August 10, 2021 8 min read

Tips on Choosing the Best Diet for Your Dog

We all want our dogs to be happy and healthy, and that starts with feeding them a nutritious and well-balanced diet. The right dog food will give yours the proper nutrients they need to live a long, healthy life, extending your pet’s time by your side. But with a dizzying number of dog food formulas and brands ranging in texture, flavor, and ingredients, it can be difficult to figure out how to choose a dog food for your furry friend. So, where do you even start? 

To help you make the right choice for your canine companion, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about the best diets for dogs. As with any pet, remember to consult with your veterinarian before you change your dog’s diet.

Dog Nutrition 101: What Nutrients Does My Dog Need?

Like humans, dogs need a blend of essential nutrients for proper health and development. Feeding your furry friend the following essential nutrients in the right amounts will provide them with nourishment they need to sustain their bodies and fight disease:

What Nutrients Does My Dog Need

  • Protein: Most dogs love foods that are high in protein, and that’s a good thing, given the important role this nutrient plays in a dog’s body. Not only does protein aid in cell growth, muscle repair, and overall body maintenance, but it’s also a key source of energy for your dog. Unlike cats, which are strict carnivores, dogs are omnivores, which means they can get their daily protein fix from animals, plants, or a combination of the two.
  • Fats: Fats give your dog twice as much energy as proteins and carbohydrates, making them an excellent source of energy. Quality fat sources such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also essential for the healthy development of body cells, nerves, muscles, and body tissues.
  • Carbohydrates: Because dogs have evolved to use proteins and fats as their main energy sources, they don’t need a lot of carbohydrates in their diet. However, many animal nutrition experts maintain that certain carbohydrates are beneficial in a dog’s diet. Beyond being a practical source of energy, good carbohydrates—like brown rice, barley, and sweet potato—aid digestion and help your dog produce firmer stools. 
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Dogs must get calcium, phosphorus, taurine, and other essential vitamins and minerals from their diet. But before you reach for dog supplements, keep in mind that too many vitamins and minerals could lead to health problems (e.g., too much vitamin D can lead to kidney disease in dogs). As long as you feed your dog a balanced diet of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, they should get everything they need from their food.

So, how do you make sure that your dog is getting all of these essential nutrients? One simple tip is to look for a statement on the label that says the dog food has met the standards set by the Association of American Feed (AAFCO). This statement certifies that the food is “complete and balanced,” which means that it contains nutrients in the correct ratios for the dog’s life stage and condition.

Types of Dog Food

Types of Dog Food

From trendy raw food diets to kibble, there’s no shortage of options for dog food. So, which one is best for your doggo? Here is a quick breakdown of the most popular types of dog food on the market:

1. Dry Dog Food

If you’ve ever owned a dog before, chances are you fed them dry dog food (aka, kibble). Dry dog food remains the most popular option within the dog food industry, and for good reason. Convenient, affordable, and easy to portion-manage, kibble is an ideal option for busy pet owners who don’t have the time nor the patience to cook their dog’s meal from scratch. Dry dog food can also be used with interactive toys to give your dog some much-needed mental stimulation—simply place some kibble inside the toy and let the fun begin! 

2. Canned Food

Got a dog with a picky palate? Most canines go crazy for canned food, which offers several advantages over dry kibble. For starters, canned dog food typically contains fewer carbohydrates than its dry counterpart. As we mentioned earlier: Carbohydrates are good in reasonable amounts, but too many carbs can lead to health problems such as weight gain and obesity. Canned food also contains higher concentrations of meat ingredients, fewer preservatives, and a higher moisture content to keep your dog hydrated and healthy. Some pet owners have voiced concerns over bisphenol A (BPA), which is a compound commonly used to line the cans of dog food. While there are BPA-free varieties of canned dog food, the jury is still out on whether BPA alternatives are much better.

3. Raw Food

Raw diets, which can be home-prepared or purchased commercially, have become extremely popular in recent years. This diet involves feeding your dog raw meat, bones, organs, fruits, and vegetables. Proponents of the diet say that raw food offers a range of benefits, including a healthier coat, higher energy levels, and cleaner teeth. However, many veterinarians and associations—including the American Veterinary Medical Association — warn that raw food diets can carry harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. If you’re leaning toward this diet, talk with your veterinarian first.

4. Fresh Food

Want to feed your dog a high-quality diet without the risk of harmful bacteria? Consider feeding your dog a fresh food diet. Unlike raw food diets, fresh food diets come pre-cooked, which lowers the risk of bacteria and makes complex carbohydrates easier for your dog to digest. Fresh, cooked commercial dog food typically consists of high-quality, human-grade food, meaning that the food is technically edible for humans and meets stricter manufacturing and safety standards. If you’re interested, check out companies such as Ollie, The Farmer’s Dog, and Freshpet, which offer fresh dog food delivered straight to your door.  

golden retriever prepares to eat

How to Choose the Right Dog Food

Are the options for dog food making your head spin? We know the feeling! Lucky for you, we have a few tricks up our sleeve to help you narrow down your choices. Without further ado, here are a few top tips for deciding what should go into your dog’s bowl:

1. Consider your dog’s age, breed, activity level, and reproductive status.

All of these factors are enormously important for choosing the best diet for your dog. Puppies and nursing mothers need more calories to provide them with the energy they need, while mature dogs typically require fewer calories in their golden years. Similarly, active and working dog breeds may need more protein in their diets than couch-potato breeds. That said, you don’t need to go so far as to buy a breed-specific dog food for Fido. Although nutritional requirements can vary based on the size and activity level of certain dog breeds, experts say that breed-specific dog foods are not backed by science and are little more than a marketing gimmick.

