Walk through any pet store, and you'll see aisles of dog food options. Knowing which ingredients to look for and which to avoid can make the choice much easier.
Protein is the Most Important Ingredient
Protein should be the top ingredient in any dog food. But the kind of protein matters as much as the amount. Good protein comes from meat ingredients, but not just any meat ingredients. Quality dog foods will have specific meat sources, like beef, chicken or turkey. Eggs and cheese are also good protein sources. Some plant-based proteins, like chickpeas or peas, are also quality ingredients. Bad protein ingredients include byproducts, like "chicken byproduct meal," or mystery meats, like "meat meal," which can include road kill, diseased animals from slaughterhouses and even euthanized dogs and cats. Foods that rely on corn products as the main protein sources should also be avoided.
Not All Fat is Bad
Dogs need fat to be healthy. Instead of using carbohydrates for energy, your canine companion primarily uses fats. The fats in dog food also provide most of the essential fatty acids, also called omegas. However, not all fats are equally good. Choose a dog food quality fats from both animal and plant sources, including salmon oil, chicken fat, pork fat, flaxseed or canola oil. Avoid inferior fats like lard, tallow or cottonseed oil. And despite its health benefits for people, olive oil is not a good choice, as it contains very low levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Carbohydrates - Take Them or Leave Them
Dogs are omnivores and can eat almost anything. That doesn't mean they need to eat almost everything. Dogs have no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates, even though many dogs are able to use the grains and other carbohydrates in their diets. If you choose a dog food with carbohydrates, choose a food with quality ingredients. Look for whole grains like brown rice or oatmeal, potatoes or sweet potatoes and peas. Avoid dog foods that use cheap filler carbohydrates, like wheat, soy flour and "mill runs" or "middlings," which are leftovers from the milling process.
Bad Ingredients to Always Avoid
Some ingredients are bad, not matter how you look at them. Some dog food companies add food coloring to make the food more appealing to people; unfortunately, some food colorings have been linked to health issues. Manufacturers may also add salt or sweeteners to the foods to make them more palatable, but these additions can be harmful to dogs. When choosing a dog food, be sure to also avoid foods with chemical preservatives like BHA and ethoxyquin. Instead, look for foods preserved with natural ingredients, like mixed tocopherols or rosemary.