How to choose the right dog food for your four-legged friend, according to vets

·9-min read
Veterinary practitioners share their advice on how to make sure your pooch is getting the best-quality dinner  (The Independent)
Veterinary practitioners share their advice on how to make sure your pooch is getting the best-quality dinner (The Independent)

As a key part of the family, chances are your dog gets a whole lot of love and attention. But, with that comes the responsibility of making sure they’re being fed the right food for them. With so many different dog food options available – from dry and wet to grain-free – it can be different to know which one is best.

The British Veterinary Association’s advice is that any commercially manufactured pet food in the UK that meets the Pet Food Manufacturing Association guidelines has the complete nutritional requirements that your pet needs.

The best dog diets, however, will be a “high-quality, complete, balanced diet designed specifically for your dog’s life stage”, says PDSA vet Anna Ewers-Clark. “Diets that are ‘complete’ contain all the nutrients that your dog needs, so will keep them healthy and happy,” she adds.

When buying the right dog food for your pet, the “breed, weight, body condition score, neutered status and lifestyle are all key things to consider”, says BVA senior vice president Daniella Dos Santos. These factors will have an impact on their total daily calorie allowance and will determine how much they should eat, including treats, she says.

You should also look for something age-appropriate (puppy, adult or senior, for instance), says Sam Crossley, marketing director at Lily’s Kitchen. “Older woofers don’t need as much protein in their diets as younger and more active adult dogs, and they will benefit from food that supports joint health.” Puppies, on the other hand, “need higher protein content to support their development while they grow into their paws”.

Read more:

“There are a huge number of complete dog diets on the market, and there isn’t one dog food that will suit all dogs. For example, some dogs like wet food, others prefer dry and often dogs will have a favourite flavour (or flavours) of food,” notes Ewers-Clark. As for her advice, she suggests “finding a diet that suits your dog and sticking with it, as changing your dog’s food too often can lead to problems such as tummy upsets”.

To help demystify the world of dog food, we asked leading veterinary practitioners to advise on what you should look out for when buying your pooch their food.

Puppy food

“It’s really important for puppies to be fed a food designed specifically for their age. When dogs are young, the balance of nutrients they need will be different to those of an adult dog,” notes Ewers-Clark.

It’s also a good idea to feed your puppy a product that’s designed for their breed or size, as different dogs “grow at different rates so feeding a diet that’s tailored to small, medium or large breeds will make sure their nutrient needs are supported as they grow”, she adds.

“Continue feeding the same food that your puppy has had at their breeder initially,” and when you do change, “make sure you do so over a couple of weeks to avoid stomach upsets”, says Ewers-Clark.

The PDSA recommends Royal Canin mini puppy food (£15.79, Petsathome.com) for small, young pups. It’s high in protein, which Crossley noted as being important for young dogs, and it contains probiotics so as to support digestive health.

 (Royal Canin)
(Royal Canin)

If you’re unsure of how much to feed your four-legged friend, there’s a helpful table detailing how many grams you should give them based on their age and weight. The food is also available for medium (£46.04, Amazon.co.uk), maxi (£47.77, Petsathome.com) and giant (£45.33, Petsathome.com) dogs.

 (Royal Canin)
(Royal Canin)

Similarly, there are also options based on breed, be that french bulldog (from £17.95, Waitrosepet.com), bulldog (£45.99, Petsathome.com), golden retriever (£44.99, Petsathome.com) or german shepherd (£44.99, Petsathome.com).

For another protein-rich alternative, try Barking Heads puppy days dry food (from £6.99, Barkingheads.co.uk), which is made with 100 per cent natural chicken and salmon.

 (Barking Heads)
(Barking Heads)

If you’d rather give your dog wet food, or a combination of both, the Barking Heads range also has puppy days wet food (from £17.90, Barkingheads.co.uk).

“The age when your puppy can change onto adult food will depend on their breed and size, plus a number of other factors, for example, the timing of their neutering,” says Ewers-Clark. “Although it’s not possible to give an exact time for every dog, as a general rule small dogs will need to continue with puppy food until they’re around one, while large or giant breeds will need puppy food until around 18 months,” she adds.

Dry food

Dry dog food comes in a variety of forms including kibbles, biscuits or pellets. “There is no nutritional difference between wet and dry dog food, though in some cases a vet might recommend one over the other for specific reasons, such as urinary issues and specific types of allergies,” says Dos Santos. But, it’s important to make sure the protein count is high. On this advice, there are a number of excellent options out there for dry dog food.

Ewers-Clark recommends feeding your pooch complete dog food, so turn to Harringtons, which produces all-natural scran where meat is the number one ingredient.

