How to Choose a Dog Food - Part 1

We all love our dogs deeply and want them to live a long, happy, healthy life. The food you feed your dog plays a significant role in that quality of life. Therefore, choosing what to feed your dog can be a challenging and overwhelming decision. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the best food for your beloved pet.

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” ~Ann Wigmore

Different Types of Food When someone mentions “dog food,” we all think of kibble. Although kibble is the most popular type of dog food, there are a surprising number of other (often healthier) options. Homemade raw, premade raw (such as Answers), air-dried raw (such as Ziwi Peak), dehydrated raw (such as Honest Kitchen) and freeze-dried raw (such as Open Farm) can all be fantastic options, but will typically be more expensive and potentially more work than kibble. If you’re interested in learning more about raw feeding, check out this blog post! Raw offers countless benefits (see some of them here), but it isn’t practical for everyone. If you have done your research and have decided that kibble is for you, there are plenty of options to choose from!

What to Look For On the food label, pay close attention to the ingredients list and guaranteed analysis. This information will help you determine the quality of the kibble.

Quality You are what you eat and so is your dog, so quality ingredients should be the highest priority when choosing a food. “Dogs are identified as facultative carnivores (not omnivores) because while they can survive on a plant-based diet, they thrive on a carnivorous diet.”¹. Therefore, the majority of their diet should be meat.

Meat as the first ingredient is not enough to determine a kibble’s quality. Ingredients are listed by predominance and descend by weight. This can be deceiving though, because those ingredients are listed including their moisture content. Meat has a high moisture content, so without the water weight, the meat ingredient could fall much lower on the list on a dry matter basis. So if ingredients are listed as: Chicken, Rice, Whole Grain Wheat (as in this Pro Plan variety), meat is actually not the first ingredient. When you subtract that moisture weight from meat (chicken is ~70-80% moisture), rice and whole grain wheat make up the majority of that food. Not meat!

You will see a lot of kibble contains some kind of “meat meal,” such as beef meal or chicken meal. “Meat meal is a dried end-product of the cooking process known as rendering. Rendering is a lot like making stew — except that this stew is intentionally over-cooked. With rendering, you start with a meat stew, cook away the water and bake the residue. And you end up with a highly concentrated protein powder — or meat meal.”² Meat meals can be a good source of protein and if it’s high on the ingredient list, it makes up a good portion of the food since it doesn’t contain water weight. Meat meals can be high or low quality; look for specific protein meals (such as beef meal) and avoid lower-quality meals that don’t list the protein source, such as “meat meal,” "poultry meal" or “animal meal.”

All kibble will contain carbohydrates, but the amount and the source are very important. Carbohydrates are sugars and starches that are broken down into the simple sugar, glucose. Carbs are a source of energy, but it’s important to note that dogs have no nutritional requirement for dietary carbohydrate.³ They can acquire all the energy they need from protein and fat alone. Carbs are used not for the benefit of your pet, but because they are a cheap filler and are used to bind the kibble together so that it maintains its shape through processing.