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Wondering Which Dog Food is the Best? Learn How to Choose the Best Dog Food for Your Dog

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By Pet Expert Team
Updated: 7/16/20242-4 minutes
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It’s no secret that we’re devoted to our canine companions. One of the ways we show that devotion is the time and care we put into determining which dog food is the best for our pets.

The question of the best food for dogs is a significant one for many pet owners. Case in point: Iin a study by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, more than 40% of the respondents ranked buying “healthy food” for their pets as more important than purchasing their own healthy food.

The universe of available dog food options is vast (to say the least) and widely varied. Before you explore it, you should know what you’re looking for. That starts with knowing what your unique dog needs.

Before You Shop, Know Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs

All dogs need the right blend of nutrients to support good health and a long life. However, the definition of “right blend” can vary depending on the nutritional needs of each dog. 

A dog food labeled as “complete and balanced” for an adult dog, according to standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), should contain all essential nutrients (complete) in the right combination (balanced) including protein, vitamins and minerals and fat. While the essential nutrients are the same, the amounts of nutrients, and even calories needed will vary based on a dog’s age, breed size, activity level and other health factors.

Is your dog a puppy, adult or senior? Big in size or just in personality? An energetic athlete or a content couch potato? These kinds of questions can help you make an informed dog food choice.

Understand What Ingredients Provide 

Many pet owners turn to the ingredient list as a key step in the process of how to choose dog food. While an ingredient on that list might sound enticing to you, remember that it does not tell you about the quality of the ingredients or the nutrient profile of the pet food. Ingredients like fruits and vegetables may be added to attract pet owners, but sometimes these ingredients fall close to the bottom of the ingredient list, providing little nutritional benefit to your pet. It’s also helpful to remember that ingredients on pet food labels are listed by weight, from most to least volume.

A quality pet food company will be purposeful about the ingredients they put into your dog’s food, and a bit of research can help you learn about how they choose those ingredients. For example, Purina.com provides an ingredient search tool that lets you research every ingredient in any of their formulas to learn about its nutritional benefits for your dog, and even where they source it.

This means that in a dog food with real meat, poultry or fish listed as the first ingredient, that ingredient is the most plentiful of the ingredient list, by weight.

Choose the Right Food for Your Dog’s Life Stage

Puppies, adult dogs, and breeding female dogs each have unique nutritional requirements and established nutrient profiles by AAFCO. While there is no specific nutrient profile for senior dogs, foods formulated for this life stage can provide support for healthy aging. When comparing dog foods, make sure that any assurances of “complete and balanced nutrition” or “100% complete nutrition” are specific to your dog’s life stage.

One of the most important parts of a pet food label is the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement. This statement will tell you what type of pet the food is for, and if the food is complete and balanced for the intended life stage (i.e. growth, adult maintenance, reproduction or all life stages).

Best Dog Food for Puppies

Puppies are worth a special mention here because in addition to being naturally irresistible, they have another job that’s even more important: maturing into healthy adult dogs. During this time when their bodies are growing fast, puppy food supports a healthy start with nutrition formulated to fuel rapid development. 

This is not a job for adult dog food. The best dog food for puppies will provide 100% complete and balanced nutrition they need during this vital first year, with nutrients including protein for muscle support, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to support brain and vision development.

Best Dog Food for Senior Dogs

Dogs aged seven years or more have earned senior status and deserve nutrition tailored to nourish optimal health in their advanced years. The best dog foods for older dogs provide special nutritional care, including antioxidants for immune support and higher protein to help older bodies maintain lean muscle mass.

Size Matters – Especially at Mealtime

We’re not just talking serving size (although that’s certainly a factor here). If your dog is a large or giant breed, or a small or toy breed, you’ll want to look for a food formulated for nutrition that fits.

Best Dog Food for Large and Giant Breeds

Large and giant breeds have big nutritional needs. So, when it comes to foods formulated for large and giant breeds, diets formulated to support larger bodies, including nutrients to promote joint health and mobility, can be a benefit.

Tiny But Mighty – the Best Dog Food for Small Dogs

Inside every little dog beats the heart of a big dog.  Small breed food offers a nutrient-dense food that delivers nourishment efficiently in smaller servings.

Among other advantages of a food for small dogs is smaller kibble for dry food, that makes it easier for tiny mouths to chew.

Best Dog Food for Dogs With Special Dietary Needs 

Some dog breeds, such as sporting and herding dogs, thrive on an active lifestyle. Along with a diet formulated to fuel that athletic activity.

If your dog is prone to weight gain, one important way you can protect their health (and possibly even extend their life) is to talk to your veterinarian about the best dog food for weight management for your unique pet.  

Does Your Dog Have an Allergy or Sensitive Stomach? 

Digestive problems, such as diarrhea or vomiting, or allergic reactions can be connected to diet, but it’s not always the cause. If your dog is showing symptoms that don’t resolve, contact your vet for treatment, and for guidance in finding a dog food for sensitive stomach or allergies 

Wet Food? Dry Food? Or Both?

Both wet and dry dog foods offer benefits for dogs and their families. For example, wet dog foods are highly palatable (which can be helpful for picky eaters) and provide extra hydration. On the other hand, dry dog foods provide teeth-cleaning crunch.

Regardless of the type of food you choose, both the best wet foods and dry foods for dogs should be 100% complete and balanced for your dog’s life stage.

Unless your dog has a special need for wet or dry food specifically, this choice really comes down to pet and owner preference. Choose the type of food, wet or dry, that your dog enjoys and that fits your lifestyle. Or add variety to your dog’s diet, and feed both!

Which Dog Food is the Best?

The search for the right food for your dog begins with knowing your dog, then learning what goes into the food that goes into your dog’s bowl. Do your research and talk with your veterinarian about options that provide the most optimal nutrition for your dog’s unique needs, or seek the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist to help you in your search. Finally, make sure that the food you decide to feed is one your dog enjoys. That way, you’ll both feel good about your choice.

For more expert tips on feeding your dog, explore our other dog feeding articles.

 

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