him home cooked like chicken and rice no additional flavorings, or chicken and vegetables carrots green beans, also they split an egg now n then with maybe lil oatmeal.I just started all this this month,I just wondering if its really okay to do this 2 to 3 times a day? Or if anyone has any suggestions to help.I dont know exactly his weight but i know hes 24 pounds at least and has a 17 inch neck??i hope im helping him as before i was just feeding one by purina and occasional when we eat healthy ild give him some of that.thanks

  • Kathy (dry & Wet)
    04/29/2013 12:31pm

    Kathy, we recently changed our schnauzers and Vizsla to the same diet. We add a little of the dry dog food in with the food most of the time.

    It works, they have all taken off the extra weight, and look healthier, my 8 year old Schnauzer is back to wanting to play with his toys now. Before he only laid around. We have one with diabetes at 11 years old, this diet has helped to control the diabetes.

    The dry foods, most of them contain corn as the first ingredient, which I am sure you know. The dry food company will respond saying it is healthy for them, which I cannot understand.
    Our Schnauzer who has diabetes, was feed the same dry dog food by my ex husband for years, and the first ingreident was Corn. I think it is the same thing as eating sugar.

    My Vizsla was weighing 60 lbs, and she should weigh no more than 50lbs.
    She has lost at least 5 lbs on this diet.

    Foods that we incorporate are: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, Kale, Bean sprouts, Green beans, low fat plain yogurt, low fat cottate cheese, soft boiled eggs, chicken, turkey, Salmon, Talipia, & Tuna.
    I DO NOT give them store bought goodies any longer, that was one of the reasons they were gaining weight, if you read the ingredients, you will be shocked. I buy Chicken gizzards, bake them, and that is their treat. I keep them in the frig, and when they want a goody, they get a chicken gizzard. And they love them.

    We use to do a lot of sweet potato, but it help to send the diabetic dog into pancreatitis, so we no longer give the Sweet potatoes. Which they do like. I think it may be okay for a non-diabetic dog, but I think vets are discouraging it. I thought it was low on the glycemic index, but apparently it is not as good for them as we think, or hope. I love giving it to my dogs, but I would rather not take the chance.

  • continued: (dry food)
    04/29/2013 12:41pm

    I forgot to mention grains, as Kathy is already giving the oatmeal. which has been awesome for our dogs.

    Oatmeal, barley, there is a mix you can get. Oatmeal, Barley, Rye, Flaxseed, etc... it is great, and the dogs don't mind eating it. I give it to them for breakfast, and mix some cottage cheese in with it. However, if I only have oatmeal, they get that.

  • We asked our vet for help
    07/13/2016 08:08am

    This was a great visual article! I have a dog that would not eat dry food for ages. Took quite a bit of time to get him used to it, I even had to ask my vet for other options. We ended buying the sort the clinic recommended - it worked wonders with my lil' friend.

  • Dog treats
    08/21/2016 01:09pm

    I learned here https://breedingbusiness.com/dried-beef-liver-dog-treats/ on how to make freeze dried dog treats, since I make this one for their treats they really enjoyed it.

  • Good topic about best dog
    09/29/2016 10:17am

    This comment has been flagged as inappropriate.