1. What life stage is your dog in?
This is an important initial question, as it will then help to narrow your choices, says Korinn E. Saker, DVM, president of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. Puppies, for instance, should be on a growth diet, which will contain the proper nutrients for their rapid development. For healthy adults, an adult maintenance diet may be best, and senior dogs will thrive on food made specifically for their geriatric needs.
2. What’s the health status of your dog?
If your dog is healthy, choose a food based on life stage. If your dog has health conditions, talk with your veterinarian, since another type of food could make a difference. For instance, if your pet has allergies to pollen or grass, a food with omega-3 fatty acids could help minimize inflammation associated with allergies, says Dr. Saker.
3. Does the food meet AAFCO standards?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets standards for pet food manufacturers. The product will carry a statement indicating it is complete and balanced, as well as what life stage it is intended.
4. What does the ingredient list include?
Ingredients appear in the proportion in which they occur in the food. For instance, if chicken is first and rice is fourth, that food has a higher proportion of chicken by weight than rice.
Take note of how much protein is in the food. Higher-level protein diets generally work well for puppies, pregnant dogs and service animals that may have more physical demands. Older canines additionally need very good quality protein, so look for foods with the actual meat or meal close to the top of the list.
5. How big is the manufacturer?
The bigger the company, the more money it has to spend on research and development. "It may also have more stringent quality control measures and be able to offer high-quality foods at reasonable prices," says Dr. Saker. That doesn’t mean you cannot buy from a smaller company; just be aware of this potential difference.
6. How big is your dog?
Dog food comes in kibbles of various sizes. While you might think any size will work, buy one that is appropriately sized for your dog’s mouth.
7. Is your dog overweight?
If your dog is a little heavy, the weight issue needs to be addressed. But don’t do it by cutting back on your dog’s regular food. "You’ll reduce calories, but you’ll also cut valuable nutrients," says Dr. Saker. Instead, purchase a calorie-restricted food, which reduces the amount of fat calories while still providing optimal nutrition. Be sure to follow the feeding instructions on the food’s packaging.
The ultimate test, however, will be passing your dog’s lip-licking taste bud evaluation.