A considerable part of your dog’s health is dependent on their diet. But what makes a dog food brand “good”, and how do you know which brand to pick?
Price cannot be a determining factor, even though it may impact your decision in the end. Of course, you need to find a good dog food brand that will fit your budget, but, picking the cheapest dog food option is not going to provide your pet with quality nutrition.
Pet food manufacturers are looking to make the highest profit that they can, and several reports like this one (PDF) show that they may not always be truthful when labeling and advertising their pet food products. With so much pet food industry controversy out there, pet owners must stay vigilant.
To pick a good dog food brand, you'll need to consider several factors. For example, science shows that athletic/working dogs have different nutritional needs than your average pet dog. Health, age, allergies will play a large role as well.
19 Tips for Picking a Good Dog Food Brand
1 Not All Dog Food That Looks Equal, Is Equal
The nutritional content of dog food must be labeled following the law, but it is important to know how to read the dog food label to choose the most appropriate product.
For example, two pet foods may look similar in terms of their nutritional value, but the moisture content of one particular dog food makes a difference. This is very common when comparing wet dog foods with dry kibble.
To compare a dog food with 10% moisture content and a dog food with 12% moisture content, you must find a “common denominator”. In this instance, you must remove all moisture content from the food and compare only the dry matter.
To do this, subtract the moisture percentage from 100% and divide each nutrient by that remaining percentage. You can now compare the two foods with differing moisture content because now neither has moisture content at all.
Moisture content influences how much of a nutrient is available to your dog. To determine the better option between two foods with different moisture content, you must look only at dry matter. Find a good dog food that offers appropriate nutritional levels for your dog.
2 Look at the ‘Best By' Date on the Label
Did you know that a store can sell pet food past its expiration date, according to FDA?
When choosing a good dog food brand, select a bag that has a best by date of at least 6 months into the future. While it is not always the case, with most big-name pet food manufacturers a best by date that is further away means that the food was more recently manufactured.
When purchasing from online retailers, it's unlikely you will get a dog food brand with an expired date, since there get reported to the retailer (such as Amazon or Chewy) and the retailer may remove the company from their database. This is why companies are much more careful online.
In most cases, an upcoming best by date means that you are feeding a bag of food that has been sitting around for a while. Fresher food is always better, so don’t be afraid to look through the bags for fresher food.
3 The Source of Ingredients Matters
Dog food is made from ingredients that are often sourced from all over the world. Unfortunately, not all countries (especially China made pet foods) have the same rigorous standards of production as the United States, which is why seeking out USA made dog food is highly recommended.
The quality of a dog food brand is only as good as the quality of its the ingredients.
Many pet owners do not realize that a dog food may be packaged in the United States, it may use ingredients sourced from China. Always look for a food that uses ingredients sourced from more reputable countries, for example, the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand.
4 Pay Attention to Manufacturer Claims on the Label
Claims that pet companies make on pet food packaging are verified by the FDA. This means that claims for a food to be “human grade” on a pet food package mean that a food must be proven to be human grade. Claims on a company website, however, are not as closely regulated.
In order for a company to make a claim on pet food packaging, that claim must be verifiable by the FDA. Choose a good dog food brand that makes beneficial or healthful claims on their packaging, and then research which claims are real and which ones are actually just a marketing gimmick. Learn to read labels on dog foods accurately.
5 Pay Attention to Nutritional Adequacy
By law, every dog food must have a statement of nutritional adequacy. That is, a statement that determines what type of dog the food is suited for. For example, a puppy food may say “This food is complete and balanced for growth.”
This does not mean that it is suitable for every puppy, but it is suited for the average puppy. If you own a senior dog, however, this food would obviously not be a good choice. Choose a good dog food brand that has a nutritional adequacy statement that matches your dog’s life stage. To know this, have a discussion with your veterinarian.
“Veterinarians should make nutritional recommendations according to the patient’s age, activity level, lifestyle, body weight, medical history, underlying morbidity, and current medications.”
– Dr. Sarah Griffin, DVM at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine [source]
6 Look for Trial Information
Good dog food packaging also features animal feeding test information. That is, information gathered from testing the food on dogs in a feed trial. By printing this information on the packaging, a manufacturer can prove that their nutritional claims can be substantiated.
Trial information is not required on dog food packaging, but it can prove that a dog food is nutritionally balanced for the population it was tested on. Choose a dog food that has trial information available if possible, even though there's a very small number of pet food manufacturers that are able to do these trials (because they're very expensive).
7 Connect with the Pet Food Manufacturer
A good, high-quality dog food manufacturer usually has outstanding customer support and will be happy to talk to you about any questions you have about their food. Whether you are asking about the source of ingredients or the purpose of specific ingredients, a good manufacturer will be happy to answer your questions.
Choose a pet food made by a dog food company and/or manufacturer who does not evade questions or give vague answers when confronted. Most transparent pet food companies are happy to answer your call and give you all the details you want to know.
8 Good Dog Food is NOT Outsourced
Not all pet food companies manufacture their own food – some outsource to offshore manufacturing plants. A high-quality pet food company will always choose to manufacture their own foods and preferably in a country with strong regulations for quality control (USA, Canada, EU). This also allows them to oversee every step of the production process.
Today, many reputable companies try to bring their manufacturing of pet foods into America and do not outsource their production. For example, Acana, one of the top rated dog foods and often recommended by veterinarians, pride themselves for manufacturing all their pet food themselves, and talk openly about the process.
Choose a dog food made by a pet food company who manufactures their own food. These companies offer much better quality control of their product and take better care of the whole manufacturing process as well as their employees (which is also important).
