Choosing a good kibble for your dog doesn’t always seem easy. The labels on the packages can be confusing, and beyond identifying whether a food is chicken or lamb-based, people often come away feeling they need a science degree to decipher the rest. While an ingredient may sound good and conjure up images of plump juicy meat parts, you need to be aware that the definition of what constitutes that ingredient (if it even has a definition) can be quite different. While we can’t change the labeling laws here– we can give you an overview of what we think you should be looking for in a good quality dry dog food.
First and foremost, dogs are carnivore/omnivores – a good proportion of their diet needs to be from meat protein. Plant proteins tend to be more difficult for dogs to digest, are less palatable and offer less nutrition. Grains are lower than vegetables on the digestibility and nutritional adequacy scale.
So, look at the top five or so ingredients – these will be the most abundant ingredients by weight in the food. So that means that the first ingredient in the list has the greatest volume in the food. You want this to be a named meat source, e.g.; Chicken, Beef or Lamb, you NEVER want an unidentified “meat” or anything listed as a “by-product”. Since the list runs in order of weight, it is better to see “chicken meal” than “chicken” at the top of the list. “Chicken” includes a high degree of water content, “chicken meal” does not – so with “chicken” it is quite possible that once the water content is removed, it may actually be the fourth or fifth ingredient, not necessarily the first as suggested. This is OK as long as the second ingredient is another named meat protein, especially if it is in a “meal” form.
Within the first five ingredients we want to see at least two (preferably more) named meat sources, and as few grains as possible. The first ingredient should certainly be a named meat source. Grains are almost unavoidable in kibble, but they are not a natural source of food for dogs, are often indigestible (what’s the point of a food if your dog can’t digest it?) and are common allergens. Whole ground grains are far better than grain fragments (floor sweepings?) which typically have little or no nutritional value. Brown rice (a whole grain) is better than white rice, which has been stripped of about 75% of its nutritional value. Whole fruits and vegetables are better nutritional sources than grains; Oatmeal and Sweet Potato are other good choices.