What to Look for in Dog Food

What to Look for in Dog Food

A dog’s diet affects everything, from your pooch’s health to his growth. What may look unappetizing to us, the kibble or canned food diet for them contains all the essentials they need to thrive – if you pick the right one that is. Most renowned pet food brands adhere to strict guidelines and meet requirements recommended by vets and nutritionists. As a dog parent, you have your work cut out for you. Omnivorous dogs require a balanced diet made up of meats, veggies, and essential ingredients that contain vitamins and minerals.

What to Look for in Dog Food
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We will take a look at what to look for when choosing a brand of dog food, what ingredients to want, and which to avoid.

The Importance of Good Nutrition

There is some debate as to whether a dog requires top-of-the-line food or just something with the most important characteristics at the middle of the line. We’ll leave that up to each dog parent, but there is no debate about the importance of good nutrition for your dog. It doesn’t matter if you opt for dry or wet dog food; the points to watch out for are the same. A good diet functions as a stable foundation for your dog’s growth. When they are puppies to maturity, complete and balanced meals will result in a happy and healthy dog.

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What Needs to be in The Food

What Needs to be in The Food
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5 main components create the best dog nutrition. Different experts may suggest one or two different ones, but the below aspects will always be crucial to a healthy dog.


This may sound like a no-brainer, but animal protein is the first and foremost ingredient you should look for on the dog food label. Not only do the amino acids in protein help growth and development, but it also contributes to repair and maintenance as well.

Healthy Fats

Fat may not always have a positive connotation, but healthy fats from sources such as fish are vital to a dog’s nutrition. The omega 3 fatty acids will help maintain skin and coat health while keeping your dog’s energy levels up.


Carbohydrates are needed in the diet to keep up with your dog’s energy level. They can be found in grains and potatoes found in some dry dog food.

Vitamins and Minerals

Just like humans, animals require healthy amounts of vitamins and minerals. They can come from all of the above-mentioned categories and fruits and veggies in pet food. Vitamins are crucial to organ maintenance and overall health, and minerals help support bone growth, coat maintenance and teeth strengthening.

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What to Look for In Dog Food

What to Look for In Dog Food
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Protein should always be at the top of the dog food ingredients list. In fact, it should take up the first few slots. The ingredient list on dog food labels is listed in weight order, meaning the ingredient that makes up most of the food will be listed first. The protein source on the dog food labels should always be from a clear, named source. Named sources are words such as beef, pork, bison, veal, salmon, etc. Meal meals can sometimes make their way into the top spots on lower-grade dog foods.

Meat meal is considered an “unnamed source” because there is no way to identify what’s in the meal. Meat meal is basically ground portions of cartilage, organs, and other parts of the animal that aren’t used as an individual ingredient. In no way are we saying meat meal is bad; they are okay to have if they aren’t carrying the list by being the main element. Meat meal is perfectly okay to play a supporting role if the first few components on the ingredient list are named animal protein sources.

Next up are whole ingredients. Fruits and veggies and grains will make up a significant portion of the pet food list. Please make sure they are all whole, fresh, and preferably natural and organic. Instead of meals, it’s more likely you will encounter the word “by-product” in the veggies and fruits section.

The lower they are on the list, the better because we always prefer whole and fresh ingredients first. Meals and by-products are acceptable as supporting ingredients and shouldn’t be the focus of a dog food recipe.

The lowest on the list will be additional vitamins and minerals. Just make sure they are as natural as possible. This is also where you can check to see if dog food makers included substances such as glucosamine or chondroitin for joint support and others of the like.

Lastly, it would be best always to make sure the best by date is at least 6 months in the future. The purpose is to look for food that is as freshly made as possible. One way to determine that is how far away the best by date is.

Ingredients to Avoid

Ingredients to Avoid
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Now we know all about what to want in dog foods, but as we mentioned before, there are some items to avoid. You now know to avoid “unnamed sources” that are unclear as animal protein sources. We mentioned that meat meal is okay as a supporting ingredient but shouldn’t be in the first few spots. Another element to avoid is meat by-products. Meat by-products are arguably worse than meals because they are made from unwanted bits full of preservatives.

Any sort of unnamed or generic terms should be avoided. For example, if the first word you see listed on the pet food list is “meat,” this is a red flag because it’s a blanket term. Please make sure the pet food companies are specific with their listings. Another example is “animal fat” – okay, but what animals? Make sure the ingredients are specific. An alternative to the generic and undesirable animal fat is “chicken fat.”

Lastly, and this is kind of a no-brainer, any type of artificial additives or preservatives should be avoided. It’s difficult not to have preservatives of some kind in dry dog food since they can last for a year or two, but make sure it’s from as natural a source as possible such as mixed tocopherols. Dogs don’t process salt and heavy seasoning very well, so while the presence of added sweeteners may entice them, they won’t be present in the best dog food.

You will notice colorful and vivid images of delicious dog food on many pet food packages. Oftentimes, the photos are enough to enticing to you too. However, dogs don’t see color the way we do, nor will how the food looks to appeal to his palate. For this reason, never go for pet food that is brightly colored or has artificial coloring because that’s just for your benefit. Dog owners in the past were more likely to try tastier-looking food on the rack than one that seems bland.

On that note, all artificial additives and ingredients should be avoided. Keep in mind that dog food with natural tocopherols as preservatives will not keep as well, so triple check the best by date and make sure to store it well in a cool, dry place after the package has been opened.

Assess the Ingredients on a Point System

Assess the Ingredients on a Point System
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We credit HomewardPet for this fun game on how to rate your dog’s food. Basically, you start with a 100 point system and deduct or add points depending on the criteria the food satisfies.

