Last updated: September 9, 2021

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Dogs are amazing friends and companions are an important part of people's lives, and they provide us with so much while asking for so little. A dog will love you unconditionally and all you have to do is take it for walks, give it some affection, take it to the vet when need be, and provide it with healthy food.

The below guide will provide a breakdown of all the important aspects of dog food to make sure you are getting the best for your pooch. When you buy a good, you have to pay special attention to basic things like breed, age, health, and lifestyle. Read on to find out more about the most important criteria when choosing a dog food.




Key Facts

  • Different dog foods are of different quality. There are premium, more high end and expensive brands, regular ones (with middle-of-the-road ingredients) and generic ones (usually bought in large quantities and sold in most supermarkets).
  • Nutrition and health are closely linked: the more you spend (both money and time) getting the right food, the healthier they will be. If you don't go the extra mile when looking for and choosing a food, your dog's health could suffer for it.
  • You can find dry, wet and semi-wet dog food out there. The below guide will cover mostly dry food because it tends to be the one best suited for all breeds. If you don't know what to get your dog, you should talk to your veterinarian.

Our selection: The best dog food

Whether someone gave you a god, you bought one from a breeder, or adopted one from a shelter, having a dog is a big responsibility, but one that is usually profoundly lifechanging. Having a dog means taking on responsibility, and one of these responsibilities is the animal's health. You need to feed it properly and care for it well for it to remain happy and healthy. This includes getting good food.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about dog food

At some point, every dog owner asks themselves what kind of dog food is best. Below are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions by dog owners, including all of the advice you need to properly feed your pet. By taking this guide to heart, and following it in detail, you will help give them the healthy, happy life they will deserve and that will bring joy to yours.

Feeding hungry labrador retriever. The owner gives his dog a bowl of granules.

Some dogs are very sensitive to their owner's mood and changes to their environment (Source: Jaromír Chalabala: 60225334/ 123rf.com)

What is dog food and what are the advantages of dry food?

Dry dog food usually comes in the form of small, crunchy croquettes that contain all of the nutrition our furry companions need to be psychologically and physically at their best. Being healthy depends on the food you give them, and there are generally three main kinds of dry dog food:

  • Premium food: It is the highest quality, so it is usually more expensive. If you get your dog high-quality food, it will have better digestive health and the results tend to be: less gas, better quality stools, better health and will be satisfied for longer.
  • Regular food: The most often purchased because it is the most affordable. Not all regular food is low-quality but in order to find a food that is nutritious, you will have to spend some time looking through ingredient lists and doing your homework.
  • Generic food: It is usually the most sold in supermarkets. This is the kind most commonly offered by large commercial brands and usually contains low-quality ingredients which can make dogs fat (lots of added cereals, corn etc.).

The rest of this article focuses exclusively on dry food because it's the most commonly bought and the best mix of price, durability, storage, and quality. Dry food contains more nutrients and is a more balanced diet than the other options. Below is a table that lays out the upsides and downsides of dry dog food:

Advantages
  • Economical
  • Eliminates plaque
  • Creates less mess
  • Lasts for longer
  • Easier to ration
  • Improved digestion (especially premium or high-end ranges)
Disadvantages
  • Quite dry, so it requires a lot of water to wash down
  • SCan be hard to find a tasty dry food
  • Dog might lose interest over time if it becomes bored

What types of dog food are there?

When we discuss dog food, we can't just assume that dry food is the absolute best and completely ignore the other alternatives out there. The best diet for a dog is a balanced and mixed one that combines different foods. If you give a dog the same food day in and day out for months, even years at a time, they will undoubtedly get tired of it after a while.

Types of food Characteristics
Dry Best selling and most popular. Tends to use higher quality ingredients. The basic pillar of a dog's healthy diet
Wet Canned and contains water and moist food. It stains a dog's teeth easily and the food bowl requires constant washing
Semi-wet Comes in plastic packaging. Tends not to be nutritionally balanced

Is wet dog food suitable for my dog?

Whatever kind of food you choose, it always depends a lot on the brand in question and the ingredient list. Getting a can of vet prescribed wet food is much different than getting Wal-Mart wet food. Without wanting to slander any products, and understanding that different products are targeted to different markets with different budgets, incorporating some high-end wet food into your dog's diet is an important part of good balance.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of wet dog food:

Advantages Disadvantages
Better hydration Can't sit in your dog's bowl for long because it will go bad
High-end products provide quality food and a good nutritional balance Can end up creating tartar and obesity because dogs like it more so they over-eat
A good choice for pets with allergies or very large diets

What about semi-wet dog food?

