There is no shortage of choices when it comes to feeding your dog, nor is there a shortage of opinions on the food we should be feeding. Our understanding of nutrition is always subject to change as new discoveries are made. The information contained here has been obtained from a variety of sources. Noted here is what I take into consideration when evaluating dog food for healthy dogs. Each dog is an individual and the information here is not meant to be complete or appropriate for all dogs.
What to feed?
Pet owners have two primary options with regards to what they feed their pets. They can feed a home prepared food, or purchase a commercially prepared food for their pets.
Generally speaking your choices are:
- Dry dog food (extruded kibble)
- Baked kibble (less common)
- Canned food
- Dehydrated food
- Freeze-dried food
- Frozen raw
- Commercial Fresh and lightly cooked
- Homemade raw or cooked.
What is best?
Which of these options is best to feed is dependent on who is providing the answers. Some will say to feed a food that meets minimum standards according to AAFCO. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established Nutrient Profiles that establish the minimum nutrient levels that are used as a standard for dog and cat food.
Some will say to “stop reading the ingredient list!”  and to make your decision based on the "Nutritional Adequacy statement" (AAFCO statement)  and that the “best way to select what is really the best food for your pet is to ensure the manufacturer has excellent nutritional expertise and rigorous quality control standards”. You will also be advised to stay away from raw or fresh foods and feed a food made by a company who owns their own plants where the food is manufactured, that also employs a full-time nutritionist and tests their foods via AAFCO feeding trails. (More on dog food companies, and feeding trials below)
At the other end of the spectrum is animal nutritionist Dr. Richard Patton and many others who advocate for a balanced raw diet and to avoid dry kibble due to high carbohydrates. This is especially important for dogs battling cancer since carbohydrates can feed cancer.
What is the best food is dependent on the criteria. You can choose by convenience, price, or quality / optimum nutrition.
What to feed nutritionally, best to worst. (Dr. Richard Patton)
- Raw (frozen or freeze-dried)
What to feed based on lowest cost to highest. (Dr. Richard Patton)
- Raw (frozen or freeze-dried)
Raw foods formulated for pets are available from commercial manufactures and sold in pet stores. But just as with other types of pet foods some are excellent while others are poorly formulated.  You can always make your own pet food by following directions from a nutritionist or veterinarian. Professionals will often caution pet owners on preparing home prepared foods due to the risk of illness resulting from salmonella. Healthy dogs are resistant to the effects of salmonella infection. In fact salmonella is present in the digestive tracts of many dogs. Handling raw foods while preparing meals for your pets is really no more risk than handling raw food for humans. Whether preparing food for humans or animals it is recommended to thoroughly wash your hands and clean all surfaces that have come into contact with raw meat.
Many professionals recommend against pet owners preparing their dogs meals due to nutritional imbalances that can occur. Books like the “Small Animal Clinical Nutrition” book recommend feeding a commercially prepared food for consistency and better nutritional balance. But after stating all the challenges of formulating a home prepared meal for your pets even this book concedes it is possible to make nutrient balanced food for your dog at home and it provides simple recipes to make complete and balanced meals for both dogs and cats. The book lists simple homemade recipes for healthy dogs and cats, and simple recipes for those suffering with a urinary, gastrointestinal, heart disease, kidney disease, or just overweight issues.
The key is that home prepared meals need to have the proper ingredients in the proper ratios to include vitamins and minerals for the food to be nutritionally complete. If you include vegetables in home prepared foods lightly cooking them can increase digestibility, but cooking too long may increase vitamin loss. When adding vitamin and mineral supplements they can be destroyed by heat so they should be kept separate from the food and not added until just before serving.
What Can You Afford?
Choose convenience, price, or quality. Choose two because you cannot have all three. Kibble is convenient and is the lowest price to feed, but you cannot have optimal nutrition. Purchasing commercial raw is convenient and can provide optimal nutrition if formulated correctly but it comes at a high price. You can feed raw or fresh food more economically by making and purchasing all the ingredients yourself. But in order not to induce nutritional deficiencies you will need supplements and or a professional nutritionist to provide you exact recipes. “Owners of several big dogs could rapidly go broke feeding a fresh or raw diet, but to the extent that the dry kibble can be reduced, or lowered as a percentage of the diet, nutrition will be better.” “The solution is to feed as much raw, frozen, canned or freeze dried pet food as your budget will allow.”  (More on this below)
How To Make The Food You Feed Better?
We will cover this below, but first we need to be able to evaluate and compare the foods we can afford to feed.
How to evaluate?
With any type of food start by looking for a “Nutritional Adequacy Statement” which will indicate what type of pet and what stage of life the product is suited for. The “Nutritional Adequacy Statement” is determined in one of two ways. This can be accomplished generally with either feeding trails or a chemical analysis (actual levels of fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, etc…) to determine the food meets the nutrient profile for nutritional adequacy.
If a food states it is “Complete and Balanced” it will state for which life stage.
