What ingredients to look for in dog food and treats

Dogs are omnivores, but they can still get their nutrition from plant sources like grains, fruits, and vegetables. Overall, a balanced diet is vital to your dog’s health and well-being.1

“Nutrition is key,” Laura Gaylord, DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition), founder and owner of Whole Pet Provisions, PLLC, and North Carolina Veterinary Dietitian, said in an email exchange with dvm360®.

Feeding problems occur most often when dogs are fed unbalanced homemade diets or certain human foods. Dog foods or homemade diets derived from a single nutrient are not sufficient for a balanced diet in general.2 Although dogs can thrive with a balanced diet of plant foods, a diet of meat only does not meet the nutritional needs of dogs.1 For example, feeding dogs mostly meat, or even a diet exclusively of hamburgers and rice, can lead to calcium deficiency and secondary hyperparathyroidism.2

“Just as important [as] Providing the right types and amounts of nutrients is about avoiding extra calories, Gaylord said. “Currently, [over] 60% of our pets are overweight or obese, and obesity creates a state of inflammation in the body, increases the risk of disease, and shortens life.”

The six essential nutrients needed for a dog’s diet include water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. Veterinary professionals can refer to nutritional guidelines established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to ascertain the nutritional content of commercial foods and to ensure that these products meet AAFCO standards.1

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Deborah Linder, DVM, MS, DACVN, chair of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals in North Grafton, Massachusetts, provided guidance to advise dog owners on choosing the right dog food during the 2020 virtual Fetch dvm360® conspiracy. “I like to give owners some agency, so they understand how I choose food and think about what’s best for their pets,” Linder said. “I also give them information so they can be more active in making decisions.”3

How do you know if a company is responsible? Linder calls to call them directly. This is one way to find out if a company is hiring critical employees, such as a board-certified veterinary dietitian, a doctoral dietitian, an animal food formula specialist, and a toxicologist.

Leander said, “At the end of the day, someone with experience [must] Create a food formula, think of that recipe, keep in mind all the ingredients that should go into it and how [they] Interact with each other, learn about the biochemistry and nutritional physiology behind it.”

Gaylord also provided some tips to guide customers with product selection, which include the following:

  • Always feed the correct amount of calories in total to avoid overeating and weight gain.
  • Avoid exotic protein ingredients.
  • Consider feeding some or all of the diet as a balanced, less processed (freshly cooked food) commercial diet option.


Gaylord noted that foods can be high in calories and sometimes too much to be fed to pets. ‘Choose low-calorie treats [perhaps less than 5-10 kcal or calories each] good idea. I’ve seen some foods that go as high as 50 calories, or calories per treat. In general, foods and snacks should be limited to no more than 10% of the diet—[this is 10% of the calories the dog or cat eats every day]“To avoid imbalances in the total daily diet,” she said.


In general, it is important to consider the specific nutritional needs of a pet, taking into account the breed, age and health conditions. However, in general, pet owners can be advised to choose recognizable whole food ingredients and follow a low-calorie diet for their dogs.1


  1. Llera R, Yuill C. Nutrition – general feeding guidelines for dogs. VCA Animal Hospitals. Accessed July 20, 2022. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/nutrition-general-feeding-guidelines-for-dogs
  2. Nutrition overview: young animals. Merck Veterinary Manual. Updated June 2016. Accessed June 22, 2022. www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-small-animals/overview-of-nutrition-small-animals
  3. Capuzzi J. Pet Food Data Grinding. dvm360®. September 2, 2020. Accessed July 20, 2022. www.dvm360.com/view/crunching-the-data-on-pet-foods

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