How to Find the Best Dog Food

How to find the best dog food
Learn about dogs

As owners, we want to make sure we give our pets the best dog food that provides all the nutrition our pets need to keep them healthy and happy.

It can be easy to assume that all of the dog food on our supermarket shelves is made to be complete, balanced diets for our furry friends. However, there is a wide range in doggy dinners available, from age-specific to hypoallergenic meals, raw diets, to dry and wet food.

These different types of food have distinct differences in their nutritional value and consequences of following the diet, making it all the more important to research the options available and which is perfect for your pooch.

In order to find the best dog food for your canine companion, you will need to consider the individual needs of your pup which influence what food your dog should be eating, how much of it they need, and what they require from their diet. The best dog food should also include all the major food groups of protein, fat, oils, vitamins, and carbohydrates to keep your dog healthy.

To help you understand how to find the best dog food for your own pooch, we will be answering frequently asked questions about how to find the best dog food for your furry friend.

What are the Different Types of Dog Food?

Firstly, dog food can all be divided into two kinds, complete or complementary.

Complete food is designed to be nutritionally “complete” with all the vitamins, minerals and dietary components needed from your dog’s daily meals to keep them healthy. This food is made to make up the majority of your dog’s diet.

Complementary food is not meant to be fed as a main meal. These foods are only meant to be a “complementary” snack or addition to their diet, and does not have the suitable nutrition needed to be given as a meal. Complementary food is your dogs treats, while complete food makes up their daily dinners.

Beyond this, a dog’s complete food can come in many different varieties. Usually, we think of wet and dry food, but nowadays even more options are available.

Dry Food

The cheapest and most common form of dog food is dry biscuits or kibble. Many owners pick this food because it is convenient and inexpensive. It doesn’t require refrigeration or special storage, no preparation is needed, and it has a long shelf life. But it begs the question, is it nutritionally sufficient?

Kibble has low moisture content and the nutritional value can range according to the food and its ingredients. The highly processed nature of dry food devalues it nutritionally, and many contain artificial additives, preservatives, and grains, making it important to check the contents.

Plus, the ingredients used vary in quality and volume, again making it vital to check the label to see what’s inside.

One of the biggest differences between foods is whether they use processed low-quality protein sources or whole meat, but either way, the process of extrusion used to make the biscuits renders the difference to a minimum and lowers the digestibility of the food.

Wet Food

Wet food has a much higher moisture content, some brands can be as much as ¾ water. It’s more expensive than kibble but many dogs find it tastier. Wet food has a long shelf life and requires no preparation, but just like with dry food, the nutritional value can vary depending on the ingredients and protein sources used.

Many of these foods will contain artificial additives and preservatives so be sure to check the contents. Given the high-water content, wet food can lack nutrients, meaning a dog will need to eat a greater volume of food in order to receive all the nourishment they need.

There are various methods of producing wet dog food, all of which involve cooking the ingredients under an extremely high heat. A thick, jelly-like gravy is then added to thicken the mixture and make the food more palatable. However, this lacks nutritional benefit.

Semi-moist Food

Semi-moist food isn’t as widely available as wet food or dry food, but it forms a middle ground between the two. It’s a baked biscuit with a slightly squishy texture, thanks to a higher moisture content than traditional kibble.

Semi-moist food is still just as highly processed, meaning it loses a lot of its nutrients.

The water content in semi-moist food can be as high as 65% and the ingredients and their volumes vary between brands. This means that you will need to investigate each food individually to understand if it is the most nutritionally complete and the best food for your dog.

That includes keeping an eye out for low-quality food packed with preservatives and artificial additives.

Dogs need to be careful of semi-moist dog food, as it can contain lots of sugar and salt which is not the best for all pooches.

Raw Food

Raw food has become a fad diet for dogs and you can buy it prepared and frozen in stores or you can make the dinner up yourself. This is by far the most expensive way of feeding your dog.

Although you may know every ingredient in their dinner, it can be hard to monitor the nutritional value. As such, many raw diets are not nutritionally balanced.

Raw food carries the risk of carrying harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. Coli. Because of this, it must be frozen or freeze-dried in order for the food to be stored safely. These pathogens are harmful to humans, dogs, and other pets you may have, and the bacteria will still exist in your dog’s stool after they have digested their dinner.

There are very few studies on raw food diets and their effect on our pets. However, many vets discourage feeding a raw diet, particularly home-made meals. One study of these diets (both commercial and homemade) found 3 out of 5 diets were low in calcium and phosphorus, and 2 of 5 diets were deficient in potassium, zinc, and magnesium.

There are all essential nutrients your dog must be getting in their food. While the risks of raw diets remain underresearched, raw food diets should be approached with caution.

