Choosing the right dog food

The idea of choosing the best suitable diet for your pet by trial and error method is like using humans as a guinea-pig to perform experiments.

Your dog trusts you, and it can’t say that it feels unwell after eating the food you have chosen.

Though, it is true that dogs get used to any ration quite easily, except for some products (chocolate, for example, which is toxic for them).

But, the right food for dogs contains all nutrients in necessary proportions for your pet to grow healthy. If you love your dog, you won’t feed it with junk food.

Well, you are willing to buy the best dog food? It seems to be a piece of cake. Turn on the TV, and you’ll see dozens of commercials. Are you sure these are true?

Because – I’m not.

More often than not, it isn’t profitable for manufacturers to make their products from high-quality ingredients, so they use some food waste.

Moreover, the majority of large manufacturers also produce food for humans. So, guess what do they do with the waste?

The main questions

What food is right for your dog?

The most important question to answer before buying it is what ingredients prevail in it? Does it contain meat or cereals? The ingredients that come first in the list have a higher percentage ratio.

High meat content is preferable, then that reach in cereals. Yet, it is more expensive.

Unfortunately, there is no ideal dog diet that is good for all dogs without exception. However, it is possible to define several criteria that will help you select the one that is perfect for your pet.

  • The ingredient that comes first in the list of the contents is very important! It should be meat or fish component, as well as the meat percentage ratio should be more than 25-30%. It is not meat, but maize and wheat, you’ll find first in the ingredients list in most dog food kinds that are widely advertised. It isn’t very good if the meat content is lower than 10%.
  • If it contains more than 50% of meat ingredients (it comes 1st in the content list, or it is a sum of meat components in the whole list) will always be on top of the ratings.
  • As for the type of meat and fish ingredients: you won’t see beef there very often. Usually, chicken s indicated as a meat component. However, it’s great if there’s lamb, duck, turkey, venison, salmon, trout, herring, or any other kind of ocean fish instead of chicken; these seldom tend to cause any allergy. Quite rarely, camel and ostrich meat can be encountered within the content.

  • Meat meal. It is a good component, which can also be indicated as dehydrated meat. Since while cooking dry food, the water evaporates the amount of meat that was initially dehydrated won’t lessen.

  • The presence of fish-oil and animal fat (usually it is chicken fat) is always a plus. However, its content shouldn’t exceed 18%.

  • Chicken/beef liver is a highly digestible by-product.

  • If it contains cereals, these are, as a rule, oat flakes, orzo, switchgrass and rice (brown rice is preferable). Please, keep in mind that beer rice isn’t a good component for dog food. If maize ingredients are good – this is another point for discussion.
  • Though these are quite acceptable if the dog isn’t allergic to the latter and it doesn’t come first in the list of ingredients. It is very wrong if maize is indicated 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the list of the contents or if its derivatives are used or substances such as maize, CGM (corn gluten meal), maize gluten, cornmeal, etc.

  • Dried beet marc or beet press-cake. It is an important substance for dog’s digestive tract, but its concentration in the dry food shouldn’t exceed 4 %. In spite of wide spread delusions, beet press-cake has no impact on the color of white dogs’ fur.

  • There shouldn’t be any artificial dyes and flavoring as well. As for food additives, it is better be Vitamin C, rosemary extract and tocopherols (compounds often with vitamin E).

  • Fruits and vegetables. Usually, these are encountered in Holistic Dog Food. Recently potatoes and beans have been found as a part of some expensive contents. Though quite a lot of vets still can’t reach an agreement if it is healthy. However, if it is indicated as sweet potato (batata), you shouldn’t get concerned since such a component is good for dogs. Other healthy and permitted additives are apples, carrots, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, forest berries, flax seed, yucca extract, rosemary, thyme, chicory root, etc.
  • Additives for cartilages and diarthroses: glucosamin and chondroitin are good for them.

What you should avoid when choosing dog food?

