How do we find dog food?
Over the decades of writing and editing for pet and veterinary publications, we have interviewed numerous veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists. We have also had the opportunity to feed our dogs many different brands and types of food.
It is important to note that our veterinarians have not specifically approved any of the products in this guide. When you think about it, this makes sense, as most vets agree that the best food for each individual dog will vary based on a variety of factors. So, to make choices for this guide, we consulted four vets, including a certified veterinary nutritionist and professor of animal sciences and nutrition, about the qualities to look for in healthy dog food and what to avoid. From there, we used the information collected to guide our choices.
Each food in this guide is complete and balanced according to Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines, contains the highest quality ingredients, and delivers the correct levels of protein, fat, and fiber for their respective categories.
When making choices, we also referred to educational resources from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and global feeding guidelines published by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA).
What to look for in dog food, in order of importance:
AFCO Nutritional Efficiency Statement: This is the most important factor in determining whether a dog’s food is healthy or not. Any food you feed your dog must say on the label that it meets the nutritional standards set by AFCO. This means that the food is “complete and balanced” for the dog’s life stage. You can learn more about these standards and definitions on the next slide.
Guaranteed analysis: This is where you’ll find the percentages of the most important nutrients in food: protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. Sometimes, you may find other nutrients like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega fatty acids included in the foolproof analysis as well. Shepherd says it’s worth checking if the brand routinely tests its end product to make sure it meets standards. (You can usually find this information on the brand’s website.) All of the foods in this guide contain moderate to high protein (the minimum AAFCO is 22% for puppies and 18% for adults) and low to moderate fat (the minimum AAFCO is 22% for puppies and 18% for adults). 8.5% for puppies and 5.5% for adults).
Ingredients list: Navigating the ingredient list doesn’t have to be intimidating. The first thing to look for at the top of the list is animal sources of protein. You’ll find these in the top slot in all the foods featured in this guide. Whole meats are ideal, but they tend to be quite heavy due to their water content. With dry food, this water is removed, so the meat content may not be as high as it seems. Also, there is no need to cross out meat meals, which are usually made from parts of animals that humans don’t eat. These can be excellent sources of protein if they are of high quality. Since the water has already been removed, it may contain more protein than whole meat.
Healthy Extras: Swanson notes that some foods contain additional ingredients intended to support healthy skin, coat, and joints. Examples include long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA; usually from oils or seafood), omega-6 fatty acids (safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, flaxseed, etc.), glucosamine, chondroitin, green-lipped mussels and vitamins. Additional (vitamin A, biotin) and minerals (
, copper). Probiotics, prebiotics, and yeast can also benefit a puppy’s immature digestive system and probiotics may help boost general immunity in older dogs.
Calorie content: Dogs may start to gain weight if they are consuming extra calories. This can cause health problems, so look for the calorie content listed in calories, or k/cals, on the nutrition label. If your dog is not very active, he will need fewer calories, and if your dog is very active (for example, a performance or working dog), he will need more calorie-rich meals. Helping your dog feel satisfied with their food is really important, and size can help with that. Ideally, you want your dog to eat as much food as possible while staying within the ideal daily calorie range. Check out this calorie calculator to determine how many calories your dog needs. In general, foods that achieved this balance were rated higher in our selection process. As always, your vet can also help you see if you are feeding your dog the right amount of calories.
Feeding experiences: If the food has undergone nutrition experiments in addition to the laboratory analysis of the food components, this is an added advantage. “Doing nutrition testing is expensive, and foods fortified with nutrition testing are made by companies that put a lot of resources into quality control,” Shepherd says. If the statement of nutritional fitness on the label says something along the lines of: “Animal nutrition tests using AAFCO procedures prove it.” [product] Provides complete and balanced nutrition for [life stage]This means that the food has been shown by feeding trials to be palatable, easy to digest and able to be tolerated by pets over time.
Expert combinations: When choosing a dog food, it is very important to consider who actually decided what will come in the food. Shepherd says you’ll want to look for companies that have a doctoral-level nutritionist with experience in dog nutrition. The brand should also employ food scientists collaborating with nutritionists. For this guide, we’ve prioritized brands that have a dedicated nutritionist on staff to align with WSAVA’s recommendations.
Next Level Components: Despite the marketing messages, organic, organic, wild-caught, or cage-free products aren’t necessarily healthier for your pet. But, if you care about the well-being of the animals you (and your pets) eat, these ingredients are a plus. Unlike farmed fish, wild caught fish are not handled
Or medications, so they may also be better for your dog. You’ll also find some meat and egg foods from cage-free chicken and turkey.