Your dog is a part of your family. You want the best for your loyal companion, just as you do your kids and loved ones. That means feeding your pup the best dry dog food you can afford.

But finding healthy dog food can be just as difficult as finding healthy human food. And it’s not always practical – or feasible – to feed your canine friend a homemade diet.

We’re going to simplify the process by helping you understand what to look for when buying food. But first – a little education on doggy nutrition.

What is the Best Dry Dog Food?

Best Dry Dog Foods

Just like humans, dogs require certain nutrients to thrive. These nutrients include:

  • Protein: Helps build and maintain muscles, body tissues, organs, bones, nails, hair and the immune system. Animal proteins are best, such as poultry, beef and fish. Eggs are an excellent source as well.
  • Fats: Fats are the main source of energy for dogs. A single gram of fat contains double the energy of one gram of carbohydrate or protein. Lamb, chicken and herring oil are healthy sources of fat.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates serve as an energy source, and play a vital role in the health of your dog’s intestines.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Dogs only require a small amount of vitamins for metabolic functioning. Most vitamins can’t be synthesized by your pup’s body, so he must get them from his diet. Minerals are also important for healthy teeth and bones. Note: Avoid supplementing your dog’s diets with vitamins unless instructed by your veterinarian. It’s very easy to over supplement and cause poisoning.

Protein is the key most important thing in your dog’s food, and animal proteins offer more value than plant proteins. Make sure that your dog’s food includes meat-based protein (chicken, salmon, beef, lamb, buffalo, etc.), and this ingredient should be at the top of the list. If grains, like brown rice or corn, are listed first, your dog may not get the best quality nutrients he needs.

There are some who argue that dogs really don’t need carbohydrates. Grains are the primary carbohydrate source in most commercial dog foods, and they are generally difficult for dogs to digest. For this reason, many experts recommend grain free dog food. Just like humans, some dogs thrive on this type of diet, while others do not. That’s why it’s always best to speak with your veterinarian about your dog’s dietary needs.

What about freeze dried dog food?

A lot of high-end dog food producers are offering freeze dried foods, and many dog owners swear by these foods. The advantage of freeze-dried foods is that they allow dogs to enjoy all of the benefits of a raw food diet in a convenient, less-messy way. You’ll find many formulas that contain grass-fed meats and other high quality ingredients. But bear in mind that these foods are generally very expensive. One popular brand sells 16oz. of freeze dried food for $33. Yes, the food appears to be of excellent quality (judging by the ingredients), but not all pet owners can afford to spend this much on their dog’s food – and that’s okay.

Don’t be misled into thinking that you have to buy freeze dried food. High quality dry food is an excellent option, and dogs can easily thrive on this type of diet.

Best Dog Food for Puppies

Just like human babies, puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs. Puppies require twice the energy intake of adult dogs, so they’ll need to be fed more often and they’ll need high-protein food. The ASPCA recommends feeding a dog food that contains roughly 25-30% protein. Puppy food should also be higher in oils and fats, while being lower in carbohydrates.

Ideally, you’ll want to choose a food that contains named animal proteins and is free from artificial preservatives, flavorings and colors.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials has created a profile that contains 37 essential nutrients that every puppy food should have. These include

  • 10 amino acids
  • 11 vitamins
  • 12 minerals

Look for foods that contain the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement to ensure that the food will meet all of your puppy’s nutritional needs.

Feeding a puppy the appropriate amount can be a challenge. If allowed to overeat, puppies can easily take in too many calories, grow too quickly and wind up developing health problems as a result. Be sure to follow the food’s feeding instructions to prevent overeating.

Best Food for Old Dogs

As your dog ages, his nutritional needs change. You’ll find that many commercial dog food brands offer special formulas specifically for senior dogs to help meet these needs.

Generally, senior dogs require fewer calories and more fiber. Because seniors tend to be less active, their caloric intake should be reduced to prevent obesity. Higher amounts of fiber help keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy. Commercial dogs designed for senior dogs will be lower in calories.

The same rules apply when buying food for older dogs: Look for high quality animal proteins, and make sure that this is the first ingredient on the list.

At what age are dogs considered “old”?
As a general thumb, dogs will fall into the senior category once they’re reached half their life expectancy. And life expectancy depends on the size and breed of the dog. Generally, small dogs live to be about 15-20 years old, while larger dogs live to be about 12-15 years old. So, larger dogs are considered seniors at around six, while small dogs are considered seniors at around eight or nine years of age.

Best Food for Overweight Dogs

Canine obesity is a growing epidemic. In some cases, dogs become overweight because they are simply inactive. In other cases, dog owners will feed their four-legged friends unhealthy human foods, which leads to weight gain. It’s easy to overfeed a dog with a seemingly endless appetite, especially smaller dogs.

Just as there are special formulas for puppies and older dogs, you’ll also find special dog food formulas for overweight dogs. These foods contain fewer calories, which will help promote weight loss.

But you don’t necessarily need to purchase special food if your dog needs to lose weight. Investing in high quality food is the key. With higher amounts of quality animal protein, dogs tend to eat less often. They don’t gain weight as easily either because these food tend to have fewer carbohydrates.

Feed your pup the appropriate amount of quality food, and he’ll start losing weight.

Exercise is also important. Make sure that your dog is active. Take him for walks every day and be sure to get in plenty of play time. Just like with humans, a good healthy diet and exercise are the key most important things when trying to get your dog to lose weight.

Establishing a feeding schedule is important, too. Stick to portion-control feeding, so you know exactly how much you’re feeding your dog and when. Overweight dogs will overeat if they’re allowed free-choice feeding (food is available at all times). Try feeding your dog at the same time every day, too, so your dog understands when it’s time to eat, and when it’s time to rest or play.

Working or Active Dogs

Working and very active dogs, like police dogs, cattle dogs and guide dogs, will have higher energy needs. Dogs with a high work load may need as much as 50-70% more energy, while dogs with a moderate work load may need 40% more.

Owners of athletic dogs often find that high-fat diets are optimal for performance as they provide dogs with the fuel they need and help prevent injury. Many also recommend feeding a diet that contains 28-32% protein for added injury protection. Carbs are still important, but a carb-heavy diet may actually hinder performance and make your dog more sluggish.

Again, quality ingredients is the most important thing. Named animal proteins are best, and look for healthy fats from poultry or fish.

If you have a working or athletic dog, consult with your veterinarian to determine which food would be best for your dog.

Finding the best dry dog food can be a daunting task, but once you find a food that meets your requirements – and your dog’s tastes – you can stick to that food until your dog reaches his next life stage. Reading the ingredient list is the most important part of the process. Quality animal protein should be at the top of the list, grains should be sparse, and fats should be of high quality.