Homemade Food

Homemade food might seem like you’re giving your dog a tasty dinner with quality ingredients, but, almost every meal will be lacking adequate nutrition. Although you can estimate what each ingredient will contribute to the meal, it’s almost impossible to measure the nutritional value and digestibility of their food.

Plus, many recipes online are deliberately bland and are meant to be used short-term to help dogs recovering from an illness like pancreatitis, and are not suitable as a dog’s main diet.

Air-dried food

Most dog food is created by putting the ingredients through tons of processing under a lot of pressure and an extremely high heat. This method essentially does nothing beneficial for the food, it just devalues its nutritional value by a vast amount.

On the other hand, air-drying works by blowing a gentle heat over various ingredients to remove the moisture content, which retains all the nutrients that your dog needs to be healthy and happy.

Unlike raw feeding, which poses the bacterial risk of Salmonella and E. coli, the gentle heat of air-drying removes the potential risk of these harmful bacteria.

Pure recipes utilise ingredients that you recognise, nothing weird and artificial and the air-drying method works to lock in all of their nutritional value. It's the delicious, healthy dog food your pooch deserves.

To prepare air-dried dog food, you just need to rehydrate the ingredients by simply adding water, stirring the ingredients together and serving it to your pup to dig in and enjoy.

How Does Food Affect my Dog?

Just like people, the health of our pets is intrinsically linked with their diet. It has a part to play in the mood of your dog too, as not only does diet affect the production of hormones, but their hunger levels influence how they feel and how they respond to training and commands.

Around 70% of your dog’s immune system is associated with their digestive system. The food they eat impacts the health, condition, and workload of their digestive tract which in turn influences their immune system and overall health.

This is why so many gastrointestinal issues are associated with symptoms like low mood and dull coat, as your pooch’s entire body and wellbeing are affected by their diet. If they aren’t getting the complete nourishment they need, your pup will be unable to maintain a healthy body.

The food itself doesn’t just affect your dog, even their feeding times and where you feed them influence their eating habits and overall behaviour. For example, an overfed dog will become unresponsive to treats as a training aid, while a hungry pooch will be begging and scrounging for food, potentially rooting in bins and cupboards for scraps. Also, we've got a full post that details how often you should feed your dog that you can check out, so you can properly get your dog in a good feeding routine.

The ingredients in your pup’s food can also impact their mood. For example, a fatty acid called DHA is often added to puppy food to help increase their alertness. Meanwhile, senior dogs benefit more from an antioxidant-rich diet which aids their cognitive health and ability.

Similarly, some dog food has more sugar content than others. All food will have some glucose since that’s what carbs are broken down into, but avoid any with added sugar. Feeding your dog a balanced, high-quality food with carbohydrates that are slower to digest will help to regulate their blood sugar levels and prevent spikes of hyperactivity.

Other additives used in some foods cause a range of unwanted behaviours such as hyperactivity and lethargy, making it all the more important to investigate exactly what your dog is eating and to understand how diet plays a huge part in every aspect of your dog’s life.

How Does the Manufacturing Process Affect Dog Food?

Highly processed foods seriously devalue the nutritional content and digestibility of dog food.

Digestibility is a way of measuring the nutritional quality of dog food. A highly digestible food is one where more nutrients are absorbed from the food and less waste is produced. Whereas lower digestibility means more of the food becomes waste, and fewer nutrients are absorbed by the dog’s body.

The manufacturing process used has a known impact on the nutritional value of food. For example, whole meat is around 10% more digestible than protein meal. But the process of extrusion (used to make kibble,) reduces the nutritional value of the food so much that there is little difference in digestibility regardless of the protein used, (81.3% vs 80.3%.)

This means even when a food uses the highest quality ingredients, the manufacturing process used can eradicate all benefits of using them.

Highly processed foods also undergo chemical reactions like the Maillard reaction. These reactions and their chemical by-products created might mean very little in the short term, but over time, they can make your pet more susceptible to some health problems.

For example, the buildup of carcinogens in baked food can accumulate over years and could increase a dog’s risk of cancer.

Do Ingredients Affect Dog Food?

Ingredients definitely affect dog food and its overall nutritional value.

One example is given above, which is the protein source used in the dog’s food. Whole meat provides more essential amino acids than protein meal. EG, raw chicken is 10% more digestible than poultry meal.

In addition, a higher amount of crude protein in your dog’s food is no indication of the food quality. This is because the quality of the protein is significantly more important than the volume. In fact, some commercial high-protein dog foods still lack essential amino acids which are vital in your dog’s diet.

