What to look for in Dog Food Ingredients: A Complete Guide to Kibble Selection

Did you just get a little puppy, and now you are super confused about what to give this little creature for eating? Although your neighborhood pet stores are overflowing with dog food, knowing what dog food ingredients contain the essential and healthy nutrients for your pooch is challenging. Selecting the right dog food depends on many factors, including your dog’s weight, age, breed, and more.

If you have no idea about which food will best suit your pet dog’s nutritional requirement, here is a guide to help you understand all about healthy dog food.

What is Dog Food?

Dog food is food especially prepared and intended for consumption by dogs. A dog is an omnivore and requires around 37 nutrients, and so dog food manufacturers blend fish, meat, vegetables, cereals, vitamins, and minerals to provide pet dogs with a healthy diet.

As people are becoming more and more concerned about their pet’s diet, dog food producers are trying to produce food that is high in nutritional values. Throughout Europe and the United States, nutrition experts require dog food authorities to formulate dog food that complies with the dietary guidelines developed by FEDIAF (European Pet Food Industry Federation) and NRC (National Research Council).

Qualities of a Satisfactory Pet Food

  • The best dog food should have ingredients to satisfy the following characteristics:
  • It must have an adequate number of nutrients.
  • All nutrients are available in a well-balanced proportion.
  • The food is easy to digest.
  • Your pet finds his bowl of food appealing enough to eat it.
  • And it is completely safe to consume.

For Angel, our golden retriever, we choose high-quality kibble as it offers better convenience and complete nutrition which we believe we cannot provide her via homemade dog food. Read our article on 5 Best Dog Food Brands for Golden Retrievers that we love.

Now, what is dog food made of? It is a bit tricky to understand the label of a dog food bag since certain terms are not as straightforward in meaning as they seem to be. Below we will try to understand the main label of dog food ingredients on a label of a dog food bag.

Meaning of main dog food ingredients

What Are the Main Ingredients in Dog Food?

The ingredients in dog food, whether canned or dry, play a crucial role in the development of your dog. The following ingredients provide nutrition and health benefits to the pets and are known as essential dog food ingredients.

What is Real Meat or Whole Meat in Dog Food?

It is the most important ingredient of any dog food, generally labeled as the First Ingredient. A protein source from a named animal is called real meat. For example: Real Chicken, Real Lamb, Real Salmon, etc. It is generally considered as human grade product sourced from highest quality sources.

What is Chicken Meal in Dog Food?

A “Chicken Meal” is the protein source in dog food prepared by heat and pressure of real meat. It has only about 10% moisture and is higher in protein content. Both Real meat and meat meal are rich in protein but note that some parts of animals that humans don’t consume may also be used in meal preparation. However, remember, according to AAFCO, meat meals should not contain hair, bristle, feathers, horns, and hoof.

What are By-Products in Dog Food?

These are inedible or waste matter from slaughtered animal sources. Generally, ingredients labeled as meat (generic – without naming the animal source) or by-products or by-product meals may be questionable or even bad quality. These may be sourced from dead or diseased animals of unknown sources or ownership. Although these may provide a percentage of protein and/or nutrients, some people consider them as controversial.

What are Fillers in Dog Food?

Fillers are added to the dog food that makes him feel full but has no nutritious value. Some common fillers in dog food include soy, beet pulp, rice, wheat, and corn.

What are Grains in Dog Food?

Grain is an essential source of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Dogs can also digest grains pretty easily. Different forms of grains are used while preparing dog food. Along with wheat and corn, dog food manufacturers also use oats, barley, soy, rice, and rye to supply superior quality grain-containing food to pet owners.

What is Organ Meal?

The organ meal comes from actual organs such as kidneys, hearts, liver, and gizzard. Organ meat provides proteins that help build the muscles of your dogs.

What are Vitamins and Minerals in Dog Food?

Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and chloride improve muscle mass and protect organs in dogs. Other minerals such as Calcium, Boron, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Selenium, etc., are also included. Vitamins included are Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, B-complex vitamins. These are typically mentioned down in the list of ingredients on dog food packaging.

What are Dog Food Supplements?

These are added ingredients to provide sufficient nutritional value to the food. These may also contain and include breed-specific ingredients to cater to a specific breed. For eg. Furry dog foods contain omega oils for better hair growth and shine. Probiotics for better digestion. Essential Amino acids for nutrition. Other ingredients include natural flavors, preservatives, fats and oils, gums, glycerin, etc.

A more exhaustive list of all the commonly used ingredients in dog food and label guide can be found on petmd.com.

Do you know that the dog business is one of the most flourishing ones in the United States alone? Dog owners all over the US spent around $36.9 million on dog food in 2019 and the number is only rising with time.

