What Is A Good Dog Food: Regulations & Standards for Good Quality Dog Food

Choosing dog food
Anna Smith
Written by Anna Smith

Owning a dog may seem to be a very easy thing for some people but not all of them know what is a good dog food that will be able to supply their pet’s needs. It is very common for us today to see dogs which are either undernourished or over-nourished due to the lack of understanding on what to feed these pets. We can also see the prevalence of various types of diseases which used to be very rare a couple of decades ago.

So what could be the underlying cause for all of these? Of course, one of the major factors that affect dog health is the kind of diet that they are in: if you feed them unhealthy food, then don’t expect your pet to be the healthy dog that you can see on ads and TV commercials. It just simply would not work that way.

Human vs dog food comparison

Just like in caring for human health, there are standards and principles that one must adhere to if they want to gain the best results. Excellent health for your dog will not come from feeding them a “balanced” diet once or twice a week and the rest with “junk” food. The effects of a poor diet can often start to show itself after an extended period of thriving in a bad food or diet and the long-term effects are simply not worth it for the few dollars that it can save you today.

The key to your pet’s overall health lies in the knowledge and understanding of what your dog needs as well as the nutritional value of the food or ingredients that are contained in your chosen dog food. You don’t have to perfectly learn the whole thing instantly, but just like with life’s other learning strategies, you have to grow each day.

Factors that affect a pet owner’s decision in buying dog food

When you see a dog that is not getting the optimum nourishment that it needs, it would not help to criticize the owner upfront. Remember that different owners come from different backgrounds and so their knowledge of the right type of dog food will vary as well. It could either be from past experiences or even a limited understanding of the product that they are buying which has made them decide to feed their dogs with the dog food that they prefer.

Aside from this, there are also several other factors that can limit an owner’s options when buying dog food.

  • Financial capacity – This is probably one of the major factors that can affect one’s decision in buying pet food. Of course not everyone is as rich as the others so we have to consider their ability to purchase higher quality pet foods which, more often than not, are more nutritionally balanced and healthier. Cheaper products, as we all know, contains a lot more “fillers” such as corn and wheat, which are poorer in quality and nutritional content than more expensive ingredients such as meat.
  • Product availability – Those that live far from the cities may not be able to have access to higher quality pet food products. This is due to the fact that high-end products also do not have a large market in such smaller area; hence, distributors will not often offer their pet food products there. With such limited options, of course pet owners will often resort to what is available which, often are store-brand pet foods with lower quality.
  • Limited knowledge – More often than not, dog owners will go with what is “popular” or “new” in the market without having a full knowledge of what those pet foods are for. For example, buying decisions could be based upon what they often see on the TV or what their friends are feeding their pets. These are all done without actually looking at the ingredients in the package or knowing for which particular type of dog it is for.
  • Long-held beliefs – This can also be a reason especially if the owner had been taking care of dogs for a long time. Most of these types of owners would often reason that since this type of dog food worked for my past pets then they will also work for my other pets. If they see some allergy or other negative side-effect on their pet, they will commonly blame it on some other cause or just buy prescription medications recommended by their vets.

Unfortunately, some of the cheapest dog foods and treats you can find may not even be made in America. Check out our article on the dangers of buying dog food from China.

Government and private organization standards for a good dog food

In seeking for the right combination of nutrients that should be present in your pet’s dog food, which authority should you be looking up to? Apparently, there is little attention when it comes to the manufacture of pet food and the rules and standards that are applied in its production are somewhat much lower than what you could expect than if you were preparing your pet’s food yourself.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials or AAFCO is one of the most trusted organizations to set-out guidelines for pet food production but they also seem to lack in some aspects. For example, they set a very low limit for pet food products to be considered as having “complete and balanced” nutrition for dogs.

Research institutes as well as government organizations are also constantly changing guidelines since new studies bring out newer information regarding dog health almost every year. As of today, dog food manufacturers are allowed to use meat from diseased, disabled, and dying animals to be included as meat ingredients in pet foods.

FDA, AFFCO, USDA infographic

Now any owner who is concerned about their pet’s health would definitely not prefer to have sub-standard ingredients to be included in dog food but the problem is that the standards for the manufacture of pet food is not as stringent as it is with human food. Aside from that, the government’s inspection of manufacturer’s facilities processing dog food is not as thorough as well.

If we are going to take the last pet food recalls which involved a wide range of pet food products manufactured in China, we can definitely say that the government’s reaction regarding the issue had not been enough to fully address the problem of pet food manufacturing. A lot of the components of dog food products are still imported from China and it is still capturing a large part of the market due to their cheap prices.

If pets are continuously fed with dog food that have that huge risk of containing toxic ingredients, then it is no wonder that dogs are continuing to get sick.

The traits of a good pet food

Since it would be difficult to personally visit each and every manufacturing plant of dog food, here is a list of some specific traits that you should look for in a particular brand or product. Remember that these are just some basic guidelines and you can add other traits that you think are needed to feed your pet.

  • It should have a named meat source as its first ingredient – This is definitely one of the most important things to look for when buying dog food since dogs are mostly carnivorous, meaning, your dog requires a lot more meat than anything else. A pet food product that identifies the source of meat or meat meal as the leading ingredient means that it contains a high quality protein source for its product.
    Brands that only state “meat, meat and bone meal, or meat meal” as its first ingredient can only mean that the quality of the meat can be questionable. This is due to the fact that even animals that are road kill or those that have died of diseases can actually be included as a meat source in pet food. This is definitely not one of those things that a pet owner should be looking for. Meat and bone meal as well is defined by the AAFCO as rendered products from mammals that include manure, blood, hooves, and horns.
    But “beef” or “chicken” meat includes the higher quality muscle meats as well as various organ meats exclusive of entrails, heads, or feathers which denotes a higher and even safer source of protein.
  • It must contain a higher quality source of carbohydrates – There are some people who are opposed to providing carbohydrates in their pet’s diet but if you are going to look at wild dogs, you will see that they do eat grass, vegetables, and even the undigested plant food in the stomachs of their prey. Aside from that, plant food also supplies micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and enzymes to your pet’s body.
    If a dog food product should contain carbohydrates though, it should come from high quality sources such as rice, barley, and potatoes. A lot of manufacturers opt for the cheaper sources such as corn, wheat, and soy in order to boost profits when dogs cannot actually assimilate these types of grains. A lot of the times, those which are used for dog food manufacturing are those which have been treated with GMO or had been rejected or refused for human consumption. Grains should also never be the first ingredient in the product.
  • It should contain just the right amount of fat for your dog – Now regarding this component, it can be quite difficult to determine just how much fat is suitable for your dog without the help of a veterinarian. More active dogs will require fat higher than the recommended 18% while sedentary one will need something lower.
    Fat is necessary for the metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins as well as in your dog’s hydration. If you can see a named fat source in the ingredient’s list then that will be better as well with an indicated natural preservative for the fat such as Vitamin A or E.
  • As much as possible, the ingredients should come from local sources – This helps to ensure that they are fresh when they prepared although the processing of these ingredients can definitely affect nutrient content of the finished product. But what is good about it though, is that you get a higher quality dog food compared to that which has its ingredients come in frozen form or other preserved form.
    Aside from that, it also helps to make sure that the standards of quality and safety inspections are quite well-known especially compared to those that are manufactured in other countries where the government does not have direct access to actual manufacturing standards.
  • Look for a company with good manufacturing principles – This trait means that the company or brand that you must select is one that really focuses on dog’s nutritional needs and not one that is profit-driven only.
    There are a lot of dog food manufacturers whose founders have been dog lovers themselves or are veterinarians who aimed at providing high quality pet foods in the past but have somehow lost that goal after being purchased by a larger more “commercially” mind corporation.This is something that you should look out for. This step requires you to do some background research on the companies that you are contemplating to buy products from.
    Find out about recalls of their products as well as the related issues that have been attached to them such as poor quality or inspection practices in the plant.

There are still a lot of traits that one can look for in a pet food company but these are some of the most important things to look out for. You can include the overall resources of the company such as funding for research, quality of plant equipment, as well as capacity to purchase high quality ingredients from the market.

Purina dog food

These are all worth your time as well but it may require a much deeper research compared to the others. You will also not be able to witness the processing standards inside the plant but, if you will look at the past performance of the company and see that there had been several instances of product recalls, then you should probably steer clear of them. It would also be probably beneficial for you if you can contact the company itself and ask about the sources of their ingredients.

Want to see what customers are considering the best brands for your dog? Please read our article on the best dog food brands in the market.

Other dog food options

It is also important to remember that animals thrive on variety and this is true when it comes to a dog’s diet. If you feed a dog the same dog food day in and day out, you will probably have a sick animal within weeks or months. Contrary to what some people might say, giving your dog table-scraps is not as bad as they may make you think unless your left-over contain a high amount of fat or carbohydrates which are not suitable for dogs.

But since the average meal often contains meats and vegetables, then it is probably safe to say that feeding them your left-over can actually be good for your dog. This helps to provide added nutrients in their daily diet without having to risk the development of allergies and other ailments related to eating the same thing over and over again. Remember that your dog, just like you, have a variety of nutritional requirements which can only be met by eating a wide range of food.

Dog wants food

Remember that your dog needs natural food as well and that processing will most likely reduce the nutritional content of commercial dog food. So, given this situation, it is also recommendable to provide fresh and homemade meals for your pet where they can enjoy a better-tasting and even-better looking food that contains a lot more nutrients without the need for preservatives. Veterinarians who insist on feeding your dog with commercial pet food is definitely either biased or has a contract with the pet food that they are recommending.

Want to take the initiative on providing your dog with great, all-natural meals? Put on your chef’s hat and your apron and give some of our homemade dog food recipes a try!

I am not saying that all dog foods are bad since there are some brands that actually contain high-quality and human-grade ingredients. But, wouldn’t it also be good if your dog has a little fresh food every now and then? Not only will they contain a lot more bio-available nutrients, they will also pose lesser health risks since they do not need to be “preserved.”

In closing, I could say that the answer to the question, “What dog food is good for dogs?” will depend on a product’s ingredients, the company’s manufacturing principles, and their location of their ingredient sources. Not every company who dazzles with excellent advertising as well as “premium” branding can actually deliver the nutrient needs of your pet. Remember that authorities and organizations can actually certify a pet food to be “complete and balanced” by simply meeting the minimum requirements for pet foods.

Lastly, remember that fresh and wholesome foods are still the best option when it comes to your dog’s health. Make sure that you provide a good foundation for your pet’s health early on by giving him nutritious and healthy foods that contain right amounts of protein, high quality carbohydrates, and fats that will help his growth and development.

About the author
Anna Smith
Anna Smith

Anna Smith resides in beautiful Santa Monica, CA, where she works as a Pet Nutrition Expert in a leading retail pet store. She is responsible for nutritional strategies for different breeds and development of new products on the market in compliance with Association of American Feed Control Officials. Anna's passions are education about proven methods and best practices in the industry and her dog Max, who is always well-fed.