Your best friend deserves the best food, it’s that simple. But in this age of endless options, navigating the pet food aisle is anything but simple. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, with a variety of needs, so a question like “What’s the best dog food?” has no simple answer. That said, here are a few general tips from our resident "Ask a Vet" expert Dr. Walt Ingwersen to help you make an informed choice for your furry family.
Contrary to popular belief, a healthy dog does not live by meat alone. While meat makes up most of your dogs diet, the best dog foods also include vegetables and grains. This might sound a bit odd, (after all, you never hear about wild dogs hunting for carrots) but even undomesticated dogs find ways to get a balanced meal.
“When a dog does a kill, they don’t eat the meat first.” explains veterinarian Walt Ingwersen. “They go right for the stomach and the stomach contents and the major organs. They’ll eat the liver, which has a lot of fat and vitamins and minerals. They usually kill herbivores as their main source of food so they’ll go right to the gut which is all plant-based material.”
Speaking of “the gut”, those organ meats and entrails that dogs get so much nutrition from are often labeled as “animal byproducts” in dog food. So, don’t necessarily be afraid of that term.
When it comes to dog food labels, the fewer words, the better. The term “beef” means that beef must make up at least 70% of that product. “Beef dinner” means it only needs to be 10% beef, while “with beef” can be less than 3%. It seems like a small difference in wording, but it can add up to a big deal.
McDonald’s is one of the biggest food companies in the world, but that doesn’t mean their food is better than snacks from the local farmer’s market. Interestingly, with dog food, the opposite can be true. This is because pet food is extremely highly regulated in North America and everything from the big manufacturers has been rigorously tested.
Smaller, boutique companies can skip this testing process. “Boutique simply means these are not products from reputable manufacturers.” says Walt Ingwersen. “These are 'mom-and-pop', where people cook at home and sell it in a store.”
If you see a new local pet food company you’re interested in trying, make sure to research them first. A great resource for this is The Pet Food Association Of Canada, or this list of questions from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.
At the end of the day, your dog will let you know if it is getting the best food. If they are rapidly gaining or losing weight, having loose stool or displaying a low appetite, these are signs they are not getting what’s best for them. If you and your vet aren’t seeing any problems, then your dog’s food shouldn’t be a concern.