Choosing a Dog Food

I’ve gotten some questions about choosing dog foods, particularly since this post was published: Should Your Dog Go Grain-Free? Here are some guidelines (and opinions) I recently provided to people who asked:

  • I’ve seen wonderful results with dogs eating mostly or entirely raw diets. These can be fresh, frozen, dehydrated, or homemade. I personally would not do homemade; it’s a lot of work, I don’t want all that meat in my vegetarian kitchen, and it’s challenging to ensure you are meeting all of the dog’s nutritional needs.
  • For dehydrated, Honest Kitchen is a good brand that is easy to find in good pet stores and online. If you buy directly from the company, you get free treats and other rewards (well, your dog does …).
  • For frozen, Primal and Instinct are nationally available; check in high-end pet stores for local or regional brands. Cali eats Steve’s Real Food, which is not available everywhere. Getting frozen food delivered is really expensive. Learn more here: Dog Food Advisor.
  • For kibble, I can’t say it enough: Choose a food from the Whole Dog Journal’s list. They look into ingredient quality and sourcing and manufacturing practices. They really do their homework.
  • Never buy dog food or treats at the supermarket. Health food stores and natural grocers are a possible exception. If you live in a less urban area, feed stores might stock a wide variety of pet foods and treats; watch quality and check ingredients, but these places might be less expensive than high-end pet stores.
  • That said, shop around. I’m considering switching Cali’s kibble to a brand that uses higher quality ingredients than her current Canidae. It actually costs less — and the real attraction is that I can get it at the high end store where I get her frozen food.
  • For dog treats, look for things that are simple: dried meat or fish, locally baked, few-ingredient biscuits. Avoid anything with artificial colors, preservatives, or ingredients you can’t pronounce. (That’s good advice for choosing your own treats, too!)
  • There’s no need to specifically seek grain-free foods, but many of the top brands have little or no grain. I do avoid wheat and especially corn, a common filler in cheap dog foods. Most of that filler ends up on your lawn. And, corn is a common allergen in dogs.
  • If your dog is gassy or has digestive issues, try a diet change. The protein could be wrong, or there might just be some ingredient or combination that doesn’t work well with your dog’s digestive system.
  • Food sensitivities are a common cause of itchy dogs. And ear problems. If your dog seems itchy and you don’t think it’s a seasonal allergy, take a look at her food. Eliminate corn and wheat. And chicken. If that doesn’t help, consult someone knowledgeable about canine nutrition (NOT necessarily your vet!).

Choosing a Protein

  • Some people prefer to feed a diet with multiple protein sources. When Cali had digestive issues as an adolescent, I decided that that made it too hard to know what was causing the problem.
  • I tend to avoid chicken-based kibbles, since many dogs are sensitive to it and since a lot of the larger dog food manufacturers aren’t using the highest quality chicken. I don’t want my dog eating meat from animals that were loaded with hormones and steroids, for example.
  • Very few dogs need exotic proteins. Don’t spend the money unless you know your dog is allergic to the more common, and more affordable, meats.
  • Pay attention to your dog. If she’s always hot, seeks the cool spot in the house, or gets hotspots or other inflammatory problems, avoid lamb and other “warm” proteins. Beef and turkey are neutral. Duck and most fish are “cool” proteins. On the other hand, if your dog loves the sun and wants to sleep under the covers and suffers even in a Florida winter, do look for lamb-based foods. You might think the idea of warming and cooling foods is mumbo-jumbo, but it has definitely helped both Cali and her sister Dora resolve recurrent hotspot issues. I’m a believer.

3 thoughts on “Choosing a Dog Food

  1. You’re actually recommending dog food advisor? There is nothing scientifically valid or independent about dog food advisors, pseudoscience, myths, and profits, or its foundation. Recommending bogus third-party sites with bad information.(DFA) That seems like Bad thinking.


  2. My cockapoo Sweeti Pi, is almost 4 years old. She has always been itchy and having ear issues. As a pup she would splay out her rear legs and crawl on her belly on the grass to laughter from all. We made it a trick, “commando”. I did not realize she was probably scratching an itchy belly. From time to time she rolls over on her back on pavement and wiggles to scratch her back. Skin supplements give her an oily fur and still dry skin.
    I have tested many limited ingredient dog foods/different proteins. She does not like dog food. Will wait until evening to eat. Once went 2 days with out eating. With the late night eating, she will wake me up, shaking the bed with her scratching, and I give her apoquel.
    Recently in desperation, for an answer, when the vet wanted me to try the 4th allergy dog food with 40? ingredients, totally unnatural, super over processed. I decided to give her people food. My field is human nutrition and was reluctant to rely on the very varied recipes I find on line. Recipes ranging from all chemistry to simplistic and inadequate.
    Finally I found Dog Journal and am following their guidelines.
    She leaps in the air when I take her dog bowl to the kitchen counter and loves her food. A favorite treat always has been sardines – a once a month treat we have always had – sharing a tin of sardines in water.
    I am using 2 g of protein per kilo… 19lb dog 17g of protein.
    I am using sardines, quinoa, and carrot or sweet potato as a start. Do I need to add flax?
    Can I give that to her everyday? Do I have to alternate other proteins. I want to use something she is happy on for a while (how long?) before testing her on common proteins. She is warm, so duck? turkey ?
    To test for allergies I bought Honest Kitchen Fruit & Veggie Base Mix and plan to add table quality protein.


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