How to choose dog foods? It can seem very complicated but we’ve broken it down to make it easy. Below is a list of criteria that we consider when deciding on whether or not we will feed a particular food. The first 5 are criteria that are must-haves in a food. The last 15 or 20 criteria are personal preferences and what I look for in deciding if I want to recommend a particular food.
*Disclosure – Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Choose Dog Foods that Meet These 6 Criteria For Sure:
1. No BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, By-products, Corn, Wheat, or Soy
Choose dog foods that are free of BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, by-products, corn, wheat, and soy.
2. High in Meat Based Protein
Choose dog foods that are high in meat-based protein with individual meats listed on the package. I would stay away from products that list meat meal or poultry meal instead of specific types of meat meal. Whole meats are good. Chicken meal, duck meal, turkey meal, beef meal, salmon meal, etc. are also good. The word meal simply means that the moisture has been removed. Meals are generally about 300% or more calorically dense than their plain meat counterpart. The only kind of meal to stay away from are by-product meal like chicken by-product meal and what I call mystery meals…the ones that don’t tell you the particular meat. I would also stay away from products whose primary source of protein is plant based. Make sure that meat or meat meals are the first ingredients listed and that the food is at least 27% dry mass protein. Dogs were made to eat primarily meat.
How to Calculate Dry Mass Protein
Basically dry mass protein is the percentage of protein in the dog food AFTER all of the moisture has been removed from the dog food. For the most part, dog food has “crude protein” listed on the bag which is the percentage of protein BEFORE the moisture has been removed. This is important because foods with more water will have a lower crude protein then foods with less water even if they have the same the same amount of protein. So to accuratly compare protien content (or other componet of dog food) you should first convert it to dry mass content.
For example, TLC Puppy Food is the food that our puppies go home eating. It is a dry food which has 28% crude protein and 10% moisture which means that it has has 31.11% dry mass protein. On the other hand a canned dog food with 80% moisture and only 6% crude protein actually has 30% dry mass protein. This is why it is so important to check the dry mass protein in order to accurately compare.
This Dry Mass Calculator makes it really easy to just plug in your dog food’s crude protein percentage and moisture percentage then it will tell you your dog food’s dry mass protein.
3. Must Meet AAFCO’s Nutritional Profiles for Either Puppies or All Life Stages if You Are Feeding a Puppy
Only feed foods to a puppy under a year of age a food that has met AAFCO’s nutritional profiles for either all life stages or for growth. This will be indicated on the package. For adults, the food should meet the standard for adults. The standard for puppies is higher than the adult standard for all nutrients, so any puppy food is also adequate for adults.
4. Calcium Levels for Large Breed Puppies Need to Be Between 1.3 % and 1.9% Dry Mass
Make sure the calcium level for large breed puppies is not over 1.9% dry mass. See number 2 above for more information about what dry mass means and how to calculate it. Some foods are super healthy for adults or smaller breed dogs but often the added protein means more meat which includes more bones which includes more calcium. Calcium levels are what distinguish foods made for large breed puppies and smaller breed puppies. Higher levels of calcium will tend to cause the bones in large breed puppies to grow too quickly which can cause joint problems as the dog grows up. I always keep calcium levels in mind when rotating foods.
5. Little to No Vegetable Proteins
Many foods, especially grain free foods are adding pea proteins for two reasons. First of all, pea proteins help to hold a dry dog food together. Grains normally take on this rule, but pea proteins will do it in grain free foods.
The problem with pea proteins is that often dog food companies will replace meat proteins with pea proteins. Excessive amounts of pea proteins in grain free foods has been linked to a condition called DCM or Dilated Cardio Myopathy, a very dangerous heart condition. DCM is often caused by low taurine levels. Taurine is an amino acid formed from the breakdown of proteins. Dogs cannot adequately break down the proteins into amino acids from vegetable based proteins.
Many dog food companies are replacing the more expensive meat proteins which are easily broken down in the canine body with cheaper vegetable proteins. This has caused a very recent increase in the number of dogs presenting with DCM. Diet related DCM is especially prevalent in Golden Retrievers.
