When you head to your local pet store or log onto your pet delivery service app, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by your options. There are tons of brands to choose from making different tiers of food in different flavors. How do you know what to choose for your pup?
The global dog food industry is huge, with projected sales cresting $82 billion by 2026. Why does this matter to you? When an industry is profitable, there are a lot of players, and not all of them are interested in quality.
We’re taking the guessing game out of finding canned dog food. We’ve got the answers to your questions as well as a list of the canned dog food we think is best for your pup and her specific needs.
Read on for this dog care guide to the best canned dog food and when to rely on it.
Does Your Dog Need Canned Dog Food?
There are a lot of reasons to add canned dog food to your dog’s diet. For most of their lives, many dogs do just fine with a diet of dry kibble or benefit from a combination of wet and dry food. Let’s look at the pros and cons of including wet food in your dog’s diet, assuming they don’t require it to meet specific health needs.
The Pros of Canned Dog Food
One of the most obvious benefits of canned food is that it can boost your dog’s overall hydration. If your pooch doesn’t seem to drink enough water on her own, canned food can help keep dehydration at bay.
Plus, wet food tends to contain far fewer carbohydrates than dry dog food. While carbs are a useful energy provider for dogs (not unlike they are for humans), a diet that’s too high in carbs can lead to unwanted weight gain or obesity.
Finally, quality wet dog food leaves animal proteins fairly intact and may be more appetizing for picky or low-appetite dogs.
The Cons of Canned Dog Food
Some of the cons of canned dog food are more irritating to owners than pups. For example, you may find the strong odor of canned dog food unpleasant or off-putting. Canned dog food also tends to cost more and spoil faster, so it’s not always the most budget-friendly option.
There are a few health concerns that can arise from a diet consisting entirely of canned dog food. Dry dog kibble helps to scrape plaque from your dog’s teeth with each bite, so you might notice an increase in tartar with an all-wet diet. Though canned dog food is often low in carbs, it can be high in fat, which can lead to weight gain and create complications for dogs with pancreatitis.
You should always consult your vet about a major change in your dog’s diet. Oftentimes, a combination of wet and dry food works well to meet canine nutritional needs.
Tips for Finding Great Canned Dog Food
Becoming an expert on finding great canned dog food is easier than you might think. There are a few steps you can take to start scoping out the best food for your dog no matter what store you’re shopping in. From including your vet in the conversation to understanding your dog’s dietary needs, you can become a pro.
Talk to Your Vet
No list of the best canned dog foods can take the place of your vet’s recommendations. That’s because each dog’s nutritional needs are different! For example, while most dogs benefit from common animal proteins like chicken and beef, others may need to stick to “new” proteins (which aren’t really new, but they are less common, like rabbit and fish).
If you’re hoping to address health problems with a change in diet, it’s especially important that you consult your vet, first. While nutrition plays a major role in your dog’s health, food can’t always take the place of prescribed medications or supplements.
Pay Attention to Nutritional Guidelines
There are key nutrients that a healthy dog needs in their diet, and it’s best to let the experts weigh in. It’s hard to avoid pseudoscience when you’re trying to take a holistic approach to your dog’s health, so make sure that you’re relying on trusted sources that make evidence based claims.
A balanced canine diet will include:
Some sources are better than others when it comes to your dog’s diet. For example, while dogs can process and make use of plant-based proteins like pea protein, animal protein is more bioavailable, meaning that it’s easier to convert into that much-needed energy. Likewise, you may want to prioritize whole sources of carbohydrates (like wheat) over “fractured” carbohydrates (like wheat flour).
Get Familiar With Labels
There’s a lot that you can learn from the label on the can, as long as you know what to look for. Organizations like the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) can help you decipher what you’re looking at.
For example, if the label includes the word “with” before an ingredient, the food only needs to contain 3% of that ingredient. If you see something like “Dog Food with Chicken,” it’s possible that only 3% of the food is actually chicken. If you see the word “flavor” (e.g., “Chicken Flavor Dog Food”), the food only needs to contain a “detectable” amount of the ingredient providing the flavor.
When you’re going for quality, this isn’t what you want. Instead, look for canned dog food that states the key ingredients without qualifiers like “with” or “flavor.”
Check out the Nutrition Facts
To learn even more about canned dog food, turn the can over and start scanning the nutrition label. Pay attention to the guaranteed analysis and the ingredients list.
