How to Choose the Best Dog Food
Updated: Aug 10
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The truth is that dog food is a minefield with hundreds of dog food options available to you, so choosing the right food can be extremely tough.
Opinions about canine nutrition vary among vets, breeders, trainers and dog lovers with everyone advocating different types of food.
Ultimately, you need to decide which food best suits your dog. You'll need to consider things like the type of food, quality of ingredients and cost to fit with your budget.
Do plenty of research so you can make an informed decision about your dog's diet.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. How to Choose the Best Dog Food
Choosing the right food can make a real difference to the health and happiness of your dog, but it's a daunting task trying to work out which food is actually best.
Ultimately you need to find the best quality dog food you can afford. One which gets your dog super excited as you prepare it, gets woofed down in one go and finally, the bowl is licked clean.
The bottom line is that even the experts don’t agree on the best type of dog food. That's partly because there are so many factors to consider and all dogs needs are different.
Whether it’s raw, tailor-made, hypo-allergenic, grain free, dried, senior, or puppy food you're considering, this buying guide will ultimately equip you with the information you need to make the right decision.
We explore nutrition by life stage, summarise the different dog foods costs and finally layout your options to make it easier for you to choose the right type of food for your dog.
If you're in a rush .......
We've done all the groundwork for you. We've tested different dog foods with the help of a whole variety of dogs from easy-to-please Labradors to fussy & downright difficult Cockapoos and their patient, dog loving owners. We've researched their nutritional content and health claims to curate a shortlist. We evaluate some more traditional dog food companies alongside a host of online brands powered by digital technology to deliver their innovative and often customised dog food directly to your door.
2. Dog Nutrition By Life Stage
Ultimately, the single most important factor is making sure the food you choose is designed for your dog's life stage – for example a puppy food, adult food or senior food. Each stage of your dogs life requires a very different food.
Puppy nutrition is the first step on the road to lifelong health. Growing puppies need way more calories, along with higher levels of minerals, vitamins, fats and proteins to support healthy development.
As puppies grow so rapidly, and their digestive and immune systems are developing slowly, they have very specific nutritional needs that are different from adult dogs. It's crucial to feed them a complete, nutritious diet which covers all the bases.
Puppy food packaging provides clear guidelines on how much to feed at what stage and it's all based on the final predicted adult weight of your dog.
Keep a close eye on the amounts of food you are advised to give your puppy, as it changes over time. Also weigh the food regularly to ensure you are portioning accurately and take into account any training treats you're feeding.
Generally, most puppy foods are suitable for the first 12 months of their lives or when they are close to their adult height, then you can think about moving onto an adult or in some cases a junior formula.
If you are searching for dog foods specifically aimed at puppies - why not take a look at our Best Puppy Food article.
When shopping for the right adult food, think about your dog's lifestyle, size, breed and any health conditions. The idea through teen years and adulthood is to maintain their nutrient intake and a healthy weight.
But no two dog foods are the same, so bear in mind the following points when buying dog food formulated for adult dogs :-
Active medium sized dogs need higher concentrations of certain vitamins than less-sporty breeds.
Small and medium sized dogs will need more protein, vitamins and minerals, grains and fibre than larger dogs.
Larger dogs can keep growing for up to two years so check the guidelines carefully as to when to move from Puppy or Junior food to Adult food.
Small differences in food formulations can also help. For instance, large breed dog foods tend to have larger biscuits, which in turn encourages slower eating.
If you have a greedy guzzler, who seems to inhale their food, you could look at a slow feeder dog bowl. Specially designed slow feeder bowls can encourage the greediest of dogs to eat at a slower pace and can engage them at mealtimes for up to 10 x longer than standard bowls.
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The truth is that as your dog gets older, they’ll become less active. They need more rest and recuperation whilst any health conditions can further influence their diet.
The term 'Senior' refers to the last third of a dog's life, if you look at life expectancy for your dog's breed, you’ll get an idea of when it's appropriate to move onto a senior formulation.
Senior formulations take all the basic needs, as well as more specific ones associated with aging into account. For example, nutrients like glucosamine which can help with their joints may be added to senior foods.
Generally a senior dog will need fewer calories, but they’ll usually need higher levels of fibre and protein.
When do you switch from adult to senior dog food? This very much depends on the breed and the size of your dog. In terms of growth and development rates, smaller breeds are considered seniors at around 9 years and medium to large dogs at around 7 years.
3. The Cost of Dog Food
According to Which, some dog foods, will cost as little as £140 a year to make sure your dog has a balanced diet, but others can set you back by more than £850. That's a massive difference, so let's take a look at the different types of dog food on the market and their relative costs.
Dried Dog Food - Kibble and Biscuits
Generally the dried kibble based dog foods are the cheapest on the market and the easiest to store.
Of the dried foods available, grain free and hypoallergenic options are slightly more expensive options. If you're looking to move your dog onto a grain free diet, consult with your vet first as grain-free diets are not recommended for every dog.
RECOMMENDED READ Grain Free Dog Food - The Inside Story
Do bear in mind if you have a picky eater who will only grace the dog bowl if a 'tasty' topper in the form of wet food is added, then this will increase your dog food bill considerably.
Wet Dog Food - Pouches and Tins
Wet foods are very popular and generally dogs will often prefer wet food over dry. However, they tend to be more expensive, especially as the daily amount for your dog is often higher than dried food.
Additionally, be aware that wet food will spoil quickly so it’s important any wet food you put down for your dog is eaten and not left out, especially in warm weather. So, if your allow your dog to 'graze' throughout the day, avoid wet food.
Delivered - Tailored Dog Foods
Whilst bespoke, delivered-to-your-door dog foods are definitely pricier options than those foods found in pet shops or supermarkets, they do offer a menu tailored specifically to your dog with a range of mouthwatering human-grade recipes.
Fantastic options if your dog suffers from ailments, allergies or is a particularly picky eater, all their specific information is utilised by the company to create your customised food.
If you are concerned with fridge and freezer storage space for fresh foods, there are air-dried foods like Pure or dry kibble like tails.com which offer bespoke dog foods.
If you'd like to know more, read our in-depth review of the Best Delivered Dog Foods Review
Raw Dog Food
Another option, raw dog food, is generally slightly more expensive than off-the-shelf kibble.
The key considerations with raw food are the hygiene implications (it's raw meat) and the storage considerations as it must be kept frozen.
Nevertheless raw food is taking the dog food market by storm with many advocating the benefits of feeding a species specific diet.
Photo by Mahdi Bafande on Unsplash
Fundamentally raw is believed to be the closest thing to a wolves diet in the wild. It is therefore considered to be ‘natural’ or biologically appropriate feeding.
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The Raw Dog Food Diet : Benefits and Risks Is raw dog food safe?
Best Raw Dog Food Review We test four of the best raw dog foods in the UK today
4. Changing your Dog's Diet
If you are ready to change dog foods, the key to success is slow and steady.
Sudden changes in food can cause your dog to suffer from stomach upsets, so you need to gradually introduce the new food to them and phase out the old food.
Work on a transition of 1-2 weeks, increasing the percentage of the new food gradually whilst decreasing the percentage of the old food.
If you are transitioning to raw dog food, there are a couple of transition methods available which we detail further in our How to Switch to Raw Dog Food
You know your dog best, so choose a transition method which suits you and your dog.
5. Dog Obesity
On the label for all complete foods, you will find guidelines on how much and how often to feed the product to your dog to ensure they receive all the essential nutrients.
Whilst these guidelines can be a useful starting point, they will need to be adjusted for each dog as they can differ depending on exercise, breed, age, sex and lifestyle.
We'd suggest whilst it's not necessary to weigh out every single meal, it is worth weighing food once a week, as it's very easy for the controlled portions to creep upwards !
Also carefully monitor your use of training treats. Whilst training with high value treats such as chunks of cheese gets you the behaviour you desire, to your four-legged friend the calorific content is on par with a super-sized portion of fish and chips !
Pet obesity is the top welfare concern for vets. According to The Kennel Club, between 30% and 60% of dogs are now overweight.
It’s vital that you understand how to recognise a healthy body shape, which can be a more useful way of telling if your pet is overweight than relying on weight alone.
Generally, you should be able to feel the ribs easily, see an abdominal tuck when viewed from the side and a slight 'hourglass' outline when viewed from above (tapering in between ribs and hips).
If you are concerned about your dog's weight, why not book an appointment to chat to your veterinary nurse.
6. Hints & Tips
✅ Dog Food labels can be extremely confusing. Sometimes it can appear to be a secret language, but like any code, once you know how to crack it, it's easy as pie. We explore the secret language of dog food manufacturers and help you decrypt those puzzling labels - How to Read Dog Food Labels
✅ Most companies online, offer introductory offers and subscription packages. Take advantage of any sample packs and introductory offers to make sure your dog really enjoys the food first before making a significant financial investment.
✅ Many companies also offer transition packs and advice for changing your dog's diet to avoid unnecessary problems.
We really hope that this article has offered some guidelines and options to help you on your quest. Thanks for dropping by and reading How to Choose the Best Dog Food.