 (Harringtons)
(Harringtons)

The kibbles (from £14.16, Harringtonspetfood.com) consist of 26 per cent chicken, meaning it’s a great source of protein and it’s also rich in omega 6 and omega 3. If you’re looking for a subscription service, Harringtons is certainly one to know; sign up for a regular delivery and you’ll save money too.

For a dry dog food that has an even higher meat content, turn to Edgar Cooper – its chicken dry dog food (from £4.99, Edgardcooper.com), for example, has 41 per cent chicken. While its lamb variety (from £5.50, Edgardcooper.com) is similarly rich in protein.

 (Edgar Cooper)
(Edgar Cooper)

If you’d like to trial Edgar Cooper’s food, it offers a try-it-now service (£8, Edgardcooper.com) and you’ll receive a selection of its dog food, including kibble, wet food and treats, with zero commitment.

Wet food

This type of food comes in a thick gravy sauce or contains chunks of jelly, and tends to be more palatable for dogs because it's mainly made up of protein and fat. Plus, it’s high in moisture so can help to keep dogs hydrated, preventing the urinary issues Dos Santos noted. If your dog is partial to wet food, or you often do a mixture of both wet and dry, look out for high amounts of fresh meat, poultry and animal products.

Again we’d recommend turning to Edgar Cooper for wet food that’s high in meat. There are options to buy food according to your dog’s age range – whether that’s for a puppy (from £2.30, Edgardcooper.com), adult (from £2.30, Edgardcooper.com) or senior (from £2.30, Edgardcooper.com) dog.

 (Edgar Cooper)
(Edgar Cooper)

Whichever flavour you opt for, it’s high in meat and also contains a mixture of vegetables and fruit to make sure your doggo is getting the most balanced diet possible.

For a subscription-based service, it’s got to be Barking Heads wet dog food (from £10.99, Barkingheads.co.uk). Its pouches of wet food in lamb (from £15.12, Barkingheads.co.uk) contain 85 per cent grass-fed lamb and a mixture of peas, courgette and spinach. Plus, if you opt for the brand’s subscribe and save service, you’ll never be left short on dog food – a real bonus.

Grain-free food

The majority of dogs “don’t need grain-free dog food”, says Ewers-Clark. “Dogs are omnivores, which means they’re able to eat both meat and plant-based food, so using a more meat-based diet – which is often the appeal of grain-free for owners – isn’t necessary to meet their nutritional requirements, and in a completely grain-free diet, there will be carbohydrates in other forms to replace the grain.”

If you do suspect your dog is sensitive to grains, it is best to consult your vet for advice on their requirements. But it’s thought that cutting grain from your dog’s diet could help if they suffer from allergies or intolerances.

Lots of dog food manufacturers offer both grain-free and grain-inclusive options to give pet parents the choice of what they would like to feed their furry friends. If you know your dog is sensitive to grains, we’d advise turning to Lily’s Kitchen, which is a certified B-corp: it’s a company that meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

 (Lily’s Kitchen)
(Lily’s Kitchen)

With a huge grain-free offering, there’s something for every age range, including puppy (£2.65, Lilyskitchen.co.uk) and senior (£2.65, Lilyskitchen.co.uk) offerings. And if you’d rather not feed your pooch wet food, or prefer a mixture, there is also dry food (from £8.50, Lilyskitchen.co.uk).

Raw food

If you’re looking to feed your pooch fresh food, Alison Daniel, pet nutritionist at My Pet Nutritionist, recommends commercial delivery companies such as Different Dog or raw food companies such as Naturaw and The Dog’s Butcher.

Different Dog offers a personalised service where you enter key details about your four-legged friend, including whether they have been neutered or spayed, how old they are and their weight. From this, your dog’s tailored plan is created, providing information on the number of calories they should be consuming and allowing you to choose your recipes, which are delivered every couple of weeks depending on your dog’s plan.

 (Different Dog)
(Different Dog)

If you’d rather not have a tailored approach but are interested in feeding your dog high-quality raw food, Different Dog also sells its dinners separately. So, whether your pooch is partial to a chicken casserole (from £3.30, Differentdog.com) or shepherd's pie (from £3.30, Differentdog.com), there are plenty of dishes to choose from to make sure your doggo is getting all the nutrients they need.

Alternatively turn to Naturaw for fresh, natural and raw food. A great option for those who are focused on sustainability, this eco-friendly brand uses sustainable and renewable resources where possible, ethically sourced ingredients and premium cuts of British meat.

 (Naturaw)
(Naturaw)

Its raw food offering is expansive, from puppy- (£2.15, Naturaw.co.uk) and senior-appropriate (£2.40, Naturaw.co.uk) food to starter boxes (£35, Naturaw.co.uk) and large food taster boxes (£63, Naturaw.co.uk), as well as ingredient-specific options.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on dog food and other pet essentials, try the links below:

For more pooch content, read our guide to the best flea treatments, according to vets

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting