If you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably struggled at some point with picking out the “best dog food.” Many people are unaware that some of the most popular commercial brands on the market aren’t even good for your dog. MANY dog foods are full of fillers, poor quality meats, meat by-products, preservatives, and artificial ingredients that are harmful for your pooch. It’s important to know what REALLY makes up your dog’s meal.

Take a few minutes to go through this article, and by the time you’re done, you’ll have a good handle on what to look for and what to avoid next time you take a trip down the dog food aisle.

Grain-Based vs. Meat-Based

Many dog food brands are grain-based instead of meat-based. Grains are carbohydrates that your dog doesn’t need, and meat is protein, which your dog does need to be healthy. Dogs are carnivores, so their food should have a high quality meat-based protein as the main ingredient. Many dog food brands use grain as the key ingredient because it’s cheap and holds the kibble together.

The “Top 5” Healthy Dog Food Ingredients

Look at the top five or so ingredients on your dog’s food label. These will make up the bulk of the food’s composition. Generally, the shorter the list of ingredients is, the better. A long list of ingredients often includes unhealthy, processed additives and fillers that could harm your pet. A short list of whole food ingredients is a good sign.

Ingredients that Should Be Listed First:

Protein: A source of protein should be at the top of the ingredients list and should be listed as a whole food, such as chicken, fish, lamb, beef, etc. Neither the protein nor the fat source should be listed as animal, meat, or anything else nondescript.

Meat Meal: According to Mercola, the second listed ingredient in a quality dog food should be meal. The meal should be listed as a specific species, such as chicken meal or beef meal. It should NOT be listed as meat meal. Meal is composed of meat, skin, and bone, which are good for your dog.

Vegetables: Veggies, and possibly some fruit, should also be listed within the top five ingredients of a quality dog food. Corn doesn’t count as a vegetable in this case. It’s actually a grain and used as a filler for many dog foods because it’s cheap. Corn won’t do anything for your dog’s health and nutrition, however.

Ingredients to Avoid:
  • Grains
  • Starches
  • Soy
  • By-products, particularly meat and poultry by-products
  • Anything artificial: color, sweeteners, flavors, preservatives

Take a Closer Look at the Labels

According to PetMD, you should look for the following stipulations under the GUARANTEED ANALYSIS section on a dog food label:

  • Protein content 30% or more
  • Fat content a least 18%
  • Any preservatives should be via vitamin E or vitamin C
  • Omega fatty acids
  • NO added food coloring
  • Meat listed as the FIRST ingredient
  • NO corn or soy

Some dog owners give their dogs additional supplements, but this may be unnecessary if your dog’s food is made up of good, healthy ingredients in the first place. Find dog food that really is nutritious, and supplements shouldn’t be necessary. A lot of research goes into formulating a good dog food; it’s created with a strict balance of fat, protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients. If you add a supplement to that, you may throw off the balance.

Next time you go to the store to pick up the best dog food for your pet, read the label first, and apply what you now know to make a sound decision so your dog can be as healthy as possible!

The Dog’s Way

We know that every dog is unique and starts at a different level of competence. Trainer Sean McDaniel teaches core principles so you can discover what works for YOUR dog. If you would like help training your dog, or if you’re interested in any of our resources, such as The Dog’s Way podcast, blog, or video courses, you’re in the right place. Feel free to contact us today with any questions or concerns you may have about your dog!


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The information contained in The Dog’s Way website is presented as public service information only. It is not intended to be nor is it a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Consult with your vet for diagnosis of and questions about your dog’s condition. The Dog’s Way occasionally supplies links to other web sites as a service to its readers and is not in any way responsible for information provided by other organizations.