How to Choose the Most Nutritious Dog Food

Published: 20th July 2009
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Dog food ingredients

Pet-nutrition experts say that the best dog food is made from human-grade ingredients like meat, whole grains and vegetables. What you don't want is a lot of filler, ingredients that have no nutritional benefit. Dogs can absorb most of the nutrients from white rice and potatoes, but are unable to absorb the nutrients from grains like oats, flour, wheat, and corn. Glutens are another group of ingredients that experts say don't provide much nutritional value to dogs, and are a particular concern since 2007's massive recall of pet foods tainted by contaminated wheat and rice gluten from China.

Meat (chicken, turkey, beef, lamb) should be the first ingredient, followed by digestible carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, or more absorbable grains such as rice. If you've read any dog food labels, you may have noticed the term "by-product." Meat by-product consists mainly of animal parts that are not used for human consumption, such as bones, organs, blood, fatty tissue and intestines. Best to avoid foods that contain meat by-products.

Dog food companies are making moves to get away from using artificial preservatives in dog food. Chemicals used as preservatives, like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, have been under scrutiny, and many companies are switching to natural preservatives like vitamin C (ascorbate) and vitamin E (tocopherols). These natural preservatives are much safer.

Dog food tips

Change dog foods periodically, and feed a mixture of dry dog food and canned food. Many experts say you should change brands every few months as well, which will ensure that any nutrient deficiencies in a particular food won't have long-term effects. Choose three or four high quality foods and alternate between them. Experts usually recommend about 25% canned food to 75% dry food in the portion mix.

Look for certification by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). According to the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine website, "An AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement is one of the most important aspects of a dog or cat food label.

Choose a food that has whole meat ( chicken, turkey, beef ) as its top ingredient. Grain sources should also be whole grains, as opposed to glutens or other processed products. Rice and barley are better than corn or wheat. Avoid meat by-products and meat and bone meals.
Avoid BHT, BHA and ethoxyquin as preservatives. A better choice would be foods preserved with tocopherols (vitamin E) or vitamin C (ascorbate).

Observe your dog carefully when trying a new food. Some dogs need more protein and some need less, just as some dogs need to eat more than others, depending on activity level. Look for changes in coat and skin, along with stool consistency.

Pet food safety is a growing concern. Past recalls of dog foods because of wheat and rice glutens contaminated with melamine have spotlighted some major issues regarding pet foods and their ingredients. Recent pet-food recalls have included one for salmonella contamination in late 2008. While the majority of foods have been deemed to be safe, this is clearly an ongoing issue.

For an unbiased review by pet nutrition experts of the best dog food brands, go to Alexis Winn is a pet enthusiast and owner of, a social networking site for dog lovers. For more valuable pet care information, and to join our vibrant online community go to

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