As dog owners, the health and well-being of our four-legged friends is something that is extremely important to us. One of the biggest considerations that we have is how best to feed our dogs. There are so many different diets discussed, not to mention the thousands of brands on the market that it can be very difficult to choose the best dog food. Let’s take a look at some of the options available and examine whether or not they will be the best dog food option.
The most important thing you need to remember is that when it comes to choosing the best dog food for your pet, there is not a single solution that works for everyone. The best food for dogs can depend on a number of different factors including their size, breed, lifestyle, age and overall health. It is not a case of just getting some recommendations and going for the most popular choice. You need to think carefully about what your dog actually needs.
There are some dogs which require very different nutrition than others so it is important to take this into consideration when trying to figure out what is the best dog food to buy. It is useful to think about the various dietary requirements of humans. Even two children in the same family can require a different diet if for example one is diabetic or has an allergy to wheat. It is exactly the same for dogs, so we need to make allowances for that and treat each dog as an individual.
List of 6 common dog food options
There are a couple of options when it comes to choosing the most appropriate diet for your dog. Each of them comes with their own pros and cons, so it is really a case of researching them and trying to decide which is the best dog food for your individual animal. The common diets are as follows:
- Dry Commercial Dog Food
- Wet Commercial Dog Food
- Combination of Wet & Dry Commercial Dog Foods
- Home-made Dog Food
- Natural Dog Foods
- Raw Diet
Let’s take a closer look at some of the good and bad points of each of these diet choices to see which, if any offers the best food for dogs.
Commercial dog food diets
The most common choice for most dog owners is a commercial dog food diet. This could be an entirely dry diet, a wet diet (canned meat) or a combination of the two. It is generally a case of convenience rather than because it is the best dog food available.
Commercial dog food can be purchased at the grocery store with the rest of your food and is usually fairly inexpensive. There are pros and cons associated with both wet and dry dog foods, so let’s take a quick look at those first of all.
Pros & cons of wet food
One of the benefits of wet dog food is that many animals do not actually drink enough fluids, so feeding your dog wet dog food can be a great source of hydration. It also has a much richer flavor and smell which can make it more appealing to your dog thus encouraging him or her to eat even when they are perhaps feeling a little under the weather. Since it is soft, wet food is also the best dog food for dogs with dental problems, misaligned jaws or smaller mouths.
However, on the flip side, wet food can be much messier when your dog eats resulting in additional clean up for the owner. It can also mean a great risk of dental problems. Wet food is more expensive than dry food and must be bought in smaller quantities since it can spoil fairly quickly.
If you want to know more about wet dog food, we have a great article on the health benefits of canned food, as well as what to look for and recommendations of the top canned dog foods to consider.
Pros & cons of dry food
The main advantage of choosing dry dog food is that it is very convenient to store and to feed. Since you do not need to worry about it spoiling, dry food is the best dog food to leave out for free feeding where the dog eats at its own pace. If you have to leave your dog home all day while you work then dry food is a good choice as you can leave enough out to last all day.
Dry food is also more cost effective making it ideal for multiple dog homes. Small pieces of dry food can also be used as training treats and certain brands are shaped in such a way that they can also clean your dogs teeth.
However, the disadvantage of dry food is that it does not contain much moisture as wet food, so you do need to make sure that the dog has access to plenty of fresh drinking water. It may not be the best dog food if you live somewhere with a hot climate. Additionally, if your dog is older, or suffering from an illness then dry food may be better avoided due to the lack of moisture.
As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with both wet and dry food. As long as you purchase a good quality dog food which is nutritionally balanced your dog can thrive on either type of dog food. It is really a case of looking at your dog’s individual needs and then determining which of them is the best dog food to feed them.
You can also decide to have the best of both worlds and feed a mixed diet of both wet and dry foods. You can do this either by feeding one meal of each every day or by mixing the two together in the same dish. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that dry or wet food is the best dog food so it comes down to your preference and your dog’s taste.
There are many people who believe that commercial dog food is not the best food for dogs. This is based on the fact that the dog food industry is not strictly regulated and many of the budget brands use some nasty ingredients which offer little to no nutritional value to your dog.
Never be fooled by labels that call dog food premium or gourmet, the truth is all in the ingredients. Look for dog food which has a high percentage of a named meat (IE chicken, beef, or duck) rather than simply listing ‘meat’ or protein. Avoid brands that contain too much grain or corn as these can actually upset your dog’s digestive tract.
Not sure what’s out there in the market to choose from? Please read our article on finding the best dry food for your dog.