  • If it is possible, don’t buy dry one where the contents are rather ill-defined. It looks like something like this: vitamins, antioxidants, animal fat, vegetable derivatives, flavors, and other additives, oils, corn, etc. But what are these vitamins, fat, or additives exactly? The contents must be detailed and clearly indicated; it is desirable to specify percentage ratio as well.

  • Wheat or wheat middling, wheat flour, gluten. Benefits of maize components are still doubtful.
  • Vegetable oils made from soybean, maize or any other plant have rather poor digestibility if compared to animal fat.

  • Such substances as: butylhydroxyanisole, butylhydroxytoluene and Ethoxyquin are toxic when used as food additives, since they are cancer inducing substances. For example, Ethoxyquin, is quite often used as a component to preserve dry dog food. However, it is prohibited to use this substance when producing food for humans, because it was proved that Ethoxyquin can cause hepatopathy, cancer, human immune system disorders.

  • Some expensive dog food contains beans (namely peas) — it is ok if these are mentioned at the end of the contents list. Though quite a lot of dogs suffer from flatulence due to this component and for some dog breeds, it is quite painful. For this reason, avoid buying dog food containing colored granules, because the high-quality one always has a homogenous gray-brown color.

Wrong choice of dog food: what should you do?

  • If your dog suffers from chronic diarrhea/semi-formed stool or vomiting, low body mass, improper food may be the reason. You should consult your vet and switch to another kind of diet 2-3 times and check if the symptoms have changed and how.
  • If you observe a clear correlation between changing the dog diet and dog’s symptoms, it means that your dog has an ultra-sensitive stomach. That’s why you have to study your pet’s food contents thoroughly to define the incitant of allergy.
  • When changing your pet’s diet, don’t just change the manufacturer, but take into account the protein/carbohydrate content. For example, if the dog used to eat food with chicken as the main component, try to change it for lamb, fish, and buy some corn-free dog food.
  • If after several attempts of changing the food type you still fail to settle your pet’s stomach, you must go to see a veterinary physician, since the symptoms we have mentioned above may indicate some other far more serious health problems, that can’t be diagnosed without performing a special examination.

How exactly you should change the dog food?

If you are planning to switch from natural food to commercial one, keep in mind that this process, as a rule, must take about 5-7 days, during which you should add a little amount of dry food to the ordinary diet of your pet. Each day its content should increase.

Switching from one dry food kind to another usually takes 3-4 days. Sadly, it’s impossible to predict whether this new component will be the right one for your pet. But if you see that the dog’s stool has become worse or it started vomiting – these are the first signs that your dog’s diet is improper and the food kind is wrong for it.

In this case, you must get back to the pet’s previous diet for at least a week until the dog completely recovers and only then start introducing another kind of dog food.

Rapid change of diet when a pet has an ultra-sensitive stomach may lead to serious digestive disorders. If the diet is chosen properly and the general state of the pet is satisfactory, you may add some natural additives to the dog’s diet – it isn’t prohibited.

The main idea is not to give your dog lots of different food in a short time. However, you can add some dry food into a dog’s porridge or give it as a treat to a pet.

You can do it sometimes at the condition that your dog doesn’t suffer from any digestive disorders after eating human food.

At that, it is acceptable to mix dog food of various manufacturers and, for example, feed your pet with dry food made by one company and canned produced by another.

How to calculate how much food does your dog need?

When calculating the daily demand rate of dry food, you should consider a dog’s size, age, and lifestyle.

You should also adjust this amount according to the dog food class since the economy, and premium class has different energy value. Therefore you should give a larger amount of less nourishing food to make sure that a pet gets enough nutrients.

Calculation of daily rate according to pet’s size:

This amount is divided into 2-3 meals.

  • Small dogs – 0.3-0.6 lb (premium), 0.6-0.8 lb (economy);
  • Medium sized – 0.6-0.8 lb (premium), 0.8-1.3 lb (economy);
  • Large sized – 0.8-1.3 lb (premium), 1.3-1.8 lb (economy).

Pet’s daily ration changes if a dog has some unusual lifestyle or it experiences some extraordinary state:

  • pregnant, nursing dog needs 25% increase of daily ration;
  • working (the dog is used to guard, to hunt, participates in exhibitions and competitions) – daily ration should be 30% increased;
  • sedentary life style, old dog – decrease daily ratio by 20-25%.

