Choosing The Best Food For Your Dog

So, your dogs are pretty important to you, right? And you want what is best for them? Well the first place you can start providing the best for them is to address their diet, after all, diet is the foundation of health. 

Before I begin on this post, I would just like to say that I am in no way paid or asked to promote any of the products mentioned in this blog, and have formed my own opinions on them. Any links to references, veterinary or nutritionist articles and scientific papers will be at the end.

Also, please, do not take this blog offensively in any way. I understand how hard money can be for some people, and I completely understand that the 'higher quality' commercial foods are not affordable for some. And of course, dogs need to eat something! So what I always say is, if you CAN afford it, then always try to go for better. I'm just writing this so people can make informed choices, whatever they choose to feed their pets. 

Photo of Daisy & Charlie taken by Rebecca Ashworth Photography
What Dogs Need.

Let's start with what dogs DO need. Dogs need a predominantly meat-based diet. Dogs are considered carnivores by genus but have been found to have opportunistic tendencies, meaning they may or may not scrounge for food to survive on in the wild. This does not mean that dogs are omnivores because they can 'survive' on scraps of food like some believe. They are carnivores, with opportunistic tendencies. 

This is because dogs do not produce a substantial amount the amylase enzyme to break down starches in carbohydrates nor do they produce enough of the cellulase enzyme to break down the cellulose in fruits and vegetables efficiently. They also have carnivorous teeth, a short digestive tract and an acidic stomach PH of 1-2 that all resemble that of their carnivorous ancestors. They are opportunists in that they can, if needed, 'survive' off a diet consisting of starches.

So this means that dogs don't 'need' carbohydrates in their diet, it is not a dietary requirement. So when picking a commercial food, you want foods with a high meat content, and little if any carbohydrates. 

This particular blog is about picking a complete commercial dog food, either wet or dry. So let's look at the ingredients in them, in more depth.

Photo of  Charlie taken by Rebecca Ashworth Photography
Meat Content

Meat, or protein, is THE most important thing a dog can eat, as it is the easiest digested source of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Dogs, as a species, have evolved to eat meat and lots of it. 

The first ingredient in any dog food should be a named meat source like beef, chicken, lamb, or any other protein source you choose. I would always advise avoiding any dog food that does not name their meat source - if it says 'meat and animal derivatives', 'meat meal' and 'animal fats and oils' then stay clear. In my opinion, I want to know exactly what my dogs are eating. 

European Law deems that 'meat and animal derivatives' are "all the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals, fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment, and all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcass or parts of the carcass of warm-blooded animals". Does that make any sense to you? The term is defined extremely vaguely, with no real idea of what your dog is actually eating! These meat and animal by-products are often the cheapest they could find at that time, and often change depending which animals are more available... and on top of that, the meat is generally 'cheap' for a reason. It is likely low in any nutrition and is certainly not chosen for their quality or ethics in how the animals lived previous to slaughter. Some manufacturers even use this term simply because the meat protein names might put some customers off buying the product, which doesn't sound like it would be a good protein source, does it?

Dog food may contain more than one protein source. More commonly seen, is a mixture of a meat source and a fish source, which is great as long as they are both named. Fish like salmon, trout and other oily fish are great, as they contain amino acids and other goodies for a dogs skin, coat and joint health. Containing more than one protein source is great if your dog does not have an intolerance to what may be within that food.

Sadly, because meat is so expensive in this day and age, many of the cheaper manufacturers will substitute meat sources with other protein sources. Let's not confuse meat with protein! So some dog foods contain high amounts of soya, maize and potato as protein sources, to make up for lacking in meat protein. The problem with this is that dogs cannot digest these easily, meaning a higher chance of dietary intolerance, and putting extra strain on their digestive system.

So, when picking a dog food, make sure the ingredients state a named meat source, which is a large proportion of the diet. For example, I've listed the ingredients in two different dog foods below, one is high quality, the other is low quality... which would you pick?

"Chicken 19%, Chicken 18% (from Dried Chicken), Salmon 15%, Herring 12.5% (from Dried Herring), Potato 12%, Chicken Fat 4.5%, Duck 4% (from Dried Duck), Sweet Potato 3.5%, Whole Egg 2.5% (from Dried Egg), Chicken Liver 2.5%, White Fish 2%, Pea Fibre 2%, Lucerne, Chickpea, Minerals & Vitamins, Carrot, Spinach, Apple, Rosehips, Chamomile, Burdock Root, Seaweed, Cranberry, Aniseed & Fenugreek, Fructooligosaccharides (461 mg/kg), Glucosamine (341mg/Kg), MSM (341mg/Kg), Chondroitin (240mg/Kg), Thyme, Marjoram, Oregano, Parsley, Sage."