“provides complete and balanced nutrition for”
- “Complete and balanced” for:
- All Life Stages”
- Adult Maintenance
- Growth/reproduction (Puppies, gestation/lactation)
AAFCO feeding trials are generally considered a better standard to determine a food meets the minimum guaranteed analysis because the food is actually fed to dogs. But this is no guarantee that you are getting a quality food for your dog. A feeding trial typically uses eight dogs over one year of age. These dogs are tested on the food for six months and during that time they will undergo limited blood tests. For the feeding trial to be valid, only six of the dogs need to complete the test without losing more than 15 percent of their body weight while eating the food. This is not exactly a gold standard for determining quality foods. “trials do have limitations with respect to catching long-term nutritional problems”  The AAFCO testing protocols is not a guarantee that a food will prevent long-term nutrition or health problems, nor is it designed to ensure optimal growth. “This type of protocol will usually detect the vast majority of nutrient deficiencies but might not detect some nutrient excesses that may be harmful when fed over a longer period.” 
A food that is “Complete and Balanced” for “All Life Stages” is designed to meet adequate nutritional levels established by the AAFCO for pregnant dogs, nursing dogs, puppies, and mature dogs. A food “Complete and Balanced” for “Adult Maintenance” is designed to meet the nutritional levels for adult dogs but not pregnant, nursing dogs, or puppies.
It the label states the food “is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only” it does not contain the necessary vitamins and minerals to provide complete nutrition so it is not “Complete and Balanced”.
Once you have selected a category of food you can afford to feed and determined it’s appropriate for your dog’s life stage, check out the ingredients.
Whether you are feeding a raw, canned, or a dry dog food, look for quality ingredients. Start by avoiding the ingredients on the "Ingredient To Avoid list".
Be wary of commercial pet food that lists ingredients in generic terms like, meat (mystery meats), animal or poultry by-products. Look for named sources such as; lamb, turkey, beef, chicken, etc… or dehydrated chicken, dehydrated beef, lamb meal, turkey meal, beef meal, chicken meal, etc… A named animal protein generally indicates a higher quality product than generic meats or plant-source proteins.
“As with human foods, federal law requires that pet food companies report all included ingredients in decreasing preponderance by weight on their product’s label. This means that ingredients that are listed first are present in the highest amount in a given product. However, and here is the catch, the weight of each ingredient includes the moisture (amount of water) present in the ingredient at the time of processing. This makes interpretation a bit tricky because some ingredients contain a lot of water (up to 70 %) while others contain very little water (12 % or less). The result is that an ingredient that is listed first on the list may appear to be the most important component of the food, when in effect it contributed a lot of water and much less in the way of essential nutrients. When evaluating dry dog foods, a general rule of thumb is that the first five ingredients that you see in the list provide 80 % or more of the food’s nutrients.” (Case, Linda. Dog Food Logic - Making Smart Decisions For Your Dog In An Age Of Too Many Choices - Dogwise Publishing)
“The most commonly employed technique to change the ingredient declaration order is referred to as “ingredient splitting.” In this method, an ingredient that may be perceived by the consumer as less desirable (such as corn) is “fractionated” into different components such as corn, corn meal, or corn gluten, in part so that the individual inclusion levels are less than the more desirable animal protein source” (Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition - Wiley)
The Importance of Protein
"animals do not have a requirement for protein per se but have an amino acid requirement." SACN Proteins are made up of amino acids and dogs have a requirement for 22 amino acids like other animals. 12 are non-essential since their body can make these, and 10 are essential and must be provided in their diet. Most plant proteins do not contain taurine, an essential amino acid for cats, and under some circumstances possibly a conditionally essential amino acid in dogs. [Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition. Wiley] Animal-based protein sources are recommended for both dogs and cats due to their pattern of essential amino acids. [Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition. Wiley] “Protein from animals, unlike protein from most plants, contains balanced amino acids and a complete range of protein-type nutrients, including taurine and carnitine. [Brown, Steve. Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet: Healthier Dog Food the ABC Way. Dogwise Publishing] Foods formulated to derive protein from plants often add synthetic amino acids like L-methionine or D, L-methionine, L-lysine, L-arginine and taurine to make up for deficiencies.
Quality proteins are highly digestible and provide usable essential amino acids.
"In commercial pet foods, the protein quality of ingredients varies tremendously." ( Case, Linda. Dog Food Logic - Making Smart Decisions For Your Dog In An Age Of Too Many Choices. Dogwise Publishing)
 Dr. Becker’s Real Food For Health Dogs & Cats Third Addition Beth Toylor & Karen Shaw Becker, DVM
 Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition Edited by Andrea J. Fascetti and Sean J. Delaney
 Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th Edition Michael S Hand
 The Canine Thyroid Epidemic W. Jean Dobbs, DVM & Diana R. Laverdure
 Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th Edition Michael S Hand
 Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th Edition Michael S Hand
 A broken heart: Risk of heart disease in boutique or grain-free diets and exotic ingredients by Lis M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN
No one, not even your dog wishes to eat the same food at every meal. Unless dictated by a specific health requirement it's good to feed your dog a variety of foods. Rotating foods every two to three months can do more then add to our dog's enjoyment of his food, it may help to avoid the development of particular food sensitivity and food allergies. If your dog is sensitive to food changes, change gradually over one or two weeks. Slowly blend in the new food and replace the same quantity of the old food each time.
