What to Look For When Selecting Dog Food
Selecting dog food for your pup is a huge decision. After all, it’s what they’re going to eat day after day for years.
Surprisingly, we find that a lot of dog owners don’t put a lot of thought into it.
Most of them seem to just waltz into the pet store, or even the grocery store, and select whichever one looks the healthiest or the cheapest.
This is exactly the wrong way to go about it. At the very least you should talk to you vet about what they recommend.
However, even within that, the pet food industry is one of the most messed up, corrupt industries around.
This is for a lot of reasons, which we outline in more detail here.
Lack of Regulation, Lack of Research
To sum up a lot of what we talked about in that article, one of the main problems is that the FDA not only has relaxed regulations for pet food, but they have specific rules that allow major pet food companies to get away with putting in tons of crap.
Not only does this mean high amounts of grain and low amounts of protein (because it’s cheaper), it also means a higher risk for toxins and poisons, as we saw in the 2007 melamine crisis that killed thousands of pets.
So if you hear claims like “pet food is safe because of FDA regulation,” that is simply untrue. Despite the common belief, commercial dog foods have very little regulation.
Insufficient and Sometimes Biased Research
Another main challenge when it comes to pet food is there isn’t a lot of research. The bottom line is funding for scientific research is extremely competitive. Organizations like the National Institute of Health (NIH) rarely give funding to studies for pets when we desperately need funding on myriad challenges that affect humans.
So who’s going to fund studies to show dog food efficacy and safety? The answer, often, is the pet food companies.
But this is a problem, because the researchers have financial incentive to show that the mostly crappy dog food products actually are safe and healthy. So saying “listen to the studies” is not so simple when it comes to dog food.
In light of this, to decide what food is right for our dogs, we have to turn back to first principles: What did our pet’s ancestors eat? The answer is certainly not kibble. When we take an evolutionary perspective, we can clearly see that dogs should have a protein-first, meat-based diet.
Look for Meat-First Products
Dogs didn’t evolve to eat corn and other processed grains. This doesn’t mean they can’t, but it shouldn’t be the main component of their diet. They hunted and killed. They ate meat. And no, they didn’t cook it. Last time I checked Baxter didn’t know how to start a fire.
That means when you’re looking for dog food, make sure the first ingredient is a specified meat. Again, because of loose regulations, pet food companies don’t have to specify how much meat, but the ingredients are listed by amount.
Second, a lot of the time they’ll pass off non-meat products for meat. For example, if it says “meat,” “animal,” or “poultry,” instead of specifying what kind of animal is in it, that means it’s probably “by-product.”
Meat by-product includes the parts of an animal remaining after all the meat has been taken. The bones. The feathers. Some companies even try to defend that this is just as healthy as the actual meat. Would you eat bird feathers in place of chicken breast?
A good first step into choosing the right food is to have a clearly stated animal as the first ingredient.
Canned Food vs Raw Food vs Kibble
Dogs can eat grains. However, grains were only a small part of the diet, historically. Most kibbles are stuffed with crappy grains like corn.
In contrast, canned food usually has a higher percentage of protein, and protein from actual meat. Raw food has even a higher percentage of meat, because it’s all meat. It most closely mimics the historical diet of dogs and wolves, which is the main argument in favor of raw food diets.
Additionally, dry dog food is, well, dry. It doesn’t have water. The first obvious problem is this means dogs have to drink a lot of water to make up the difference.
Wet food is also easier on the digestive system and, since it's canned or raw, it doesn’t contain as many preservatives.
The benefit to dry food is that it’s easier to store (although cans are also easy to store) and it’s a lot cheaper.
But it’s cheaper for a reason. Because it’s cheaper to produce because it’s almost always a lower quality product.
Choose the Best Food That You Can Afford
We get that dog food is an extra expense, and paying a lot more for wet food might not be feasible for you.
However, I’d like you to ask how much is it worth to give your dog a happier, healthier life? What they eat determines a lot of this.
There are situations, though, where you don’t need to buy the absolute best food. For example, an ideal doggy diet contains ample omega-3 fatty acids. However, omega-3-filled foods might cost twice as much.
Instead, you can just add a high-quality fish oil supplement for dogs. We discuss this in-depth in our guide on fish oil for dogs.
This also isn’t an “either, or” discussion, necessarily. If you can afford to feed your dog some canned food and fill in the rest of their diet with kibble, that’s a solid step in the right direction.
If you can afford to give them the highest quality raw food, mixed in with a bit of grains and fruits, then that’s even better.
Look for Companies Who Aren’t Blind (Or Complicit) to The FDAs Lax Regulations
The bottom is if you’re buying dog food from the grocery store shelves, there’s a really high chance it’s made by one of the five major conglomerates that pushed the FDA to loosen regulations, and fought back against lawsuits when their products killed pets.
A good start is to head to your local pet store. They will have a much wider range of products, from smaller companies that truly care.
The sad truth is big companies don’t care about your pet.
Big companies hardly care about people, and pets, sadly, are even lower on their priorities and ethics.
Choose a company that shows they care. Look at their ingredients. Look at their process. Look at their knowledge of the industry.
And, listen to your pet. You can see it in their eyes, in their panting, in the way they run, whether a diet is truly good for them.