Best Dog Food, According To Veterinarians
Which dog food is truly the best?
When you become a dog parent, you want to make sure you’re giving your pup all the best, including the best dog food possible. But with so many options out there, which one is truly the best?
We went to the experts to gain a better understanding of how pet parents can pick the right dog food for their pup and even got some vet-recommended formulas both you and your dog will love.
Types of dog food
If you’ve taken a stroll down the dog food aisle of your local supermarket lately, then you know there are more than a few kinds of dog food formulas on the market. Two veterinarians helped us break down what they all are and which ones may be best for your dog.
Puppy, adult and senior dog food
One of the first things you’ll notice is that there are different dog foods for different life stages. And, although ingredients in each food look similar, there are actually large differences between the formulas made for puppies, adult dogs and senior dogs.
“Adult dogs and puppies are different from each other as far as nutritional needs and their energy levels,” Dr. Claudine Sievert, a veterinary consultant at Stayyy.com, told The Dodo. “In contrast, adult dogs need enough calories to maintain their proper weight and energy levels.”
She continued, “Senior dogs use less energy and need a certain amount of protein and calories to maintain their weight, along with special nutrient requirements to prevent disease and health conditions.”
Furthermore, Dr. Sievert explained that puppies have more nutritional needs compared to adult and senior dogs. They need more calories to match their high energy levels and support bone and muscle growth.
“[Puppy food] has to be packed with proteins, enzymes and other nutrients that they need more of than adult dogs do. Because of the added nutrients and calories puppy food has, you want to avoid feeding it to your adult or senior dog because it'll make them gain weight,” Dr. Sievert explained.
She said that puppies should get between 22 and 32 percent of their daily food intake from protein, but adult dogs only need 18 percent.
“If adult dogs eat as many proteins as a puppy, they can develop high cholesterol, joint issues and heart problems,” Dr. Sievert said. “However, if a puppy eats adult dog food, they'll miss out on what they need to [help them] grow.”
For all these reasons, it’s really important to buy your dog the right food for his age range. If you’re not sure if your dog fits in the puppy, adult or senior category, the dog food packaging will likely list appropriate ages, or you can ask your vet which type of food you should be buying.
Wet vs. dry
Once you figure out the right food for your pup’s age, you’ll then need to decide whether or not you want to feed your dog wet food (usually sold in cans or refrigerated sausage-like packaging) or dry food (aka kibble).
“Wet and dry food differ primarily in the processing used to make them and the water content present,” Dr. Stephanie Sheen, a veterinarian for Fuzzy, told The Dodo. “Wet food involves chopping up the protein portion, adding a gravy that includes vitamins and minerals and sterilizing the cans to preserve them.”
“Dry food uses already processed protein meals to make a dough that is cooked in high heat and pressure to make the kibbles,” she continued, “which are coated with a spray that includes fats, vitamins and minerals, and then packaged in a bag to prevent spoilage.”
So, is one kind of food better than the other? It depends on your pup’s situation.
“The higher moisture content of wet food is useful for dogs who may not drink as much water as they should, or for pets who have medical conditions that lead to dehydration, such as kidney or urinary diseases,” Dr. Sheen said, adding that canned food’s also more aromatic, and pickier eaters may be more interested in eating wet food compared to dry.
And because there’s no crunch, older dogs with weaker or less teeth will have an easier time eating wet food, too.
“Wet food can also increase the feeling of fullness when eaten in comparison to dry food, and also generally has a lower calorie content per portion, meaning it is a good choice for dogs who need to lose weight,” Dr. Sheen continued. “Dry food tends to be more convenient, as it can be left out at room temperature for longer without spoilage concerns and is also less costly.”
“The wet vs. dry argument has been going on forever, and it's likely to continue, so my advice is to talk to your vet to see what they recommend,” Dr. Sievert said. “I don't think one way is better than the other, and you should choose whichever one you want.”
How to find the best food for your dog
To find the best food for your dog, there are a handful of guidelines you should follow before you begin shopping.
Consider your pup’s size
“Formulas developed for breed size are more important for puppy foods than adult foods,” Dr. Sheen said. However, it’s still important to keep your pup’s size in mind when selecting a food for him — especially if you’re picking a dry kibble.
“For adult formulas, a small-breed food may have a smaller kibble size to make it easier to pick up and chew,” Dr. Sheen continued. “It may also have a higher calorie content so that a small dog doesn’t have to eat as much to meet their daily calorie requirements.”
