Dog Food Ingredients and Formulas

There are a lot of brands of dog food on the market. Both the cost and the quality vary a great deal. Complete dog foods with appropriate levels of protein and fat for your dog will also provide the proper balance of vitamins and minerals. Ask breeders and veterinarians for recommendations. Learn about the ingredients. Read labels. The ingredients are listed on the products in order of amount, most to least.


Protein sources in dog food include chicken meal, lamb meal, turkey meal, fish meal, chicken by-products, meat by-products, chicken, beef, turkey, pork, salmon, fish meal, corn, eggs, and soy.

The quality of protein sources is variable and some are more digestible than others. Ingredients like chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb are highly digestible and provide your dog with a better quality protein than soy. Some dogs do not tolerate foods containing soy.

Ingredients like chicken by-products, lamb by-products or beef by-products include muscle tissue and nutritious organs. However, the by-products used in some foods may also contain large amounts of animal parts that have very little nutritional value. Some inexpensive dog foods may contain poor quality animal by-products.

Chicken, lamb, and turkey contain a lot of water that is lost during processing. The percentage of protein in these ingredients is low when compared to chicken meal, lamb meal, fish meal, and turkey meal. Both types provide good quality proteins.

Dogs with allergies to beef, dairy, chicken, and eggs usually tolerate lamb, lamb meal, salmon, or other fish. Ear infections, dry itchy skin and a poor coat may indicate a food allergy. There are a number of good quality foods available for dogs that develop food allergies. Discuss the alternatives with your veterinarian.


Brown rice, brewers rice, rice, wheat, corn, barley, and oatmeal are sources of carbohydrates. These ingredients also contain some protein. 

Oatmeal, barley, white rice, and brown rice are good sources of carbohydrates, fiber, some protein, and other nutrients. These grains are rarely associated with allergies.

Brewers yeast, corn, corn gluten, legumes, and wheat are controversial ingredients in dog food.  Corn is prone to contamination with a dangerous aflatoxin. Some dogs develop allergies to wheat and brewer's yeast. 

The FDA has recently issued a warning because there may be a link between grain-free dog food and an increase in dilated cardiomyopathy cases in dogs.

Fats And Essential Fatty Acids

Animal fat, poultry fat, fish oil, and plant oils are sources of essential fatty acids. High-quality sources of fats include salmon oil, fish meal, flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil. Beef tallow, poultry fat, lard, and some vegetable oils are low-value fat sources. Most premium foods provide adequate amount of dietary fats. Some inexpensive foods may not provide optimum levels of essential fatty acids.


Dog food can be safely preserved with natural ingredients like mixed tocopherols and vitamin C. 

Preservatives like Ethoxyquin, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), and TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone)  may be harmful to your dog.  


Please consult your veterinarian before giving your dog supplements.

Most commercial dog foods contain the proper balance of vitamins and minerals. Some vitamin and mineral supplements may be harmful to your dog if you feed a complete dog food. High doses of fat-soluble vitamins can be dangerous. Excess dietary calcium increase the risk of some orthopedic disorders such as hip dysplasia, OCD (osteochondritis dessicans) and panosteitis, especially in large breed puppies. Calcium supplements can also be harmful to puppies. Good-quality puppy foods contain the appropriate level of calcium. 

Supplements that contain concentrated omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids help to maintain a healthy coat and skin. Salmon oil, sardines, and eggs are excellent sources of dietary fats. Most premium dog foods contain adequate amounts of essential fatty acids but occasionally supplementing dog food with small amounts of salmon oil, an egg, or a couple of sardines may be beneficial to the long term health of your dog. Salmon oil supplements must be refrigerated after opening.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that have several health benefits. Plain low fat yogurt contains beneficial bacteria that can be helpful when your dog is on antibiotics since these medications can alter the "good' bacteria in the intestines. Most Labs will enjoy the addition of one or two teaspoons yogurt to their food. However, some dogs may develop an allergy to diary products. Fortiflora, a Purina product, is a probiotic supplement that contains beneficial bacteria and promotes digestive and immune health. The supplement Missing Link (skin, coat, and digestion) also contain beneficial bacteria as well as essential fatty acids. Some premium dog foods also contain small amounts of these beneficial bacteria. 

Supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin may help maintain healthy connective tissue and joints. Some dog foods formulated for older dogs contain small amounts of these substances, but the amount is probably not be therapeutic.

Age/Active Appropriate Formulas

The nutritional needs of dogs change with age and activity level. The ideal formula meets the energy needs of your dog and provide the proper balance between protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. Maintaining a proper weight is very important to your dog's health. Determining the amount of these foods for growing puppies and less active seniors can be difficult. You should be able to feel your dog's rib cage, but not see it.

The ideal food for your puppy does not have to be marketed as a puppy food. The appropriate formula for your older dog may not be labeled as a senior dog food. For puppies, I recommend a food with 25 to 28% protein and 15 to 18% fat. Fromm Gold Puppy food is a good choice for puppies for 6 to 8 months. Fromm Gold Large Breed puppy food is a good food for older puppies until they are 18 to 24 months old.

For adult dogs, I recommend a good quality dog food withe 24 to 26% protein and 14 to 16% fat. I recommend a good quality food with 23 to 25% protein and 13 to 15% fat for seniors. 

High protein (28-32%), high fat (18-22%), high energy dog foods are appropriate for very active, hardworking dogs. These high calorie foods may contribute to excessive weight gain.  Overweight dogs and puppies may be more likely to develop joint disorders. 

The Dog Food Advisor website rates dog food brands. This website also lists dog food recalls. 

BARF- Bones And Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food

Some dog fanciers are very enthusiastic about rare food diets. The goal is to provide your dog with the diet that Mother Nature intended.  Do your homework if you are interested in the raw food diet for dogs.  A proper balance of vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, and carbohydrates is important.  There are several companies that sell a frozen raw dog food product with balanced nutrients.  Many dog owners are very pleased with this diet and feel it is worth the extra time and effort. Some veterinarian's do not recommend feeding dogs a raw meat diet. Concerns include dangerous bacteria, nutrient deficiencies and damage to the bowel caused by bones.

Grain-Free Dog Food

The FDA issued at warning regarding a possible link between grain-free dog foods and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. The problem may be the unusual carbohydrate and protein sources that have replaced the grains typically used in dog food. The grain-free dog foods formulas include lentils, chickpea, potatoes, and exotic meats such as kangaroo and alligator. Higher rates of DCM have been noted in many breeds, including Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and bulldogs. The investigation is ongoing.