(In addition to writing sections of this article myself, I’ve compiled important information from key articles and select authors to compose the following advice.)
Dogs, like people, require a good, balanced diet in order to stay fit and healthy. The food that your dog eats will determine everything from the quality of his coat to how he smells, and it will also ensure that your canine friend enjoys a long and healthy life.
As such, it is critical that you buy a good quality food. Budget foods tend to offer limited nutrients and vitamins whereas quality foods have been scientifically formulated to offer a complete and balanced diet.
Complete and balanced dog foods are designed to provide everything that a dog needs. These complete foods do not need to be mixed because they contain meat protein as well as vegetables and other ingredients combined in a single, convenient, and easy to digest kibble. Quality foods tend to be better for the dog’s gut which means, in turn, that they are better for the family too because your dog will smell less.
Dog foods with the best advertisements and household names are not necessarily the best for your dog. Sometimes they have spent millions on high quality ads, but not enough on quality ingredients.
Poor quality foods have lots of filler material which is difficult for a dog to digest. Much of this filler material (like high corn content; it is highly debated whether corn is beneficial for dogs) is passed right through a dog’s system. This means with a budget food, you end up having to feed your dog a lot more, and your dog will poop a lot more. Although a high quality food is more expensive in the beginning, you feed your dog less, have fewer health issues to deal with, and less mess to clean up. In the long run, a high quality food is the best option.
Foods come in many shapes and sizes and finding the right one for your dog can be vexing at first. However, a little experience and some skilled label reading goes a long way. Don’t assume that any food is good for your dog and do consider his personal needs – like people, different dogs have different requirements.
Foods are usually sold according to the age of the dog. You should buy the most appropriate food and feed according to the size and life stage of your dog. Puppy food should be considered vital and senior food is more easily digestible as a general rule.
When reading the label of any food, whether it is a budget food or a veterinary diet, you should look past the advertising and to the ingredients. Consider that the top five or six listed ingredients will be the most prevalent and try to ensure that the majority of proteins and vitamins come from natural sources.
Dog food manufacturers are required by federal law to list all of a product’s ingredients in descending order of their pre-cooking weights.
This makes the first items mentioned the most abundant items anywhere in a product. When evaluating any dog food, you’re always looking for a high quality, digestible meat-based protein as close to the top of the list as possible (preferably the #1 ingredient).
Ingredients to look for on dog food labels:
Animal protein should be the first ingredients. For example, chicken, salmon, or lamb are the best. Beef can be good but is also linked to allergies.
If the dog food contains animal meal it should say so. (i.e. chicken meal, lamb meal, etc.). Meal is often more concentrated and therefore very good.
Grains, vegetables, or fruits should be in holistic form. These should not be processed as it usually results in a loss of essential nutrients and vitamins.
Ingredients to stay away from:
Meat by-products. These ingredients are generally less expensive because they are not as nutritious as animal protein and therefore do not require as much care in the handling process.
Artificial preservatives, colors, and sweeteners. Natural preservatives are much healthier for your dog than those that are artificial. However, they do not preserve the food as long. It's important to check the “Best by” date on the package to prevent accidentally feeding your dog food that has “turned” or is expired.
Also remember that, with the possible exception of nutritional additives like vitamins and minerals, the further down the list you find an ingredient... the less it contributes to the overall quality of the food.
For example, when you see sweet potatoes at position #12... don’t be too impressed. From a nutritional standpoint, items located that far down a list should probably be considered little more than window dressing.
[I should note that some people prefer a raw food diet for their dogs. I’m sure there may be some advantages to a raw food diet, but I believe that option is cost prohibitive for most people.]
I’ve tried to feed my dogs a high quality dry dog food and found them to do very well with that option. Through the years, I’ve read numerous labels on various dog foods. I used Nutro for a time, but for many years I used Blue Wilderness almost exclusively, constantly sampling other foods to try to find something better. Our puppies always had very loose stool on Blue Wilderness because of the high protein concentration. Once I found TLC, I greatly prefer it to Blue Wilderness.
I’ve ranked my three preferred foods in order of my personal preference from good to better to best.