Animal meat isn’t the only source of protein either, and many hypo-allergenic foods happen to be vegetarian. Dogs can survive on commercial food with vegetable protein sources. However, it is best to discuss this with a nutritionist as it is imperative to ensure you find a complete food that provides all the vitamins and minerals that your furry friend requires.

What is the best dog food

However, no matter how good the ingredients are, if the food is overly processed, your dog will not reap the benefits. Cheap foods such as kibble undergo an extrusion process, which is where the food is heated to extreme temperatures which significantly hinders the nutritional content of the food.

This is why a minimally processed diet such as air-drying works the best to allow the ingredients to shine and allow your pooch to gain all the benefits that good quality ingredients can provide.

In addition, many dogs also suffer dietary intolerances, where their body can’t digest certain foods. Most canine allergies are associated with protein, grain, or dairy. Depending on your dog’s individual sensitivities, you will need to avoid any foods that contain ingredients they may be allergic or intolerant to.

This is where a tailored recipe can really come in handy. Tell us about all about your dog, their age, breed, size, ailments and any allergies you know of, and Pure will create a recipe that is perfect for your pooch and will let them enjoy their food without having to ensure any allergy-related problems.

Is Grain-free Dog Food Right for my Dog?

It depends on your dog and how they have reacted previously to their food. For many dogs, grains don’t pose any health risks or problem as part of a balanced diet, and equally a no-grain diet won’t hurt either. However, foods that contain a high volume of grain will be starchy and can lead to obesity. So the presence of grain is not a problem, but the volume can be.

However, if your dog has shown sensitivities to the grain, it might be worth consulting with a nutritionist about changing them to a grain-free diet. This could dramatically improve the health and wellbeing of dogs with allergies or sensitivities, or even recurring illness such as pancreatitis.

However, a perfectly healthy dog might not see many advantages from eating a grain-free diet compared to a balanced dog food made with high-quality ingredients. But for a pup with allergies, a grain-free diet will be life-changing.

Are There any Differences Between Puppy and Adult Dog Food?

Yes, these foods vary nutritionally to cater for the different nutritional needs of each stage of your dog’s life.

For instance, puppy food has higher levels of protein to help support growth. It can also contain an added fatty acid called DHA which improves their alertness and cognitive ability, helping them to learn. Puppy food is also very high in calories to make up for a puppy’s activity levels and high metabolism.

Meanwhile, as a dog ages, their metabolism slows. That’s why adult food has fewer carbohydrates than puppy food. An adult or senior dog eating puppy food will be prone to weight gain, and puppy food may not contain everything an older dog needs help with the aging process and the prevention of age-related ailments.

Pure provides a tailored recipe that is perfectly portioned for your pooch and contains all the right ingredients your dog will need for what stage of their life they’re in currently and will adapt as they grow up to ensure they’re getting the absolute best.

Regardless of your dog’s age, they will always benefit from eating dog food made from the highest quality ingredients, with high digestibility, ensuring they receive proper nourishment from their dinners.

How do I Know if it is Natural Dog Food?

The only way to understand how your dog food is made and where it is come from is to read the label to see what ingredients and processes are used. If your dog food contains natural ingredients, it will likely say so boldly and clearly.

Many owners want to ensure their furry friends aren’t eating meals packed full of artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives. Pure is made from natural, human-quality ingredients and doesn’t contain any nasty additives.

Many other commercial foods contain a rendered protein meal as the protein source, rather than raw meat. Not only is using meat or “whole protein” considered more natural, but it also improves the nutritional value of the food. (Provided the food is not then highly processed by extrusion or baking.)

As well as looking our for any artificial ingredients and whole protein, you should check the protein origins. The food should say where the protein is coming from, and the more specific the better. A good sign is if the label lists the exact animal used, such as lamb, chicken, or beef.

On the other hand, some foods might only list “poultry”, “animal derivatives”, or even just “animal meat” as the protein source.

So, if you’re looking for more wholesome, natural food, you should steer clear of anything with these on the label.

It’s important to understand the processing method that the food has undergone. If you look at the boring, brown appearance of foods such as kibble, it is a far cry from the look of the ingredients that have supposedly gone into it.

These boring brown biscuits are far from natural, so look for foods that have undergone a minimal amount of processing, such as air-dried.

How do I Work Out What the Most Nutritious Dog Food is?

There are a few ways to work out how nutritious your dog’s food is. It is largely decided by the volume of the different dietary components and the digestibility of the food.

The volume of vitamins and minerals that your dog needs to eat every day will depend on their size, sex, life stage, and activity level.