This is a common question because people often see this option while they are at the supermarket shopping and wonder about it. As a rule of thumb, semi-wet food has the lowest nutritional value, and while it might seem economical to buy this in the long run, it might end up being more expensive when it comes time to take your dog to the vet.

Advantages
  • Makes a good reward/treat
  • They taste and smell good so your dog will readily take them more
Disadvantages
  • Higher in calories
  • Poor-quality ingredients

Is it better to buy dog food or make home-cooked food?

There are more and more dog owners who are deciding, either as a health matter or to spend less, to regularly prepare their own homemade dog food. You can definitely do this, but you have to commit to providing your dog with a balanced diet. Preparing your own food is not for inexperienced dog owners and is more suited for those with a lot of experience taking care of dogs.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of homemade dog food:

Advantages Disadvantages
Dogs may prefer homemade food more than dry or wet food Many owners do not understand the nutritional balance requirements and always give meat to their pet. This creates health problems and more visits to the vet
More variety in your dog's diet, as long the food is prepared well Extra effort as you have to prepare the food yourself
You can play around with different flavours and organic ingredients You need to use it up fast because it will spoil if kept at room temperature too long
Healthier stools and less gas Preparing your dog's food is more expensive than buying dog food

How much dog food does my puppy need?

If you have a female dog that just gave birth or a new puppy, both of these dogs will have different food requirements than an adult dog. As dogs get older, however, you can structure their eating so that they eat dry dog food as the main component of their diet. The below table will break down a puppy's food needs through each stage fo development:

Puppy age Nutritional needs
Up to 8 weeks Breast milk

From the third week onwards, small portions of wet food can be offered as it is easier to digest

In the sixth week, you can introduce puppy food, in combination with breast milk

2 to 3 months A puppy should eat up to four times per day. If it is a small breed (like the Chihuahua), even five times a day

You must buy quality puppy food. If you don't know what to do, speak to a vet

From 3 to 6 months Reduce feeding to 3 times per day
From 6 months to 1 year A dog should be eating two times per day

Special requirements for adult dogs

Unlike puppies, adult dogs are fully grown and need a wide range of foods. This is why you need to structure their food around different lifestyles. A dog's weight and size must also be factored in since not all breeds are alike. Below will lay out some more information.

Dog size Dog weight Special requirements
Very small Less than 4kg Additional calcium, to avoid constipation and plaque formation
Small Up to 10kg Foods with high energy
Medium Between 11kg and 25kg Take care of the skin and natural defences
Large Between 26kg and 44kg Give digestible foods for good joint and digestive health
Extra large More than 45kg Review heart health frequently and give additional antioxidants

How much dog food is needed per day?

This is based on a number of variables including age, physical build, health, breed, and size, as well as if a dog if pregnant. Generally speaking, your dog should be eating 2-3 per cent of its body weight in food every day.

When you weigh your dog (which is good to do once per month to ensure they aren't over or underweight) and multiplying that by 0.03, you will know how much food to give. Most good food brands include tables on their packaging which lets you know how to calculate portions of food and frequency of feeding.

How do I feed my dog if they are overweight?

You first need to ensure that your dog is actually fat. To do this, hold your dog by the sides along its flanks. If you can easily feel their rib cage, then you have a healthy pet at a normal weight. If you can't feel their ribs, your dog is likely overweight. Dogs often get fat because they are given the wrong food (including human food).

Things like pasta, for instance, is high in carbs, and break down into sugar which turns into fat. You shouldn't be feeding your dog leftover food from the table. Dogs should eat on schedule and only eat good quality balanced dog diets.

Did you know that the "fingerprint" of dogs is their nose and each dog's nose is unique

My dog doesn't increase in weight, what dog food do I give?

If this is the case, it might not be that your dog isn't eating enough, but that they don't have the right nutrient balance in their diet. You might be giving them low-quality food, or they could be suffering from intestinal parasites. Don't try overfeeding a dog or forcing it to eat additional food. You should learn more about your dog's nutritional requirements or seek the help of a vet.

Some breeds of dog are especially sensitive to environmental changes and even mood changes in their owners, which can lead to eating problems. If you make sure your dog is calm, or stay near them while they eat, it might get their eating back on track again.

Dry dog food in aluminium bowl on wooden floor

If you choose foods composed of prebiotics, you will be offering dog food with good bacteria for the large intestine. (Source: Phana Sitti: 63687978/ 123rf.com)

If poor nutrition is the cause of low weight in your dog, we highly recommend that you invest in premium dog foods, as they have many health benefits (better digestions and greater assimilation of nutrients). You need to give your dog as least 23 per cent protein in their diet, as well as tastier food. You can accomplish this by combing a dry food base with some wet food.