Or "Cereals, Meat and Animal Derivatives (including 4% Chicken), Oils and Fats (including 0.2% Fish Oil, 0.2% Sunflower Oil), Derivatives of Vegetable Origin (including 2% Dried Beet Pulp), Minerals (including 0.7% Sodium Tripolyphosphate), Antioxidants, Preservatives"

I have highlighted the bad ingredients you need to avoid. The sad thing is, the second list of ingredients, is a major pet food company sold in the UK (of which I will not name), yet so many people do not realise how poor the food actually is. 

Photo of Daisy taken by Rebecca Ashworth Photography
Grains, Carbohydrates and Cereals

In my opinion, any decent dry or wet dog food is completely grain free. But do not fall into the trap of grain free meaning it does not contain any carbohydrates, grain free does not mean carbohydrate free. In particular with dry foods - they all need some form of 'starch' to act as a glue to hold the little bit of kibble together, and to hold it's shape. This means even the highest quality of dry food contains some form of starch. It's unavoidable, so this is something to take into account when decided between wet foods and dry.

That is one of the reasons I would personally choose a high-quality wet food over a high-quality dry food, though some may have other factors to take into account (shelf life, storage, packaging etc). Another reason I would personally pick a wet food over a dry food is the moisture content. Dry foods are very low in moisture, and can 'swell' in the stomach, increasing the risk of bloat. Some lower the risk by soaking dry food before feeding it, some lower it by not feeding dry foods at all. 

The main issue I have with carbohydrates in a dogs diet is their capability of digesting them. As I said above, dogs lack the necessary amount of the amylase enzyme to efficiently digest them and gain anything from them. While dogs may live a perfectly healthy, and long life on a carbohydrate-based diet, there are some that don't. Some do not cope, whether it be shown through allergies and dietary intolerance's, digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and other gastric problems, or through something more severe like liver disease. If dogs show any kind of 'issue', the diet should always be considered as a factor, even if it may not be the cause at all, just to rule it out.

Photo of  Charlie taken by Rebecca Ashworth Photography

In this section, I will list the worst additives that can be in a dog food, and why it is something that should be avoided. The first one is artificial colourings. Even in the 1950's artificial colourings have been linked to behaviour issues in children, and this can be the same for dogs too. Ever asked that hyper dog's owner down the street what they feed their dog? A hyperactive dog means a dog that has a shorter attention span, is harder to train, harder to handle and just generally a bit of a 'nuisance'.

Many people have seen a considerable difference in their dogs' behaviour once change to a higher quality food (including my own dog). So, if a dog food says 'colourings', 'e numbers', 'sunset yellow', 'tartrazine', 'ponceau 4r', or 'titanium dioxide'... avoid! I'm pretty sure a dog doesn't care what colour their food is, as long as it tastes good. 

Another ingredient to avoid like the plague is Propylene Glycol. This ingredient is hands down the worst ingredient in any pet food, despite that it is approved for use in pet foods. It is most commonly found in 'semi-moist' foods. This ingredient is basically a 'cousin' to Ethylene Glycol... which is antifreeze!

Dry Foods and Wet Foods I recommend (and would feed to my own dogs)
  • Acana
  • Eden
  • Pure Pet Food
  • Taste of the Wild
  • Applaws
  • Orijen
  • Simpsons
  • Barking Heads
  • Canagan
  • Fishmongers Finest
  • Forthglade
  • Naturediet
  • Lily's Kitchen
  • Millie's Wolfheart
  • Natures Menu
Photo of Daisy taken by Rebecca Ashworth Photography
Moving on from commercial foods, you could always feed a fresh food diet, which is nutritionally going to be the best, but that's for a whole other post!

I hope this blog post has been useful to anyone that needed help with picking a decent commercial food for their dog. Again, I want to stress that I am in no way paid/sponsored to name any of the products in this blog and that I am in no way claiming to be a professional on this. This blog is formed from my own reading a research.

Here are some links below I would recommend, for further reading and research:

The Best and Worst Pet Foods, by Dr Karen Becker

Three Major Reasons to Feed Your Pet a Homemade Diet, by Dr Karen Becker

Grain Free Dog Foods: Solving Yeast and Skin Issues, by Dogs Naturally Magazine.

The Truth About Dog Food and Supplements, by Dana Scott, Dogs Naturally Magazine.

Dog Food: Ten Scary Truths, by Jan Rasmusen, Dogs Naturally Magazine.

What is in Your Dogs Food? by Dogs Naturally Magazine.

Why Most Manufactured Foods Should Not be Fed to Cats and Dogs, by Dr Michael Fox DVM, Dogs Naturally Magazine.

How to Select Top Quality Canned Dog Foods, by Nancy Kerns, Whole Dog Journal.

Pet Food Research, by Fiona McCann, Canine Health Concern.

Ingredients Glossary, by All About Dog Food.

Dog Feeding Guide, by All About Dog Food.

The Ingredients List - Seeing Through the Smoke and Mirrors, by David Jackson, All About Dog Food.

Dry Dog Food: The Cost of Convenience, by David Jackson, All About Dog Food.

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