We are what we eat, so the saying goes. Although we all know of dogs that have reached a ripe old age eating low-quality kibble their whole lives, dogs fed higher-quality food have fewer health problems and are much more likely to thrive throughout their years.

There are so many great foods on the market now for dogs and cats —long gone are the days of Alpo and Gaines Burgers! Although there is no one “right” food for every dog, ideally you want to feed a species-appropriate meat-based diet of fresh raw or cooked food. There are many ways this can be accomplished to meet your budget and time constraints as well as your dog’s nutritional needs.

Here is a list of what we believe to be the best (top) to worst (bottom) foods for dogs:

Any kibble or canned foods less than human-grade or premium-quality generally include meat and grain by-products, rendered meat, wheat, corn, soy, and unhealthy preservatives (e.g., ethoxyquin and BHT).

If you choose to feed a homemade raw and/or cooked diet, it is critical to follow a recipe from a reputable source to ensure it has a proper balance of vitamins and minerals. There can be very damaging long-term consequences to the health of your dog if her food is not properly balanced with protein, fats, calcium/phosphorus, amino acids, etc. Easy-to-follow recipes are readily available in books and online. There are also recipes available for special diets that may be required if your dog has allergies, diabetes, kidney disease, pancreatitis, etc.

Another important consideration for proper canine nutrition is to feed a variety of foods. Dogs fed a diverse diet are much more likely to get all the nutrients they need, are less likely to develop allergies to foods, and have fewer gastrointestinal problems when they get into something they don’t normally, and shouldn’t, eat.

A raw food diet can be a highly beneficial choice for many dogs. Here are a few things to consider, however. Raw foods are more expensive than processed kibble or canned food, so it can be cost prohibitive, especially if you have large and/or multiple dogs. One way to cut the cost is to feed some meals of raw food and some with kibble and/or canned, freeze-dried, etc. This keeps the cost down while still providing your dog with the benefits of eating more fresh/less processed food.

Many people are concerned about the pathogens in raw food being harmful to our dogs and cats, but since their ancestors have been eating raw food for thousands of years their systems are well equipped to handle the bacterial load. Now there are raw foods available that have been put through a process called HPP – High Pressure Pasteurization – to eliminate salmonella and E-Coli. Some raw food purists are opposed to this process as they believe it destroys good bacteria as well, but if you’re concerned about bacterial contamination, it’s a great option.

It bears mentioning that pathogens are also prevalent in dry foods, as we’ve seen from time to time with the recall of popular food brands that have tested positive for harmful bacteria.

One of the major benefits of a homemade or prepared raw and cooked food diet is that you have some control over the meat you choose. If you have health, ethical, and/or environmental concerns you can select from a myriad of local producers/suppliers of raw foods that raise their animals humanely and without antibiotics or hormones.

If you choose to feed kibble because of the great convenience it affords, you can improve the nutritional value of the food by adding a variety of fresh raw, cooked, or canned food to it. (See People Food is Good for Dogs!)

Web Resources for Healthy Diets