How To Choose The Right Dog Food

Every dog food brand claims to be the best. Most brands advertise with texts like "Premium, grain-free food with a high meat content for a natural diet for your dog" - sounds appealing, but it says absolutely nothing about the quality of the food. A "high meat content" is subjective, and can in fact be a low percentage. Grain-free dry food is not necessarily better than food that does contain some form of grains. It’s better to ignore the marketing slang and look at the actual contents of the food. In this short article, we’ll show you what to look for in healthy dog food. Assess dog food yourself in 6 easy steps!

Step 1 Meat content

To assess the meat content, look at the ingredients list for the amount of animal protein in the diet. Meat consists for the most part of proteins and in this way you can objectively look at how much meat is present. So you can easily estimate the protein content by looking at the protein percentage. The higher the protein percentage, the more meat the food contains.

Animal proteins are very important for dogs. Healthy dog food must therefore consist of at least 25% protein. Choose a diet with preferably also poultry as a protein source. Dogs do not need vegetable proteins as much as animal proteins. If the diet also contains vegetable proteins, the percentage of proteins must total 30% or more.

If the food also contains vegetable proteins, look especially at where the animal proteins are listed in the ingredients list. Ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight.

Make sure that the meat in your dog's diet is not cheap 4-D meat. 4-D meats are sources from Disabled, Diseased, Dying or Dead animals. These meats are rated as hazardous to humans and animals. While banned for human consumption, they are still processed in dog food in some markets, including the USA. These meats are banned from use in pet food in Europe. Your dog can get very sick from eating 4-D meat, which is why this is one of the most important ingredients to avoid in your dog's diet.

Step 2 Grains and / or Potato content

You can calculate the grain, potato or other filling content by determining the carbohydrate percentage. Carbohydrate is the main constituent of grains and potatoes. All dry food need to contain some form of carbohydrates to form a chunk. The amount of carbohydrates is not always listed on the packaging, but it’s possible to calculate the percentage as follows:

100% minus

- the percentage of protein 

- the percentage of fat 

- the percentage of moisture 

- the percentage of fibers

\= the approximate percentage of carbohydrates in the food.

More than 40% carbohydrates is too much. The fewer carbohydrates, the better.

Step 3 Fat source and fat content

Fat is an important energy supplier and certain fatty acids must be in your dog’s diet. At least 15% of the diet must consist of fats. The balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids is also important, especially if the food contains vegetable based omega 3 fatty acids. Dry food often contains too much omega 6 acids, which can lead to health problems. Therefore, ensure that there is a maximum of 5 times as much omega 6 as omega 3 in the food, or that the food only contains animal based omega-3 acids.

Animal fat is generally healthier than vegetable fat, because animal fat oxidizes less quickly (with the exception of fish oil) and because the dog's body is better attuned to digesting animal based fat. Coconut and palm oil is an exception to this as it also does not oxidize quickly. Vegetable fats are sometimes hardened, creating trans fats which are very unhealthy for your dog. It is therefore best to go for food containing only animal fats.

Step 4 Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are often added to dog food. Minerals exist in several forms. The form indicates to which substance the mineral is bound. Some mineral compounds are not properly absorbed or used by the body. Some minerals are even have negative health effects! 

Important minerals to include in your dog’s diet are: 

chelates

proteinates

citrates

fumarates

gluconates

Avoid these minerals as much as possible because they can be harmful to your dog:

sulphates

oxides

phosphates

chlorides

Step 5 Antioxidants

To prevent fats from oxidizing quickly, antioxidants are added to food. This can be done in a natural or in a synthetic way. The synthetic way has the advantage for the manufacturer that they last longer and that it is cheaper. Unfortunately, there are disadvantages for the animal: they are unhealthy in high quantities and possibly have negative effects with prolonged use.

Antioxidants are added to fats before the fats reach the dog food manufacturer. The manufacturer does not have to state if the raw materials contain synthetic antioxidants. If natural antioxidants are used in the raw materials, this is often mentioned, but not always.

Look for these natural antioxidants: 

Vitamin E / tocopherols (In Europe: E306 to E309)

Vitamin C (In Europe: E300 to E302)

Rosemary extract

Watch out for these synthetic antioxidants: 

BHA (In Europe: E320)

BHT (In Europe: E321)

Propyl gallate (In Europe: E310)

Ethoxyquin (In Europe: E324)

Step 6 Other dangerous ingredients

Unwanted ingredients are sometimes added to the food to make it last longer or cheaper to produce. Some of these ingredients make it more difficult for the dog to absorb vitamins and minerals, which can result in a risk of vitamin deficiency. It can also lead to hypersensitivity, allergies and other health problems. 

Unwanted other ingredients are: 

Sugar

MSG 

Wheat (gluten)

Menadione / vitamin K3

Soy

Dairy products

It’s very hard to find dog food that has all the right ingredients and doesn’t contain any potentially harmful ingredients. There are however huge differences in food quality with different brands, so it definitely pays off to do a little research on the list of ingredients before putting your dog on a new diet. Most brands list the ingredients of their foods on their website, so we recommend doing some research on the manufacturer’s websites before going to the store or ordering food online. By doing a search for healthy dog food brands you’ll find a list of the manufacturer’s websites. We hope this list will give you a bit of guidance while choosing a new healthy diet!

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Adam H.

Automotive enthusiast and tech nerd. Loves to spend his free time traveling abroad besides working on his startup.

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