Puppies are fed using other calculation schemes, because they grow fast and need more food:

  • small sized dog breed – 0.5-1 lb (premium), 1-1.3 lb (economy);
  • medium sized dog breed – 1-1.3 lb (premium), 1.3-2 lb (economy);
  • large sized dog breed – 1.3-2 lb (premium), 2-2.6 lb (economy).

Number of meals during a day depends on a dog’s age:

  • 1-2 month – 5-6 meals;
  • 2-3 month – 4-5 meals;
  • 3-5 month – 3-4 meals;
  • 5-6 month – 3-2 meals;
  • After 6-month age – 2 meals a day

High level of water makes the food less nourishing and your pet gets necessary nutrients slower.

You can add canned food into the dog’s daily diet together with dry food (according to 1:1 ratio). Gourmet canned food is given to a pet in small portions (not more than 10% of daily amount of food) as an additive.

Dog food types

According to its state:
Dry food – it is balanced feeding that contains vitamins complex, fats, carbohydrates, proteins. This is the most popular one. An obligatory condition is that the dog always has a bowl with clean, fresh water that should be renewed twice a day.

Dry food is divided into classes according to its quality, source of raw materials used to produce the food.

Semi-dry containing propylene glycol that prevents food from drying;

Wet (canned dog food) – this kind is based on boiled products and 70-80% of water. There is canned food for everyday feeding and gourmet one.

Frozen food – this is a mince made from natural components of vegetable and animal origin.

Dog food classes

There are special ratings created to help you get through the collection of dry dog food, its contents, quality, useful properties, etc. These ratings help a dog breeder to choose exactly the diet that has a higher quality-price ratio. Nominally dog food is divided into four classes:

  • economy;
  • regular;
  • premium;
  • super-premium;
  • holistic

Economy class

This kind is produced using the cheapest ingredients, and it explains its low price. By the way, this is the one being advertised on TV almost all the time.

This class contains by-products with addition of low quality grain varieties and soy beans.

Not no mention that quite often, its meat components are categorized as 4D (dead, diseased, disabled, or dying). As a rule, it isn’t healthy to feed a dog with this class all the time because an excess of hormones, pesticides, and additives, as well as a deficit of vitamins and amino acids, harms your pet growth pattern, health, and appearance.

It may also cause some unwanted behavior disorders.

This class has a rather low level of nourishment and digestibility. Therefore the consumption level is higher than that of regular class. The energy value of economy class food is about 250—300 kcal/100 g.

Regular class

Ingredients of higher quality are used to produce it. The main source of protein here is its meat component. However, the majority of the regular class contains artificial dyes, additives, aromatizers, and they have an elevated concentration of salt.

Nevertheless, regular class dry dog food has a higher digestibility level, than the one of economy class. The amount of undigested food in dog’s intestinal wastes is lower than when feeding it with the economy class. The energy value is about 300—350 kcal/100 g.

Premium class

We can’t say that this class has all the nutrients the dog needs, since instead of meat quite often, it contains meat by-products and additives that aren’t indicated in the food contents list. The increased amount of protein content is the advantage of using dry dog food of premium class if compared to the one of economy class.

But again, very often, a high protein concentration there is due to meat scrap and by-products, not by natural meat ingredients.

Super-Premium class

This is a high-quality food made from fresh quality meat (for example, lamb, beef, chicken, etc.) together with corn (flax, orzo, oat seed, etc.).

The super-premium class has a high digestibility level (over 80%), its energy value is more than 450 kcal/100 g, which significantly decreases its consumption amount.

This class is rich in vitamins and has no additives, aromatizers, and stabilizers. The only drawback is that the super-premium class still contains some small amount of ingredients that can’t be digested by a dog’s stomach.

Holistic class

Among the super-premium class, there’s a product line called “holistic” – this is a dog food that contains up to 90% of natural meat/fish components and other natural vegetable additives. It has no GMO, additives, or dyes in it.

