Dog eating kibble from bowl

Key takeaway

Finding the best dog food can help your pup live a long, healthy life. When choosing dog food, always consider your dog’s age, breed, size, and activity level to ensure they’re getting a balanced diet. If you’re not sure what to feed your dog, talk to a vet who can recommend different foods to ensure your dog is getting all the essential nutrients they need.

Choosing the best dog food for your dog is important. Your dog’s diet can have a significant impact on their overall health and wellness, so you must choose food they love and that offers a balanced diet. Unfortunately, there are many options out there that can make it difficult for pet parents to choose the right food for their dogs. You can find pet food at the grocery store, pet stores, and even online, so choosing the best food for dogs can be challenging.

This article will discuss the different types of dog food and diets and help you learn how to choose the best dog food. Let’s get started.

What Is the Best Dog Food?

Most people feed their dogs kibble or wet food; it’s all a matter of personal preference. Many pet parents find it easier to feed kibble because it’s less expensive, and most dogs enjoy it. Either type of food offers dogs all the nutrients they need to grow and stay healthy throughout their lives. Commercial dog foods are regulated by the FDA and undergo testing to ensure the safety of the product.1

The best dog food for your dog is not a one-size-fits-all solution; all dogs require different nutrients to stay healthy. For example, you may notice dog food for puppies, senior dogs, adults, and dogs with unique nutritional needs at the pet store. Puppies, old dogs, and dogs with food allergies or certain health conditions all need different nutrients in their diet to stay healthy.2

When considering the food you feed your dog, think about the types of foods available, including:

  • Wet
  • Dry
  • Home-cooked
  • Raw-based diets
  • Special diets

Discuss your options with your vet if you’re not sure what type of diet or food to feed your pet. They can provide you with information about the different types of diets and recommend food based on your dog’s life stage.

How to Choose the Best Food for Your Dog

Shopping for dog food may seem easy because you can get it at your grocery store, local food store, or online. However, the availability of many brands and diets can make it confusing for pet parents to find the right food for their dogs. Here are some tips to help you find the best dog food for your animal companion.

How to Choose the Best Food for Your Dog

Learn how to read the food label

Like your own food, dog food (and treats) has a food label that you should know how to read. This allows you to understand what you’re feeding your pet and how much to feed them. Reading the food label can also help you avoid ingredients that may cause allergies or skin irritation in dogs.

Dog food labels are required by law to contain the product name, the weight of the product, the name and address of the manufacturer, guaranteed analysis, ingredients, intended species, nutritional adequacy statement, and feeding guidelines.3 This information can help you determine whether you can trust a food brand to provide your dog with a balanced diet.

Dog food manufacturers must list the ingredients by weight before cooking the product. When looking at your dog’s food label, you should see fresh meat at the top of the list.4 You may also want to check for artificial additives that don’t provide any nutritional value.4

You’ll also see various descriptive terms on dog food packaging that manufacturers use to describe the benefit for your pet. Examples are:

  • Complete
  • Balanced
  • Digestible4

Ask your vet for advice

Your vet is your best resource for keeping your dog happy and healthy, so always talk to your vet before changing your dog’s diet to ensure their nutritional needs are met. It’s also recommended to ask your vet how much you should feed your dog every day. Many pet parents disregard the food labels on their dog food packaging, leading them to overfeed or underfeed their pet.

Additionally, changing your dog’s diet can lead to dog diarrhea and an upset stomach, so talk to your vet to help you slowly transition your dog to their new diet to avoid discomfort and messes in the house.

Understand your dog’s nutritional needs

All dogs have different nutritional needs, depending on their size, weight, medical history, and age. For example, puppies require a different balance of nutrients than adult or senior dogs.1 Many puppies do well on food designed for puppies or all life stages. However, what’s best for your dog will depend on their size and breed.1 Here’s what to look for when shopping for the best dog food for your furry friend.

What to look for in the best dog food

All dogs need a proper balance of protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.5

  • Protein: The basic building block for cells, tissue, organs, and more. Protein is essential for your dog’s health and wellness. Proteins can be found in chicken, lamb, beef, turkey, fish, and eggs.
  • Fats: Fats provide your pet with more energy than protein and carbohydrates.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide energy and play a vital role in intestinal health.5 Additionally, fiber, a carbohydrate type, is essential for healthy digestion in dogs.5
  • Vitamins: Vitamins keep your dog healthy for a shiny coat and strong bones.
  • Minerals: Minerals maintain healthy bones and teeth and are responsible for a number of other metabolic functions.5

Keep in mind your dog’s activity levels

While activity level shouldn’t prevent you from buying food your dog loves, it should help you determine how much to feed your dog each day. Like humans, dogs need enough calories and nutrients to stay healthy. The more active your dog is, the more calories they will burn, so the more food they will need to eat.5 For example, working dogs, such as police dogs, typically require an additional 40% of food on top of their regular needs.5

Consider your dog’s age, breed, and size

Your dog’s age, breed, and size all play a role in finding the best, healthy dog food. For example, senior dogs typically begin to show age-related changes between the ages of seven and 12.5 In these cases, dogs experience metabolic and body composition changes, which may be managed by diet.5

Additionally, as your dog ages, they will require less food because they’re less active. Therefore, the most important thing you can do for an aging dog is to maintain their body weight to prevent additional illnesses. If your dog is overweight, you’ll need to talk to your vet to determine the best dog food for weight management to help them lose the weight and keep it off while still getting enough nutrients in their diet.

