Choosing the best kind of dog food isn't easy. Let us give you some help
What's the best kind of dog food? It's a really important question to ask when you get a dog. We’re not talking about which brand of dog food – that’s a whole different kettle of fish that we’re not going to stick our noses into – we're talking about four distinctive types of dog food: kibble, raw, canned and home-cooked.
Basic rules of dog food
A few things apply to each type of dog food. First, there’s no right answer to the question at the top of this page. If there was, this would be a very short article! It’s about finding the best kind of dog food for you, your pup and your situation.
Second, whichever dog food you buy, make it as good quality as you can. So that means good ingredients, as few additives as possible, and as little salt and sugar as possible. Basically, the things you’d consider with your own diet, but even healthier.
Third, again the same as with your own diet, think about portion size. You could feed your dog food made from unicorns and magic beans, but too little or too much is unhealthy. All reputable brands will have portion guides but use your own judgement too. If your pooch is getting a little overweight, for example, cut back.
Oh, and treats. Let’s not forget treats. No matter how nutritious your dog’s main meals are, they’ll do no good if you’re topping them up with unhealthy treats or letting them eat half your cheese sandwich every day. Dental chews, healthy treats and the occasional ‘high value’ treat (a bit of your roast chicken or the occasional piece of cheese) are all fine in moderation.
Types of dog food explained
Here are the four main kinds of dog food and what you should consider when choosing one (we haven’t included semi-soft foods that you might get in a pouch as these are less popular now, pretty unhealthy and are more like treats).
This crunchy, dried, biscuity kind of dog food is probably the cleanest and easiest type of dog food to use: weight it out, serve it up, less mess. It’s pretty economical as it doesn’t need chilling and lasts a long time, so you can buy in bulk. Health benefits include its crunchiness, which is good for your dog’s teeth. On the downside, it’s the kind of dog food that can contain the most nasties. It’s highly processed, which means while makers can add in vitamins and protein, they can also add in preservatives, sugar and grains (a source of great debate in the dog nutrition world). Shop smart.
This is the food that every dog seemed to eat years ago, and you’ll struggle to find a pooch who doesn’t like it. As with kibble, it’s long-lasting (while the can is still sealed) and it’s easy to find—even gas stations stock it. Again, like kibble, quality varies greatly. Canned dog food can be three-quarters water, so the remaining quarter needs to be high quality and contain all the nutrients, specifically protein, your dog needs. Labels along the lines of ‘complete nutrition’ are good to look out for.
Raw dog food is both the oldest and the newest kind of dog food. It’s all dogs and their lupine ancestors ate until the 20th century and the advent of mass-marketed dry and wet foods. But in recent times, people have begun to take the old British phrase ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’ seriously, believing that a more ‘natural’ and less processed diet produces a better coat, healthier teeth, greater energy levels, smaller and more solid stools, and improved overall health. Some even say it helps fight cancer. Critics’ main objections are that it might lead to an imbalanced diet, and the hygiene issues of having raw food at home, especially if children are around. It’s not cheap, either. Shop-bought raw food brands fall into two types: pure meat and bone, or with dog-safe vegetables added.
Some owners with time on their hands and a desire for complete control of their dog’s diet opt for home-cooked meals. This approach offers the benefit of knowing exactly what goes into your dog’s belly but not only is it time-consuming, it also requires a lot of advice and research to make sure that their nutritional needs are being met. It’s also likely to be more expensive, especially if you’re buying meat meant for humans and don’t know a friendly butcher who’ll throw some offal and bones your way.