how to choose the best dog food

How to Choose the Best Dog Food

Before we get started on what we feel are the top five best dog food brands, let’s cover some popular questions we’ve been asked here at Good Boy Bone on how to choose the best dog food. In most cases, we hear from dog owners who are concerned about the nutritional value of dry dog food and often ask which foods to avoid.

Here at Good Boy Bone, we treat our beloved Hamilton like a member of the family. However, that doesn’t mean we feed him what we eat. Dog’s nutritional needs are simple and it’s best to provide them the essential nutrients they need.

Quick Glance at our Top Three Picks

Wellness CORE High Protein Dog Food - #1 Wellness CORE Dry Dog Food Check Price
Instinct Raw Boost Dog Food - #2 Instinct Rawboost Dry Dog Food Check Price
Natures Logic Grain Free Dog Food - #3 Nature’s Logic Grain-Free Dry Dog Food Check Price

What Risky Ingredients Should I Avoid When Thinking About How to Choose the Best Dog Food?

choosing the best dog food

Just before the pandemic hit, one of our editors went through an online training course to become a certified Pet Food Nutritionalist. This was an eye-opening experience in many ways, but the most striking information came in the form of what not to feed your treasured furry friend. We approach this mostly from a dry dog food standpoint due to the need for more preservatives with that option.

These are some of the most important ingredients to avoid in order to keep your dog safe. They are the red flags to keep an eye out for when you consider how to choose the best dog food for your furry friend.

Butylated hydroxytoluene or BHT

When this preservative is found naturally, as it is in vitamin E or rosemary oil, it can be a safe ingredient to help prolong the life of your kibble before it is consumed by your pet.

It’s when BHT is artificially introduced that it can become an issue. It can be difficult to know if the dog food you buy has natural or artificial preservatives without, in some cases, asking the manufacturer. One thing’s for sure, the simpler the ingredient list the better. We talk about how to read and decipher dog food bag labels later in this post.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole or BHA

The same applies for BHA as it does for it’s cousin chemical, BHT.


This is another common dry dog food preservative. It’s banned in Australia and anywhere within the European Union due to health concerns. We feel this is a key ingredient to avoid when you consider how to choose the best dog food.

tert-Butylhydroquinone or TBHQ

While many studies have shown TBHQ to be safe in limited quantities, some have revealed cancer-causing properties in lab animals. You’ll find this to be a controversial topic in the industry.

Artificial Dyes

how to choose the best dog food

Take a close look at the ingredient list on any dry dog food you currently have or plan to purchase. If there are any color dyes on the list, avoid feeding that kibble to your pet. You can read more about that here.

The best dog food brands do not use any artificial dyes in their formulas.

What Nutrients Do Dogs Need?

When you discuss how to choose the best dog food with your family, remember the PFCVM rule: Protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. It’s really that simple.

If you plan to provide your dog with vitamins and minerals as a food supplement, try to find these in their natural form whenever possible. Many pet food manufacturers will use synthetic vitamins and minerals which may be difficult to source if they are not able to produce them themselves. In many cases, these artificially created vitamins and minerals can be harmful in quantities that exceed regulatory limits.

Above all, the more appropriate question to ask is how much of each of these nutrients does my dog need? If your dog is very active and is perhaps a service dog, he’ll need more protein for sure. If you have a small, couch potato pooch, you can look at a well-balanced, smaller ratio of these key ingredients.

We’ll talk about how to determine the fat, protein, and carb ratio in this post or perhaps in a separate article in the near future.

The best dog food brands will consider these key nutrients when making their formulas.

Can I Make Homemade Dog Food?

how to choose the best dog food

This is a growing trend with some dog owners. The answer is yes, of course. With that said, it is not something to take on lightly if you have more than one pet. In other words, if you are pressed for time in your day-to-day life, making your own dog food may be a challenge.

Keep in mind the key ingredients talked about earlier. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Then there are important vitamins and minerals to consider. These all should be sourced naturally whenever possible.

When dog owners are thinking about how to choose the best dog food, they often consider making it themselves. This is an excellent alternative if you have the time and resources to do so.

