How to Choose the Best Dog Food


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How to Choose the Best Dog Food

TL;DR: PetHub has tools to help take the guesswork out of finding the best food for your pet.

Ah, the age-old debate of what to feed our dogs. The quest in finding the “best” food options for our pets that match their nutritional needs is one of the most common things pet parents try to research online. When we surveyed pet parents recently, we learned that the range of monthly costs for pet food (between $50 and more than $300) and types of pet food given (kibble, canned, fresh, raw, dehydrated, or something else) varied for each pet and their family. Reviewing survey responses helped to illustrate that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for the “best” pet food for the animals we care for. That said, we were excited to dig into the science behind pet food in a recent Pet Lover Geek podcast episode and wanted to share some of what we learned in our interview with veterinary nutritionist Lisa Weeth.

A Brief History of Pet Food

Believe it or not, the pet food industry was born back in the 1850s, when a man named James Spratt came up with the idea to turn hardtack (a biscuit used by sailors) into a dog biscuit. At the time when Spratt's Dog Cakes were first launched, the field of nutrition was in its infancy, and people didn't even understand the basic nutrient requirements for humans, let alone for our pets and other domesticated animals. As the pet food industry began to grow, there were a lot of gaps and deficiencies in the nutrition products that were being offered for dogs and cats, and late 1800s, the science of veterinary nutrition first emerged.


Since the 19th century, we've learned a lot about canine nutritional needs thanks to numerous in-depth studies by nutritionists, veterinarians, toxicologists and other researchers to discover exactly what our canine companions need to eat to stay healthy and live long lives. Even so, it wasn't until the 1960s that a standardized nutritional need for puppies was established, and regulated guidelines for a "complete and balanced" diet were first introduced in 1969. Fast forward to today, and the pet food industry is booming, made up of an estimated 400 or more unique pet food companies, on track to make $57 billion in the U.S. alone. With so many choices and options, along with some heavy hitting marketing tactics, it can be downright overwhelming to navigate the dog food aisle.


What You Need to Know About Dog Nutrition - Deciphering Key Terms

To help make sense of it all, veterinary nutritionist Lisa Weeth offers some advice on what to look for when choosing the right food for your dog.

“Complete and Balanced” Nutrition for your Pet

First, Dr. Weeth explains that we’ve come a long way since the early days of dog food, and now have a much better understanding of the basic nutrient requirements for dogs. Any food labeled as “complete and balanced” for a specific life stage (puppy or adult) should meet all of the basic nutrient needs for that stage.

Misleading Marketing Terms on Dog Food Labels

Let’s face it, many of us have fallen victim to really good marketing, only to find out later that we were not really getting what we thought we were buying.  Sometimes, a term is truthfully telling you an important benefit of the food you are considering, but more often than not, it’s just using the latest buzzword to get you to buy the product. Let’s demystify a few of the most common marketing terms you will see when shopping for dog food:

Premium: This food costs more…and maybe is worth the additional money. Dr. Weeth explained to us that “premium” just means the food costs 20% more than the market average. Just because pet food is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s actually better.

Natural: (or “all-natural,” closely followed by “holistic”) As long as the food hasn’t been treated with a chemically synthetic process, it can use the term “natural” – and there is a LOT of not-so-natural processing a pet food can undergo and still be labeled as “natural.” Currently, there are ZERO rules about using the term “holistic.” If you would like to learn more about how insidious the term “natural” can be in the pet food and treat industry, then read this article.

Organic: Similar to “natural” – it’s tricky.  If just a few (or even one) ingredient is a USDA certified organic ingredient, then the food company can use the word “organic” on the packaging.

