How to Compare Dog Food

Every dog owner should learn to compare dog food because not all commercial dog food brands are created equally. The quality of food your dog eats can reduce future health problems and improve your dog's overall current health.

Consumer Search

Many consumer web sites compare dog food by looking at ingredients and manufacturing methods. These sites are actually a good source of which foods can be considered good. However, some sites may be sponsored by commercial brands that aren't as good.

Magazines such as The Whole Dog Journal rank dog foods each year by studying ingredients and even visiting manufacturing plants to make sure the preparation methods meet high standards. This can be a good guide to begin your search.

Reading Labels

You can also figure out a high-quality food on your own just by reading ingredient labels. This doesn't mean labels on the front of the bag that claim "organically made" or "all natural." These claims are not regulated and may be false.

Guaranteed Analysis is also difficult to read because levels of moisture in the food can vary those numbers without making the food more or less healthy. You must convert the percentages to dry matter before gaining any real information.

Instead, look at the ingredients on the back of the bag of food. Ingredients must be listed in order of weight, so the first three ingredients make up more than 75 percent of the food. These are the most important ingredients to your dog and must be healthy.

Protein Sources

Two of the first three ingredients, at the minimum, should be protein sources. Acceptable sources include fish, chicken, turkey, beef and other protein sources listed specifically by name. Foods that list "meat" or "meat byproducts" are using unidentified meat sources from the undesirable, and thus cheaper, parts of the animal. Avoid these.

Protein meal is also a suitable ingredient for your dog. This would be listed as "turkey meal" or "chicken meal" and is a much healthier filler than corn meal, which can't be digested.

Fruits and Vegetables

Dogs are omnivores, so a certain amount of fruits and vegetables can be included in dog food. It should be a much smaller percentage, listed lower on the list than your protein sources.

Though there are others, some common acceptable vegetables include:

  • potatoes
  • carrots
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • squash
  • green beans
  • yams

There are usually fewer fruits listed, and they will often be lower on the list than the vegetables. However, you may see apples, bananas, cranberries or other types of berries included.


Grains are controversial in pet food because dogs in the wild will often not eat grain. If they do, it's simply because it's in the stomach of a prey animal. Many pet foods don't include grains at all.

However, some grains are healthier than others. Look for barley and brown rice rather than white rice or wheat, which cause allergies in many dogs.

Ingredients to Avoid

Dogs can't digest corn. Any food that lists corn or corn meal, especially in the top three ingredients, is filled with filler and doesn't provide a lot of nutrition for your dog.

Your dog also doesn't need food filled with preservatives, chemicals and dyes. Many foods are made without these, so try to avoid them.