Large-breed adult dog foods can contain additives like joint supplements, but in general, nutritional content won’t differ much between small- and large-breed foods.
Choose nutrients over ingredients
“Ingredients aren’t as important as the nutrients they provide,” Dr. Sheen said, explaining that some dog food brands beef up their packaging with ingredients lists that make the food seem healthier than it actually is.
“Rather than focusing on ingredients when looking for a quality puppy or adult food, it is best to find a brand that meets the guidelines established by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA),” she continued. These guidelines cover quality control, caloric value, how the food is made, etc.
And when you’re reading the dog food’s label, Dr. Sievert said that a high-quality dog food should contain the following nutrients:
- Primary amino acids, which are valine, threonine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, lysine, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, arginine and histidine
- 30 percent lean protein, ideally from organ meats like liver, kidney, gizzard, etc.
- Carbohydrates from veggies, fruit and rice (pumpkin, squash, kale and berries are great, too)
- Electrolytes like sodium chloride and potassium
- Vitamins A, B, D, E, K and chlorine
- Healthy fats from oils and fish
You can consult your vet to get a more tailored list of nutrients and ingredients that would benefit your dog’s unique health situation.
Consider your personal preferences
“Choosing the ‘right’ food also involves taking into account pet parent preferences,” Dr. Sheen said.
“Decide which type of feeding style is right for you — whether that is canned food, kibble, raw diets or fresh cooked food — and then use the WSAVA guidelines to help choose a reputable brand,” she suggested.
Make sure the food agrees with your pup
After four to six weeks, Dr. Sheen suggested evaluating your dog to see if his food’s working for him. He should enjoy eating it, and it should be making his skin and coat healthy, helping him maintain his weight, and shouldn’t be giving him digestion issues like gas or abnormal poop.
How much to feed your dog
“On the back of every bag of dog food and can of wet dog food, there are feeding charts, and it tells you how much you should feed your dog daily,” Dr. Sievert said. But these charts aren’t super straightforward and are sometimes overgeneralized.
“If you have a 20-pound dog who lays around all day and has no interest in exercising, feeding him the maximum amount would undoubtedly lead to unhealthy weight gain,” Dr. Sievert explained. “Alternatively, an active dog who zips around all the time probably needs more calories than would
be provided by the lower end of the range.”
“Only you and your vet can correctly determine the number of calories your dog should be getting,” she continued, noting that only then can you work out a feeding schedule (usually two meals per day).
Vet-recommended dog food
So, which dog foods reign supreme according to the experts? Here are some vet-recommended formulas both you and your dog will love.
Drs. Sheen and Morosco also like IAMS for the same reason Dr. Morosco likes Hill’s. It meets WSAVA guidelines and offers a range of different formulas for dogs of all ages and sizes, and even offers different kibble sizes for various adult breeds.
Another nutritious dog food Dr. Sheen recommended is the one from Purina ProPlan — in both dry and wet varieties. Purina ProPlan also makes puppy and senior formulas and fits within all the WSAVA guidelines.
Dr. Sheen said that Royal Canin dog food fits all the WSAVA guidelines, and the brand offers so many unique formulas for different breeds, ages and sizes of dogs, so you can find a food that gives your unique dog all the nutrients he needs. Royal Canin’s also available in both dry and wet formulas.
“I have fed my dogs Diamond brand dog food for almost 25 years now and have never had an issue,” Dr. Sievert said. It contains probiotics, omega fatty acids and antioxidants to keep your pup’s coat and skin healthy, as well as maintain overall inner health.
Small animal veterinarian Dr. Danielle Morosco and Petco’s chief veterinarian, Dr. Whitney Miller, both recommended Hill’s. “[Hill’s has] undergone feeding trials and [meets] WSAVA guidelines,” Dr. Morosco said. “The specific type of food will vary based on your dog’s breed, size and any underlying medical conditions.”
Finally, Dr. Sheen told us that Eukanuba dog food is a great formula, as well. It also fits within the WSAVA guidelines, and you can choose the best formula based on your dog’s size.
All of the above vet-recommended brands offer both wet and dry formulas and come in formulas for various life stages and health requirements, so you can better tailor your pup’s diet to his needs.
But, as always, talk to your vet first to get their personal recommendation, as they know your dog’s health situation first-hand and can help you choose the perfect food for your dog.