The Essential Guide to Dog Food

By PetMD

These days we often hear reports about dog foods that can harm our pets. In 2007, over one hundred dog food brands — including some well known brands — were recalled due to a tainted ingredient which was imported from China, making some dogs sick and killing others. More recently, salmonella has become a concern for various dog food items.

As responsible dog owners, we need to know how to read complicated dog food labels. Or better yet, feed our dogs with a healthy, well-balanced meal made at home.

So, what is a healthy diet for your dog?

Whether you buy canned food from stores or prepare your dog’s meals at home, you have to ensure that the following ingredients are included in your dog’s diet: protein, carbohydrates and fiber.

The most important ingredient is protein. In the past, dogs primarily survived on a diet of meat. This ensured that they consumed large quantities of protein, essential for energy. Fortunately, your dog is not as picky as you are when it comes to the cut of meat or the part of the body the cut comes from. In fact, it is the cuts of meat that we are least likely to eat that are best for dogs and therefore, they cost much less at your local butcher or grocery store. Ask for green tripe (the lining of a cow’s stomach), liver, heart, kidneys; all of these parts are high in concentrated nutrients and form an important piece of your dog’s lifetime development. Eggs and legumes are other sources of protein easily found at the store.

Image Credit: Jordan Batch / via Flick



While it is not needed in as large of a quantity as protein, carbohydrate is another ingredient that is essential to a dog’s well-being. It is found in high concentrations in cereal grains such as rice, wheat, corn, barley and oats. Carbohydrates can be used in small amounts as fillers, or added in the form of green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, celery and broccoli, to name a few. Carrots are also beneficial. Along with being a great source of carbohydrates and fiber, they also contain vitamin A and Beta-carotene, which is good for eyesight. Fibers assist in moving waste through the digestive track, improving intestinal health. Easily digestible,  carbohydrates are excellent sources of fiber. This category is mainly comprised of fruits that are part of your diet, such as apples, pears and oranges (but ask your vet which fruit are okay for your dog; some fruits are poisonous for dogs).

When looking for food products at the pet store, purchase those stamped by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (or AAFCO). While it is not foolproof, your closest guarantee to a safe food product is one that has been made in compliance with the AAFCO’s strict guidelines for production and labeling.

What should you avoid?

Because some dogs have allergic reactions to certain food ingredients, just as we do, it would be impractical to try to list all the things that you must avoid. There is, however, a basic list of the foods that should not be given to dogs.

  • Raisins, onions and garlic have been found to be toxic to some dogs.
  • Yeast dough can expand and produce gas in the digestive system, causing pain and possible rupture of the stomach.
  • Sugary foods can lead to obesity, dental problems and possibly diabetes.
  • Chocolate, coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages or foods contain, in addition to caffeine, theobromine or theophylline, which can be toxic and affect the heart and nervous systems.

And remember the old adage: a dog is what it eats. So feed it a well-balanced diet and keep your buddy hearty and healthy.

10 Ways to Liven Up Your Dog’s Dinner
What’s Really in My Pet’s Food?
Doggie DIY: 8 Projects

The Essential Dog Food Guide originally appeared on


Vivian B.
Vivian B4 years ago

My Dad used to make a "dog stew" for all his dogs that had all kinds of things in it. I wish I had watched a little more closely to how he prepared it, but off falls from the butcher was the main ingredient.

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Tanja Z.
Tanja Zilker5 years ago

thanks for the info!

Patricia A.
Patricia A5 years ago

My daughter has a Shiba that has been eating raw chicken (necks included) for the past 12 years. He has no tarter, a beautiful lush coat and amazes the vet when he goes for shots at how healthy he is. Dogs are carnivores and feeding all that dried crap is not what they need. He also gets an egg a week. Read the labels! Even our local supermarket has started stocking raw meat for pets. It's what they need.

Melissa A.
Melissa A5 years ago

I can't believe there isn't one mention of reading labels on dogfood. They are nearly cryptic: minimums & maximums & percentages with no guide as to what you're looking for in crude protein or moisture. This article was not helpful at all, considering the title.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Kamryn M.
Kay M5 years ago


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

I don't have a dog, but thank you anyway.

Masha Samoilova
Past Member 5 years ago

thank you

Bridget T.
Bridget Taylor5 years ago

I use Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance (carried by Petco). Very junk free, and even has LID line (Limited Ingredients Diets) for those who can't eat certain foods.
Of course, my dogs will never say no to a bit of chicken or egg or red meat..