Bringing a dog into your life is always cause to celebrate. Your smartphone photo count jumps exponentially, and you get license to shop away for squeaky toys and shameless holiday costumes. But wrapped around all the fun stuff is the huge responsibility of researching veterinarians and trainers and choosing the best diet for your dog.
Of all the decisions you make regarding the life of your dog, what you feed him or her is one of the most important. “You are what you eat” doesn’t apply only to humans.
The thing about nutrition is that there are as many opinions, styles, protocols, and products for chow-hounds as there are for their people. And chances are that your program will evolve over the life of your new buddy.
After all, needs change, health changes, and research and information change. And, as we all strive for, “when you know better, you do better.”
Before listing some of the most popular diets for dogs, let’s talk about considerations that go into your decision.
How and why you choose what to feed your dog is as important as what you put into his bowl.
Tips, questions, considerations – here is how your dog-parent mind should go about deciding the best way to feed your dog.
Below is a list of 20 tips for choosing the best diet for your dog, presented as questions to explore with your vet, your family…and your dog.
20 Tips for Choosing the Best Diet for Your Dog:
- What breed/mix is my dog?
- How old is my dog? Is he a puppy, ‘tweener, adult, or senior?
- How long has my dog been with me, and what kind of food was he eating before he came to me? Did he come from a reputable breeder? Shelter? Foster home? Does he need a slow adjustment to a different diet?
- How big is my dog?
- How is my dog’s weight? Is he at a healthy weight, or does he have pounds to gain or lose?
- What are his stools like? Hard, soft, runny, just right? Discolored? Bloody? The perfect shade of brown? Big, small? Wowza-big piles or just enough to get the job done?
- What is his activity level?
- Is he a hunting/working/herding/agility/show dog or a lap-loving, ball-chasing family pet?
- Does he have any health issues – gastrointestinal, cardiac, orthopedic, cognitive, cancer, pancreatitis?
- Is he recovering from any medical procedures?
- Does he demonstrate any preferences or aversions?
- Does he have any food allergies or indications that he is allergic to “something”?
- Are his teeth in good shape? Is he able to chew hard food without discomfort or difficulty? Or does he have missing teeth and/or dental issues that limit him to soft food?
- Do you have time to prepare a specialty, raw, or home-cooked complete meal?
- Who will be responsible for preparing and feeding meals? Can they be easily duplicated if you’re not the only one?
- Will you be adding supplements?
- What can you financially afford for feeding your dog?
- Do you have easy access to the foods you want to feed him? Can you access fresh meat from hunters? Do you have access to quality pet supply stores? Can your food choices be ordered and delivered or purchased at the grocery store?
- Do you have freezer/fridge/pantry space to store different kinds of food?
- What does your veterinarian recommend?
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But it’s really a natural course of thinking through how to achieve your dog’s highest good.
The Different Kinds of Dog Food Diets
The next phase of choosing the best diet for your dog is, of course, familiarizing yourself with the different kinds of diets. Just as dog breeds can be “pure” or “mixed,” so too can diets for dogs. There are purists of all kinds and mixologists of all kinds.
Will you go with a kibble dog food diet? Fresh dog food diet? Canned? Raw? Freeze-dried? Dehydrated? Home-cooked dog food? Ketogenic? Vegetarian or vegan?
Or will you create a happy combination of several food sources?
As with anything concerning the health of your dog, your best ally will always be a veterinarian or veterinarian/specialist team that you fully trust.
If you’re lucky, you will build a lifetime (in dog years) relationship with this professional or team that will have your pet’s best interest always at heart.
When it comes to choosing the best diet for your dog, you may find that you want a veterinary nutritionist to direct that area of your dog’s life. And that’s OK.
A confident, experienced, self-aware vet will always have the humble ability to help you build a team of experts to help you and your dog live your best life together.
And they will also know how to direct you to relevant research, precautions, and advice that you might otherwise not find on your own.
Choosing the best diet for your dog is a big deal and a big decision, especially for new dog owners. It is one of the top questions new pet parents and a top puppy owner FAQ!
When the wave of information and potential costs begin to pull you under, you can always fall back on this simple rule of thumb: Feed your dog the best diet you can afford. And trust your vet while listening to your dog.
For a detailed look at different dog diets, read our article on the most common diets for dogs here!
And for a printable list, download our free what dogs can and can’t eat list.