3. Good - Nutro Adult Venison Meal and Whole Brown Rice Formula ($2.07 a pound)
Pros: No corn gluten, corn, wheat or soy protein. It is loved by those who use it. Many testify that it has helped their dog with skin allergies; all natural ingredients;
Cons: Only 22% protein and 14% fat; for an active dog, I would like to see a higher protein and fat content for a food that costs more than $2 a pound. If a dog has skin issues, Nutro is an excellent choice. If not, I personally prefer a food with higher protein. Although some dog foods go overkill on protein (or gain protein from non meat products), Nutro is too low on protein in my opinion.
2. Better - Blue Wilderness ($2.38 a pound)
Pros: Protein 37%; Fat 14%; Fiber 6.5%; Moisture 10.0%; Excellent ingredients; List of top ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Tapioca Starch, Peas, Menhaden Fish Meal, Tomato Pomace, Natural Chicken Flavor, Dried Egg, Chicken Fat, Potatoes, Fish Oil, Flaxseed (source of Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids)
Cons: We used Blue Wilderness for a long time, and it was my favorite dog food, until I found TLC. The biggest negative I know of Blue Wilderness is that it is rather expensive ($2.38 a pound) and is too high of a protein level for many dogs, which can lead to runny stool. Some of the protein comes from ingredients other than meat.
1. Best - TLC Whole Life Puppy Food ($1.97 a pound, if you use coupon code “68765-1025”)
Pros: Free delivery to your front door. You get fresh food without having to go to the pet store. I highly recommend setting up auto ship, so the food comes automatically without your needing to remember to order it. Made with wholesome ingredients and super foods including farm-fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables along with probiotic cultures and powerful antioxidants. TLC delivers the ultimate balance of quality meats, animal fats, vitamins and minerals to mirror your puppy’s natural diet. Their recipe includes DHA/EPA rich salmon oil for cognitive and heart health, and balanced calcium & phosphorus levels for correct skeletal development.
Cons: Not available in stores. Can only purchase online. If you set up auto ship, it can actually be an advantage to always have it shipped for free to your house.
My Personal Story
When we made the switch to TLC, our dogs loved it. We always fed the highest quality foods before, but the freshness of TLC was remarkable. Often the food is made 3-4 days before arriving at our house. TLC encourages you to put a bowl of your current dog food (if you already have a dog) next to a bowl of TLC food and see which your dog prefers. When we tried this, every single one of our dogs preferred TLC hands down (or should I say paws down).
I believe so strongly in TLC, that I offer a full 3 year health warranty (instead of 1 year) to any family that feeds TLC for at least the first year. If you try TLC for a year, and it doesn’t workwell for your dog, I don’t blame you for wanting to switch, and we will maintain the 3 year health warranty. I recommend sticking with the TLC puppy food for the first year, before switching to TLC adult.
Disclaimer: As someone closely tied to academia, I’m accustomed to seeing academic disclaimers (for instance in a book review if the reviewer was given a free copy of the book). I feel compelled to let you know that if you buy TLC and use the coupon code, I will get a slight percentage discount on the food I buy from TLC for my dogs and puppies. TLC is not a pyramid scheme (like some dog foods), but their primary source of marketing is through high quality breeders who they vet thoroughly, and try to convince of the worthiness of their products. So breeders who recommend their food get a very small percentage reduction for forever families who purchase the food. Because of the reputation of our dogs, I’ve been contacted by many other companies before, but never was convinced of their quality. I talked to the national sales rep of TLC for more than 3 hours asking her questions about the quality of the food. I realize it’s hard for me to be entirely objective when I get a slight reduction in food costs if my forever families buy TLC. To “put my money where my mouth is”, I’ve been buying TLC to give to my guardian homes for free. Always before my guardian homes bought their own food since they own the dog I’ve placed in their home. Buying TLC for my guardian homes has been a large additional expense for me, but I’m convinced of the quality of TLC and want all of the breeding dogs (at guardian homes) in my program to be eating it. You are what you eat and so is your dog. I really think that if you try TLC, you will be very, very happy with the product. I definitely am.