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4 Things to Look for When Choosing a Dog Food

A balanced diet is important for your dog, just as it's important for you. Finding the right food is key to maintaining your dog’s health and helping them grow. But choosing the right dog food isn't an easy task. There’s so much conflicting information and some really slick and confusing marketing messages. You can try and look for "the healthiest dog food," but the chances are that you won’t find the right dietary solution for your pet.

To make things more challenging, every dog has different nutritional requirements, specific medical conditions, and preferences.

So where do you start when looking for a good food? Here are some of the most important factors you may want to consider.

Find out how you can get the right dog food for your puppies by taking the following factors into account:

1. Meat quality

Look for a food that has real meat as the first ingredient and avoid food with poultry by-product. Poultry by-product is what’s left after the meat is removed, and can include things like feet, intestines, undeveloped eggs, and beaks.

2. Digestibility

Digestibility tells you how much of the food is retained by your dog and how much is pooped out. Always look for a food manufacturer that is willing to tell you the digestibility of their food. You want a food with over 80% digestibility.

One of the best ways to determine digestibility is in your backyard: does your dog have smaller, less odorous stools, or are they big and stinky? You want a food that is nutritionally dense and highly digestible. Highly digestible foods often seem more expensive, but you end up feeding less (since less is pooped out) and you also pay less at the vet since your dog is getting superior nutrition.

This graphic represents just how much wasted fillers and junk is in some dog foods (right), versus the savings from a food with high digestibility and dense nutritional value. What seems like a bargain food may not be.

3. Recalls and food safety

Many big name dog foods have a history of recalls. One of the biggest recalls was the Hills recall in 2019 that killed hundreds of pets before Hills was forced to recall 34 different products.

Be sure to check for recalls before feeding a dog food, you may be surprised at the companies that have had dangerous recalls. A history of recalls shows you the level of quality control a company has so be sure to feed a food with no history of recalls.

4. Foods in “big box” stores may not be the best quality

Over the years I have been increasingly disillusioned by dog foods sold through large distribution channels like Amazon, Chewy, or PetSmart. Manufacturers who sell through these channels often start off with great quality and fantastic recipes.

Unfortunately, once these brands start to sell well, the larger retailers start pressuring them to provide them with better wholesale prices. The only way to do this is to reduce the quality of the food, and as a result your dog ends up with inferior ingredients or formulas that use lower quality proteins, such as switching from a high content of meat-based protein to more pant-based protein, which is an inferior source for dogs.

You may be shocked to hear this (I know I was), but there’s no requirement for a dog food company to report changes in ingredient quality or changes to their formulation. For that reason, you may want to consider a food such as this holistic brand that is mail-ordered directly from the manufacturer rather than sold in a retail outlet.

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