How do you choose the right dog food for your dog? If you walk down the aisle of a pet or grocery store you’ll see dozens (maybe even hundreds) of cans, bags, and boxes. They all look great, and marketing points extol their virtues. But how do you find something that your pup will enjoy eating and you’ll feel good about feeding them?

At Pawstruck, we believe in only carrying the highest quality products. But even when great brands surround you how do you know what will meet your dog’s needs?

I’m here to help you in your search for the perfect food for your dog! I’m going to explain two of the important things that my human and I look at in dog food: the name and protein sources.

What’s in a Name?

You might not know it, but the name of your dog food can tell you a lot! Pet food is a highly regulated industry, so there are certain rules manufacturers have to follow.

Wondering how much beef is actually in that Beef Dog Food? If the name of a food starts with a meat, the food must be at least 95% of that meat! A simple name can speak volumes.

What about all the ‘recipes,’ ‘dinners’ and ‘formulas’ out there? Those terms mean that the food is at least 25% of the given meat. So a Beef Dog Food Formula is between 25-94% beef. As you can see, that’s a pretty big range, so you’ll need more information to know just how much meat you are getting.

What about foods that list more than one meat source? Duck and Turkey Dinner for Dogs must be 25% of both types of meat. Also, it will have more duck than turkey because duck is first in the name.

Another important word to look for in your dog food? “With.” If “with” is in the name, like “Dog Food with Lamb” then the food must be at least 3% lamb.

“Flavor” is the final keyword you need to know to understand dog food names. A food called “Beef Flavored Dog Food” only has to have a detectable amount of meat present. Typically, meat broths are added to make the food taste and smell like meat. So that “Beef Flavored Dog Food” might not have any beef in it at all!

A name won’t tell you everything, but it gives you a lot more information than you might have thoughts.

To recap:

  • Best: Beef Dog Food
  • Good: Beef Recipe/Formula/Dinner Dog Food
  • Try to Avoid: Beef Flavored Dog Food

And obviously, pick your dog’s favorite protein choice!

Protein Sources in Dog Food

The first ingredient on your dog food ingredients panel should be meat. Unless your dog has a dietary restriction or your vet has given you instructions, avoid foods that have a by-product, vegetables or preservatives as the first ingredient.

There are three kinds of meat protein sources you’ll find in dog foods: whole-food meat sources, meat by-products, and meat meals.

Whole-Food Meat Sources

Whole-food meat sources are important in dog food because they are highly digestible and have a high biological value. Meaning that the protein is readily accessible to your dog and better able to contribute to making them happy, healthy pups.

The most common whole-food meats in dog foods are:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Turkey
  • Duck
  • Venison

More unusual or exotic meats, like kangaroo, quail, and alligator, are growing in popularity. These are often called novel proteins because most dogs haven’t eaten them before. Dogs are less likely to have an allergy to proteins they have never had before.

Meat By-Products

By-products might sound like a scary mystery, but they can be quite good. In fact, they are many dog’s favorite part of the meal! Meat by-products are generally animal parts not intended for humans to eat- like kidneys, lungs, and liver. Meat by-products have a lower digestibility than whole-food meat sources but aren’t inherently bad. Many dog nutrition specialists feel organ meats/by-products should be the second or third ingredient in a dog food.

Try to choose foods which name specific sources for their by-products (like ‘chicken by-products’ or ‘beef by-products’). Specific sources are better than generic sources, like ‘poultry by-products’ or ‘meat by-products.’ If your dog has an allergy, you’ll want to watch out for generic by-products. ‘Meat by-products’ can come from many unknown sources and could contain an allergen.

Meat Meals

If you’re giving out Olympic Medals for protein sources, meat meals get the bronze. Meat meals aren’t as good as whole meats or high-quality by-products. But, they are better protein sources than soy or grain (which are low in digestible protein).

Meat meals are made by rendering the meat, like making a stew. For meat meals, the meat is heated to remove water and some fat. Then, it’s dried until it becomes a powder, leaving you with a high protein powder or a meat meal.

Not all meals are the same! The quality of meat meals depends on the quality of the meat started with. A meal will never be better quality than the meat it was sourced from.

Like by-products, better meals are made with meats from specific sources. e.g. chicken meal or beef meal versus poultry meal or meat meal.

Ready to Find the Perfect Dog Food?

Now that you have more information on what to look for in your dog food, check out our dog food selection and find one your pup would like.

What other questions do you have about finding a high-quality dog food? Let us know in the comments!