All Things Dog Food: Choosing the Right Food for Your Dog

All Things Dog Food: Choosing the Right Food for Your Dog

You’re browsing down the dog food isles, just like any other day, shopping the countless bags of edible goodness for Just the right one, the perfect dog food for your pet. But… which one? They all claim to be the best, to offer nutritional perfection, from the $15 container to the $50 container.

Vocabulary to Know:

By-products: Clean, non rendered ‘parts’, other than meat, contained within dog food.

Meal: A product of the rendering process. A wealth of ingredients are mixed, ground together, and cooked; the leftover solids can be used in dog food.

Rendering: Various deceased animal ingredients ground & cooked in large vats. Though rendering is a questionable process, it is used across the board by nearly all dog food manufacturers.

  • Avoid ingredients simply labeled ‘meat meal’ or ‘meat by-product’. These are listed as such because the manufacturer didn’t really know what it was.

Cheapest isn’t Always Best

Let’s imagine (in a purely hypothetical situation) you, the consumer, don’t know the exact nutritional requirements for your beloved pooch to thrive. Dog food is, well, dog food - right? You’re probably going to make the most economical decision by purchasing the 50lb. Bag of dog food that costs you a mere $15 or so. That’s nearly a month’s supply for most of us!

Surprising Truth

What if I told you that is exactly the mindset the marketing heads for brands like ‘Purina’ want their target consumer to have? They target the avg. consumer, the dog owner who might not have the most knowledge in nutritional areas, throwing advertisements of dreams and happiness their way.

The truth is- there is a reason these foods are so cheap; don’t be fooled by the advertising you see on television. Rather than utilizing quality ingredients that your dog has evolved to thrive from, like animal meat, many manufacturers use cheaply produced (grown) ‘filler’ ingredients, like corn, to build the majority of their foods.

Take a look at the top three ingredients used in the following extremely popular dog foods-

(Ingredients appear in descending order of their weight)

Alpo Dry Dog Food:

  • Ground Yellow Corn

  • Corn Germ Meal

  • Beef & Bone Meal

Kibbles ‘n Bits Dry Dog Food

  • Corn

  • Soybean Meal

  • Beef & Bone Meal

Purina Dog Chow Dry Dog Food

  • Whole Grain Corn

  • Meat & Bone Meal

  • Corn Gluten Meal

Pedigree Dry Dog Food:

  • Ground Whole Grain Corn

  • Poultry By-product Meal (remember, a by-product isn’t the meat itself)

  • Corn Gluten Meal

Take another look at the three definitions listed above.

Notice how the number one ingredient found in all four, that is- the largest quantity of, is corn, a substance manufacturers use as a ‘filler’ ingredient to produce more of a cheaper product. Most viewers would see ‘poultry’ listed on Pedigree labels, or ‘beef’ listed under Alpo labels, and think their pets are getting quality sources of poultry and beef. Which of course is what these companies want their consumers to think.

  • Not all of the essential amino acids a dog needs to thrive can be found in the proteins of plant products. In a perfect situation your dog would be fed quality sources of (cooked) animal meat on a daily basis.

  • The Canine diet long ago consisted of almost no plant sources whatsoever, but rather nearly entirely of animal meat.

You can find a thorough listing of 1-5 star dog foods, as well as an explanation of why some ingredients are better than others, at Dog Food Advisor!

The brands listed above offer a wide variety of foods, some being higher quality.

Analyzing Ingredients

If your goal is to find the cheapest food possible, grab that huge bag of Purina. Understand you’re getting exactly what you are paying for.

If you are looking for something nutritionally sound, you’ll need to know what types of nutritional information to look for. You’ll need to do some research (don’t worry; it isn’t all that hard).

  • Is the first ingredient listed on the back of your dog food package an animal or plant product?

Not All Protein is the Same

Recommending a daily amount of protein is kind of futile, since even the cheapest brands can easily meet that amount with inferior ingredients. Look further, asking yourself what type of protein you are feeding your dog.

Let’s examine the first few ingredients of some higher quality dog foods:

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Adult

  • Deboned Salmon

  • Chicken Meal

  • Tapioca Starch (a Carbohydrate)

Taste of the Wild Southwest Canyon Dry Dog Food

  • Beef

  • Peas

  • Garbanzo Beans

  • Lamb Meal

The first ingredient is beef, a quality meat ingredient. Though the second two are vegetable sources, they are considered quality carbohydrates.

Earthborn Holistic Primitive Natural

  • Turkey Meal

  • Chicken Meal

  • Potatoes

Notice how none of the foods I listed utilize corn? This is true for many five star foods. If you’ll examine some of the cheaper brands I’ve listed above next time you visit the store, you might find some with the top three being corn derivatives.


According to the National Research Council, most dogs don’t need to consume any carbohydrates to remain healthy. Unlike humans, a dog’s digestive system works slightly differently, utilizing fat stores as its’ main energy source.

They don’t need corn, wheat, barley rice or potatoes. So why do these seem to be major ingredients in most dry dog foods?

  • Abundant

  • Durable

  • Cheaper

These are the reasons manufacturers use certain carb-filled ingredients; it has little to do with nutrition. That isn’t to say dogs can’t use carbohydrates; they certainly can. A good dog food should offer more quality sources of protein and (ideally) fewer carbohydrates, as well as micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, omega 3 & 6 fatty acids., etc.

In Conclusion

Next time you shop for dog food, remember- cheaper isn’t better!

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