How to Find the Healthiest Dog Food
Today we're chatting all about how to find the healthiest dog food, sharing how we feed Gus, and giving you a special discount for Thrive Market!
By now we know that what we eat is hugely important to maintaining our health, but you may be wondering what exactly your beloved furry friend should be eating to ensure he's healthy as well! Much like our own food, there's a wide selection of food out there for dogs now that ranges from highly processed and nutrient-poor to minimally processed with just a few whole-food ingredients, but it can be difficult to navigate and see past marketing to tell which food is really best. Rest assured that if you aren't up for home-making all of your dogs meals or diving into the world of raw feeding, there are plenty of great options on the shelves these days to keep your pup healthy and happy!
Decoding Dog Food Labels
Just like humans, our pets also need a balanced diet of protein, fats, and carbohydrates to keep them properly fueled. Here's what to look for on dog food labels to help you better select what the healthiest choice is!
Just like when you read labels in your own food, you want to look for recognizable ingredients on your dog food label. The ingredient listed first on the label will be the one that makes up most of the formula, so you want to look for a label where the first ingredient is the type of protein used in the food (i.e. chicken). Chicken will refer to the actual flesh and muscle of the chicken, while chicken meals means that the chicken has been dried before it is put into the food. The use of chicken meal reduces the water content in the food, making it easier to use and allowing for a larger amount of protein in the food. Chicken and chicken meal are both preferable than “chicken by-product” (this also goes for any type of meat).
Chicken by-product, or chicken meal by-product, on the other hand includes parts of the chicken that we wouldn't normally eat, and that often don't add nutritional value to the food, but are much less expensive than chicken meat. In addition to lacking nutrients, these by-products are less digestible. These two properties of by-products can leave your pets hungry, leading them to eat more than they would with a higher quality food.
Takeaway: when looking at dog food brands, you want to select one that has a whole, animal-based protein as the top ingredient and no meat by-products.
Another tricky subject when it comes to choosing dog food is the type of carbohydrates present in the food. Often times, grains can be used as fillers in dog food and provide little nutritional value. You should particularly keep an eye out for corn and wheat that is listed high up in the ingredients, meaning it is making up a large amount of the formula. Instead, look for ingredients like whole grains, sweet potatoes (Gus loves his sweet ‘tatoes!), peas, and legumes and always make sure protein is at the top of the list.
As with your own food, a good rule of thumb is to look for dog foods with fewer ingredients. Many dog foods contain multiple additives including artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors. These additives can have side effects such as irritation, hyperactivity and digestive distress. While dogs can handle these types of ingredients occasionally, eating them in their food every day can cause problems. Instead of artificial preservatives, look for brands that use rosemary, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E for preservation.
Should Your Dog Eat Grain-Free?
Grain-free dog food has become more and more common and began showing up more and more as Paleo and gluten free diets became popular. Grain-free dog food makes a lot of sense from a logical standpoint, I mean who sees a dog get more excited about eating corn than chicken right? However, dogs have adapted over time to be able to tolerate many grains well. As we noted earlier though, you want to make sure that they are eating whole grains with nutritious value rather than a large amount of wheat and corn that has been stripped of its nutrients. With that in mind, grain-free dog food can be a great choice for your pet because it often has higher quality ingredients, fewer ingredients overall, and more fruits and vegetables to make up the carbohydrates a dog needs!
If your dog is experiencing digestive issues or allergies, switching foods can be a great first line of defense. You can try different proteins, a lower-ingredient formula, a formula with a single, easily digestible grain like rice, or a grain-free formula to help pinpoint what the problem may be. Remember that if you're switching your dog's food it is best to do it slowly to prevent any stomach upset!
We personally feed Gus Blue Buffalo because after trying a few brands, he likes and tolerates it best. I love that I can add his food to my monthly Thrive shipment to save money and prevent an extra trip to the pet store!
Here are some of my favorite picks for dog food:
- I and Love and You Naked Essentials Chicken & Duck Dog Kibble
- Wellness Core Dog Food (love the inclusion of liver, fish oil, and flaxseed in this one!)
- Organix Chicken & Oatmeal Dog Food (for those that tolerate grains well!)
I personally prefer buying Gus's food from Thrive market because it's much more convenient than going to the store, it saves me money, and they have a great selection of food that is pre-selected to contain the best ingredients so the guesswork is taken care of!
What about Homemade Food?
Homemade and even raw food diets can be a great choice for your pet and gives you the most control over what ingredients are in your dog's food. Depending on what brand of dog food you're buying, homemade diets may even be able to save you money!
As a general rule of thumb, a dog's diet should contain a healthy balance protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and fat. You can use any protein to satisfy this requirement, starchy carbs like rice and sweet potatoes, safe fruits and vegetables, and fats of your choice to customize the food to your dog's liking. The drawback of course is that making homemade food can be time consuming, and add even more cooking to an already busy schedule. If you're interested in switching your dog to homemade food, I recommend discussing with your vet first to get an idea of what balance of macronutrients your dog needs, as well as specific ingredients that may be better or worse for them!
Where do Treats Fit in?
In our house Gus gets more than his fair share of treats (and table scraps!) so we actually feed him a little less of his normal dog food to accommodate for this. When picking out treats, we always look for something with the least amount of ingredients and skews to being more protein-based. Occasionally, he will also get a bone or rawhide (those these usually get hidden in the backyard!). Chews like this can help break down tartar on a dog's teeth and reduce the risk of gum disease, just always make sure you aren't feeding your pup cooked bones and that you are giving him proper supervision!
Here are some of our favorite treats:
- Kingdom Pets Duck and Sweet Potato Jerky Twists
- Carnivore Crunch Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Treats
- I and Love and You Duck & Chicken Dog Treats
- Good Buddy Meaty Center Dog Bone
- Good Buddy Rawhide Dog Bones
Here's the best news …a SPECIAL DISCOUNT! Now that you know how to find the healthiest dog food, you can head on over to Thrive and buy a few treats and dog food for your pup to try out.