2. Determine how much time and money you want to invest in dog food.

It goes without saying that you want to feed your dog the best dog food on the market. But if you’re short on time or money (or both), some dog food options might not be practical for you and your furry friend. For example, feeding your dog all-natural food fresh from the fridge is a great way to keep your pup healthy and fit, but cooking your dog’s meals at home also requires a lot of planning and preparation. Alternatively, if you’re crunched for time but have money, there are plenty of dog food companies that will send fresh dog food straight to your door. 

3. Read the ingredients list.

One way to separate high-quality dog food from poor-quality dog food is to read the label. All commercial dog food labels must list their ingredients in descending order by dry-weight, which means that the first five to six ingredients are usually the major ingredients in your dog’s food.  Ideally, you want to see two identifiable animal protein sources listed as the first two ingredients, followed by whole grains, healthy fats, and vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables. 

4. Avoid potentially harmful ingredients.

You now know what to look for in a dog food, but what should you avoid? If you want to give your pet the best, steer clear from dog foods that contain the following ingredients:

  • Fillers and artificial preservatives (e.g., ethoxyquin and butylated hydroxyanisole)
  • Food dyes
  • Corn syrup/corn
  • High concentrations of wheat
  • Animal by-products

corgi sitting with owner at laptop

5. Investigate the company. 

While reading the label can help you weed out lower quality dog foods, it can only tell you so much about the quality of your pet’s food. To ensure that your dog is eating a premium dog food, you may need to do some digging on the company that makes your dog’s food. Consider reaching out to the company and asking them the following questions:

  • Does the manufacturer have at least one qualified pet nutritionist on their team? What are their qualifications? Animal nutritionists should have a PhD in animal nutrition and, ideally, board certification.
  • Does the company own the manufacturing plant where the food is made? Owning the plant often gives the company more control over the quality.
  • What quality control practices does the manufacturer have in place? Premium dog food companies practice quality control measures to verify the nutritional content in the dog food and ensure label requirements are met.
  • Have their foods undergone testing by the AAFCO feeding trials? These statements can usually be found on the packaging near the guaranteed analysis or feeding guidelines.

If the company can’t provide suitable answers to these questions, think twice about feeding your four-legged friend that particular brand of dog food. Remember, pets can’t question what goes into their food—they rely on you to do it for them.

6. Consider enlisting the help of a pet nutritionist.

If your pet has certain medical conditions or requires a home-cooked diet, consider hiring a pet nutritionist to ensure that you’re feeding them a complete and balanced diet. While there are recipes for home-cooked dog meals on the internet, many of them aren’t tailored to your dog’s specific needs. A pet nutritionist can develop a personalized diet that meets your dog’s nutritional requirements and helps them live their best life.

Factoring in Dog Chews

Although chews should only make up a small part of your dog’s calorie intake (generally, no more than 10 percent), it’s important to avoid feeding yours any low-quality dog chews. Run-of-the-mill dog treats such as Milk Bones and Pup-Peroni often contain artificial preservatives, meat by-products, sugar, and other controversial ingredients that aren’t good for Fido.

Instead, your dog can enjoy their life and you can remain guilt-free by stocking up on high-quality dog chews from PawLove. Made from only the best ingredients, our all-natural dog chews are a great way to reward your dog and make them feel loved. Plus, they’re a great way to keep your dog’s teeth in tip-top shape!

Not sure which dog chews are right for your dog? Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

  • For active dogs, opt for high-protein dog chews. Bully sticks for dogs are a great option for canine athletes. These single-ingredient chews are packed with protein to support active dogs.

choose marrow bones

  • For heavy chewers, skip the Nyla Bones and choose marrow bones for dogs instead. Not only do our marrow bones last a long time, but they’re also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.
  • For older pets, consider our yummy collagen sticks. These healthy chews are made from delicious, natural beef and are packed with collagen to promote healthy skin and a shiny coat and mobility.

The Takeaway

The best way to decide what goes into your dog’s bowl is to simply ask your veterinarian. After all, they know your pet’s medical history and are in the best position to recommend a nutritional plan that works for you and your pet. It’s important to remember that all dogs are different, so it may take some time to figure out what diet works best for your dog. But, once you find the sweet spot in their nutrition, it will all be worth it!

Image Credits:

Jaromir Chalabala/