A First-Time Dog Parent’s Guide to Dog Nutrition

A First-Time Dog Parent’s Guide to Dog Nutrition

As a first-time dog parent, it’s normal to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of dog food choices available in the market. It’s equally easy to get tempted to try every feeding fad that claims to produce superior results.

But just like humans, every dog’s dietary need is different and it is often determined by four important factors:

  • The dog’s breed
  • Their age
  • Activity level
  • Whether or not they have existing medical conditions.

To be able to determine the best food to feed your pooch, it’s important to consult with an experienced veterinarian first. Your dog’s vet is the best direct resource you have on the matter since they have in-depth familiarity with your dog’s health history. Ask them for recommendations and advice especially if you’re planning to change your dog’s diet significantly.

How to Select the Right Dog Food Brand

Many dog owners still prefer commercially available dog food by virtue of their variety and convenience. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but first-time dog parents often don’t know that there are many different, and potentially better, choices out there.

If you find yourself wondering where to get started in researching the best options for you and your dog, the following guide will hopefully help you make that decision.

  1. Learn about the Company

    In the age of social media, many dog owners’ opinions are easily swayed by aesthetics or the number of followers. It’s important to consider that your favorite influencer may not have taken the time to research the brand that they’re collaborating with. In this case, the burden of responsibility rests on you.

    Ask the important questions, and get your answers:

    • Has this brand been recalled in the past?

      Use Dog Food Advisor’s list of dog food recalls reported since 2009 to see if the brand you’re interested in has been recalled in the past.

    • What are people saying about them?

      A quick search on Google will help you find reviews about the company. Find the low ratings first, and find out why people chose to give the low rating. Sometimes, customers merely complain about the packaging. However, if the low rating is due to an issue with the product’s content, that should be a red flag.

    • Does the company have an easy customer support system?

      Is there any available channel where inquiring customers can ask the company directly about such information? Is their customer service receptive?

  2. Identify the Manufacturer

    Although some do, other dog food companies whose name you read on the packaging are not the ones who manufacture the products they sell.

    Now that is not necessarily a bad thing.

    However, you will need to identify the manufacturers of those brands who don’t make their own dog food so you can do your own research. You can also check if these manufacturers have rightfully passed quality control inspections or if they have had any history of product recalls in the past.

  3. Identify Who Formulated the Product

    Strangely, there is no law that dictates that a commercially available dog food must be made and formulated by an animal nutritionist, an animal-food scientist, or a veterinarian.

    That qualifies literally anyone to blend ingredients and market the product as pet food as long as it meets the requirements set by the FDA.

    While the vast majority of dog food out there is perfectly safe, it’s still always good to know what’s behind your dog’s kibble. Try reaching out to the company to learn about its product design.

  4. Check If the Product Has Undergone Nutrient Testing

    You’ll be surprised by how many dog food companies market their products without actually testing them. However, before any dog food can be marketed as “complete and balanced,” it must meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ set nutritional standards.

  5. Investigate Ingredient Sources

    One of the most important contributions of social media to the pet food revolution is putting collective pressure on pet food companies to be transparent about where they source their ingredients. As a result, it has become expected of these companies nowadays to disclose where they get their ingredients. Otherwise, they must be able to provide you that information and give supporting evidence of such should you ask about it.

  6. Learn What Common Dog Food Labels Mean

    Ideally, the nutrition label on a dog food package should tell you what you need to know about the content of the bag. Unfortunately, marketing gimmicks have spurred plenty of buzzwords designed to distract the buyer from what’s actually important in the labeling.

    To help you get through the typical buyer confusion, here are some straightforward facts you should know about pet food labels:

    • Dog food labeling in the United States is regulated by the FDA, although some states have enforced their own labeling standards, so they are not uniform across the country. Most states, however, have adopted the regulations set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

    • The ingredients are listed in descending order according to weight, sometimes including their inherent moisture content.

    • Products labeled as “meat” or “whole meat” (whether they are beef, pork, chicken, etc.) have higher water content than they have actual meat content in them. Meanwhile products labeled “meat meal” (chicken meal, beef meal, etc.) are more packed with actual nutrient content and are processed from various mammal tissues such as skin, meat, and bones.