Look for dog food endorsed by AAFCO

When researching different dog food brands, you still need to find a way to ensure you’re feeding your dog high-quality food. If you’re not sure whether the dog food you're considering is high-quality, look for food that’s endorsed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).6

Look for dog food endorsed by the AAFCO

The AAFCO is an association of local, state, and federal agencies that regulate the sale and distribution of pet food.6 A statement on the pet food packaging made by the AAFCO will come with an endorsement stating that the dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition.

Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid

When shopping for pet food, it’s essential to know the ingredients to avoid. While many commercial dog foods are safe and healthy for pets, they can still contain low-quality ingredients, such as:

Animal Byproducts and Generic Meat

Many commercial dog foods contain animal byproducts, such as feet, feathers, beaks, and so on. Animal byproducts are challenging to digest and typically provide very little nutritional value. Instead, look for foods with real meat in them.

Generic meat, such as meat meal and bone meal, can be found in many dog foods. However, it’s not a quality ingredient and may be composed of several types of meats. Instead, look for meats you can recognize on the food label, including chicken and beef.

Artificial Additives

Artificial additives are another common ingredient in dog food. However, they don’t provide any real nutritional value. Artificial additives make the dog food more appealing visually or add flavor to the food.4

Person feeding dog human food

Human Foods

Additionally, many pets get fed table scraps or human food. While many different foods are safe and even healthy for dogs, such as apples and carrots, other foods can be toxic or lead to unnecessary weight gain. If you plan to feed your dog any human food, whether you’re cooking them a meal at home or sharing a snack, avoid the following dog poisons:

  • Chocolate
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Grapes/Raisins
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol

Also, never feed your dog table scraps because they are not nutritionally balanced. Food from the table, such as fat trimmings, can be dangerous and lead to pancreatitis in dogs, while excess sugar, fat, and salt can lead to obesity.7

Best Dog Food: Frequently Asked Questions

What are the healthiest foods for dogs?

The healthiest dog food will depend on your dog's age, size, breed, and activity level. For example, puppies have different nutritional needs than adult and senior dogs, while dogs with medical illnesses, such as diabetes, may require prescription dog food. If you’re not sure what to feed your dog, talk to your vet.

What food should I avoid giving to my dog?

There are many foods to avoid giving your dog, including toxic human foods, such as grapes and chocolate. If your dog suffers from food allergies, you’ll need to determine which ingredient they’re allergic to so you can find a different dog food.

What should I look for when buying dog food?

When buying dog food, always look for food that will offer your dog a complete and balanced diet. However, not all dog food is created equal, so it’s important to learn how to read the labels to find the best dog food for your dog based on their age, breed, size, and activity level.

Final Notes

Finding the best dog food for your best friend can seem difficult because there are so many options, but knowing what makes quality dog food can help you determine which brands to buy and avoid. Of course, you should always talk to your vet about your dog’s diet to ensure they’re getting the proper nutrition. How you feed your dog is also important. For example, if a dog is fed too much, they can become obese, and if your dog eats too quickly, they can experience dangerous stomach bloating.

Not sure what to feed your pet? Ask a Dutch-affiliated vet. Dutch’s affiliated veterinarians can offer advice about your dog's diet from the comfort of your own home. We can help improve your dog’s nutrition by developing a specialized treatment for your furry companion. Whether they need weight management or are a senior dog, we can support you with science-based recommendations.

References

  1. James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “Pet Health: 'You Are What You Eat' Is True for Pets, Too.” SOURCE, 5 Aug. 2019, https://source.colostate.edu/pet-health-you-are-what-you-eat-is-true-for-pets-too/.

  2. Burke, Anna. “Best Dog Food: How To Know What's Right for Your Dog.” American Kennel Club, 12 Nov. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/best-dog-food-choosing-whats-right-for-your-dog/.

  3. Sanderson, Sherry Lynn. “Dog and Cat Foods - Management and Nutrition.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Apr. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-small-animals/dog-and-cat-foods.

  4. “Understand Dog Food Labels - Helpful Guide to Common Terms.” Dogs for Good, 20 Oct. 2020, https://www.dogsforgood.org/good-advice/interpreting-dog-food-packaging/.

  5. “Dog Nutrition Tips.” ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/dog-nutrition-tips.

  6. Traverse, Teresa. “Common Mistakes Owners Might Be Making When It Comes to Dog Food.” American Kennel Club, 5 Mar. 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/dog-food-mistakes-you-might-be-making/.

  7. “Feeding Your Dog.” Best Friends Animal Society, https://resources.bestfriends.org/article/feeding-your-dog.