Just to give you an idea, each by-product will cost you 10 points, as will non-specific and generic terms. If the first five ingredients are not named sources of animal proteins but made up of grain, you also take away 10 points.

Artificial ingredients will take away 3 points, and if corn rears its head on the top 5 spots, it’s also another 3 points down. To add to the point system, you need organic ingredients to redeem 5 points, and healthy additives such as probiotics and vitamins and minerals will earn you anywhere from 2-3 points. Ideally, you want the results to be as close to 100 as possible and hopefully over.

For research purposes, we will assess the brand we feed our dogs, which is Orijen Tundra. We came up with a tentative score of 126. The score results from the fresh ingredients, the 15 named meat sources, the presence of fruits, veggies, glucosamine, and chondroitin, among others. So far, 126 isn’t bad, and there are some items on the list that aren’t extremely necessary, such as being endorsed by a nutritionist. So use your best judgment to determine what’s good for your dogs.

How Much to Feed Your Dog

How Much to Feed Your Dog
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The amount of food your dog needs for complete and balanced nutrition will hinge on various factors; some include his activity level, breed, size, age, and health. Another thing to remember is your pet will require much less nutrient-dense pet food than ones that are full of non-nutritious alternatives such as by-products and meals. It’s the quality of the pet food, not the quantity that’s important.

An active fur baby may need to eat more, or instead of heaping on extra kibble, you can assess dog food nutrient profiles to determine ones that meet your dog’s energy levels. The breed and the size of your dog will have an impact on how much food you feed as well. Certain breeds have ingrained ancestry that makes them less likely to overeat, while others have no such gene.

It’s also possible that your pooch will require specific dog nutrition due to health reasons. Senior dogs may require focused recipes with only essential ingredients, and pregnant or nursing dogs will require food as rich in nutrients as puppy food. It all depends on the condition of your dog and the life stage he’s in.

The person most knowledgeable about your dog’s individual needs is your vet. Before switching to other pet food manufacturers, we recommend scheduling a meeting with your vet to discuss more specific needs.

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Feeding Directions

Feeding Directions
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The next issue that could affect what to look for in dog food is how you feed your pup. For example, if you choose canned food, we would definitely not suggest free feeding. Free feeding means leaving out your dog’s daily portion of kibble for him to eat as much as he wants whenever he wants. Keep in mind that this method will not teach your dog about food scarcity and is only recommended with kibble and in households with one pet.

If you are a multiple-dog family or have other pets, there is a high chance they will get into each other’s food which can be dangerous if there are elements in the food unsuitable for other species or cause health problems like obesity from eating more than just one dog’s portion.

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We also only recommend free-feeding or grazing if your dog self regulates and isn’t an overeater. If your dog is the type to gobble down his portions quickly, then there is an outstanding possibility that he falls under this category.

For dogs that are passionate eaters, we recommend timed feeding. This method is where dog parents put out pet foods at specific times during the day, so your dog has a sense of urgency. He will understand that if he doesn’t eat now, the food will get taken away in a certain amount of time. This will break many bad habits but can also cause fast feeding. To avoid your dog gulping too quickly in fear of losing the food, we suggest giving him ample time, such as 20 min, before taking the bowl away.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best ingredients to look for in dog foods?

In general, clearly named meat sources as the first 5 ingredients at least, no by-products and meals in the top spots, veggies, fruits, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and carbs. All of them should be derived from natural, fresh, organic and whole foods. Definitely avoid artificial elements such as preservatives, coloring, and sweeteners.

What is the healthiest food for your dog?

The healthiest food for your dog is debatable. The answer highly depends on your dog’s individual needs and health profile. Your pooch may need focused foods that target certain dog nutrition, or he may need a prescription diet. Each breed also has different needs, as do ones in different life stages.

The best way to ensure balanced dog nutrition is to go for high-quality ingredients with named meats in the first few spots. It’s also a good idea to consider recipes balanced with essential vitamins and minerals, vegetables and fruit, as well as healthy fats and carbs from natural sources.

How do you know if the dog food is of good quality?

You will know dog food is of good quality if they satisfy the nutritional profiles outlined by the AAFCO. That’s not to say formulas that don’t are any less desirable. Taking a closer look at the guaranteed analysis and the ingredients list will help you make a decision. Keep preservatives and artificial ingredients as far away from your dog as possible. The first ingredients should be named meat sources. Meal meals are okay as supporting ingredients.

What is the best dog food recommended by vets?

There is no perfect dog food recommended by vets. This is because dogs have different needs according to breed, size, life stage, and health requirements. In general, a focused diet and one free of artificial additives and preservatives are ideal. The first ingredients should also be clearly named protein sources bolstered by organic, natural and whole foods. Puppies require puppy formulas that are higher in carbs and protein to support their growth, while the need for such high amounts will diminish as your dog ages.


Even if your dog prefers dry food that isn’t as high quality as another brand, you can still support his diet by adding supplements. If you have any questions regarding the quality of the foods to feed your dog, ask your vet. They are the most knowledgeable in what ingredients your dog requires to maintain overall health. Remember, the way to a happy and healthy pooch is through their stomach! It’s never too late to start, with the best time being right now.

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Did You Know?

Subscription diets are the least processed and recommended it follows clear nutrient guidelines and satisfy your dog’s needs. Before trying to create your own recipe, definitely ask your vet’s opinion first.

Expert Tip

There are people food you can also add to your dog’s meals. On occasion, fresh apples, spinach, cucumbers, and steamed chicken breasts are healthy and delicious treats your dog will appreciate.

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