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All About Dog Food

There's a dizzying selection of commercially prepared dog food for you to choose from today, and that's great news for Fido, but it can be very confusing for you!

Feeding a healthy, balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do to make sure that your puppy, or dog, stays strong and healthy.

So spending a little time on research, and choosing the right food, is very worthwhile.

This page will help you negotiate the dog food 'minefield' and get it right.

Use these 'quick links' to jump to what you're interested in or simply scroll down to get access to all the information:

By the time you're finished reading, you'll be armed with all the information you need to make the right choice of food for your pet.

Commercially Prepared Dog Food - The Big Picture

golden retriever puppy and puppy foo

Good nutrition will help a dog reach it's full potential both physically and mentally.

It fights diseases, minimizes allergies, prevents obesity and overall helps your pooch to live a longer, healthier and happier life.

With all this at stake, doesn't it make sense to be careful when choosing the dog food that your pet is going to eat?

Commercial dog food manufacturers who want to produce food that provides 'a complete and balanced diet' have to make sure their foods meet one of two basic standards - the adult dog food standard or the puppy food standard.

Looking for Puppy Food?

Get help finding the best food for your puppy on these pages...

All About Puppy Kibble

Best Puppy Food Choices

Puppy Food Reviews

These standards are set by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials).

If a dog food says it is suitable 'for all life stages' it is required to meet the puppy food standard, which is the tougher of the two.

When choosing the brand or type of food to give your little one, all the hype and advertising slogans on those bags, cans and pouches can make it seem a little (or even a LOT) confusing.

Dog food advertising is designed to appeal to HUMANS - because we're the ones paying for it - and what's on the outside of the bag doesn't necessarily reflect what's on the inside!

To make it a bit easier to decide which dog food/s are right for your particular puppy or dog, I've tried to simplify the whole process a little bit. Here's what to look for -

  • The wording 'a complete and balanced diet'
    Only manufacturers who adhere to the AAFCO standards are allowed to use this wording. If you see the following specific statement on a dog food container....

    'Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of dog food) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (specific life stage eg. 'puppy' or 'adult').'

    It means that this particular dog food has been evaluated through feeding trials to make sure that it provides adequate nutritional levels, requiring no supplementation. While this.....

    '(Name of dog food) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food nutrient profiles for (specific life stage eg. 'puppy' or 'senior').'

    means that certain tests have been done on this food (such as chemical analysis and nutrient calculations) to determine that it meets the AAFCO requirements.

    * the word 'formulated' does not mean the same thing and is no guarantee that the food in question has been tested for nutritional value.

    * you definitely want to feed your puppy a premium food, but remember that simply adding terms such as 'premium' or 'super premium' to a food bag have no real significance and no relevance to the quality of the food inside. They're purely advertising hype. Look closely at the ingredient list before believing them!

  • Balanced nutritional ingredients
    PROTEIN : a well-balanced food should contain a good source of high-quality protein, which provides essential amino acids, as one of the first ingredients. Chicken and lamb products are 2 of the most popular sources of protein. Look for chicken, lamb, chicken meal or lamb meal. The higher on the list an ingredient appears the greater the percentage of it in the food.

    CARBOHYDRATES : these supply Fido with the energy he needs to get through his day. They also contain fiber and convert to glucose. Carbohydrates are found in most grains, fruit and vegetables.
    FATS : a valuable source of energy as well as what is needed to keep your puppy's coat and skin healthy. In a commercial dog food these are often found in muscle meats and vegetable oil or animal fat.
    VITAMINS & MINERALS : although these are vital to your puppy's health it's important that they're supplied in the right quantities and in the correct ratio. An AAFCO approved food will contain exactly what your puppy or dog needs. Unless Fido has special requirements or health issues you should not need to add any supplements.

You can learn how to analyze and compare the ingredients in any brand of dog or puppy food using an innovative comparison system on my Food Comparisons & Analysis page.... or compare the main ingredients and balance of nutritional elements in some popular brands on my Comparison Charts.

The dog food market today is becoming more and more diverse in terms of the different types of diets available, and the specialty formulas are increasing.

 All-natural, organic, hypo-allergenic, grain-free, vegetarian... there are a LOT of different choices.

This is great news for dogs, because the quality of the food they eat is SO important.

For pets with food allergies or sensitivities, this is especially good because there's bound to be a food that will suit just about everyone.

Dry Dog Food v Canned

Both these types of food can give your puppy/dog what he needs, and one is not necessarily better than the other.

Quality can vary enormously from brand to brand and whether you're feeding a dry, crunchy kibble or a soft, moist canned food, the quality of the ingredients is what counts.

Pay attention to what is IN the food you choose, not every dog food (even those that meet the AAFCO) is good enough... far from it in fact!

Dry Dog Food

dog food in measuring cup


  • Affordable and economical
  • Keeps well in airtight container once bag is opened
  • Convenient to use
  • Results in firm, regular stools
  • Exercises dog's jaws
  • Helps remove tartar from certain areas of your dog's teeth
  • A good choice for large & giant breeds (generally contains less protein than canned foods)
  • Can be left in the bowl all day if you want to free-feed your dog


  • Higher carbohydrate content
  • May contain more artificial preservatives (look for natural ones instead such as Vitamin E)
  • Shorter shelf life than canned BEFORE opening

Canned Dog Food

canned dog food


  • Contains less artificial preservatives than dry food due to canning process
  • Higher protein content
  • Smells & tastes better to your dog
  • Long shelf life BEFORE can is opened
  • A good choice for small breeds, young puppies, senior dogs, sick or convalescing dogs because it contains a lot of moisture (up to 80%), is soft and easy to eat and smells enticing.


  • Short lifespan once OPEN & needs to be refrigerated
  • Usually more expensive than dry, cost would be prohibitive for medium-large to giant size dog
  • Protein levels too high for large breed puppies
  • Can't be left in the bowl for more than an hour or it spoils and bacteria begins to grow
  • Produces looser, more frequent stools

So, in my opinion the bottom line is that which type of food you choose, dry or canned, depends mostly on the size/age/health of your puppy or dog and on your budget.

There's no one-size-fits-all formula to help you decide which is best, it's more weighing up the pros and cons and taking into account your budget, lifestyle and personal preferences.

Whichever you go for, just look carefully at the ingredients to make sure that they fit they the criteria of a premium food. If you take time to browse through all the pages on my site that talk about feeding your dog properly you'll find all the information you need to make that decision.

Customized Diets For Dogs

Not so long ago there were far fewer dog food choices, and most dogs and puppies ate basically the same food.

Today, the industry is much more specialized as scientists and nutritionists have come to realize that different dogs have different nutritional needs.

You'll find puppy and adult food for large breeds, small breeds; giant breeds; senior dogs; active dogs; overweight dogs; dogs with certain medical conditions; breed-specific dog foods and much more.

Each group has very unique and individual requirements which need to be met if they're to stay healthy. The following is a brief overview of just a few of those different needs -

  • Puppies - puppies are growing rapidly and to support that growth their bodies need a diet higher in protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.

    Large breed puppies need protein values somewhere between 23 -25% and fat between 12 -15%.

    Small breed pups need higher protein, recommended between 22 - 29% and fat between 8 - 14%.

  • Small breed dogs - small dog breeds have a high metabolic rate and small tummies. They do best on an energy-dense diet and small, frequent meals. My Types of Small Dogs page has lots of tips and advice on choosing and caring for small, tiny and toy breeds.

  • Large breed dogs - these dogs grow extremely quickly which can put stress on their developing bone structure.

    Large breed puppy foods are generally a bit lower in calories and calcium to help prevent the uncontrolled growth which can lead to degenerative bone and joint problems. You'll find all the information and advice you need on choosing food for large breed puppies in this article Best Puppy Food.

    You can also, check out my Extra Large Breed Dogs for more on how to take care of the 'giants' of the canine world!

  • Super-active dogs - is your dog a working breed or destined to be a canine athlete? If so, when he graduates from puppy food to adult food he will need one that provides extra calories for energy. These foods will contain highly digestible proteins and fats.

  • Dogs with allergies/sensitivities - some dogs develop an allergy or sensitivity to certain ingredients in their diet. A sensitivity may lead to diarrhea/vomiting or loose stools. An allergy usually causes all sorts of skin problems including hot spots and intense itching, it may also cause severe ear inflammation or even behavioral changes.

    Check out my Dog Food Allergies page for all the info. you need to diagnose and deal with this type of problem.

See the 'Report Card' for dozens of popular and premium dog foods on the market.

If you're interested in a less commercial diet for your pet, check out these pages for more ideas..... Raw Dog Food Diet..... Homemade Dog Food

How Much Should I Feed My Dog?

When you're trying to figure out how much to feed your puppy or dog, to begin with it's best to follow the guidelines on the bag or can of your chosen brand.

The amount recommended is usually based on your puppy's age and weight, and is calculated according to recommended calorie intake.

It's very important to bear in mind that your pup will need less of a good quality, nutrient-dense, complete food than he will of a low quality one which is mostly 'filler'.

Because of this, cheaper foods of inferior quality don't work out less expensive in the long term. In addition to needing to feed more food per pound of your dog's weight, you may also find yourself paying higher veterinary bills to treat all sorts of health conditions caused by poor nutrition.

row of puppies of different breed

Every puppy is different and little Fido may need more or less than the average recommended amount. The best way to figure out how much to feed your puppy is to get a good estimate of the number of calories he needs per day, and to choose a food specifically formulated for his age/size. You can find all the information you need about this on my How Much To Feed Your Dog page.

If you want your puppy to grow up with good eating habits do not free feed (that is, leave his food bowl down and filled at all times). This can lead to all sorts of problems such as obesity, picky eaters, food guarding, housebreaking problems and more.

Instead, divide his daily food requirements by the number of meals he's eating per day and put his food bowl down at set times of the day. Leave it down for 10 to 15 minutes and then pick it up even if he hasn't eaten it all.

If Fido has gobbled the whole lot down in 2 minutes flat each time, you probably need to go ahead and increase the amount a little. Alternatively, if he's consistently leaving some food uneaten you need to decrease the amount just a bit.

The only real exception to the 'no free feeding' rule concerns extra-large or giant breeds, especially those who have deep chests (such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds etc.).

That's because gobbling down food too quickly can increase the likelihood of a dog developing canine bloat, and 'dhow hound' dogs are less inclined to eat this way if they have food freely available to them.

You'll soon find out what he needs, but be warned - like children puppies go through growth spurts and these needs will change often.

An adult dog is likely to be more consistent about how much food he wants/needs. But dogs of different sizes, ages, breeds and activity levels may vary quite a bit from each other - in terms of nutritional requirements and the amount they eat.

If you follow the advice on this page then you can feel comfortable that you're doing your best to give your pup or dog the nutrition he needs to stay healthy and strong.

When you look at him you'll know you've got it right if his eyes are bright, his coat is shiny, and he's full of energy and bursting with happiness!

› Adult Dog Food

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