There is no shortage of chooses when it comes to feeding your dog, nor is there a shortage of opinions on the type of food we should be feeding. Our understanding of nutrition is always subject to change as new discoveries are made. The information contained here has been obtained from a variety of sources. Noted here is what I take into consideration when I evaluate dog food. Each dog is an individual and the information here is not meant to be complete or appropriate for all dogs.
Adult dogs can get by on one meal a day but there are advantages to two scheduled feedings. In addition to reducing hunger between meals, one of the best reasons to feed your dog twice a day is that it gives you one more opportunity to provide them with something of great value provided what you are feeding them something they enjoy. These opportunities to provide your dog something of value goes a long way toward gaining his cooperation.
If your dog is sensitive to food changes, change gradually over one or even two weeks. Slowly blend in the new food and replace the same quantify of the old food each time. Changing foods gradually will provide the digestive tract time to adjust to a different food.
Digestibility of Protein
75% or less poor quality
75% - 82% moderate quality
82% and above high quality
Companies will make claims that their foods are highly digestible or have superior digestibility but these claims are meaningless without being backed by an actual measure reflecting digestibility in percentage points.
Highly digestible food will produce well-formed, firm feces and low feces volume. With a quality food your dog should not defecate more than the number of feeding per day. Additionally foods low in digestibility can be the cause of gas (flatulence), loose stools, and occasionally diarrhea. Low cost foods may reflect the low-quality ingredients that are used. Poor quality foods that are low in digestibility will require the dog to eat more to get the nutrition it needs. One adult dry dog food will recommend feeding approximately 2 cups daily for a 50 lb dog, while another brand will recommend approximately 4 ½ cups. I think it would reason the brand recommending 4 ½ cups to be made up of low quality ingredients.
One of the biggest challenges when searching for dog food for a dog with a moderate activity level is finding one that has a percentage of fat that is no more than 50% of the protein listed. Higher fat diets are a great energy source for active dogs but most dogs will get more calories than they can burn on a high fat diet. For dogs that are overweight I would avoid foods marketed for the “less active” dogs. If you checked the label you may find that this food has the same calories or more than the food you are feeding now. Many of these foods contain a high fiber content which can reduce the overall digestibility and insoluble fiber like cellulose can reduce mineral adsorption. High fiber can lead to increased need to defecate and a larger volume of feces. Instead I would limit treats and slightly reduce the amount of food feed, and increase their daily exercise. There’s an old saying, if your dog is fat you’re not getting enough exercise!
If you are looking for a list of recommended pet foods there are two that I recommend.
Whole Dog Journal https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/topics/dog_food.html List is available to subscribers.
Food Intolerance & Sensitivity
Dogs can experience allergic reactions the same as people. But food intolerance or sensitivity is more common than a food allergy. Food intolerances/sensitivities can manifest in gastrointestinal issues, chronic itching, chronic gas, chronic skin, ear and foot infections, especially with the presence of yeast.
Food allergies reflect a more immediate immunological response whereas food intolerances/sensitivities build up over time with exposure to offending ingredient(s). Rotating foods every two to three months can do more then add to our dog's enjoyment of his food, it may help to avoid the development of particular food sensitivity and food allergies. The greater the length of time and frequency a particular food is consumed the greater likelihood an intolerance/sensitivity can develop over time.
Allergy reactions show up in allergy blood test as antibodies (IgE and IgG). Testing a dog’s saliva for a differing set of antibodies (IgA and IgM) is recommended for testing for the food sensitivity & intolerance. I have used and now recommend food sensitivity & intolerance test from NutriScan. With the NutriScan kit you collect saliva with a small cotton dental rope. You can do this at home or at the vet’s office. Then ship the kit back to Hemopet for testing.
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I would choose a food high in moisture, high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates.
Freeze-dried raw is great and it does not require refrigeration. Just keep the bag sealed with the zip closure. Simply rehydrate and serve.
I like both of these brands.
Vital Essential Freeze-Dried Entrées
Stella and Chewys freeze-dried raw dinner morsels
Avoid dry food especially for male cats because of urethral obstructions.
The Safety Reporting Portal
The Safety Reporting Portal (SRP) streamlines the process of reporting product safety issues to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet: Healthier Dog Food the ABC Way Brown, Steve. Dogwise Publishing
Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals. Case, Linda P. Elsevier Health.
Dog Food Logic - Making Smart Decisions For Your Dog In An Age Of Too Many Choices Case, Linda. Dogwise
CANINE NUTRIGENOMICS: THE NEW SCIENCE OF FEEDING YOUR DOG FOR OPTIMUM HEALTH Dodds, W. Jean; Laverdure, Diana. Dogwise Publishing
Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition Wiley
Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th Edition – 2010