How to Choose Dog Food, According to Science – 8 Factors to Consider

Picking out the right food for your dog also means picking out the right ingredients. As a responsible pet friend, one of the best things you can do for him is serve healthy, well-balanced food. Good dog food has the right nutrition your dog really needs, depending on his age, breed, and activity level.

The struggle of finding dog food is real, which is why this guide will help find something safer and honest. You will also find many websites that will encourage you against raw diets and towards wheat, corn, and other vegetables. Among brands that scream at you for not treating your dog right their food, you need to find something trustworthy and legitimate to move forward with.

food bowl 430347 640

And the only way to do this is with awareness and persistence. If things get out of hand, it’s always wise to contact a professional vet near you for your dog’s nutritional needs. But before you do that, you might want to look at these significant factors to consider.

1. How Old Is Your Dog?

When it comes to feeding your dog the right nutrition, age is the first important factor that comes to mind. There are 3 important life stages for dogs starting from puppy to adult to senior life stage. Your pet needs to be fed food that’s appropriate for the stage he’s currently living.

This is important because your dog needs certain amount of proteins and a calorie count to grow properly into this adulthood. So to meet your dog’s growth requirements, falling back on his current life stage diet is essential.

For example, your puppy’s metabolism and nutritional needs change once he enters adulthood. So you getting the right formula also depends on his age.

While there isn’t a confirmed dog food formula for each life stage, here’s what you should look forward to.

For puppies: A puppy requires more proteins and a higher calorie count than adults and seniors. The kind of food your puppy eats can drastically influence his immune function and well-being in the future.

Feeding your puppy solid food from the age of 3 to 8 weeks is essential. Moving forward from that age, your puppy enters a healthy stage, making a dramatic transition from milk to solid food. The growing of limbs and teeth, along with other important parts, marks the early development period for your puppy.

According to a research, puppies require plenty of water, protein and amino acids, fatty acids, and minerals for proper bone growth, physical development, and cognitive adaptability. Any sort of deficiency can lead to growth impairment and dehydration. (1)

For adults: As your puppy enters the adulthood phase, the nutritional intake should be reduced to lesser proteins and calories because that could lead to overweight. Adult food for dogs contain sufficient nutrients for overall growth and development. But mostly, it should consist of vitamins, calcium, fatty acids, minerals, and some proteins.

A healthy nutritional diet coupled with exercise (or on the dog treadmill if space is limited) constitutes into a well-balanced meal based on your dog’s age group.

You also need to factor in your dog’s lean weight and feed to determine the feeding amount. Based on the amount of calories your dog needs on a daily basis, based on his lifestyle and physical habits, you may be able to estimate how much food your adult dog needs every day. (2,3)

This is extremely important because over-feeding your adult dog can lead to obesity which is a serious marker for diabetes, heart diseases, and other complications. (4)

For senior dogs: Feeding your senior dog the right kind of dog food might be challenging. The physiological changes your dog goes through during this life stage can weigh in the way you choose dog food.

Most senior dogs experience urinary incontinence or arthritis during old age. While some even experience vision or hearing loss. That’s precisely why special nutritional care is needed.

Your senior dog needs dog food that’s low in calories, but higher in fiber, fatty acids, and proteins. Fiber is primarily important because it reduces metabolism-related problems and bowel inconsistencies. It also promotes kidney health. (5)

The lack of proper awareness on this subject can put your dog through more frustration and even physical discomfort. Relying on dog food labels to give you the right nutritional information is not enough. You need to know what goes behind pet nutrition to find the best dog food.

2. Don’t Forget To Read The Label

Reading the dog food label before finalizing on one is very important. This comes after you know which type of dog food to buy, that is for puppies, adults, or seniors. There are varied health standards for dog food, but relying on all will leave you confused and frustrated.

Buying packaged dog food for the first time? You might want to read about the different components that make up a dog food label.

Product name: This might seem unusual, but according to FDA, the product’s name plays a major role in the quality of the product. For example, a product with 95% ingredient-specific name has fewer ingredients in higher quantities. The same applies to products with 70 to 75% ingredient-specific names.

However, products with names like “Chicken Formula Dog Food” or “Beef Formula Dog Food” isn’t the best nutritional diet you need for your dog. It contains higher amount of ingredients in lesser quantities. It’s always advisable to opt for dog food brands with fewer ingredients, higher water intake, and better processing. (6)

Ingredients: The ingredients list is often the most complicated off all. All the ingredients listed on the food label are labeled in order of quantity (weight). If you want to buy dog food that’s high-quality and free of unwanted fillers, knowing how to break down each label component is very important.

For example, some brands list undesirable ingredients at the bottom of the label. This is to hide the preservatives, colorings, and other artificial fillers present in the dog food.