Home-made dog food diets
Often knowing that the dog food industry is poorly regulated prompts dog owners to attempt to make their own home-made dog food which many people feel is the best dog food choice as it means you will know exactly what is going in to the food.
Feeding a home-made diet is a good choice, and many dogs do thrive on it but it is important to realize that it is not simply a case of cooking some meat up! You need to carefully balance out the food to ensure that your dog gets all of the nutrition it requires so if you are going to undertake a home-made diet then you do need to be prepared to do plenty of research.
You need to find some really great recipes that are not going to fall short when it comes to vitamins and minerals. In order to create the best dog food in your own home you need to seek out recipes that have been approved by dog nutrition experts. The best dog food needs to have the right balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates with additional sources of calcium and essential fatty acids.
You must follow recipes to the letter as some seemingly inconsequential changes like removing chicken skin can actually completely change the nutritional value. Similarly, some oils provide essential fatty acids while others do not.
Is home-made the best dog food? It might well be, but you need to try it and find out. After 2 or 3 weeks on your home cooking have your vet check on your dog to see how it is getting along with the diet. The advantages of a home-made diet is that you know exactly what is going into your dog food, but on the downside it does take a lot of work, plenty of research and it can be tricky to get the nutritional balance just right.
Natural dog food diets
If you are not comfortable with feeding a commercial dog food diet, and you do not have the time necessary to perfect the right home-made dog food, then the best dog food for your pet could be natural dog food. Given the lack of regulation in the dog food industry, many dog owners are feeling like the best idea is to choose natural or organic dog food. However, it is important to understand that these are also commercial dog foods.
You need to be very careful about checking the label to see just what is going into your natural brand of dog food. You should be looking for one with a high percentage of species specified meat and which does not contain any cheap fillers like corn. Do not be fooled by those claiming to be ‘complete and balance’ as these tend only to meet the minimum requirements in terms of appropriate canine nutrition.
It can be difficult to tell which dog food brands are actually organic, so we’ve made it easy for you in our article focused on organic dog food and the brands you can find on the shelves of your local pet store.
Raw dog food diets
Another diet that is gaining popularity is the raw food diet. There are some dog owners who insist that the best dog food is a raw diet with lots of bones, fruits and vegetables. It is a diet that working dogs have thrived on for some time, but the idea of feeding raw food to pets is a relatively new one. Those is favor of a raw food diet (sometimes known as BARF diet) insist that this is an evolutionary choice of the best dog food since before dogs were domesticated they would have eaten a diet like this.
Some of the benefits that are associated with the raw food diet include shinier coat, healthier skin, cleaner teeth and higher energy levels leading many to believe that this is the best dog food option. However, those opposed to a raw diet also highlight the risks associated to this type of feeding citing that raw meat can contain harmful bacteria and that bones have the potential to choke your dog, damage their teeth and even cause internal puncture wounds.
If you do decide that a raw diet is the best food for dogs then you will need to feed a combination of meat (usually still on the bone), bones, organ meat (liver, kidney and so on), raw eggs, vegetables, fruit and some yoghurt or other dairy source.
A raw food diet does offer better nutrition than commercial dog food, but experts suggest that it would be better to opt for a diet of home-made dog food due to the risks associated with feeding raw meat. It can be difficult to get the balance of nutrients correct in a raw diet, so again careful research is a must if you decide that the best dog food is raw!
What does my dog’s diet need to include?
All of these diets may appear to be very different, but at the root they are all based on the same ingredients. The differences lie in the quantities and the method by which they are prepared. Every single dog regardless of the breed, size or age needs four essential elements in their diet and the best dog food should cover all of those bases. The four essentials for your dog are as follows:
- Protein – As a minimum, your dog’s diet should be at least 18% protein. However, for optimum health and growth you should aim for around 25% to 30% protein. This should come mainly from animal based proteins. This is something you should be aware of when choosing commercial dog foods since many manufacturers keep costs down by using vegetable based proteins which can actually be very difficult for your dog to digest.
The best dog food will use only animal proteins from a named species. Be careful not to overdo it on the protein since too much can lead to hyperactivity.
- Fat – Just like human beings, our dogs also need fat in their diet, but it should be the right kind of fat! A healthy adult dog needs about 5% fat as a minimum in their diet, but about 10%-15% is the best. Never be tempted to buy low fat dog food, even if your dog needs to lose a few pounds there are better ways to go about shifting the pounds. Dogs need this fat to provide energy and to keep their coats shiny and healthy.
