Features February 2017 Issue

Every Dog is Different: Examples of Dog Food Buying Decisions

[Updated January 28, 2019]

Our primary goal with food reviews is to help make you aware of the many characteristics of dog food that can affect your dog – to use an industry term, how well the food will “perform” for your dog. His specific needs, and your needs, should dictate what foods you select. What would be the point of us identifying the 10 foods we think are “best” if you can’t afford most of them, your dog can’t tolerate some of them, and the rest contain far too much fat for your dog?

The companies that appear on our “Approved Foods” list offer products that meet our basic selection criteria: they contain good ingredients, they don’t contain any “red flag” ingredients, and their makers are reasonably transparent about their manufacturing and formulation. This list is a start – meant to give you examples of companies with better-quality products than those found in grocery and big-box stores, and lower-end pet supply stores. The list purposely contains products that range in quality and cost, from “wildly expensive” to “not cheap.” Inexpensive foods will not meet our selection criteria, because it’s impossible to make a low-cost food that contains superior ingredients.

We’d love for you to take our selection criteria into account as a starting place – only that, though, because there are a lot of other factors that people take into consideration when buying food for their dogs, and everyone will weigh these factors differently, depending on their individual needs and beliefs. If we made up a pie chart illustrating the weight of these factors, each dog owner’s “important food buying factors” chart would be different, and each would be valid. So to help you further understand what we mean, we did create some pie charts!

Looking for more info on buying the best kibble for your dog? Read "10 Dry Dog Food Shopping Tips," and then check out Whole Dog Journal's Approved Dry Dog Foods!

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Dog Food In Stores

Cost – How much can you afford? How many dogs do you have? What size dogs?

Availability – Do you shop locally only, or are you willing to drive some distance? Is the food you like available online?

Ingredient factors – Are you considering only those foods with grain, or grain-free? Are there ingredients your dog can’t handle because of allergies or intolerance? Does your dog need a “novel” protein or carb source?

Nutritional factors – Are you looking for a food that has a specific amount of protein, fat, and/or certain “added-benefit” nutrients (such as glucosamine, DHA, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.)?

Performance – Your dog likes it and does well on it, with good coat, stool, and energy; and no itching or excessive gas.

Marketing – Did the company win your over with persuasive advertising, or a particularly attractive label?

Company transparency – If you call the company, does a human answer the phone? Can you be immediately connected with a knowledgeable customer service representative? Can the company readily provide you with nutritional analyses of its products? Does the company readily disclose its manufacturing sites and ingredient sources?

Company reputation – People have different levels of comfort regarding past offenses. Are you comfortable knowing that the company that makes your dog’s food had a recall last year? What if it had a recall five years ago? What if there have been no recalls, but you hear persistent rumors of company misdeeds? Taking this from another angle, some people distrust the largest companies, the corporate behemoths; others have greater concerns about small, “seat of the pants” companies owned by individuals with eclectic backgrounds.

buying dog food

WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns

“I have two large dogs, and, frequently, a litter of foster puppies, so cost matters; I can’t afford to feed all of them the most expensive food. I look for foods that have higher than average levels of protein and fat. My dogs’ response to the food is critical; if it makes them gassy or develop diarrhea, I won’t buy it again. The company’s transparency is important to me; a company is out of my consideration if I call them with a question and there are no humans answering the phone, no customer service representive is available to answer my question, or the representative can’t or won’t provide the information I ask for.”

buying dog food

Owner of two West Highland White Terriers; had a dog die of suspected melamine poisoning in 2007

“The company’s reputation and transparency are most important to me. I won’t buy food from a company who has ever had a product recalled or has been involved in a lawsuit. My dogs are small and don’t eat much, so as long as they do well on the food, I will buy it, no matter how much it costs. They don’t like foods with fish or lamb in them – and I have to make sure the food doesn’t contain too much copper, because Westies are prone to copper toxicosis.“

buying dog food

Owner of five Labrador Retrievers, lives 45 miles from closest place to buy food

“With so many big dogs, cost is an important factor. If I can’t buy the food in my town, forget it; it’s not worth the hassle. Of course, the food has to suit my dogs; I hunt with them, and they need to stay healthy, energetic, and at a good weight, even in the harshest winter.”