    • Products with simple labels like “chicken for dogs” mean that the meat content of the product makes up at least 95 percent of the food product, not including its water content. However, if water content is included in the measurement, the main ingredient must still make up at least 70 percent of the whole product. If the product lists two ingredients, like “beef and chicken for dogs,” the two products combined should make up 95 percent of the overall product.

    • For products that include the qualifying term “dinner,” like “salmon dinner,” this means that the product has at least 25 percent salmon in it, not including the water content. If the calculation includes the water content, the salmon ingredient should at least still make up 10 percent of the whole product.

      Other terms similar to “dinner” may include “entrée,” “formula,” “platter,” and “nuggets.” If there are two ingredients listed in a dog food that contains any of these terms, both products combined must comprise at least 25 percent of the overall product. Individually, each must at least be 3 percent of the final product.

    • Products with the term “with,” as in “with chicken” or “with tuna,” means there’s at least 3 percent of the ingredient included in the overall product.

    • The “Guaranteed Analysis” section does not guarantee the nutritional quality of the product and is, therefore, of limited use when evaluating whether it’s the right food for your pooch.

    • Always look for the AAFCO Statement in the Pet Food label. It should indicate the following:

      • That the product has been formulated to meet the nutritional standards set by the AAFCO
      • That the product has gone through animal feeding tests using AAFCO’s procedures
      • Which life stage(s) it is suitable for

        Here is an example of what the AAFCO statement can look like:

Quick Question: Is Raw Food Safe?

Quick Answer: YES

Advocates of raw-food diet for dogs purport many advantages such like shinier coats, improved dental health, and healthier skin.

The most common con of a raw food diet is how it can be complicated and time-consuming to prepare. As a dog parent considering a raw food diet for your pooch, you should consult with a veterinary nutritionist regularly to ensure that your dog eats safely.

Raw food may also not be recommended in households with kids or immunocompromised members due to the risk of contamination from raw food.

Quick Question: Is Kibble Bad for Your Dog?

Quick Answer: NO

Kibble food is essentially meat, grains, vegetables, oil, and other food sources ground up and shaped into bite-sized pellets.

Also called dry or processed dog food, these kibble pet food products that are available in the market are strictly regulated by law to meet a dog’s nutritional needs. But there’s a caveat: a lot of unhealthy processes can happen in an opened bag of kibble, which may prevent it from preserving its nutritional value.

In this case, if you choose to feed your dog kibble, follow the Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines on the proper storage of pet meds, food, and treats to ensure that what you’re feeding your dog is safe.

General Tips on How to Choose the Right Dog Food

Regardless of whether you choose to go for homemade, canned or dry kibble, or raw food for your dogs, you can always follow practical tips to ensure the dogs get the nutrition they need.

  1. Always start with a health assessment. Take a piece of paper, and write down all the health problems that your dog has. In order to make a proper assessment, ask the help of your dog’s vet.
  2. If your dogs are lactating or pregnant or have existing medical conditions, they will have a special dietary requirement, which should be your basis for choosing their food.
  3. For differences in a puppy and an adult dog’s diet, please refer to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
  4. Be skeptical of fads, and be diligent in your research. Always look for credible sources and references, weigh in on the pros and cons of each diet, and ask for the vet’s opinion before trying it out.
  5. To prevent obesity, refer to Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s Calorie Chart

    Approximate Daily Caloric Needs for Average Indoor Dogs

    Weight Recommended Caloric Intake
    10 lbs. 200 to 275 calories
    20 lbs. 325 to 400 calories
    50 lbs. 700 to 900 calories
    70 lbs. 900 to 1050 calories
    90 lbs. 1100 to 1350 calories


Dog Food Advisor. n.d. "Dog Food Recalls." Accessed March 18, 2020.

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. n.d. "Pet Food." Accessed March 18, 2020.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials. n.d. "AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles." Accessed March 18, 2020.

United States Department of Agriculture. n.d. "Water in Meat and Poultry." Accessed March 18, 2020.

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. n.d. "Proper Storage of Pet Meds. " Accessed March 18, 2020.

Merck Manual Veterinary Manual. 2013. "Nutritional Requirements and Related Diseases of Small Animals." Accessed March 18, 2020.