Most people agree that when it comes to dogs, they are usually not the most picky eaters. They follow us around the kitchen with a steady focus and hopeful eyes anytime the slightest morsel comes out of the fridge. However, even though dogs may be eager to eat any and everything, their diets should be carefully monitored, as an abundance of diseases arise from poor nutrition.

Dogs have a carnivorous digestive track designed to consume and process meats, fat and bone. They thrive on whole foods that have had minimal if any processing, and require a diet of balanced nutrients to live a healthy life. The most important aspect of choosing the right food for your dog is to be informed. Research the actual ingredients in your product of choice, be aware of what you are putting in your dog’s body, since most dog food companies are more focused on quantity of production rather than the quality of the food. If you are only feeding your dog the basic, inexpensive dry kibbles he seems to like, beware as negative health symptoms will certainly manifest in other ways.

The ugly truth: In today’s money-hungry world, many dog food companies have created products that are little better than organized garbage. Products that may be cheaply priced or that deceptively smell like smoked meat, may just be a cover for a mixture of mashed grains, and recycled oils unfit for consumption. Note that if your dog food does not have a stamp on the bag saying that the contents have passed the USDA, you can assume they did not. That means every moldy grain, or decomposing or diseased meat that was determined to be unfit for humans, may have ended up in dry cereal form in your puppy’s dog bowl.
Read the ingredients carefully: often when there are details like “animal digest” it could be anything from animal tissue found in road kill, to cow scraps, and even sodium pentobarbital (which comes from bodies of euthanized pound dogs), meaning your dog may actually be eating decomposing meat from a carcass. Also note when an ingredients list includes details about generic fats in the mix, that could be anything from reused oil saved from restaurants, to the animal fat sprayed on dry dog food in order to make it more flavorful and appealing. Stay informed, and avoid feeding your dog untrustworthy mixtures that will make him sick.

Because dogs need to eat balanced and whole food diets, here are some of the key things to look for when you are considering buying any dry, raw, grain-free, or specialty food for your pooch.

Dry Food: This is often the most dangerous food to buy, since it is easy for manufacturers to add artificial colors, or corn and grain-based substances that are harmful to animals’ digestive systems. Many popular dry foods are made with fillers, carbohydrates, and protein “by-products” which could just be rancid meat.   Be careful to purchase dry food from a recommended supplier whose ethics you have researched, and whose ingredients are made with high animal protein (specified as fish, pork, beef, chicken, etc) or elements of actual animal bone and skin content. If the dry food product does have grains, ensure that they are whole grains like fruits and vegetables, not useless starches.

Raw Food: Dogs were originally wild creatures whose entire diet would have been comprised of raw foods.   Though many vets and dieticians debate about whether or not it is good for dogs, the general consensus is that dogs do well with a raw diet. This can include anything from red meat, to raw fruits and vegetables (for example, green apples are high in fiber, vitamins A and C, and omega-3 which are beneficial for dogs to consume in moderation.) The only trouble with raw foods is the worry of salmonella found in raw chicken and parasites in some raw fish, as well as small bones which could be damaging to digestive systems. It is better to go with a trusted raw food product, if it has been made with the best and highest quality of meat.

Grain-Free Food: Because many main stream dog food companies add unnecessary carbohydrates to their dry blends, dogs are subjected to numerous ailments and diseases caused by these processed ingredients.   Such health complications can be anything from swelling joints, to digestive struggles and allergies, and dog owners are beginning to realize a grain-free diet might be a good substitute in order to alleviate these troublesome symptoms, and provide a balanced diet. Most grain free products are not “carb-free,” but instead of using corn, barley, wheat, rice or other processed grains, the products use healthful carbs like vegetables and potatoes in the mix. The benefit of feeding a dog a grain free diet, is that it soothes allergies, and mirrors how a dog would be inclined to eat in the wild.

Special needs: There are also specific products that give special attention to dogs that require different vitamins, minerals, and foods to address their health concerns or stage of life. There are hypoallergenic dog food blends, vegan mixes, and products designed to improve the health of senior and puppy dogs. Whatever diet your dog specifically needs, there are foods on the market to provide the proper nutrition for his exact concern.

DIY: Homemade food for dogs is becoming an increasingly popular option for many dog owners. Before dog food became a commercial enterprise, families would feed their dogs wholesome scraps from whatever was on the dinner table. Often this would include nourishing meat leftovers, skins, fats, cartilage, and even roasted vegetables and gravy. Dogs seem to flourish with many of the same kinds of whole foods that humans benefit from, and these can be easily assembled in your own kitchen. Whether you opt for making a blend by grinding raw meet with veggies in a blender, or plan on giving your pooch half a leg of lamb, feeding your dog whole foods will certainly improve his health.