Some common dog food ingredients found in dog food products are meat, meat by-products, fish meal, ground corn, corn gluten meal, brown rice, soyabean, BHA, and tocopherols. (7)

Apart from this, here’s what you should look for in most dog food labels.

AAFCO approved: If your dog food is AAFCO approved, it means the food has been concluded as a balanced, healthy nutritional product. It also means the food meets minimum health standards to promote well-being and development.

If your dog food doesn’t come with AAFCO recommendation, it’s time to look for something that does.

Grain-free: Grain-free dog food makes use of potatoes and starch-specific formulas, in lesser amounts, to combat the meat content. This is the ideal grain-free marker for healthy dog food.

Whole protein food: Look for a dog food product that comes with whole-food protein ingredients at the top of its list. This includes lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, etc. Anything less specific than these isn’t worth your time. The list of names you should avoid are meat, poultry, and animal.

3. Considering Breed Size

Choosing the right dog food based on breed size is also very important. Your dog needs to consume balanced nutrients for growth, immune function, healthy skin and coat, and bone development.

If you look at other dog food guides, you will find that most dog foods are categorized by breed-specific factors. This includes only breed size, as there isn’t any major difference between different breeds.

Small-breed dogs have faster metabolic rates than medium- or large-breed dogs. That goes to show that small-breed dogs need more fatty nutrients than any other. Hence, special care is required for all breeds.

Small-breed dog: If you have a small-breed dog, his nutritional needs must be quite rare. As puppies, their metabolism rate is higher than most, which results in a higher calorie intake and water. This transitions into a stronger immune function and higher metabolic need when your pup enters adulthood.

For a small-breed dog, relying on loads of vitamins, minerals, fruits, whole-grains, and vegetables is essential. You don’t want your dog to gain weight because it causes other serious conditions such as diabetes and arthritis. Hence, choosing a balanced meal comprising of fewer, but healthier ingredients is ideal. (9)

Medium-breed dog: If you have a medium-breed dog, his nutritional needs aren’t hard to meet. While small-breed dogs fall between 10 pounds or lower and 10 to 25 pounds, medium-breed dogs weigh somewhere between 20 to 50 pounds.

Compared to small-breed dogs, medium-breed pups have a less aggressive metabolic system. But they’re still higher than large-breed dogs. So a healthy supply of vitamins, fatty acids, proteins, and minerals is essential.

You must ensure that whatever you feed your medium-breed dog is nutrient dense, as they have smaller stomachs than large-breed dogs. So the energy stays up and so does the physical activity.

Large-breed dog: If you have a large-breed dog, his nutritional needs are extensive. You need to feed him large amounts of high-quality and natural dog food to sustain. Large-breed dogs are the most active, so finding nutrient-dense dog food is important.

High-quality dog food consists of proteins, fiber, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. But as opposed to small and medium-breed dogs, large-breed dogs are more susceptible to diabetes, heart problems, and bloating.

This mainly happens because of overnutrition, which is a prevailing condition among large-breed pet owners. Just like in humans, moderation is key when feeding large-breed dogs. (10,11)

4. Canned or Dry Food - Which Is Best?

Deciding on the right dog food can also be determined on its type. This also depends on the kind of food your dog likes to eat because not all dogs enjoy wet food as much as dry. You can opt for either based on what your dog likes or what the veterinarian recommends. But here’s what you really need to know about canned and dry food.

Canned or wet food: Wet food is an excellent source of hydrated meals. So if your dog isn’t drinking sufficient water in the day, feeding wet food can elevate hydration levels in his body. Plus, wet food contains fewer calories than dry food, even with the same food portion size.

It is also good to know what wet food has a strong smell and taste. So it’s a great alternative if you want your pet to build an appetite before every meal. As far as health conditions are concerned, dogs with disfigured teeth and other similar abnormalities will find wet food much easier to consume than dry.

However, canned food items can cause dental problems such as bad breath, tooth decay, etc. It also loses most of its nutrients if kept out for long. So if you know your dog will immediately consume the freshly put out wet food, it’s a good choice.

Recent studies have mentioned that canned dog food contains high levels of BPA, which is associated with reproductive and hormonal-related diseases in humans. With an increase in canned dog food consumption, there was an immediate increase in BPA levels in dogs in 2 weeks. So opting for dry food for daily diet plans is healthy. (12)

Dry food: Feeding your dog dry kibble is the cleanest and most convenient way ever! You can keep the food out for a couple of hours, without worrying about spoilage or bacterial accumulation. Dry dog food comes in different kibble sizes, based on the dental factors.

