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December 23, 2022

What to Look for in Dog Food Ingredients

  • Protein
  • Ingredients
Dog watching owner read ingredient list on dog food bag

We know you care deeply about your dog’s health and well-being and choosing the right food to keep them happy and healthy throughout their lives is a big decision. Proper nutrition plays a key role in how our pets feel, look, and behave; everything from providing the energy they need to run and play, to supporting their healthy digestive system, to maintaining a soft and shiny coat.

Knowing what to look for in dog food ingredients can feel like a daunting task, with everything from premium ingredients to specific health benefits to consider. So we’ve broken it down to help guide you through the important elements to look for in dog food, what dog food ingredients are beneficial, and what to avoid. We’re here to help you make that big decision by turning it into a simple one.

It all starts with ingredients

We know overall premium quality recipes are important to provide the best nutrition possible to our dogs, but what does that mean when it comes to reading the labels, or what to look for in the ingredients? The quality of ingredients is key, as these provide the important and essential nutrients which our pets need to stay healthy and thrive. Unfortunately, just reading the ingredient panel may not tell you everything you want to know about ingredient quality.

So, what do you do when you want to know more than just what’s on the label, such as where the ingredient comes, from or how it’s processed? The best way to get more information about what’s in your pet’s bowl is to talk to the people behind the food; reach out to your pet food brand and ask specific questions. A trustworthy brand will be transparent and give you detailed information about their ingredients, manufacturing process, and quality assurance standards to help you make an informed decision.

What’s in an ingredient?

Ultimately, what’s really key are the essential nutrients in a dog’s overall diet, and the ingredients are important to consider because of the important nutrients they provide. Essential nutrients are those that the body needs to survive and must receive through food. These nutrients are best supplied through a combination of premium quality ingredients and thoughtfully sourced vitamins and minerals to create a complete and balanced food.

Ultimately, what’s really key are the essential nutrients in a dog’s overall diet, and the ingredients are important to consider because of the important nutrients they provide.
Theresa Lantz
Theresa LantzCompanion Animal Nutritionist

We hear that term, "complete and balanced", a lot in the pet food industry, but what does it mean? Essentially, it means that every meal must contain the proper proportions of every single nutrient dog’s need to sustain long term health, when fed in the proper amounts according to their size, age, and activity level. For example, fast-growing puppies require more protein and certain minerals than adult dogs, in order to support their growth spurts and muscle development.

Puppy looking up at owner with kibble in hands

And as our dog’s get older and a little slower, they can benefit from a senior diet with lower fat than an adult diet, to help keep them at a healthy weight as their metabolisms slow. This is why we’ve tailored NOW FRESH recipes to suite your dog’s life stage and breed size, making sure they’re getting all the right nutrients in the right balance.

Ingredient categories to look for

Nutrients are provided by four main categories of ingredients:

1. Protein

Protein ingredients, like meat and fish, are often one of the first ingredients pet parents look for when choosing a recipe for their dog. But what is protein for, and how much do dogs really need?

Proteins are made up of amino acids, the building blocks of muscle and other tissue; their job is to develop and repair tissue, helping keep muscles strong. Protein is essential, and the body needs a certain amount of protein to do this job. Any amount more than what that particular body can use becomes body fat or is passed out of the body as nitrogen (urea) in the urine, which can be tough on aging kidneys and the environment. In general, the majority of typical, healthy companion dogs do best on a diet with 22-26% protein. As with all nutrients, the amount of protein your dog eats is important, but more does not mean better.

Equally important to quantity is the quality of protein. Fresh de-boned meat, meat meals, and meat by-products are all types of ingredients you may find listed on your dog’s food, which may have you wondering which you should choose.

Protein quality can be determined by the amount and levels of amino acids it contains, how this compares to the dog’s needs, plus how digestible it is. In fact, dogs who consume higher quality protein need less total protein to meet their amino acid requirements (Oberbauer & Larsen, 2017).

Dogs who consume higher quality protein need less total protein to meet their amino acid requirements.
Theresa Lantz
Theresa LantzCompanion Animal Nutritionist

This is because what is provided is highly digestible and readily available to the body, such as minimally processed fresh meats. Keeping processing to a minimum can also help to preserve nutrients, plus enhance flavour.

NOW FRESH kibble for senior dogs

Our Recommendation

NOW FRESH Dry Food Recipes for Dogs

NOW FRESH recipes use minimally processed fresh de-boned meats and fish, like turkey, salmon and duck, whole eggs, and sustainable plant proteins in balanced proportions that are tailored to your dog’s life stage and breed size.

2. Fats

Fats, or more specifically, certain fatty acids are essential to the body too, as they are key in development and metabolism. More generally, the body uses fats as an energy source, but they also lend a hand in boosting the flavour of your dog’s food. There are a variety of different types of fats, but there are 2 groups which contain fatty acids which are considered essential. These groups are:

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These are known to be mostly anti-inflammatory. The fatty acids eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) are two essential fatty acids in this category. Salmon is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA.

  2. Omega-6 Fatty Acids: These are known to be more pro-inflammatory. Linoleic acid (LA) is an essential fatty acid in this category. Canola oil is a great source of LA.

