Yesterday I highlighted some red-flags to avoid in dog food and addressed some of the myths around popular dog foods. Today let’s talk about what to look for in a quality dog food. Again, I’m not going to name-names but I will tell you what I look for in kibble. Like I said, my Rio and Shayne eat raw but Bandit, my fosters, and the cats all eat kibble (*the cats also get a wet food). The list of ingredients in image is the food I’m currently feeding my fosters. It’s one of the least expensive grain-free premium kibbles on the market so it’s my choice for my fosters. Although I just found another really inexpensive grain-free kibble that looks like it has pretty good ingredients that is available at a wholesale store–I want to see where it’s manufactured and who the parent company is BUT if it checks out, that will be the new foster food.
Protein a go-go!
When I’m evaluating protein, I always look for whole named proteins or named protein meals. I try to avoid by-products and by-product meals since the majority of those by-products are not packed with nutrients (with the exception of some organs that may fall into this category). When I’m choosing a dog food, there are three things I will accept to show that the food is a protein heavy food not a grain/carb heavy food… one thing is ideal the other two are totally acceptable.
Ideally–I want the first two ingredients to be a named meat source followed by a named meat-meal and then one other meat meal within the top 5 ingredients.
Acceptable–The first ingredient a named meat source, followed by a named meat-meal OR the first ingredient a meat meal and another meat meal within the top 5 ingredients
Grains a no-no!
In every kibble there has to be some starchy carbohydrate used to bind the mixture all together. That starchy carbohydrate could be grains or it could be a potato-like starch (like tapioca). I believe dogs are opportunistic carnivores (I will probably get flack for that comment but oh well), I think that they are capable of eating, digesting, and getting nutrients from non-meat sources but that they are carnivores at heart (which makes them so incredibly adaptable). That being said if there is a quality whole grain (in moderation) in a food, it is not a deal breaker for me personally–though I do prefer feeding grain-free.
Grain-Free–Even grain-free foods can be heavy in starch so it’s important to keep an eye on the quality and quantity of potato-like ingredients. Personally I prefer no more than one starch in the first 5 ingredients and 2 in the top 8. That being said, it’s not a deal breaker if there is, for example, sweet potato as ingredient 4 and potato as ingredient 5.
Grain-incarcerated (LOL)–So, you have found a food but it has grains… well, I’m not going to be much help. If I were to feed something with grains, I’d only want to see two whole grains in the top 5… maybe 3 if the first two ingredients are meat meals. Either way, if there are grains, I want them to be as whole as possible not just piecemeal (the splitting ingredient concept I wrote about yesterday).
A little bit fruity!
I am a huge fan of having fruits and veggies in my dogs food. Dogs cannot effectively get nutrients from veggies so they must be really ground into a mush which is what happens when making kibble so it works out. One of the things to look out for, again, is to make sure the fruits and vegetables are whole. Some dog foods may include ingredients like “tomato pomace” which is ground up tomato remnants (whatever is left over from the human consumption product)… in the presence of other whole fruits and veggies, pomace isn’t a bad thing but if it’s the only type of fruit/veggie listed it’s not so beneficial. As a side note I LOVE giving the dogs fruits and veggies!! Just so much fun and they love them, especially apples!
Although not mandatory, I do look for probiotics and digestive enzymes added into the foods. Lactobacillus acidophilus is one such probiotic. These little organisms are good bacteria that add the body in digestion. They can combat minor GI upset and can allow for better, more complete digestion of kibble. They are just added bonuses in some of the more high-end kibble.
Lastly, I like to check out the parent company of the dog food (if one exists) and I also like to find out where the food is processed and where it’s manufactured. Given the manufacturing and health standard variations from across the globe, there are some places where I’d prefer my food not be manufactured OR where I would need extra reassurance to feel safe.
There you have it… those are the main things I look for when evaluating a kibble…