Picking Dog Foods
Learn what to look for in food to suit your dogs unique needs.
With so many options for dog food and so much information, how do you choose what food is best for your dog? You want to spoil them and keep them healthy! On this page we’ll show you how to pick the right food that is nutritious, tasty, and will keep your dog fit and healthy!
When choosing your dogs food, you really need to pay attention to 3 main things. This is just an overview, and more details can be found below.
The first thing you must always do is listen to your vet! They will always know the most about your dogs needs and what they should avoid. So make sure you check with your vet and get a clear explanation o your dogs needs, sensitivities, and allergies.
Next to look for is the quality of the food. The sections below have more info, but just remember that cost doesn’t matter. Expensive foods can still be poor quality and lots of the best brands are the same cost as more well-known brands. Look at ingredients, protein, fillers, and more to find the best fit.
Every dog is unique! They can be big or small, puppies or adults, high energy or low energy, and may have some other medical needs. Remember to read the details here and go looking for the exact food for your dogs unique needs!
Meat should be the first ingredient on the list for any dog food. Dogs should get lots of their calories from protein, so make sure you feed them the right way.
Protein should make up 18-29% of the calories listed on the back of the package. Make sure it’s the right amount of protein for your dogs needs – higher or lower based on age, activity, and medical issues.
Dogs need fiber just as much as humans do, so some of the weight of their food should definitely be filler. Most dog foods will have between 2-4% fiber, but your dog may need more depending on digestion needs.
Some dogs will need more fiber if they have sensitive stomachs, need to lose weight, or need to go to the bathroom more often, like puppies.
Because the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the USA has more strict guidelines for foods than many other countries, it’s safest to only buy dog foods and treats produced in the USA. For more info, keep reading here:
Every dog is unique so it's good to know what your dogs needs are, depending on their unique lifestyle. The main factors are listed below.
The the section on “How Much Should My Dog Weigh?” helps you determine exactly how many calories your dog needs. Just remember the simple rule that bigger dogs need more calories and smaller dogs need fewer calories.
As long as you read the nutrition label and know how many calories are in each scoop, it’s easy to get it right!
This part is simple. Simply feed your dog more if they are more active! And of course don’t forget to feed them less on days when they’re less active! Lastly, don’t forget that puppies will usually be more active and older dogs will be less active, so adjust your dogs intake to keep them at a healthy weight!
Puppies will usually need more calories because they’re growing very fast. Older dogs tend to need fewer calories than you would think because of their lower activity. A big concern for dogs as they get older is keeping their weight down to keep stress off their joints! Even though feeding your dog more may feel like the nice thing to do, it might be more harmful in the long run!
While your dogs breed will tell you a lot about their calorie needs, it still mainly comes down to size and energy levels.
Also, many dogs are mixes so it’s hard to tell what the dominant breed is anyway! Ultimately, your dogs individual personality and activity level is what matters most.
Some dogs may need to eat more if they are healing from an injury or surgery, and some may need to eat less if they are having an issues with their stomachs. This is absolutely an issues to discuss with your vet. As always, ask your vet if you have any concerns or questions about food!
Now that you know the details of how to pick a food, we can put it all together and understand some popular recommended brands.
Puppy foods will sometime be made of smaller kibbles for small mouths, but most importantly should be high protein and low calcium. High protein will help support the fast growth of a young dog, and keeping calcium low while bones are growing will help avoid issues like hip dysplasia. You can keep feeding these foods until well into adulthood to be safe.
Foods designed specifically for small breed dogs (less than 20 pounds) will be made of smaller kibbles and have more calories per cup than other foods, since smaller dogs have faster metabolisms relative to their weight.
Foods designed for large breed dogs tend to contain more calories and supplements for joint support, like chondroitin, glucosamine, and omega-3’s. For adult large breed dogs, these are a must. For large breed puppies (up to 24 months!), you’ll need specific foods with less calcium, as too much can hip issues in developing bones. Make sure to choose appropriately!
Organic dog foods can avoid many of the preservatives and chemicals that humans try to avoid in our diets too. These tend to be a bit more expensive and a bit more healthful for your dog. Raw foods can provide far better nutrition for your dog, but at the risk of contamination. Brands that specialize in raw foods can take much of the risk and confusion out of the process of this type of nutrition-packed diet.
Before deciding to switch to any of the following foods, consult your vet to see just what kinds of restrictions your dog may have. Many of the following foods address these restrictions by minimizing the number of ingredients, and in some cases reducing or eliminating specific ones altogether. This doesn’t mean that grains, fats, fillers, etc. are necessarily bad. Your vet will be able to explain how to best explain your dogs unique needs.
Because dog breeds come in so many different shapes and sizes, and every dog is unique, there is no way to know what every dog is supposed to weigh. You can get a good idea by using a calories calculator like this one: Calorie Ranges For An Adult Dog
Your dog’s appearance can also be a very good sign of whether they’re at the right weight. The ideal shape for most dogs is where their chest sticks out and “tucks” into a lean abdomen, like this example from www.raw-cut.com:
Switching your dog to eating a new food can be surprisingly difficult because doing it too quickly can cause diarrhea! Just make sure to plan ahead. You should take about a week to slowly mix in the new food and remove the old food. Switch out 25% every 2 days for a smooth transition.
How often your dog eats is really a personal choice, but a few factors will help you decide. Most owners feed their dogs 1 -3 times per day, and this can vary based on age, potty training, and scheduling difficulties.
Grain-free foods were developed for dogs that have sensitivities to grains. Unless your vet has told you that your dog should avoid grains for a medical reason, there's no need for dogs to avoid grains. Grains are a good source of fiber and lots of nutrients.
Recent research is also showing that grain-fee diets are strongly linked to Dilated Cardiomyopathy, a deadly disease for dogs. It’s best to be safe and include grains in your dog diet.
Here is some more info from a study at UC Davis on grain-free diets linked to DCM:
Look at the poop! Seriously! It might be gross, but your dog’s poop is a really good way to know if they’re stomach is handling their food well. If it’s too runny, then the food is going through too quick, and you may need more fiber, or you switched to a new food too quickly. Here is a very informative chart from Royal Canin on dog poop!: