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How to Choose a Complete and Balanced Food for Your Dog

Written by Anna Hollisey

Updated

Spaniel sitting next to bowl of food

Choosing dog food can be overwhelming. Should you choose wet or dry, grain-free or raw? What does your dog need while they are growing or nursing? Can you trust the claims on the packaging? 

Bright eyes, shiny coat, flexible limbs – when your dog is healthy and well-fed, it shows. Ever wondered how they use food to fuel their bodies? 

Like humans, dogs need certain nutrients which their bodies don’t generate – and it’s a long list. Protein, fat, 13 essential minerals and 11 different vitamins are all required to support your dog’s health. From calcium and potassium to vitamin A and all the amino acids, there’s a wide range of nutrients which serve different purposes in your dog’s body. Then there’s a recommended minimum level for each one: for example, adult dog food should have 22% protein and 8% fat, but that can be further divided into amino and fatty acids. Designing a dog food recipe is more complex than we might think!

Fortunately, there’s no need to memorize the whole list… the FDA’s done the hard work for us.

The US Food and Drug Association (FDA) monitors animal food to ensure that minimum standards (like hygiene, proper storage, and truthful labels) are met. 

The ‘Complete and Balanced’ label may only be used on a food which contains all the nutrients in AAFCO’s Dog Food Nutrient Profile

This profile was established in 1991 and is regularly updated. It’s a practical guide for manufacturers to ensure that their food is adequately prepared. For owners, it removes all the strain of trying to plan a balanced diet for our canines. 

Puppies have different nutritional needs as they are growing so intensively. That’s why AAFCO has split the dog nutritional profile in two: one for growth and one for maintenance. You’ll need to start your pup on a food which is designed for growth, and keep them on puppy food until they reach 1 year old. 

Recently there’s been a surge in grain-free food available on the market. It is true that dogs can develop a wheat or gluten intolerance. But it’s also true that starchy carbohydrates provide valuable slow-burning energy for our dogs. Choose grain-free if your dog has a sensitive stomach or recurring issues with their skin or ears (as these can be the first signals of a food allergy). If they’re healthy and vibrant, you can choose from the whole range of food, with or without grains. 

According to the FDA, dog food which features a claim like “supports heart health” or “hypoallergenic” must have the evidence to back it up. This usually involves testing or proof of long-term results. 

If your dog needs something extra from their diet, it’s best to consult your vet. They can recommend a food. The FDA is pushing for medicated diets to be sold exclusively via veterinary practices and that’s because your vet has the experience and expertise to select the right one for your dog. 

What if you want to choose a special diet for your own reasons? Perhaps your dog is a breed which is predisposed to joint, heart, or skin problems. In those cases, it might be best to feed a complete dog food and add a supplement to address the concern BEFORE it begins. We have dog supplements to improve joint flexibility and skin health, among other concerns. 

What if you’re a vegetarian – and want your dog to be vegetarian too? Some owners have strong moral beliefs which inform their choices. There’s some good news: dogs can live on a vegetarian diet. But you must research it well to ensure that your dog gets all the required nutrients. 

There’s one more type of diet which has been growing in popularity lately. A raw diet features raw meat and fish, with additional ingredients to provide extra minerals and vitamins. 

It doesn’t mean that you have to handle, chop and serve raw joints every day. You can buy raw dog food which is frozen or freeze-dried to preserve the nutrients – and it’s a growing market, with more and more choices. Dogs are biologically designed to eat and thrive on raw meat, so there’s a good argument for feeding them fresh food. We have resources on the blog to help you learn about raw diets.

Well, this is the Front of the Pack blog, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t introduce you to our favorite dog food! We designed our “Complete and Balanced” dry food with loads of good stuff like chicken, sweet potato, and oats. The ingredients are so wholesome, we printed them on the front of the pack (get it?). We’re not hiding anything. Check it out!