Find out the Number of Carbohydrates

The percentage of carbohydrates in dog food is usually excluded from the label. However, the percentages of other dietary components like ash, fibre, and protein will be listed. To work out how many carbs are in your dog’s food, start at 100 and subtract each percentage listed.

For example, if the food is 22% protein, 14% fat, 8% inorganic matter, and 4% fibre, you need to add those up and subtract it from 100. In this case, you are left with 52, which means that 52% of their food is carbohydrates.

Digestibility

Another way of assessing the nutritional value of dog food is by looking at digestibility. Digestibility is a measure of how many nutrients a dog can absorb from their food.

Not all minerals from food will be transferred into their body, and some will leave the dog as waste in their stool. Not many dog foods put their digestibility ratings on the label so you will need to research online.

But typically, the digestibility of food decreases the more processed the food is, and depending on the protein source used. Find out more about digestibility.

What the Name of Their Food will Tell You

The name of your dog’s food will tell you a lot more than you think about the ingredients used. Having a named ingredient in the label doesn’t just tell you what’s in it, but how much too.

For example, “complete chicken” not only tells you it is a complete diet with all the nutrition for a full meal, being called “chicken” with no descriptive modifier means there must be significant amounts of chicken in the food.

If their food has an ingredient name and no descriptive word, it means that named ingredient should make up around 70% of the total product.

Meanwhile, if the food name has a name like “chicken supper” or “dinner” which contains an ingredient and a descriptor, the ingredient needs to make up at least a quarter of the total product.

This is still a great amount of meat and many foods will contain even larger amounts of protein, making them perfectly balanced diets for your pet.

On the other hand, if their food is “with chicken” it will only have a very small amount of chicken included, up to 3%. If food is “chicken flavour”, the amount of chicken will be negligible, just a trace so that the dog can taste it.

How do I Work Out What the Best Dog Food is?

To work out the best food for your dog, you will need to take into account their individual needs. The nourishment they require, the volume of food needed, and the number of meals each day will depend on your dog’s personality, physiology, and activity.

The most important things to consider when working out the best dog food for your pooch is finding what’s appropriate for your pup. This means taking into account their:

  • Age
  • Size
  • Activity level
  • Health conditions
  • Allergies or intolerances
  • If they’re neutered or spayed

This is because, just like people, dogs have individual dietary needs based on their genetics, bodies, and lifestyle.

For example, large dogs can have specially formulated food that provides different vitamins and minerals to help maintain healthy bones and joints, as bigger dogs are more prone to orthopaedic issues. Meanwhile, a puppy will have entirely different nutritional needs to a senior dog and they will each need age-appropriate food.

After finding foods that are appropriate for your dog, you need to compare the contents, nutritional value, and manufacturing processes used.

The final factor will be your dog’s own tastes. They might go crazy for chicken, or love for fish. Make sure to find food that your furry friend finds tasty and has them eager for dinner, keeping them in good eating habits.

What’s the Best Dog Food for my Dog?

As a rule of thumb, the best dog food will be made from whole ingredients and isn’t heavily processed so that it retains the nutritional value.

Additionally, food made with whole meat will be more nourishing and have a higher moisture content than foods that use a protein meal. Provided the food is “complete”, it should have all the nourishment that your pooch requires to be happy and healthy.

The best food for your dog will be appropriate for their age, size, and lifestyle. But most of all, your dog’s dinners should be tasty too. You don’t enjoy the same dinner every day, and neither does your dog. Your pooch deserves food that makes them happy as well as healthy.

Pure is made from wholesome, high quality, natural ingredients. There are no nasty additives, and you actually recognise the ingredients on the label.

It’s perfectly balanced to your dog’s nutritional needs, with a plan tailored especially for your pooch. Our recipes are high in protein and have a range of fruits and vegetables to make a healthy, balanced meal.

We will create a tailored menu to suit different tummies and tastes, whether your pup needs a grain-free diet, low-fat food, or need to avoid an allergen. You’ll find really great recipes that will nourish your pup and have them licking the bowl clean after every meal.

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.

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  2. The Impact of Food Processing on the Nutritional Quality of Vitamins and Minerals Impact of Processing on Food Safety, Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 459, 1999, 99-106, doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4615-4853-9_7
  3. The impact of processing on the nutritional quality of food proteins J AOAC Int., 88, (3), Jun 2005, 904-22, PMID:16001869
  4. Evaluation of raw food diets for dogs Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 218, (5), March 2001, 705-9, doi:10.2460/javma.2001.218.705.Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 218, (5), March 2001, 705-9, doi:10.2460/javma.2001.218.705.
  5. Assessment of nutritional adequacy of the protein in dog foods by trials on growing rats Department of Animal Breeding and Nutrition, 46, (1), Jan 1998, 61-70

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