The Great Dog Food Search

The Great Dog Food Search

As a veterinarian, I find the pet food industry beyond overwhelming and unfortunately at times a bit manipulative. Prior to the development of this billion dollar industry, it was a much simpler time…

Long are the days of picking up pet food at the local supermarket and not so welcoming are the days of ordering super-secret, expensive recipes over the internet.  While having options is great for commerce, it too can be a bit confusing.

This blog will attempt to answer the burning question…what food should I feed my dog or cat? This small attempt is not meant to be all encompassing but rather a relatable article for the majority of everyday pet owners.

Where to begin…the basics?

As long as the pet food has an AAFCO stamp or certification present, the nutrients in that bag of food have been met by federal regulations to meet the necessary vitamins, nutrients, and calories for that pet food. AAFCO stamp of approvals are commonplace and are found in most products that enter our larger stores.

Beyond having an AAFCO approval, the next step is finding a food that is best suited for your pets’ age and size.  Outside of those two initial qualifications, the choices are fairly overwhelming. To help break it down, the pet food products can often be lumped together based on their resale location from mass retailers, pet specialty stores, and now the internet.

Mass retailers often have a wide variety of products from ‘low’ to ‘high’ quality products.  So the question becomes what’s the difference between low and high quality products.  Typically lower quality products have more calories supplied by carbohydrate sources (corn, wheat) where as high quality foods have the majority of calories furnished by protein (chicken, beef, lamb).  As you can imagine, protein sources cost more to integrate into diets thus are typically more expensive.  Secondarily, premium high quality diets tend to be more costly because you’re not only paying for the quality of ingredients but also the quality control in the manufacturing process.

Pro: Easy accessibility, several cost choices; self-educated

Con: Can be overwhelming to pick one food out of many choices

Pet Specialty stores or boutiques
may often carry popular trending foods, foods with small manufacturing plants, or even sell regionally located products.

Pro: Fewer choices; local chain, staff education; support local business

Con: Typically more premium foods w/less cost choices and ‘Buzz Word Marketing’; often lose potential products based on sale rotations

Internet pet food sales have become the newest addition to the pet food blunder. I typically only see these foods brought to my attention during puppy visits from select breeders or folks that have working dogs on very high calorie diets not easily found in the mass markets.

Pro: Home delivery

Con: Typically very niche market, lack of consumer quality of assurance; do we even know where this product is being made? Example, issues with manufacturing in foreign countries.


Within the big market, the top four pet food brands include: Purina, Hill’s Science Diet, Iams/Eukanuba, and Royal Canin.  Bear in mind within those four dog food brands there are several different markets that they cater to (ie…from low to high quality depending on price).  Beyond the ease of purchasing these products, these companies have been around for a significant amount of time.  They have researched and developed products for a diverse group of pet owners that ultimately lead to great palatability, digestibility, stool quality, and performance.

Outside of the big four, there are most likely hundreds of dog food brands that try to squeak their formulations onto the market.  Some of these companies are reputable with the right intentions, whereas others have dubbed the pet food industry and take advantage of buzz word advertising. Consumer education is of the utmost importance in understanding that there are ‘’many terms used to described pet foods on labels and in advertising that are not legally defined.’’

As a veterinarian, as long as your dog or cat eats the food consistently, produces a normal quality stool, and is the correct price point for your budget, then I am usually supportive of your pet being on that particular diet.  I continue to do my research and have developed trust in a vast array of products.  In any case, as veterinarians we are always willing to discuss the pet food you have chosen for your family member—but bring the bag for it’s very helpful!


Image credit: Tatomm | iStock | Getty Images Plus

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