Comments (10)

As my dog has got older (15 adult yrs)she has got very picky and hasnt been eating the biscuits i buy, so i add things to it but she eats around the biscuits and they just get left in her bowl, the foods i give her are carrots,rice,some veges,2 pieces of toast with a little peanut butter on it each day, i have looked into these foods by the dog food agency,s and i havnt seen any problems with it.but my dog always seems hungry looking for scraps on the floor.can anyone give me some ideas as i dont have alot of money but enough to do the things we need to do as vet visits odd treats, thankyou kindly

Posted by: scooby doo | January 6, 2019 4:59 PM    Report this comment

I think that most pet parents struggle just to understand what to look for. It is extremely useful for us to learn what poop should look like, and what we should do based upon what we see. I think your video in the store is powerful because the store layout is so bad. Shoppers also need to understand that pet stores will steer you to their better margin items -- so your dog really depends on the shopper to figure it out. This goes true for cleaning supplies, ICE MELTS and lawn chemicals as well. You folks do a great job!

Posted by: wonellee | March 29, 2018 9:04 PM    Report this comment

I have two high drive Dutch Shepherds who run 4 miles a day every day, just ordinary walking around my farm, plus my 18 month old is in training. What food do you recommend for "working dogs"? They have done well on Brothers, but Fromm and Acana are not so good, not appealing and not enough fat and protein. I do supplement with scrambled eggs.

Posted by: Smallrobeson | February 23, 2018 10:40 AM    Report this comment

I think if your animals and people tend to be sick, including with cancer, you may wonder, like I do, if your drinking water is contaminated with the chemical that was in the Erin Brockovich movie, chromium-6, also known as hexavalent chromium. There's an interactive map you can check out if you google her name and the chemical.
It's a chemical that has no safe amount. I don't have a huge amount in my drinking water, but some places really are not safe. Ok really no place that has any is safe but some are worse than others. You can click around the map and see what different parts of the USA have tested. Arizona has a lot. My county has more than I'd like to see, but my husband won't move. My dogs have all had cancer.

Posted by: SadiMom | December 4, 2017 4:51 PM    Report this comment

My dog has allergies. I just started using Dr.Harveys Holistic food. No results yet. Any comment on this food?

Posted by: Joy Sept | October 11, 2017 11:45 AM    Report this comment

this is a long history, but my last three dogs died of some form of cancer. I explained away the first one because of her age, "Lucas" was a german wire-haired pointer, and died at a normal age 14 years, her mother died, who I also owned, from starvation from a roaring allergy to grains, at that time vets did not believe dogs could get food allergies. I went to Spinones,after those deaths, I got two four years apart, both died of cancer one at 13 years the other at 12 years 6 months, the only food they ever ate was grain free, taste of the wild, and after this is gone, I'm going to make my dogs food no more commercial food for them.

Posted by: jessica lucas | July 1, 2017 10:00 AM    Report this comment

I have a 5 year old boxer I have been feeding raw and feeze dried kibbles. Should I continue with the same or change his kibbles?

Posted by: Imani53 | February 13, 2017 7:21 PM    Report this comment

Lab Dad: There are pet companies that sell dog food and mail it to the consumers. Chewy.com sells our favorite, with no shipping fee (after 50 lbs.) And it is discounted by volume. There are other advantages as well. You would be shocked at the lower cost and ease of delivery. I received our pet food within 24 hours.

Posted by: dvoekel@gmail.com | February 5, 2017 5:15 PM    Report this comment

You are what you eat applies to pets too!

Posted by: sjen | February 5, 2017 1:48 PM    Report this comment

I don't feed my dog on commercial 'Dog Foods' any more than I would have fed my children on McDonalds. Alright in a pinch but certainly not healthy daily fare.
Feed Fresh. If you can but food locally for yourself, you can buy food locally for your dog. If you 'hunt' why cannot your dog share your kills?

Posted by: Jenny H | February 1, 2017 6:37 PM    Report this comment

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In