Shopping Criteria

Now that you are armed with all this information, you have to decide which food to purchase. Below are some important criteria to consider so that you make the best decision possible when buying your next food. Feeding your dog is not always the simplest thing in the world, but if you study it carefully, you can get a great product your dog will love and that will be good for them. The following shopping criteria are designed to help you make your decision.

Ingredients

The first place your eyes should go when examining dog food packaging is the ingredient list. The ingredients will directly affect the nutritional value and, therefore, the physical and psychological impact on your dog. The below list provides a series of nutrients that are found in dog food, from the highest to lowest percentages.

  • Protein: This is the major component of dog food and is good for muscle growth, bone density, and immune health). The dog food you opt for should always be high in protein. Protein can also be classified into different types.
  • Lamb: Dogs love lamb because it is high in calories and protein. Lamb is great for making your dog's stools more consistent (especially for dogs with preexisting digestive issues).
  • Chicken: Helps build healthy, strong muscles
  • Salmon: This fish is protein-rich and easy to assimilate, while good for healthy skin and coat. It is also good for bones and teeth.
  • Fats: Also known as lipids or oils, they are an important part of a balanced diet. They create pleasant tastes and provide energy. They are also important for helping dogs thermoregulate, as well as activating muscles and organs.
  • Carbohydrates: These are sugars and crystallised carbohydrates that, with fats, provide energy. It is important to offer your pet pre-digested cereals because of their short digestive tract. If you do not do this, your dog will not be able to digest the food well when it passes through the small intestine and reaches the large intestine. The food will then ferment and result in diarrhoea and flatulence.

Vitamins

Vitamins are an essential part of a dog's daily nutritional requirements (e.g. vitamin B helps maintain a strong, healthy coat). If the dog food you buy has a poor vitamin profile, this can end up creating reproductive, nervous, and immune system problems.

Always opt for foods with vitamins K, E, D, C, B and A which will give your pet an adequate supply of antioxidants, a good level of calcium and phosphorus (two minerals involved in the ossification of bones), antibacterial protection and optimal vision, among many other benefits.

Dr Chris BrownBondi Vet
"A pet is not just a ball of fun to have around. They can seriously benefit owners health and well-being".

Aid the defences

Dogs are like any other animal and can fall ill. But preventing disease is always better than trying to cure it once it becomes a problem. Prevent sickness by choosing foods that protect against certain diseases. Your dog's immune system is made to ward off bacteria, viruses, funguses etc., but if it can't do its job, your dog might get sick.

Other causes of sickness can include sudden temperature changes, more stress, pollution, and a lack of fo nutrition which can all wear your dog's natural defences down. Things like vitamins E and C, omega-3, taurine and lutein will help ward off illnesses.

feed the dogs

Dogs should be fed according to a well-established routine and schedule (Source: Damedeeso: 42304648/ 123rf.com)

Prebiotics

These are vegetable fibres that are not digested by the small intestine and encourage the growth of bacteria that is beneficial to the large intestine of your dog. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics aren't alive, so they can withstand dramatic temperature changes and are suitable for dogs.

Instead of trying to get your dog to take a prebiotics tablet, you can choose food which already incorporates them which will better regulate their hormones and digestion. Prebiotics are also great and cutting down on inflammation, and help increase your dog's ability to absorb nutrients.

Premium dog food

At this point you should want to buy your dog only the best premium dog food, even if that means spending more, your dog will have a healthier life. Premium foods have dramatically different manufacturing processes and have much better ingredients, as well as vitamin and mineral profiles.

Top of the line ingredients is one of the three pillars of high-quality food. The other two are: appropriate composition (in terms of minerals and fibre), and minimal cooking of the ingredients. It is also a good idea to ask your vet if your dog might require a prescription food that is tailored for their diet.

Natural, organic dog's food in a bowl with ingredients zucchini, carrot, eggs and raw meat

Providing a balanced, and nutritious diet means knowing how to combine the right foods (Source: Monika Wisniewska: 58817622/ 123rf.com)

Summary

Buying your dog food is one of the most important decisions you will make as a dog owner. Many supermarkets carry low-quality and cheaper products to try and appeal to dog owners' wallets, but doing the easy thing is not necessarily the best thing for your dog. Buying these cheaper supermarket dog foods can often lead to health problems down the line.

If you keep to good nutrition basics, you can rest easy knowing that you are doing right by your dog. Taking care of a dog can be a lot of work, and making sure they are getting the right nutrition requires both time and money to do it right.

If you enjoyed this guide to dog food and found it helpful, share it with your friends and family on social media. Additionally, you can leave us a comment in the below section and let us know what you think!

(Source of featured image: Jaromír Chalabala: 26746497/ 123rf.com)

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