The rough texture of dry food kibbles also helps in dental care as it cleans bacteria and dirt of your dog’s teeth as he chews. It’s proven that dry food contains higher nutrients content, which helps eliminate conditions associated with contaminated fillers. (13)

Even though there’s no right or wrong when it comes to choosing dog food, you need to feed your dog the kind of food he wants to eat and not the other way around. When deciding between wet and dry food, factors such as your dog’s dental and medical condition, and lifestyle requirements are worth considering. (14)

5. Checking For Food Allergies

If your dog has sensitive skin, thin coat quality, and redness of skin, you have to be extremely careful when choosing the right dog food. Food allergies are on the rise for dogs, so if you find your dog scratching his body frequently, it’s time to do a simple allergy check.

While some people confuse food allergies with food intolerance, poor digestion and lactose intolerance are symptoms of the latter. On the other hand, redness of skin, itching, poor coat quality, and skin or ear infections are symptoms of dog allergies.

You can start by feeding your dog sources of both protein and carbohydrate for 3 months. You will find a number of healthy dog food products that offer such a specialized diet. This triggers a stronger immune response against allergic reactions.

Some dog food products break protein and carbohydrates down into smaller sizes for better digestion and absorption. This might help alleviate allergic triggers.

Based on a report, dogs with allergies should be given a specialized diet for at least 21 days for better immune responses. It’s always advisable to choose the right ingredients for a long-term solution.

There can be many reasons for an allergic reaction, but food sensitivities are a common one. If you have been feeding your dog the wrong diet for months with artificial additives and harmful ingredients, an allergic reaction is inevitable.

Based on his age, gender, and breed, determining the right ingredients and dog food is a must to deal with such extreme food sensitivities. This helps boost your dog’s immunological mechanisms. (16)

6. Check For Expiration Date

The manufacturing and packaging of dog food products is an important factor to consider. Just like any other food item, dog food also comes with certain health limitations in terms of food quality and use.

This applies to both the pet food as well as its packaging. You need something that aligns well with quality standards such as nutrition quality and BPA-free packaging materials. Look for dog foods that have date labeling, that is the packaging date on them.

Foods with a shorter shelf life need to be consumed much faster than foods with longer shelf life. That’s obvious, but in the case of the former, the faster you finish it, the better. That way all the nutrients are intact and there’s better digestion without any gastrointestinal problems.

Look for labels such as “best before” or “use by date” to have a better understanding of the product’s shelf life. That said, some products come with clear instructions for how to physically store the packet to maintain healthy food quality. (17)

The “best before” date is usually positioned in a prominent spot on the packaging. It’s always highlighted on the pet food label so you know what to look at first. This sort of color coding for different labels is important, so look for dog food brands that offer just that.

Brands with a higher value offer better packaging conditions for your dog. According to a report, the quality of pet food packaging is on the rise. Features like puncture-resistance, sophisticated graphics, and higher quality food will result in safer and more reliable dog food brands. (18)

Factors such as BPA-free wet food cans, high-quality plastic pouches, and more portable packaging have the ability to increase shelf life and keep up with high-quality food. That’s why considering the date labeling when choosing dog food is essential.

7. Determining The Feeding Time

Believe it or not, choosing the right dog food also depends on how often you feed your dog. This is especially important because your dog might have special dietary needs. Here’s how you can determine the right feeding time for your dog.

There are all sorts of dog food, ranging from organic, high-protein, all-meat, gluten-free, and raw. Some of you might find anti-allergy dog food to be the best fit for your companion. But if your dog has a digestive problem, setting a feeding schedule is never a bad thing!

Studies suggest that dogs with sensitive skin and stomachs are more likely to benefit from a strict feeding schedule than healthy dogs. Feeding him the right ingredients at the right time can alleviate age-related problems as much as bloating.

So how do you know which dog food is ready to take up your unique dog feeding schedule? According to Nestle, the five main ingredients of high-quality dog food are protein, fiber, fatty acids, carbohydrates, and minerals. (19)

All dog foods contain these ingredients, followed by meat-based or vegetable-based diets are considered healthy and nutritive.

You can either set reminders or buy an automatic pet feeder to keep up with the schedule. Knowing how often your dog drinks water and when you provide water after his meals is also extremely important.

For example, if you feed your dog only dry pet food, he’s going to feel thirsty after finishing the meal. So it’s okay to put out a bowl a fresh water after. Wet food, on the other hand, contains plenty of fiber and water, so excessive hydration might lead to bloating and urinary infections.

The key is to find the right feeding time based on your dog’s health conditions and lifestyle. Some dogs prefer eating before a walk, while some after. If you take your dog for shorter walks more frequently in a day, you might want to avoid excessive feeding at one time.

Keeping a lookout for loss of appetite, dehydration, and unfinished food bowls is a good way to communicate with your dog. Is your dog suddenly shedding a lot more fur and causing your air purifier for pets to go into 'red' air purifier mode? If his eating habits don’t bode well with your feeding schedule, maybe it’s time to change how and what you feed him.

