The best dog food ingredients.
High Quality Animal-Based Protein
Animal-based protein is the most important part of a dog’s diet. It is also the most expensive ingredient for dog food brands to source. The dog food you select should have one or two specifically-named meats at the top of the ingredient list (i.e. chicken, beef, turkey, duck).
In many cases, meat meal (i.e. chicken meal; lamb meal) is used as the main source or second source of protein. Meat meal is concentrated protein powder made by overcooking and essentially dehydrating (aka “rendering”) meat. Some forms of meat meal are good sources of protein. These include chicken meal, beef meal, lamb meal, duck meal, and venison meal. Steer clear of “by-product” meals and meals that do not specify which animal it is made from. Examples are “animal meal”, “meat meal”, “animal by-product meal”, and “meat and bone meal”. These types of meal are often made up of animal waste materials: heads, hooves, bones, etc.
Lower quality dog food makers will skimp on (or completely exclude) high quality animal protein sources and opt for cheaper and lower quality alternatives like “animal digest”, “animal by-products”, “animal fat”, unspecified meat meals, and even corn. Yep, you read that correctly… Many low quality dog food brands use corn and corn gluten meal to fulfill the required ‘protein’ content in their dog food.
Healthy Fats and Oils
Look for specifically named fish, fats and oils – these include salmon, mackerel, chicken fat, fish oil and flax oil, among others. Healthy fats and oils such as omega-3 and -6 fatty acids are saviors for the skin and promote a healthy, shiny dog coat.
Carbohydrates are essential for energy – they are the body’s main source of fuel – and digestion. Look for whole grains like rice, oats, barley, potatoes, sweet potatoes and peas – these are healthy carbohydrates and high in fiber. Avoid grain fragments and flours (i.e. rice flour) which lose most of their nutritional value during processing. Ingredients like rice flour and corn gluten are common ingredients in low-quality dog food brands and used as cheap, incomplete protein sources.
Fruits and Vegetables
Whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables are a nice addition to any dog food and provide vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. That said, fruits and vegetables are not as important as protein, healthy fats and oils, and carbohydrates. Overly processed fruits and vegetables lose a lot of their nutritional value and are often used to boost perceived food quality.
Vitamins and Minerals
Many vitamins and minerals are lost during cooking and processing. As dog food brands are required to meet specific nutritional requirements, manufacturers add back nutrients via supplements. Be wary of food containing “premixed” vitamins or minerals; premixed variations often contain potentially harmful preservatives.