What we feed our dogs is arguably the most important decision we make for them. Imagine if you could only eat one meal, every day, 2-3 times per day with no variations? Would you want it to be a happy meal from a fast food restaurant, or would you want it to be a balanced nutritional meal that hits all of the categories on the food chart? Making sure your dog’s food is healthy is so important because you’ll be feeding her thousands of pounds of it throughout her life, so it better be rich in nutrients!
As a rule of thumb, sustaining your pet’s good health starts with evaluating her diet. Food is the foundation for where good or poor health is built. Your dog’s diet has the potential to heal or harm your pet, and it’s completely dependent on the type and quality of the food you provide.
The Hierarchy of Dog Food: What Type Is The Best?
Raw? Dry kibble? Canned? Cooked? There are many types of dog food categories, but which one is the best? Which one is the worst?
People are always going to have varying opinions and beliefs. But one veterinarian, Dr Karen Becker, has shared her recommendations with us by ranking the types of dog foods from best to worst.
She also has a disclaimer saying that if the type of food you’re feeding your pet falls toward the bottom of the list, or the “worst” category, she doesn’t want you to beat yourself up about it. She says as a general rule, people that are feeding their dogs a lesser quality food are either doing so because they can’t afford a better food, or they haven’t learned about pet food nutrition. Both are completely understandable!
Setting a goal to introduce a higher quality dog food for when you can afford it or after you learn the difference is a wonderful thing.
Moisture: Dry Kibble Doesn’t Make The Cut
Moisture in your pet’s food is vital for preventing organ dysfunction including kidney failure. Dogs and cats are meant to eat food that is roughly 70% moisture.
If you feed your dog dry food only, she’s getting approximately 12% moisture, which is much lower than the ideal 70%. This is especially concerning for cats because they don’t supplement their moisture intake by drinking plenty of water like dogs do.
Dr Karen Becker notes that pets who eat only dry food can live in a state of constant mild dehydration that can cause significant stress to their organs.
Starch: Grain and Carbohydrates
Just say no to over-processed grains including corn, wheat, rice and soy. These starches are not biologically necessary for your pet’s health, yet these fillers are found in so many commercially processed pet foods.
Your pet’s ancestors in the wild were not harvesting grains, so it’s not a vital source of nutrition for her today either. As a rule of thumb, follow the laws of nature and feed your pet what her body needs while eliminating ingredients that aren’t necessary for nourishment.
Grains are not bad for your pet, but you have to make sure that the grain content is not too high compared to the protein content.
Finding a food that is balanced is incredibly difficult because of the lack of regulations on pet food manufacturers and the misleading claims on labels. Knowing that your pet’s food has all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that she needs is extremely important. This needs to be guaranteed through testing. Dogs and cats can develop life-threatening organ degeneration in as little as 1-3 years if they’re eating an unbalanced, nutrient-deficient diet.
Types of Dog Food: Ranked Best to Worst
Again, this list was created by veterinarian Karen Becker, so if your veterinarian disagrees with the order of this list that is okay. I imagine that most veterinarians can agree to this list as a general order of best to worst, with the exception of a couple of types being switched. Some veterinarians are still skeptical about raw food diets, so I can understand if your vet disagrees with that aspect of the following list.
1. Balanced, Raw, Homemade Diet
Dr Becker believes this is the best possible diet for your pet. She wrote a cookbook to ensure that your pet’s diet will be balanced if you’re preparing a raw diet at home called Real Food For Healthy Dogs and Cats. (I don’t endorse this book, and she has no idea I’m writing this blog post!). Knowing how to supplement your dog’s diet so that it completely balanced and nutritional is vital if you’re considering making your dog’s food at home. You can do more harm than good if you are uneducated about how to provide a completely balanced diet.
Raw food is unadulterated and still contains all of the enzymes and nutrients that are destroyed during cooking and processing.
2. Commercially Available Raw Diet
Making food at home can be too time consuming for some people’s lifestyle. Finding a reputable company that prepares a balanced raw diet is the next best thing. Make sure the brand you choose are balanced and nutritionally complete. Some raw food companies are not providing a food that is balanced in nutrition, and the label will say something like “for supplementation or intermittent feeding.” The statement you want your food to have on the label is something like: “This food has been proven to be nutritionally complete or adequate for all life stages.”
At this point in time, these raw diets are only found online to have shipped to your house, or in the freezer section of small/privately owned or upscale pet boutiques – not in the big box pet stores. I’ve always read that you should stay away from pet foods that are sold in the next aisle over from the bleach at the grocery stores and the big box pet stores like Pet Smart, because these types of stores do not carry the healthiest brands available.
3. Cooked, Balanced, Home-Made Diet
4. Human-Grade Canned Food
If you have more money than time, this is the type of food for your pet. Without the time to provide a home-cooked diet, quality canned food is the next best thing. However, this is considered the most expensive option. If you have enough time, it’s more cost effective to make a balanced homemade diet.
5. Human-Grade Dry Food
You really want your pet’s dry food to contain high quality ingredients, because poor ingredients will only become less nutritional after processing. Dry dog food has been compared to “fast food” in our human world, because of how processed it is.
6. Premium Canned Food
7. Premium Dry Food
8. Veterinarian Prescribed Canned Food
Zoey was prescribed the C/D Urinary Tract Health canned food and her health severely declined from eating that food. After doing some research, I found out that it was tested to be one of the worst dog foods on the market!
9. Veterinarian Prescribed Dry Food
10. Grocery Store Brand Canned and Dry Food
Again, it’s considered a rule of thumb to avoid any dog food that can be purchased an aisle over from bleach or laundry detergent.
11. Semi-Moist Pouched Food
I was feeding Zoey a semi-moist pouched food, FreshPet, in the first year of her life. She was extremely sick all the time with UTI’s and we were in and out of the vet’s office regularly with all kinds of random issues.
The reason the semi-moist dog food is so risky is because in order for the food to remain semi-moist without drying out, many of them contain an ingredient called propylene glycol. This is a scary preservative that is related to ethylene glycol, which is antifreeze.
Its proven ability to cause a serious type of blood disease in some animals — Heinz body anemia — has ledthe FDA to ban propylene glycol for use in cat food. But unfortunately, it can still be used to make dog food.
Propylene glycol is approved for use in pet foods, but as you can imagine it is extremely unhealthy for dogs and cats! Any food that contains this additive should be avoided at all costs.
12. The Worst: Unbalanced, Homemade Raw or Cooked Diet
There’s an increasing number of pet owners that don’t trust the pet food companies, and for good reason! I’m on of them. And taking matters into your own hands to make your pet’s food at home is a great goal, but doing so without the knowledge needed to provide a complete balanced diet will do more harm than the worst pet foods on the market.
Giving your dog a chicken breast and veggies will not cut it, even though logic tells you that it seems like a great meal for you and your family. Unbalanced homemade meals lead to deficiencies in calcium, minerals, omega fatty acids, and abnormalities including skeletal issues, organ degeneration, and endocrine abnormalities.
Feeding Your Dog An Unbalanced Homemade Diet?
It’s super easy to fix! You’re on the right track, you just need to add nutrients to balance the diet. There are plenty of pet nutrition books that provide the steps you need to take to give your pet a completely balanced meal.