9 Pay (Some) Attention to Pet Food Recalls
Most large pet food brands have recalled a product at one point or another, but pay attention to the track record of a company when it comes to these recalls. A dog food company that has never had a recall translates to a company that keeps a watchful eye over their production process.
However, one or two recalls does not mean that a dog food brand or the company is bad. Instead, choose a pet food made by a company that has very few recalls of their pet food. This is a company that exercises a high level of quality control. Avoid any pet food manufacturer that has more than 3 pet food recalls in the last 5-7 years.
10 Good Dog Food Meets Dog’s Nutritional Needs
In addition to a nutritional adequacy statement that meets your dog’s life stage needs, a good food should meet the specific needs of your individual dog. For example, you may have a puppy with a heart defect. In this situation, your puppy would have different nutritional needs to the average puppy.
If your dog has any special needs, talk to your veterinarian about dietary changes that may be necessary and shop for foods that meet those changes. There are many vet recommended dog food brands out there, but you should still choose a dog food that addresses any special nutritional considerations of your specific dog.
11 Good Dog Food is Designed by Vets, Scientists and Canine Nutritionists
Understand how pet food is manufactured and designed.
Unfortunately, there is no law that states that a dog food must be formulated by someone with veterinary or canine nutrition experience. This means that more than a few dog foods are formulated by individuals with no certifications at all.
A good dog food, however, should be formulated under the guidance of both a licensed veterinarian and a qualified canine nutritionist. Choose a dog food that has been formulated by or under the watchful eye of a professional with experience in canine health.
12 Good Dog Food Company Tests Their Products
Although companies are required to provide nutritional information on their pet food packaging, this does not mean that the company actually tests their food regularly. So, the nutrition levels inside the bag may not meet the nutrition levels listed on the bag unless the company regularly runs testing.
It is important to find a dog food company that frequently tests their foods to ensure that they meet AAFCO guidelines as listed.
13 Good Dog Food Company Maintains Full Transparency
When researching good quality dog foods, you may find that some companies are reluctant to answer questions. Commonly these companies use automated services to rebuff calls or claim ingredients to be proprietary.
Good and reputable dog food companies, however, will be happy to answer questions and will not hide any necessary information from you. Find a dog food company that maintains full transparency about their ingredients, products, and manufacturing process.
Susan Thixton wrote a good article for Dogs Naturally Magazine blog outlining her thoughts about the necessity for pet food manufacturers to maintain transparency, and why that matters to all of us.
14 Good Dog Food Manufacturer Will Test Every Batch
A good dog food manufacturer will thoroughly test every batch of finished dog food for possible contamination before shipping out any food from that batch. Some dog food companies simply test batches of food at random throughout production.
It’s important, however, to find a company that tests every one to significantly reduce the chance of your dog consuming tainted food. Look for a high-quality pet food company that enforces strict quality control by testing every batch of dog food that they produce before shipping.
15 Good Dog Food is Less Processed
Different dog foods are processed using different techniques, just like human foods. And, just like human foods, foods that are more highly processed are less nutritious than foods that are minimally processed.
This is because the heat, chemicals, and pressure used in processing deplete nutrients. Find a dog food that is made from fresher whole ingredients rather than chemically laden, processed ingredients.
16 Human Grade Dog Foods are Worth Investing In
Very few dog foods are labeled as human grade. The reason for this is because since the AAFCO does not recognize the term in relation to animal feed, it can only be used when it applies to the human context. That is, a human grade dog food must be transported, processed and contain only ingredients that meet FDA and USDA requirements for human consumption.
Currently the only human grade foods available are 99% dehydrated foods which are expensive, but worth the investment. Purchase a human grade dog food to ensure that your dog’s food is free from questionable ingredients.
17 Good Dog Foods are Available in Variety
Dogs require a healthy variety in their food. This is not to entertain their palate and taste buds, but rather to ensure they receive proper nutrition and a well-balance diet.
It is not advisable to rotate through dog food brands regularly since this can cause gastric upset, however, feeding the same brand with protein variations is beneficial. Varied flavor keeps your dog interested, but it also provides a range of nutrients for your dog.
Find a good quality dog food brand that offers various protein combinations to incorporate nutrient variation in to your dog’s diet.
18 Good Dog Food Manufacturers Have (Useful) Certifications
How much do you know about all those “certifications” that pet food companies put on their dog food labels? And do you know who regulates those “certifications? I recommend this revealing article also from Susan Thixton of TruthAboutPetFood.com about the regulations of pet food products in the US.
Certifications are not everything however, they are a good means of weeding out some of the more reputable dog food companies. There are many certification types out there, just a few of which include:
- ISO Quality Management System 22000:2005 compliant
- USDA APHIS Registered (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)
- American Institute of Baking (AIB) rating certification
- ISO Quality Management System 9001:2000 compliant
- …and a few more.
Look for a good dog food manufacturer with certifications that recognize their compliance with health and production regulations, but make sure you understand what certification really means and whether it's of any benefit to you and your puppy. Just like with the “scam” of prescription dog foods – an expensive price tag doesn't mean it's always better.
19 Good Dog Food Companies Offer Lot Number Tracking
Some companies now allow customers to track the origin of ingredients as well as any recalls on food lots by tracking their batch number online. These manufacturers offer a search form on their website where customers input their lot number and receive immediate details on their bag of food. This provides full transparency as well as faster recall correspondence when necessary.
Select a good dog food from a company that offers lot number tracking on their online website. This signals that a company is transparent and they have nothing to hide, too.
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