A healthy pup is a happy pup! Our dogs are our best friends, so of course, we want to keep them healthy with nutritious dog food.

But not all dog food is created equal. In a 2015 lawsuit, Purina Beneful was blamed for seriously sickening, and even killing, over 3,000 dogs. The suit claimed the dog food included harmful toxins that pose significant health risks to animals.

It might be easier to scan the pet food aisle and pick out whatever is on sale, but is that what Fido or Sparky deserve? Buying dog food that’s healthy is essential if you want your furry friend to live a long and happy life.

Dog Nutrition

Dogs are not strict carnivores. They can eat meat, grain, fruit, and veggies. Ideally, a dog’s diet should combine all of these nutritious foods.

When you buy dog food, you want to give Fido high-quality ingredients. Overly processed foods clog your dog’s digestive system and don’t do much for your pup’s overall health.

Fresh vegetables deliver antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber for dogs. Chicken, beef, and lamb are full of protein. Whole grains provide energy and store healthy fat.

When buying dog food, make sure the expiration date is at least six months out. If you can find one that’s ten to eleven months in the future, grab that. Be mindful you’re not accidentally feeding Mr. Bow Wow an expired product.

What to Look for When Buying Dog Food

There are a few different factors to consider when picking out the best food for your furball. Start by reading the label. Pay attention to specific areas on the ingredient list that reveal the type of quality the product is.

What’s the Protein?

To decipher what’s really in your dog’s dinner, check out the first ingredient in the list. You want to see specific meat, like chicken or beef. The first ingredient should always be a named animal source.

If the ingredient label lists specific meat, the food contains at least 70% of that product. That’s what you want your dog chowing down on.

What meats should you be looking for? Something high in protein and low in fat. Adult dogs need meals that are at least 18% protein. Pregnant dogs need their dinner to include at least 22% protein.

Some of the best meats for your dog’s diet are:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Lamb
  • Duck
  • Salmon
  • Venison
  • Bison
  • Goat

If the first ingredient is something vague, the meat might be from a dubious origin. Watch out for generic terms like “meat meal,” “meat,” “meat dinner,” “meat entree,” and “with meat.” These ambiguous phrases mean your dog’s dinner is made up of 10% or less of an actual meat product.

What Are the Other Ingredients?

Keep on reading the ingredient list to check out what else is mixed into your dog’s meal. There should be various vegetables and grains listed.

If your dog has special dietary needs, the ingredient list should tell you if it’s okay for your dog to consume. It should also give you an idea of how much protein, fiber, and carbohydrates your dog will receive from that product.

You should recognize everything that your dog is eating. Long ingredient lists full of complex words are a warning sign. It most likely means there are a lot of added chemicals and preservatives.

Is the Food “Complete and Balanced”?

The dog food label should state that the product is “complete and balanced.” This isn’t an advertising ploy. It means the dog food meets the criteria of the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

The AAFCO’s requirements are strict. Foods with a “complete and balanced” label meet the minimum nutrient requirements for dogs. They contain low amounts of fat and crude protein, and high amounts of water and fiber.

Complete and balanced dog foods are guaranteed to contain the correct proportions of:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Palatants
  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates

Complete and balanced dog food is designed to be your dog’s sole diet.

Dog food without this label means it doesn’t meet the AAFCO’s requirement and might not be the best choice for your furry friends. Treats, snacks, and dog supplements cannot be issued complete and balanced labels.

What to Avoid When Buying Dog Food

Looking out for harmful ingredients in your dog’s dinner is just as important as picking out nutritious ones. The more natural the dog food, the better. Added sweeteners, preservatives, and colors aren’t good for Fido’s digestive system.

Added Sweeteners

Just like humans, dogs have a sweet tooth, too! Dog food manufacturers add sweeteners to their products to ensure dogs wolf them down.

Imagine picking out your dog food as you would cereal. Some cereals are super healthy and full of fiber. Those are the ones you want to start your day with.

Other cereals may appear healthy, but when you read the ingredients list, you realize they’re full of sugar. Those are the cereals you want to steer clear of.

Check the sugar content in your dog food. You want the food to be made of protein, vegetables, and grain. If the sugar level is too high, look for a different brand.

Generic Fat Sources

Dog food is going to contain fat, and that’s okay. But it’s important to take note of what type of fat your furry friend is consuming.

If the dog food simply lists “animal fat,” that’s a red flag.

“Animal fat” could mean anything. “Animal fat” listed as an ingredient is as vague as hot dog ingredients. It’s mystery meat from a variety of animals.

While it’s okay to have a hot dog once in a while, you wouldn’t want to have one for dinner every night, would you?

Stick to dog foods that list the exact type of fat they contain. Poultry fat is acceptable, but chicken fat or duck fat is more traceable.

Artificial Colors

Artificial colors make food look more appetizing. For instance, some baby carrots contain high levels of orange food coloring to make people want to buy and eat them.

Some dog food companies add artificial colors to dog food. It’s mainly done to persuade humans that the product is high-quality when it actually isn’t the healthiest for dogs.

Keep in mind that unless your dog is extremely picky, he or she is going to scarf down whatever you place in front of him or her. If it looks like gruel but tastes like chicken, your dog will still lick the bowl clean.

When it comes to making your dog’s dinner look appetizing, don’t worry. Some dogs eat their own poo, remember? Steer clear of the artificial colors and your dog will be much better off.

Artificial Preservatives

Natural preservatives help dog food last longer. They are not harmful to your pup’s digestive tract. Natural preservatives include:

  • Tocopherols
  • Vitamin C
  • Rosemary extract

Artificial preservatives, on the other hand, won’t do Sparky any favors. These are chemicals that aren’t made for dogs to digest. They cause upset stomachs, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Natural preservatives don’t preserve food as long as artificial ones, which is why so many companies rely on chemicals. Try to choose all-natural dog food brands or select products with minimal amounts of artificial preservatives.

Types of Dog Food

When it comes to picking out your dog’s dinner, there are wet and dry options to choose from. Many dog moms and dads mix the two.

Wet and Wild

Wet dog food comes in a can and must be refrigerated after opening. It tends to be more expensive than dry food, but it looks more appetizing.

Most wet dog food products contain higher amounts of fresh meat and proteins. They’ll often contain real fish, chicken, and beef ingredients. This makes wet food a heartier selection.

Wet food has a long shelf life while it’s in the can, but it may only last a few days once opened. It’s important to keep wet food refrigerated to prevent the meat from spoiling.

Wet food has higher water content, so it’s ideal for dogs in dry climates. It’s also better for dogs who may have trouble chewing or are missing teeth.

If your furry friend has a hindered sense of smell, he or she may not be able to pick up the scent of dry food. A wet meal, however, has strong flavors and a richer scent that your dog should still be able to sniff out.

Dry Delight

Dry dog food is more affordable and lasts longer than wet dog food. This makes it a more popular choice for dog parents.

Dry products are rich in meat, grains, and veggies. They convert these ingredients into a starch. Dry food comes in small, round bites so they’re easily digested by dogs.

Most veterinarians agree dry dog chow is better for dog’s teeth than wet food. Many dry products reduce plaque and lower tartar as they scrape away buildup on your dog’s pearly whites.

Treat Your Dog to the Best

As a dog mom or dad, you want a healthy and strong furbaby. Buying dog food plays a significant role in your dog’s overall health and lifespan. When you choose healthy, more natural brands of food, your dog will stay in tip-top shape for years to come.