What Are the Essential Nutrients Required by Your Dog?

Whether you are looking for canned wet dog food or dry food, read the label on these products before making the purchase. Look for words like complete, full of nourishment, and approved by the AAFCO (American Association Of Feed Control Officials).

The diet of a dog is considered balanced and healthy when it has the following 6 ingredients in it.


Proteins are the building blocks of life and are made up of amino acids. Among the 23 amino acids that build blocks of protein, a dog’s body can only make about 13. So, your pet needs a good supply of protein to fulfill this deficiency.

Protein helps build muscle mass, supports the skeletal structure and cell growth, and maintains the pH level of your dog’s body. Plus, having a protein-rich diet will also boost dogs’ energy levels in the absence of fats and carbohydrates.


Fats provide your dog with energy and also give your dog more calories than protein and carbohydrates. Moreover, if you need your dog to have healthy hair and refreshing skin, try to feed it food that contains a sufficient amount of fat. But make sure that you are not feeding your pet excess fat as it can lead to obesity issues.


Carbohydrates help maintain healthy intestines, especially fibers. They alter the bacterial population in the small intestine preventing chronic diarrhea in dogs. Moderately fermentable fiber such as beet pulp will provide a healthy gut to your pet.


Vitamins are necessary to make your dog diet a balanced one. Vitamins help with the chemical reactions within your dog’s body, such as building bones and keeping the bones strong. However, excess supplementation of vitamins can be harmful to your dog. For example, surplus vitamin A will cause joint and bone pain. Thus, moderate intake is key here.


A dog’s body is unable to produce enough minerals required by it. Growing puppies particularly need more calcium. Minerals will help in the structural constituents of bones and teeth, maintain the fluid balance within the body, and stimulate the body’s metabolic reactions. Therefore, you cannot miss the minerals.


An adult pet body constitutes about 60%-70% of water. Dry dog food has 10% moisture, whereas canned food has up to 78%. Apart from that, pets also need fresh, clean water for drinking to keep their water levels at the optimal point. A decline in water level can cause different health issues.

Is Human Food Safe For Dogs?

Well, the answer to this question is a bit tricky. Human foods are cooked and prepared, keeping in mind the nutritional requirement of humans. The occasional sharing of scraps from the table is something you can enjoy with your pet. However, you need to understand that your pet has unique nutritional needs and a digestive system that is not at all similar to humans.

For instance, fruits and vegetables that provide instant energy and nourishment to the human body may not be suitable for your pet dog. However, some human foods do come under the definition of healthy dog food. Still, excessive human food can lead to canine obesity, which is pretty harmful to your pet dog. Therefore, you must feed your furry friend dedicated dog food to fulfill all its nutritional requirements. You may want to know more about why dog kibble is better than homemade food which details the shortcomings of homemade food compared to a good quality dog kibble.

Individual Dog Breeds Have Specific Food Needs

Royal Canin Golden Retriever is a breed-specific dog food recipe

Every dog breed has nutritional requirements that differ from another, based on their size, breed, age, and body. Having a clear idea about the type of food that completely satisfies your pet’s growing appetite is essential to provide it with a fairly balanced bowl of food. For example, the widest variety of breed-specific dog food formulations is marketed by Royal Canin. This is a very popular brand and claims to have a recipe formulation for most small, mid, and large-sized breeds. It also has puppy as well as adult formulations, thus making it the most unique brand to cater to all requirements of pet parents no matter what breed, age, or size.

Difference Between Puppy Food vs Dog Food

puppy food vs adult dog food difference

AAFCO prescribes the development of different recipes for puppy and adult dog foods. The main difference between puppy vs adult dog food is that out of the total calorific value, puppy food should obtain 22.5% from the main protein sources compared to only 18% in adult dog food.

Puppies are like human infants. They are full of energy and always up to something naughty. To compensate their body with continuous energy, they need a higher dose of protein in their food than an adult dog. Feeding them adult dog food will deprive them of the essential proteins they require for their growth and development.

On the other hand, nurturing an adult dog on puppy food will cause them to become overweight due to high protein levels.

Difference Between Dry Food vs Wet Food

Both dry food (Kibble) and wet food supply your furry friend with all the valuable nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. The distinction between the two types of products is based on the level of water composition within them. Dry food has a lower moisture content, i.e., 3%-12%, whereas wet food will supply your dog with 60%-84% of moisture.

Benefits Of Dry And Wet Food Products

Dry dog food is economical, better for your dog’s oral health, and is convenient to store. Besides, your pet needs small quantities of dry food, and you can feed it without making a mess.