6. Only Feed Foods Rated 4 Stars or More On Dog Food Advisor’s Web Page
Don’t feed foods that are rated at lower than 4 stars on www.dogfoodadvisor.com. The owner of this site has done a fantastic job of evaluating the ingredients in individual dog foods. This page is a good place to start in evaluating a dog food. However, there are many foods on this page that are rated at 4 to 5 stars in spite of shortcomings that I don’t like. These rankings were done before the new information came out about the dangers of replacing meat proteins with cheaper vegetable proteins such as pea protein. Also, there are a few foods rated at 4 stars that have cheap corn as a primary ingredient.
Still, this site is a good starting place. Though I’ve seen bad foods with good ratings, I’ve never seen a good food rated at 3 1/2 stars or less.
Keep in mind that to get 5 stars on this site, for the most part, foods must be grain-free. Because most Golden Retrievers need some fiber to have consistently solid stools and because we don’t like pea protein, we usually prefer foods rated at 4 or 4 1/2 stars. Also, many 5 star foods have extremely high amounts of protein. For many dogs, this is a good thing. However, foods with too much protein, especially with puppies, can upset stomachs.
Choose Dog Foods That Meet These Criteria If Possible
Below is my list of preferences in a food. No food has it all. Some foods are stronger in one area. Some are stronger in another. This is why I rotate.
1. From a Trusted Manufacturer
I prefer to buy a food that doesn’t come from a company with a lot of recalls.
I prefer to buy a food from a manufacturer that has earned a reputation for being trustworthy and for using high quality ingredients.
2. Fresh Food
I prefer a food that comes to my home as soon as possible after it was made. Foods loose nutritional value the longer they sit on a shelf. Natural foods do not have as long of a shelf life as those preserved with artificial ingredients. Generally, an all-natural food will last about a year and foods preserved artificially will last about two years. The use-by date on the package will be in this time frame. For example, if you get a natural food with a date that is eight months out, it has been sitting on a shelf for about four months prior.
Quality Healthy Ingredients
10. I prefer to buy a food that has all its protein from meat sources.
11. I prefer a little bit of grain for puppies and for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
12. I prefer 28% or more protein in a food except for with young puppies and dogs with sensitive stomachs, where lower amounts of protein might be necessary for firm stools.
13. I prefer fewer white potatoes.
14. I prefer a food with pro-biotics and digestive enzymes or I add them myself.
15. I prefer a food that is raw, then freeze dried or dehydrated before a food that was processed by making dry dog food. However, I’d take conventional processing with good ingredients over poor ingredients processed by freezing or freeze drying or dehydration. Not many companies freeze dry or dehydrate because of the expense.
16. Choose dog foods with some kind of specific meat meal in the first 3 ingredients. If there are only un-concentrated meats in the food, you need to pay extra attention to the protein percentage and notice if additional vegetable proteins are what is giving the food its protein. If you have a concentrated vegetable protein listed fourth on the package and all un-concentrated meats ahead of it, chances are good that this food has a higher percentage of actual vegetable protein than meat protein.
17. I prefer a food that has some plain meats instead of all meat meals. This is what makes the food taste good to the dog.
Tested By Others I Respect
18. I prefer a food that has been tried by others and recommended to me, especially by other breeders that I respect.
19. I prefer a food that has mostly good reviews online (keeping in mind that there are some who will criticize anything and everything). I prefer a food that is rated 4 or 5 stars on www.dogfoodadvisor.com except for with young puppies or dogs with sensitive stomachs. 5 star foods are always too high in protein for young or sensitive stomachs.
2-. I prefer calcium levels to be around 1.3 to 1.5 and phosphorous around 0.8 to 1.0 for a large breed puppy.
21. I prefer a food that is not overly expensive.
No Dog Food is Perfect but Our Favorite is TLC
Again….there are no perfect foods and there is no dry food that meets all of the above criteria. However, our favorite food is TLC for the reasons listed on our Best Dog Foods page.
In short, TLC has just the right amount of the ingredients that we look at when evaluating dog food. TLC can only be bought directly from the company. It is not sold to distributors or stores so that it always comes fresh from the manufacturer without sitting in warehouses or store shelves for months. Shipping is free and our dogs and puppies love it! Click here or on the picture below to go to their website and get $5.00 off your first order. Check out our Best Dog Foods page for more information on why we recommend it.