Our dogs need to eat healthy meals, but choosing a dog food can be confusing, as each pet food manufacturer tries to convince us that their brand is best.

According to Petfood Industry.com, the global petfood market is expected to reach $56.4 billion by 2015.  That’s a lot of kibble. With all the brands out there, how do you choose the right food for your dog? Which food is best?

The truth is, there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. Dogs have varying nutritional needs and the food that works well for one might not be right for another. There are some general guidelines you can follow to help you make your selection.

First of all, if you purchase your dog from a responsible breeder, ask them what they feed their dogs. Often a breeder will have worked with different foods and will have found one that works well with the dogs they have. Even if you aren’t able to find and feed the same food, you can use a similar protein profile.

If you don’t have a breeder to talk to, you’ll have to experiment and find what works best for your dog. One of the first things you should do is learn to read the ingredient list on the food packaging. Remember that the higher on the list the ingredient is, the more of it is in the product and that the first five ingredients normally make up the bulk of the food. Be alert for one ingredient listed several different ways. It is not uncommon to see whole ground corn, corn gluton meal and corn germ meal as three of the top five ingredients, for example, making the primary ingredient of the food corn, even though it isn’t listed as the first ingredient.

There are several ingredients you should avoid when choosing your dog’s food. The number one thing would be by-products or by-product meals. These come from the waste parts of the animal being butchered, and are considered unfit for human consumption. Often it contains things such as lungs, spleens, intestines, stomachs, necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines of chickens. This is an inexpensive way for companies to boost the protein percentage of the food, but the nutritional value is not high. Rather than buying foods containing by-products, look for actual meat or meat meal.

It’s also good to avoid fillers, which are ingredients with little nutritional value that are used to increase the weight or volume of food. Dog food is sold by weight, so these ingredients add bulk to the food. The problem is that fillers are useless to your dog from a nutritional standpoint, as they can’t digest them. They pass through your dog’s body, and you pick it up out of your yard. Common fillers include flour and wheat, wheat middlings, wheat gluten, soybean meal and flour, corn gluton meal and ground corn. Corn and wheat are also the two most common food allergies of dogs.

Artificial colors and flavors are not necessary. Artificial colors do nothing for your dog; he doesn’t care what color his food is. You wouldn’t want a plate full of brown food, so you might find variety important in his kibble as well, but in truth he doesn’t need it, and some of the artificial dyes can be so strong that if your dog should vomit, the dye can stain your carpet or fabrics. Artificial flavors are unnecessary, and as with our own food, additional chemicals in foods can be harmful.

Sweeteners and sugars are also problematic. They can cause or contribute to diabetes, obesity, nervousness, cataracts, tooth decay, arthritis and allergies.

Just as children may prefer sugary cereals to healthy cereals, your dog can become used to eating food that contains sugar and it can be difficult to get him to adjust to eating a healthier diet. Some common sugars and sweeteners include cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, beet pulp, cane molasses and fructose.

When selecting a food for the average dog, look for one that contains a quality protein source with no preservatives or by-products, and whole fruits and vegetables. Grains, such as rolled oats, barley, and brown rice, can serve as a long-term source of energy and energy storage for dogs, but should be in whole form to supply fiber, vitamins and minerals. Probiotics are also a good ingredient, as they strengthen your dog’s digestive system and boost his immune system.

Read those labels and select your dog’s food with care. He will be happier and healthier, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing your best for him.


Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.