Is Wet or Dry Dog Food Better?

It is quite common for us humans to believe that wet dog food is better for our dogs. Why do we think this? Well, it looks more like real food for starters. In some cases, wet dog food can be considered edible by people. These are premium foods that use human-grade ingredients to appeal more to us than our dogs.

With that said, the traditional wet dog food may or may not be any more nutritious than the premium kibble your dog knows and loves. In other words, once again, it comes down to key nutrients and the avoidance of those harmful ingredients we talked about earlier.

How to Read a Dog Food Label

There are many things to consider when deciding on what dog food to buy for your furry companion. Rather than go through every item, we are going to focus on two: The guaranteed analysis and the ingredients list. You may also want to research how to decipher when the food was made so that you can compare that to when it expires which gives you an idea of how potent the nutrients will be.

Guaranteed Analysis

For most dogs, the guaranteed analysis is all you really need to concern yourself with. It is important to understand how much crude protein, fat, fiber, and moisture exist in the product. For the purposes of this article, we focus on dry dog food.

Dry dog food is roughly 87 to 91% dry matter. To understand how that translates to a nutrient guarantee, the percentage guaranteed is divided by the dry matter percentage and multiplied by one hundred. Let’s try and make that easier to understand.

A typical dry dog food label may show that its contents contain 10% moisture.

Subtract that 10% from 100 and you have a dry matter of 90%. Easy enough.

The same label also states that this dry dog food contains 26% crude protein. You might read that initially and walk away assuming that the product contains 26% protein. You would be wrong. Crude simply indicates the method for which the guaranteed analysis was obtained. To get the actual percentage of protein, you do a little bit of simple math.

Take the 26% of crude protein and divide that by 90 (remember, that’s the dry matter % we calculated above) and times that by 100. So, 26/90 x 100 = 29% protein (rounded up).

The best dog food brands will clearly indicate the total nutrient profile.

Ingredients List

Reading the ingredients list of your favorite dry dog food can be overwhelming. We often get distracted by the colorful marketing plastered all over the bag and make a quick decision that this must be the best dog food for my four-legged companion.

Not so fast!

It is very important to read the first few ingredients before you head to the checkout line. In this case, we will focus again on dry food. While reading this, keep in mind the manner in which to determine the percentage of dry matter for the food you are considering. That’s an important step when looking at the first ingredient on the list.

If the marketing on the bag talks about delicious chicken, beef, salmon, or any number of other protein enriched sources, make sure it says one or both of these two items: Meal or Whole (sometimes it will say deboned if the chicken is the source). If it says ‘meal’, make sure the word ‘meal’ proceeds the actual source of the protein (i.e. chicken, beef, salmon, etc.).

Avoid Generic References

Avoid any generic references to ‘meal’ such as ‘meat meal’. That means the food could contain just about anything that technically could be considered protein. There are horror stories of some products containing roadkill and labeling it meat meal on the bag.

A high-quality bag of dry dog food will have three sources of protein listed right upfront. This could be something like Deboned chicken, a chicken meal, followed by a plant-sourced protein.

You also want to make sure there is a good source of fat. Examples are chicken fat, fish oils, and some plant-based oils (flaxseed, etc.).

You’ll want to spend some time researching vitamin and mineral supplements and how they impact the quality of your dog food. We don’t get into that much here but will advise that you stay away from synthetic vitamins and minerals. That’s not to say they are all bad, it’s just hard to know where it was sourced and if the amount of each vitamin and/or mineral is safe for your dog. The best dog food brands use quality, USA sourced vitamins and minerals in their formulas.

Finally, be sure to locate the word ‘salt’ on the ingredient list. Some manufacturers make that difficult by calling it by any number of scientific terms. Bottom line is, every ingredient listed after salt represents less than 2% of the overall nutrition in the product. So don’t get too impressed with things like cranberries, blueberries, turmeric, etc. They usually come in after salt and are not doing much for your pet.

Considering everything we have discussed above, here are some of our top picks.

Best Dog Food Brands

Wellness Brand

Instinct Brand

Nature’s Logic

Taste of the Wild

Orijen Brand