That being said, it is in everyone’s advantage when you speak to the veterinarian about your dog’s eating habits and lifestyle to determine the right feeding time. That way, your dog will eat right, poop right, and live a healthier and longer life. (20)

8. Is It Easy To Digest?

Do you understand your dog’s digestibility traits? You need to understand how proper digestion affects your dog, the way it does to a human. If the essential nutrients in the dog food to meet your dog’s needs, it’s time to buy new dog food.

Based on how well your dog defecates can you determine whether you’re feeding the right kind of food to your dog. It tells you what you need to know and what’s in the food the bodes well with your dog.

Moving forward, there are after factors such as flatulence that need to be taken seriously. Once you select the right food, set a feeding time, and feed your dog, you need to repeat this for a week to understand your dog’s pooping schedule.

For instance, the amount of food you feed in a day and the number of times your dog poops is essential. You can easily distinguish between the good from bad if your dog experiences difficulty in passing stools.

A recent study suggests that homemade food recipes are not as dog-friendly as you might think. They’re inadequate in meeting the nutritional needs of any canine breed. If you don’t trust dog food companies and need to harness more control over what your dog digests, homemade cooking is not a healthy alternative.

However, feeding your dog homemade meals for a short span of time may prove helpful. But for long-term growth and development, a homemade meal doesn’t have all the balanced nutrition for your dog’s wellness. (21)

It’s true that some dog food brands might be misleading and false. That’s why health standard such as AAFCO are in place to guard against such fraud and mislabeled products. (22)

What’s Next?

If you’re completely overwhelmed by this information, here’s a brief run-down of what I’ve discussed, in detail, above.

  1. The first thing you’d want to do when choosing dog food is contacting your veterinarian. Feeding a puppy can be challenging and a veterinarian can get you on the right track. Checking your puppy’s current health condition will narrow down your search for the best dog food.

  2. Your veterinarian should run a few tests to find out more about your pup’s health. Factors such as allergy, infections, and kidney problem tests is what he or she should look forward to.

  3. Don’t rely on paid advertisements for dog food. Sometimes they can be misleading and mislabeled for profit purposes. It’s safer to look at each dog food bag for labels, ingredients, etc. before buying. According to scientific studies, foods that claim to be “all natural”, “gourmet”, and “premium” aren’t always dependable. Unless they are FDA or AAFCO approved.

  4. Giving wet food or dry food a chance is a good way to keep your options open. It’s all a matter of how well your dog responds to either one. Certain kinds of wet food cause digestive problems, while dry food might lead to dehydration. So consulting a veterinarian is ideal.

  5. The most important thing to consider when choosing dog food is quality labels. If your current dog food isn’t AAFCO-approved, it’s time to throw it out. AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. It’s a health standard that dictates when a dog food brand meets nutritional requirements the right way.

  6. The next factor to consider is ingredients. Looking for specific ingredients rather than whole-food groups is essential. If your current dog food consists of “chicken meals” “meat meals”, etc. you might want to look for something more particular.

  7. Then comes ingredients comparison. Some breeds require high-protein meals than high-fiber or carbohydrates. Once you compare how nutritional a certain type of dog food is, it helps you narrow down your favorites. You will also understand how dog food products are in terms of ingredients labeling.

  8. Based on your dog’s age, weight, and gender, checking the caloric content is important. To maintain a healthy weight, looking for a well-balanced diet is a good way to go. This will eliminate weight-related diseases such as arthritis, heart problems, etc.

  9. Once you know what dog food to buy, check its expiration label. You want to find the freshest food possible, whether it’s wet or dry food. Wet food is more short-lived than dry food because of the higher water content. But when dry food is exposed to air and light, it might become rancid.

  10. Using an airtight container for storing the dog food is the last important step you need to take. If the dog food packaging has a zip-lock, there’s no point in using a plastic or metal container. But it’s good to store dog food in a dry place, away from humidity and heat.

By choosing the right dog food, you’re literally saving your dog’s life! Unless you have a robot dog, this guide will be important. There are hundreds of diet options for dogs, but finding the best way to feed yours is something extremely unique. Canine nutrition consists of thousands of diet plans and ingredients, so this isn’t going to be easy.

That said, there is a lot of information about choosing dog food in this guide. You can always use these pointers to your advantage to get all the necessary tips and tricks you need to move forward.

However, it’s always good to rely on veterinarian for professional support. With this guide, you will definitely be able to ask the right questions for your dog’s health. Another thing you can do is ask around, especially those with dogs about specific brands and specialized dog food recipes.

While choosing dog food is a subjective effort, but knowing what’s out there and what works for other dog owners is necessary too. The same goes for talking to pet groomers, breeders, and trainers. They know more about canine nutrition than you do. So you can consult a veterinarian, use all the information to get by asking around, read this guide, and then narrow down your options further.

That is a job well done, if you ask me!