Best dog food brands and expert advice
How we research dog food
In our decades of writing and editing veterinary and veterinary publications, we have interviewed many veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists. We have also been fortunate enough to feed our own dogs many different brands and types of food.
It is important to note that our veterinary experts have not specifically endorsed any of the products in this guide. Come to think of it, this makes sense, as most vets agree that the best food for each dog varies depending on a variety of factors. So, in making choices for this guide, we consulted four vets, including a certified veterinary nutritionist and an animal and nutritional science teacher, about what qualities to look for in healthy dog ââfood and what to avoid. From there, we used the information gathered to guide our selections.
Each food in this guide is complete and balanced according to Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines, contains high-quality ingredients, and provides the right levels of protein, fat, and fiber for their respective grades.
When making our choices, we also referred to the educational resources of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the Global Nutrition Guidelines published by the World Association of Small Animal Veterinarians (WSAVA).
What to look for in dog food, in order of importance:
AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement: It is the most crucial factor in determining whether dog food is healthy or not. Any food you feed your dog must state on the label that it meets the nutritional standards set by AAFCO. This means that the food is “complete and balanced” for the dog’s stage of life. You can read more about these standards and definitions in the next slide.
Guaranteed analysis: This is where you will find the percentages of the most important nutrients in food: protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. Sometimes you can also find other nutrients like glucosamine, chondroitin and omega fatty acids listed in the guaranteed analysis. It’s worth checking to see if the brand regularly tests its finished product to make sure it meets standards, Shepherd says. (You can usually find this information on a brand’s website.) All of the foods in this guide are moderate to high (AAFCO minimums are 22% for puppies and 18% for adults) and low to high protein. moderate in fat (AAFCO minimums are 8.5% for puppies and 5.5% for adults).
List of ingredients : Navigating through the ingredient list doesn’t have to be intimidating. The first thing to look for at the top of the list is sources of animal protein. You’ll find them in the top slot of all of the foods featured in this guide. Whole meat is ideal, but it tends to be quite heavy due to the water content. With dry foods, this water is removed, so the meat content may not be as high as it seems. Plus, there’s no need to deduct meat meals, which are typically made from animal parts that humans don’t eat. These can be great sources of protein if they are of high quality. Since the water has already been removed, they might even contain more protein than whole meat.
Healthy extras: Some foods contain additional ingredients intended to support healthy skin, coat and joints, Swanson notes. Examples include long chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA; usually from oils or flours of marine origin), omega-6 fatty acids (safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, flax seeds, etc.), glucosamine, chondroitin, green-lipped mussels, and additional vitamins (vitamin A, biotin) and minerals (
, the copper). Probiotics, prebiotics, and yeast may also benefit a puppy’s immature gastrointestinal tract, and probiotics may help boost overall immunity in senior dogs.
Calorie content: Dogs can start to gain weight if they consume excess calories. This can cause health problems, so look for the calorie content listed in kilocalories, or k / cal, on the nutrition label. If your dog is not very active, he will need fewer calories, and if your dog is super active (eg, a performance or working dog), he will need much higher calorie meals. Helping your dog to feel satisfied with his food is very important, and volume can help. Ideally, you want your dog to eat as much food volume as possible while staying within his ideal daily calorie range. Check it out calorie calculator to determine how many calories your dog needs. In general, foods that achieved this balance received higher ratings in our selection process. As always, your vet can also help you determine if you are feeding your dog the right amount of calories.
Power tests: If a food has undergone feeding testing in addition to laboratory analysis of the feed ingredients, this is a big plus. âIt is expensive to perform feeding tests, and foods supported by feeding tests are manufactured by companies that devote a lot of resources to quality control,â Shepherd explains. If the declaration of nutritional adequacy on the label says something like: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures prove that [product] provides a complete and balanced diet for [life stage]”, this means that the food has been proven in feeding trials to be palatable, digestible and able to support pets over time.
Expert formulas: When choosing dog food, it is very important to consider who actually decided what would be in the food. You want to look for companies that have a PhD-level nutritionist with canine nutrition experience on staff, Shepherd says. The brand is also expected to employ food scientists who collaborate with nutrition experts. For this guide, we’ve prioritized brands that have a dedicated nutrition expert on their staff to align with WSAVA Recommendations.
Top tier ingredients: Despite marketing messages, human grade, organic, wild-caught, or cage-free products are not necessarily healthier for your pet. But, if you care about the welfare of the animals you (and your pets) eat, these ingredients are a plus. And, unlike farmed fish, wild fish are not treated with
or medication, so they may also be better for your dog. You will also find foods with meat and eggs from caged chickens and turkeys.
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