It's important to consider your pet's age, breed, and overall health.

By Samantha Hunter
January 15, 2020
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy / Getty Images

With all of the dog food selections available on the market today, it can be a daunting task to select the right kind for your canine. However, if you're willing to do a little research and investigation, you can narrow down the number of viable choices and make an informed selection that will not only make you happy, but keep your dog healthy as well. "Every dog is unique with individual needs depending on the dog's age, health background, activity level, and metabolism," explains Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club. "For these reasons, it is always recommended to discuss diet with your veterinarian."

Many veterinarians recommend that pet owners feed their pets a "complete and balanced" diet, which is a term designated by the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO), adds Klein, who suggests that dog owners learn more about complete and balanced diets by consulting experts at the AAFCO, as well as the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and the Pet Food Institute.

Related: These Are the Human Foods That Your Dog Can Safely Eat

Read the List of Ingredients

Matthew O'Leary, co-owner of Felix & Oscar pet store in Springfield, Virginia, takes some of the legwork out of the equation by researching each and every brand before it's placed on shelves to ensure that it meets their stringent requirements of being healthy and nutritious for dogs.

O'Leary also advises dog owners to always read the ingredient panel on the packaging of dog food. "Ideally, the food should be minimally processed, as the dog's short digestive tract and high acidity is designed to process raw or uncooked foods (with inconsequential chances of catching salmonella or e. coli," he explains. Dogs with compromised immune systems though should be eating gently cooked foods with whole food ingredients. Also, a rotation of proteins and even brands is highly recommended. "Dogs can get just as bored of the same food as we do and, more importantly, it will help fight off potential allergy issues down the road."

Ask for Tried-and-True Opinions

Mike Sagman, editor of The Dog Food Advisor, says that dog owners can access detailed, ingredient-by-ingredient editorial reviews and easy-to-understand star ratings for many of the most popular products online at his site. In addition to understanding what is in the food that you select for your dog, Sagman says that is is equally as important to consider feedback from the pet-owner community.

"These are the observations from actual buyers published on pet food retailer websites like Chewy and Amazon," he explains. "Within those reviews, you'll find the owner's report of their dog's reaction to the food (palatability and taste) and valuable clues as to the digestibility of a recipe as revealed in a dog's stools. This data is the closest you can come to actually asking your dog, 'So, how do you feel about this brand?'" Unlike in the years prior to the Internet, there are now hundreds (even thousands) of readily accessible user reviews for each product. And if you're thinking that boutique dog food brands are better and safer than big-name brands, it's not a guarantee.

"Dog owners wrongfully believe that the larger brands are more dangerous than smaller brands," Sagman warns. "Testing is expensive. So, in general, due to cost constraints and the limited resources of smaller businesses, micro brands are far less likely to actually test their products, and are thus far more prone to manufacturing flaws and recalls."

Sagman is a fan of the Purina Pro Plan line and appreciates the brand's extensive research and exceptional quality control. Purina ONE, which features a variety of unique formulations well-suited to any dog's age, breed, size, or dietary needs, is a good option for pet parents looking for an all-natural offering.

Consider Your Dog's Age, Breed, and Overall Health

With so many breeds of dog as well as types of foods to consider (dry dog food, wet food, grain-free dog food, etc.) it's almost impossible to pinpoint a one-size-fits-all option. Instead, owners should try to identify a food that's specifically designed for the life stage and breed of their dog. "Generally speaking, smaller breeds have a more finicky palette," O'Leary says. "They also are more prone to not doing well with changes in ingredients or new foods, so we make sure pet parents know to take it slow with them."

Comparatively, larger dog breeds such as Great Danes should limit their growth as puppies to ensure their bones and joints don't become malformed. As your dog ages, it's best to decrease the caloric intake and increase fiber. And while most people know about adding joint supplementation (which many good quality foods now incorporate directly) in senior dogs, recent studies show it can also help puppies as they grow into adults, he continues.

"With little knowledge and help, any pet parent can become a well-informed consumer with the right questions to ask," O'Leary adds.

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