Grain-free: First of all, pet food without grains is not a new thing – heavily marketing about “grain-free” IS.  Not all grains are bad, dogs are omnivores (meaning they eat meat AND grains and vegetables), and it’s actually rare for a dog to be allergic to all grains (or even a one or two).  The key is to make sure that grain(s) aren’t the main ingredient of the food, as they can be used to reduce the cost of making the food instead of better protein sources.
Veterinary: (or “Prescription”) Some foods genuinely are formulated and scientifically proven to help treat specific diseases and conditions, and they are only available through prescriptions from a licensed veterinarian (even though you may be able to order them online or buy at the store with a prescription).  However, some food brands will play on these terms (“think “Veterinary Recommended”) just to get you to buy their product, not because their product is actually scientifically proven to treat medical diseases.
High-protein: (or Limited Ingredient) are more of a reflection of current human diet trends than what a dog actually needs for their diet.  If your dog has been diagnosed with severe allergies, grain sensitivities or other medical issues that mean they need a high-protein or limited diet food, then work with a veterinarian to find the best food options (you can use PetHub’s Wellness Tools right now to use our food finder recommendation tool or to speak with a veterinarian about those options).
Real: (or Genuine, Authentic, Ancestral, etc.) These words are usually pure marketing bunk. A percentage of the primary (first listed) ingredient of a pet food can be from a “real” high quality source while the rest is filler and subpar ingredients and the product can still name the whole formula after it.
Just like human food, buyers beware of buzz-worthy claims. Rather than following the latest pet food craze or allowing a high-dollar marketing campaign to lure you in with its siren song, it’s important to consider your dog’s individual needs and preferences, as some dogs may do better with certain ingredients in or out of their diet.

What to Look for When Choosing Dog Food

So, what should you look for when choosing dog food? First and foremost, Dr. Weeth emphasizes the importance of following your veterinarian’s advice. Beyond that, she says the most important questions to ask are:

  • Life Stage - Does it meet the dietary needs for the age of my dog?
  • Size or Breed - Is the food specifically formulated for my dog’s breed’s unique needs? Is this food targeting the energy and feeding needs of my dog’s size
  • Lifestyle Fit - From dry food to wet, raw food to home-cooked, it’s important to ask yourself, “does the manner of feeding work with my lifestyle?
  • Happy & Healthy Dogs - Does my dog seem happy and healthy?” If the answer is yes, chances are that the diet you’re feeding them is working well!

Ultimately, the most important thing is to choose a dog food that is labeled as “complete and balanced” for your dog’s life stage, and to consider any individual needs or preferences. With a little research and understanding of the science behind pet food, you can make a more informed decision for your furry friend.

To hear more from Dr. Weeth, check out this Pet Lover Geek podcast, Picking the Right Food for Your Dog (Using Science!).

How to Find the Best Food for Your Pet

PetHub has just launched the pièce de résistance of pet food guidance: Food Finder – available exclusively through PetHub's Wellness Tools. This nifty little tool is here to save you from the exhausting abyss of scrolling through endless online pet food reviews and the maddening indecision in the dog food aisle.

Introducing Food Finder

Our Food Finder is like having your very own pet food guru at your fingertips. All you need to do is enter your pet's medical information, dietary preferences, and any other factors that might influence your decision regarding food. With this knowledge, the Food Finder tool will magically conjure up the best pet food on the market that caters to your pet's dietary needs.

Avoid the Marketing Mayhem

With Food Finder, you'll be armed with a personalized pet food recommendation that's backed by science and tailored specifically for your fur kid. You can finally say goodbye to the uncertainty that has haunted pet owners for generations.

Find your Dog’s Favorite Food

Whether your dog is an organic-loving, grain-free food connoisseur or a GMO-tolerant, high-protein enthusiast, Food Finder has got you covered. This tool is like your fairy godmother in the world of pet food, turning your pumpkin of confusion into a well-informed, nutrient-packed chariot that will carry your pet through their life stages with ease.


Tail-Wagging Recommendations


The next time you're wandering the dog food aisle feeling as lost as a dog chasing its tail, remember that the Food Finder by Wellness Tools is here to save the day (and possibly your sanity). With this groundbreaking tool, you can finally make a well-informed decision for your furry friend without the stress and confusion that once plagued pet owners.

Give it a whirl and watch your pet food conundrums disappear. Here's to a new era of pet food selection that's fun, informed, and personalized. After all, our pets deserve the best – and now we can finally give it to them.