However, there is no such class in the official rating, and it should be considered as a subcategory of the super-premium class.

Fish, chicken, high-quality by-products, as well as rice and/or vegetables: carrot, beet, potato are ingredients of the super-premium class.

However, it contains gluten, dyes, and additives. The digestibility of this class is about 75%, and the energetic value is higher than 350 kcal/100 g.

Holistic class is the most natural and quality dry food for pets. It contains high-quality ingredients, which are good even for human food. Manufacturers provide a detailed list of contents.

It contains meat, corns, oils as well as probiotics that improve the digestive process. Your pet’s health will surely benefit from eating it.

Food kinds for dogs of different size

Food for large sized dogs

Physiologically large-sized dogs are quite different from others. You should take these differences into account when selecting food for them. If dog shoulder height is more than 24 inches and it weighs more than 60 pounds, it is considered a large-sized one.

They have a rather lasting adolescent period (up to 2 years long). The puppies grow very fast, and they have trouble with their diarthrosis and ligaments.

That’s why it’s not recommended to feed them with regular class food. Besides, the intestinal tract and gastric distention are dangerous for these dogs.

There were cases when dogs died because of bloat. To avoid such situations, feed your dog with small portions. At the same time, it should contain all the necessary nutrients and still the dog’s hunger.

It shouldn’t include any nonnutritive fibers such as maize, soybeans, and orzo seeds that just stuff the dog’s stomach and are used only to increase the food volume.

For large-sized dogs, excessive mineralization of the skeleton is harmful, because it may cause its delayed growth. Therefore, you should pay attention to calcium and phosphor content – their proportion in the food for large-sized dogs is sufficiently different if compared to the one for smaller dog breeds.

All important minerals (including zinc and manganese) should be present in the form of chelates (complex salt that helps the organism to digest these substances).

It’s important to keep in mind that large dogs have higher loads on their locomotor system. Therefore, their diet must contain chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine.

Vitamins A and D are aimed to promote a dog’s growth, and mutually supportive antioxidant components strengthen the immune system of a dog and ensure heart disease and early aging processes prevention.

Surely, you should keep an eye on the dog’s weight – it should be stable.

Food for middle sized dogs

Terrier, poodle, and other breeds are considered as middle-sized ones. These are very active and quick, as well as the healthiest among all. There are no special requirements for middle-sized dogs’ diets.

The only thing is that the fat concentration percentage in it shouldn’t exceed 18 %, since these dogs’ organism rather poorly deals with its excess, which may lead to hepatic disorders.

A middle-sized dog diet should contain proteins that consist of dispensable and indispensable amino acids. The absence of at least one of them has a negative impact on a dog’s health.

That’s why eggs, chicken, and other healthy ingredients should be present in the dog’s diet in the first place.

Calcium, phosphor, and vitamin D are added into the diet for middle-sized dogs to strengthen their bones. Chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine ensure healthy diarthrosis and cartilages of your dog.

These two substances acting together protect dog’s diarthrosis and cartilages and preserve their elasticity.

Food for small sized dogs

If compared to larger dogs, small ones have tachytrophism (a rather speedy metabolism). That’s why their diet should include high metabolizable energy.

The diet for such a dog shouldn’t contain any nonnutritive fibers (maize, soybeans, orzo) since these just increase the amount of food, but they are of no use.

The stomach of small dogs isn’t big. Thus, it’s difficult to meet their energy demand by increasing the portions and the number of meals. If the food doesn’t have proper energy value, the dog won’t be active.

On the other hand, small dogs easily put on weight when they are overfed.

Fatty acids and B group vitamins are added into the dog diet to keep small dog’s fur and skin in good condition.

The amount of these substances should be calculated precisely not to put excessive load on a dog’s liver.

About author: Sergey Schulz

Sergey is a founder and author of He’s been fond of aquarium husbandry since his early childhood. His favorite aquariums are biotopes (Amazon River), with Echinodorus and freshwater angelfish. However, through the years he’s had experience of keeping almost all types of freshwater fish and shrimps.