Wet dog food is far more nutritious and tastier as compared to dry food. It can become a good source of water for dogs who avoid drinking water and have a tendency to become overweight pretty quickly.

Essential Elements for Large Breed Dog Food

Large breed dogs’ food requirements differ from small breed or toy breeds. Your large, bulky friend needs to consume fewer calories per unit body weight as they don’t burn their calories fast enough like a mid-sized or smaller breed. Large breed dogs have a big stomach, and they need a feeding formula that provides the right balance of vitamins and other nutrients.

It has been noticed that dog food containing a proper balance of calcium and phosphorus can reduce the risk of orthopedic diseases in large breeds. The kibble size too is bigger in size for large breeds like golden retrievers so they can enjoy chewing and relishing the food with their teeth. Kibble also cleans the large teeth of tartar while chewing process and keeps the teeth healthy.

Also, ensure that the food you are shopping for has real meat, like chicken, as the primary ingredient. That way, you will be providing your dog with high-quality protein in a balanced way, giving your dog healthy muscles and a fit body.

Ingredients in Golden Retriever Dog Food

If you have a golden retriever dog as your pet or are interested in buying one, you need to understand the nutrients they need for better growth and to avoid diseases common in their breed.

A growing Retriever must be fed food containing 22% protein and about 8% of fat in contrast to the 18% protein and 5% fat required by a large adult retriever dog. Giving your golden retriever a diet rich in protein, low-to-moderate fat, and a perfect blend of calories will enable your golden coated friend to avoid unhealthy weight gain, eliminates the risk of joint and bone problems giving your dear pet lean and strong muscles.

Golden Retriever Skin and Coat Supplements

We all love that soft, silky, glowing golden hair of our retriever. To maintain the healthy and luscious texture of the coat of a golden retriever, added supplements in the food is generally recommended. Certain dog food brands such as Royal Canin Golden Retriever promote this specifically targeting breed-specific markets. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins are included to prevent dull and unhealthy hair and to promote healthy skin. It must be noted that golden retrievers are prone to skin problems and need a proper diet to maintain healthy skin.

A Guideline To Choosing The Perfect Dog Food

Choosing a food product that can keep your pet healthy, his bones strong, and his coat shiny is the best way of nurturing your furry friend. Even if you understand your dog’s nutritional requirement, with endless options of dog food available in the market, it can be confusing which one to pick.

Here are some useful tips that can help you while you are shopping for dog food.

Take A Peek At The List Of Ingredients

Taking a glance at the list of ingredients should be your priority. The ingredients in dog food must be of high quality and provide your pet with all the nutrition in a balanced way. The food must contain whole-food ingredients such as fresh meat, fruits, vegetables, and grains. Moreover, the food must have antioxidants and plant-based nutrients to boost overall health.

Foods that Comply with AAFCO Guidelines

The AAFCO has specified nutrition required by dogs and puppies. These standards are mentioned in the food labeling. Consider the dog food that exceeds AAFCO guidelines and uses high-quality ingredients.

Keep In Mind The Age, Weight, And Size Of Your Pet

Age, weight, and size are special considerations while choosing food types for your pet dog. Dog foods are designed keeping in mind their breed, age, weight, and size. If the size of your dog is overweight, your pet needs low-calorie food. But if you are looking for puppy food, you need food that is high in fats and carbohydrates.

Look For Healthy Fats

Dogs require healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids to remain healthy and active. Dog food provides omega-3 through certain ingredients such as salmon oil, flax oil, and canola oil. If the food packaging mentions omega-6 and omega-3, it is a healthy supplement for your pet.

Here’s a detailed article about How to Read Dog Food Labels on Dogster.com

Interpreting the ingredients, quantities, qualities, and specifications on the dog food labels aren’t as straightforward. The above article on Dogster.com will help you understand better on those aspects. Do check it out.

Regulations on Dog Food Specified By AAFCO

Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has set out guidelines that specified which food is suitable for a bouncing energetic puppy and which one is perfect for an adult dog. The list below will give you an idea of what to look for in your dog’s food the next time you go shopping for good quality, healthy dog food.

  • AAFCO recommends that puppy food must have about 22.5% protein, whereas an adult dog needs food that contains around 18% of proteins.
  • Puppy food must contain about 8.5% crude fat, whereas adult dog food must provide about 5.5% fat.
  • Young puppies need about 1% calcium, but a grown-up dog will require 0.6% calcium.
  • Little pups need 0.8% of phosphorus in contrast to the 0.5% needed by adult dogs.

So, now you know all about dog food ingredients. We hope that with the help of this article, you can determine the best ingredients for dog food and pick the right and nutritional meals for your furry pet.

One Response

  1. Claire Masters January 19, 2022

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