- Vitamins – This is the area that many dog foods are lacking in. We need to make sure that our dogs are getting the right vitamins and minerals in their diet. This could mean giving them a supplement to boost their vitamin intake. It is best to consult your vet to determine which supplements and which dosage your dog needs.
- Water – Dog’s need to be properly hydrated and the amount of fluid that they need will depend on their activity levels. However, you need to be aware that if you are feeding exclusively dry food then even more water is required – about a quart of water for every pound of dry kibble consumed.
In terms of the quantity of food you are feeding, most dogs need to eat twice per day. Puppies eat more often, but for an adult dog a morning and an evening meal is sufficient. The portions will depend of the size of your dog and most commercial brands offer a guideline on the packaging. For toy breeds you should be feeding between a half cup and a full cup of food while larger dogs should be eating between 4 and 7 cups. Talk to your vet about the right portion for your own pet.
How to ensure that particular diet is good for your pet?
It is difficult to know what the best food for dogs is just by looking at the different brands. There is going to be some degree of trial and error required since you can never know for sure that you have the right one until after your dog starts eating it. The best that you can do is to narrow the choices down to a few that offer all of the nutrition your dog needs and then try each of them to see which the best food for dogs is.
When a dog is thriving on the food you have chosen for them it will be very clear. They will be full of energy, have a nice healthy coat and perhaps most importantly they will have firm stools. On the other hand if your dog is suffering from diarrhea, constipation, gas, vomiting or is generally not at his or her best then it is a good idea to re-evaluated whether or not you have chosen the best dog food to meet their needs.
However, unless the food is making your dog violently ill it is important not to switch it rapidly, instead you need to introduce a new diet over time by offering a mix of 3 parts the old food to one part the new option for a couple of days before adjusting it to a 50/50 mix, then one which is 3 parts new and 1 part old. Finally you can substitute the new diet. If you switch it too fast you could end up causing stomach upset which will affect your ability to tell if the new dog food is a better choice.
Choosing the best dog food is all about finding the one which allows your dog to thrive! It should preferably contain around 30% meat and roughly 15% fat, so learn how to read the labels on your dog food. The list of ingredients should contain mega fatty acids and vitamin E and be free of corn filler. If your dog food meets these requirements then it is likely to be one of the best food for dogs available on the market.
4 tips for finding the best dog food
There is a great deal of information to take into consideration when choosing the best food options, and it can get overwhelming, so we have condensed it down into 4 easy tips that will summarize everything for you and make it a little bit easier to digest:
- Always put nutrition first – Choosing the best dog food is key to helping your pet live a long and happy life. The most important factor is always going to be meeting your dog’s nutritional needs. It is not always the case that the yummiest foods offer the best nutrition so remember that those tasty treats are sold marketed to humans and not the dogs themselves. All they need is a nutritionally adequate food! In fact, too many of those biscuits and treats is going to lead to obesity – the number one killer for dogs.
- Get professional advice – It is worthwhile asking your vet for help in choosing the best dog food. They can advise you of any special breed specific requirements as well as helping with portion sizes based on your dog’s current weight. However, don’t just go along with their recommendations as many vets get commission for selling a particular brand and it may not be the best food for your dog. You can also look for a local canine nutrition specialist to talk to, especially if you intend to feed a homemade dog food.
- Make sure you fully understand BARF – If you are leaning towards choosing a raw food diet then you must research it fully so that you understand the risks associated with it. Only you can decide if it is work trying. Those who support BARF say that it matches the diet that undomesticated dogs would eat in the wild, but wild dogs do not actually live particularly long! Most experts are in agreement that a BARF diet is only really recommended if your dog has particular medical issues that could be triggered by their diet.
- Examine commercial dog food closely – Since the commercial dog food industry is lacking in terms of regulation it is important to look closely at the ingredients and nutritional information on packages of commercial dog food to determine which the best dog food for your pet is. Look for a quality pet food with a minimum of 30% protein from a named animal source rather than vegetable protein or unnamed meat. Look for natural preservatives such as Vitamin E rather than artificial compounds.
Keep in mind that food labeled as “complete” or “balanced” only needs to meet the minimum nutrition level, but you want optimum nutrition if your dog is to thrive.
In conclusion, choosing the best dog food is a very personal choice.
You need to consider the type of dog you have, how old it is and what sort of lifestyle it has. Active dogs need more nutrition as do whelping bitches and pups. Take the time to fully research the different dietary models that you can choose from and see which of them the best fit is for you and your canine companion. It may take a little bit of trial and error to find the best dog food, but once you do it will become clear that your dog is thriving.