How to pick the best food for your dog (Part 4 of 4)

Initially we looked at the ingredient lists of your dog food, how they are constructed and what tricks and marketing tactics the manufacturers use to get you to choose their product over their competitors.  Next in the series came an exploration of protein and how to identify good quality protein in your dog food. Then carbohydrate, fibre, fruits and vegetables were the topic for discussion.

This final blog in the series is focused on:

  • Fats and Oils
  • Vitamins, minerals and other supplements

We’ll also take a closer look at preservatives, flavourings and artificial colours so you know what to avoid. Again you’re going to need to look at the ingredient list in more detail to help make the best choice for your dog.

Fats and Oils

Fat plays an important role in your dog’s nutrition. Fatty acids are required for a number of processes in the body including maintenance of a healthy skin and coat, a strong immune and reproductive system. Fat also aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

As food ingredients they should be specifically named and of high nutritional value. ‘Beef tallow’ and ‘lard’ make foods highly attractive to dogs and are not harmful, but they are high in saturated fat and low in valuable fatty acids.

In the same way name protein such as ‘chicken’ is better than generic protein such as ‘meat’ look for named sources such as ‘chicken fat’, ‘herring oil’, ‘canola oil’, ‘sunflower oil’, ‘flax oil’ etc. Avoid non-specific sources such as ‘animal fat’, ‘poultry fat’, ‘vegetable oil’ and generic ‘fish oil’.

Look for high percentages of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, but a low ratio between the two. For each percent of Omega-6 at least 0.13 percent Omega-3 should be present, resulting in a minimum ratio of 7:1. Ratios of 5:1 or lower are preferable.

That said, don’t discount a food just because it has a low percentages of essential fatty acids; you can easily make up for this with a good quality fish oil supplement.

Vitamins, Minerals and other supplements

All dog foods are required to meet certain nutritional standards, so manufacturers must add certain minimum amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Like any other ingredients, these can vary in quality and in how well your dog can absorb them. Although the Oxide forms of zinc, copper and iron are harmless they are poorly absorbed by your dog’s body.

Menadione is a synthetic vitamin K supplement. It may also be listed as vitamin K3 or ‘vitamin K supplement’. There is quite a lot of controversy regarding menadione due to its high toxicity. My advice is to avoid it.

Supplements like ‘glucosamine’ and ‘chondroitin’ are generally not included in large enough doses to provide a therapeutic effect for particular health conditions in the daily feeding amount. Their presence may reduce the amount you have to include of a separate supplement, but it is never wise to choose a food based on added supplements. Focus on finding a food with a high quality protein, carbohydrate and other main ingredients.


In order to prevent dog food going off, manufacturers will add preservatives. Artificial antioxidants include BHA (Butylated Hydroxysanisole), BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), and Ethoxyquin. Naturally derived antioxidants include Tocopherols (vitamin E), ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and rosemary.

Where possible look for natural preservatives but keep in mind that they do not preserve foods as long as artificial preservatives and they aren’t as stable. Although with our ready access to dog food most of us don’t need to stock up and can buy fresh supplies of naturally preserved dog food relatively easily.


High quality dog foods don’t need added flavour. The ingredients will provide all the flavour necessary.

Flavourings are generally only added to poor quality foods to make them more attractive to your dog so you keep buying the product. Otherwise most dogs would simply refuse to eat them. Natural flavour enhancers such as chicken or beef stock are harmless and may even add a little nutritional value. But avoid a food containing ‘digest’ of any kind, ‘meat broth’ and ‘artificial flavourings’.

Artificial colours

Dogs do not care about the colour of their food, period.

The colour of the food is strictly aimed at making products look more appealing to the humans that buy it! For example, manufacturers know that grey food is not appealing to us even though poor quality rendered products will often be grey so they will add colourings to change the look of the finished product. Often adding red dye to give the impression that there is more meat in the product than there really is.

Where possible avoid dog food that has artificial colourings – it’s almost always used to mask poor quality ingredients or production processes.

Finding the right food for your dog can make a huge difference to you and your dog. Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions and approach the manufacturer direct. If they don’t answer your questions you know your answer!

Like most things in life, if you want a better product for your dog you will have to pay a little extra but you will be rewarded with a happy, healthy and vibrant pooch.