The guaranteed analysis will tell you the maximum percentage of protein, fiber, fat, and carbohydrates the food contains. With the help of your vet, you can determine the ratio that best suits your dog’s needs. For example, if your dog needs to shed some pounds, you’ll want to opt for higher protein levels and lower levels of fat and carbs.
The ingredient list is written in the order of most present to least present. What you want to see is a list that starts with a whole protein (like beef or chicken), followed by a series of other recognizable ingredients.
What if you can’t pronounce everything on the list? It’s a common misconception that ingredients you can’t pronounce are always harmful. Do some research or talk to your vet if you’re having trouble discerning what’s in your dog’s food, as many of those scary-sounding words actually refer to beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Understand Your Dog’s Changing Needs
Dogs age, grow, and have the potential to develop health conditions, just like humans. Humans change their diets to meet these different stages of life, and dogs should, too.
Canned dog food labels will indicate who that food is appropriate for. These categories are often broken down into stages like puppy, adult, and senior, but you may also see canned food that claims to be right for things like skin health and weight loss.
There are only four stages that are officially recognized by the AAFCO:
- gestational/lactation (pregnant)
- growth (puppy)
- maintenance (adult)
- all life stages
You may find that a food labeled something like “senior” is right for your senior dog, but it hasn’t met the same regulatory requirements as a food with one of those four labels.
What the Best Canned Dog Food Has in Common
The tips we’ve listed above will help you develop a keen eye when looking at different canned dog food options. If you’re looking for a cheat sheet, you’re in the right place. Let’s take a look at what the best canned dog food has in common.
“Complete and Balanced”
Once again, the AAFCO is here to make your life as a dog owner a little bit easier. The best canned dog food will have the official “complete and balanced” seal of approval somewhere on the label.
As we mentioned earlier, the AAFCO recognizes four stages of dietary needs. They have also defined the nutritional profile needed for each stage. In order to earn the “complete and balanced” label, the food must meet the profile of the stage it was formulated for to the extent that it could make up your dog’s full diet.
Real Animal Protein
We mentioned already that dogs can make use of plant-based proteins, but they’re better off with animal proteins. That’s not the only thing you should know about your dog’s protein needs.
When you’re reading the nutrition label on a can of dog food, you’re looking for named sources of real animal proteins, like chicken, beef, or bison. You’re not looking for words like “meat,” “poultry,” or “meat meal.” If the company can’t give you a named source, it likely means that the food contains low-quality meat or meat byproducts as the primary source of protein.
Vitamin and Mineral Fortification
Great dog food is often fortified with the vitamins and minerals your dog needs to lead a happy and healthy life. No, it’s not a bad sign when the ingredient list contains singled out vitamins and nutrients, because these additions simply mean that your dog is more likely to absorb what’s available.
What does it mean if you see something like “trace minerals?” It simply means that the food contains minerals that your dog needs in trace amounts, like iron or manganese sulfate.
No or Low Levels of Unwanted Ingredients
These days, it’s not always easy to determine which ingredients are genuinely harmful to your dog and which are fine in small amounts. The truth is that moderate to high-quality foods are typically fine for most dogs. Unless your dog has special dietary concerns or needs, it’s unlikely that your food of choice is doing any significant harm.
When you’re looking for the best of the best, however, there are some ingredients you can try to avoid. These include things like corn syrup and artificial coloring, which are not beneficial in any way. You may also want to buy food that contains no or low levels of rendered fat, which is used to describe fat from an unnamed source.
Look Out for Trends
All dog owners are trying to do what’s best for their dogs and it’s understandable that you might feel enticed by certain trends or new-age doggy diets. Once again, try to avoid that pseudoscientific trap when you’re picking canned food for your dog.
A big one to look out for is the grain-free diet. Some pet food manufacturers claim that grains are an unnecessary and even unhealthy source of carbohydrates for dogs and market grain-free food (often at an increased price). The truth is that there is little evidence that grains like wheat are harmful to dogs and in fact, the FDA is currently investigating a potential link between grain-free diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
Another one to look out for is the raw protein diet. Some suggest that a diet of raw meat, like raw steak or raw deer, is closer to a dog’s “natural” or evolutionary diet. The truth is that raw meat can contain a host of bacteria that could leave your dog extremely sick, so we highly recommend sticking to safely manufactured dog food.
Don’t Get Lost in the Pet Food Aisle
Picking dog food isn’t easy, especially when there are so many companies that have started making products simply to turn a profit. This guide will help you find the best canned dog food to meet your dog’s dietary needs. As always, consult your vet before making any major changes to your dog’s routine!
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