The Ultimate Guide to Dog Food | Members Only Access (2024)

There has not been a great deal of research on just how good fresh food is for dogs, but early studies are promising. In a 2021 study, researchers at the University of Helsinki looked at the impact of diet on skin-related allergies in more than 4,000 dogs. Puppies that regularly ate fresh food had fewer allergies as adults, they found, while those that ate only or mostly processed foods ended up with more allergies.

Because humans and dogs have different dietary needs, preparing healthy homemade meals might not be as simple as it seems.“You need to be careful making dog food at home unless you’ve had the help of a veterinary nutritionist to formulate a complete and balanced diet,” says Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian at Clearwater Valley Veterinary Clinic in Orofino, Idaho, and a veterinary consultant for Pet Keen, an informational website for pet owners. “Dogs have specific nutritional needs, which include a variety of foods in the right proportions. You can’t just give them any old human foods and expect them to be fine. If you want to feed a human-grade diet, the safest best is to purchase it from a commercial company.”

Commercial providers of fresh, human-grade dog food such as the Farmer’s Dog, Ollie, Get Joy and the Honest Kitchen claim to offer superior nutrition. Unlike homemade meals, they point out, their products are formulated by experts. And compared to kibble, they’re less processed.

As head veterinarian at the Farmer’s Dog, Brandon Stapleton partners with the company’s R&D teams to design and test nutritious products. He maintains that fresh ingredients — including those in commercial human-grade dog food — are more digestible and better for dogs because they can take in more nutrients.

If the benefits are true, they come at a premium: Meals from the Farmer’s Dog start at $2 per day, for example, while an 18-pound bag of Purina Pro Plan kibble can feed a small pup for less than 75 cents a day. A number of other cheaper options are available, depending on the brand you buy and where you shop.

Still, some veterinarians suggest that human-grade dog food isn’t automatically better. “Human-grade dog foods simply mean that the ingredients used could also be used for human food,” explains Bonk. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the nutritional value of the ingredients, so human-grade dog foods aren’t necessarily more nutritious or better for your dog.”

OK, but I’m not ready to cook food for my dog. Is kibble fine?

It’s about balance. “If your dog is happy, healthy, eating a complete and balanced diet, and loving their food, you have no reason to doubt your choices,” stresses Hennet, who says kibble can be more convenient and affordable than fresh dog foods and often is just as nutritious. “There is a big world of advertising out there, and I would encourage folks to take questions to their vet rather than to Google.”

Those who do might be surprised. “Some people are concerned that kibble is the equivalent of ‘junk food’ or ‘fast food’ for a dog, but that simply isn’t true,” Hennet continues. “A better analogy would be something like astronaut food — complete, balanced, quality nutrition delivered in a nonperishable, mixed-together format. It might not seem as appetizing to us humans compared to a meal at a restaurant, but the nutritional benefits are actually the same.”

Not all kibble is created equal. To assess quality, look at the label, suggests Kelly Kanaras, director of communications and membership at the Pet Food Institute, a trade group representing pet food manufacturers. “There are a couple of things to look for on pet food labels, including the complete and balanced nutrition notation and the nutritional adequacy statement,” she explains.

The former attests that the product contains all required nutrients in the correct ratios, while the latter indicates what type of pet and what stage of life the product is suited for. Both statements are governed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which also has naming rules for dog food. If a product is labeled “beef dog food,” for example, beef must constitute 95 percent of its ingredients, not counting added water. In a product that’s labeled “dog dinner with beef,” on the other hand, the “with” means beef can make up as little as 3 percent of the food’s ingredients. Because ingredients must be listed in descending order according to their weight, the first ingredient in the ingredient list is most prevalent.

“The first ingredient, at least, should be a real, whole meat product,” Bonk says. “The rest of the list should contain recognizable ingredients that all serve a purpose. Keep in mind that whole grains can be a nutritional part of a dog’s diet — not all of them are fillers.”

The Ultimate Guide to Dog Food | Members Only Access (2024)

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