Though both groups contain essential fatty acids, the key is to include the proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6's. Too much omega 6’s or not enough omega 3s in a food can contribute to low grade inflammation that is associated with certain diseases.

Additionally, our team of pet nutritionists also includes coconut oil in all NOW FRESH recipes. This fat is a source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are unique in the way they are digested and can be beneficial for dogs who may experience digestive upset.

A diet containing 11-15% total fat for dogs is generally appropriate for most adults. Puppies have an additional requirement for some omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which are important for development.

Puppy chewing on toy

3. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates sometimes get a bad rap but they play an important role in a dog’s diet. First, carbs provide an easily accessible source of energy to the body, to give your dog that pep in their step. Secondly, carbs include fibre; dog’s use fibre to support a healthy digestive system and well-formed stool. Finally, carbs play an important role in the texture of both dry and wet food. If your dog prefers a certain kibble crunch or the softness of a pâté, you have carbs to thank for that. High quality sources of carbohydrates used in pet foods include grain options such as oats and rice, or grain free options such as peas, potatoes, or lentils.

4. Specialized ingredients for health benefits & nutrient boosts

There are certain ingredients that excel in nutrient quantity or provide specific benefits which you can look for to help guide your decisions. Some fruits & veggies, like cranberries and pomegranate, that are particularly dense in vitamins and antioxidants are often referred to as “superfoods”.

NOW FRESH dry food recipes for dogs include a variety of superfoods that are well known for supporting specific concerns of dogs at different life stages and breed sizes, as well as ingredients that are even found commonly in supplements.

Supporting digestion
  • Enterococcus Faecium & Lactobacillus Acidophilus: Two probiotics, which are good microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and support healthy digestion.

  • Minimally processed fresh de-boned meat ingredients, like turkey, salmon and duck.

  • Pumpkin: An ingredient rich in pre-biotic fibre.

Supporting immune system health
  • Fruits & veggies, like blueberries, cranberries and broccoli that are rich in vitamin C & K.

Supporting heart health and weight management
  • L-carnitine: An amino acid-like compound that aids in fat burning and supports heart health, plus promotes the burning of free fatty acids, instead of depositing as fat tissue.

Supporting Joint Health
  • New Zealand green mussels: A natural source of chondroitin, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids EPA, DHA and ETA.

  • Glucosamine hydrochloride: An aid for joint support. Both glucosamine and chondroitin are found in joint cartilage and work synergistically to support joint health.

  • Chondroitin sulfate: An important component of cartilage that supports joint health, especially in combination with glucosamine hydrochloride.

Supporting Clean Teeth & Fresh Breath
  • Sodium tripolyphosphate: A mineral blend which binds calcium and helps prevent tartar buildup.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel beside puzzle feeder and NOW FRESH wet food and kibble bags

Good Read

How to Choose the Right Food for Your Dog's Breed and Life Stage

Learning how to choose the right food for your dog can be challenging, which is why we’ve created this guide on how to choose the right food for your dog’s breed size and life stage.

Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid

Some no-no’s when it comes to natural, premium quality nutrition are artificial colours and preservatives. On an ingredient panel, artificial colours typically are listed as a colour followed by a number, like “blue 1”. or “yellow 5”. The most common artificial preservatives used in pet foods are ethoxyquin (EMQ) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).

Many pet parents also choose to steer clear of un-named generic meat meals, by-product meals and meat and bone meals. These are considered the lower quality animal protein ingredients as they’re made up of multiple, unknown animal sources with unwanted ingredients included like excess bone, intestine lining, heads, or feet.
Theresa Lantz
Theresa LantzCompanion Animal Nutritionist

Many pet parents also choose to steer clear of un-named generic meat meals, by-product meals and meat and bone meals. These are considered the lower quality animal protein ingredients as they’re made up of multiple, unknown animal sources with unwanted ingredients included like excess bone, intestine lining, heads, or feet. Typically, you won’t find this in more expensive dog food.

Putting it all together

Ultimately, choosing the right food for your beloved dog is a balance between ingredient quality, nutritional completeness, and a delicious flavour that your pup loves. At NOW FRESH, we believe that simple, whole, and fresh ingredients are the way to go, and we ensure that each and every recipe is complete and balanced for the particular life-stage and breed size it’s designed for.

While we hope you feel better equipped to make an informed dog food decision, we also invite your questions! Our in-house Customer Care team is made up of pet nutrition specialists standing by to answer your questions and offer custom nutrition consultations. We promise to help you find the ideal recipe for your pet, even if it isn’t our own. So, drop us a line 866-864-6112 or customercare@petcurean.com. We can’t wait to speak with you!

Literature cited:

  1. Oberbauer, A.M., Larsen, J.A. 2021. Amino Acids in Dog Nutrition and Health. In: Wu, G. (eds) Amino Acids in Nutrition and Health. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 1285. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-54462-1_10


Authors

Val C.

Val C.

Customer Care Representative

Val has been with the Petcurean team since 2005 and in the dog game since 1978, when she got her first Golden Retriever. She’s been active as a breeder, conformation exhibitor, obedience exhibitor, agility and flyball enthusiast, just to name a few.

Theresa Lantz

Theresa Lantz

Companion Animal Nutritionist

Theresa received both her BSc in Companion Animal Health and MSc in Animal Science from the University of Alberta.