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The best dog food: How to choose the right food for your pet – The Telegraph

An experienced vet recommends the best dog food for adult and senior dogs, puppies, small breeds and even for dogs with sensitive stomachs
The link between diet and health for humans is well established: we all know that we should eat a balanced diet, ideally including fresh ingredients. But what about our dogs? What is the best dog food to give them?
The science is clear: dogs need a balanced diet, providing all of the necessary nutrients, including protein, carbohydrate, fats, minerals, vitamins and fibre. The challenge is that there’s a huge range of products available in pet shops, at vets, and online. The aim of this article is to offer guidance on how to choose the optimal diet for your canine friend. You can read my full reviews of the current best dog foods further down this feature, followed by a comprehensive guide to dog nutrition. But if you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick look at the top five:
Dogs should be fed appropriately for their stage of life: nutritional needs change as pets grow older. A diet for a puppy is very different to one formulated for a fifteen year old elderly animal.
In theory, it’s possible to prepare home cooked food for your dog, just as you do for yourself, but it’s surprisingly difficult to ensure that this provides all their nutritional needs: studies that analysed internet-derived pet food recipes showed that many were deficient.
The easiest and most cost effective way to meet your dog’s nutritional needs is to use food that has been scientifically formulated to be balanced by a nutritionist employed by a pet food manufacturer. All pet food that is labelled as “complete” is legally obliged to provide all the nutrients that a dog needs.
There are hundreds of different types and brands of dog food on the market: the following recommendations are based on my own experiences as a vet, plus feedback from the many dog owners who I talk to.
£30.99 for 6kg, Pets At Home
Best dry dog food, 10 out of 10
We like: its all-natural and high quality ingredients
Dry dog food – or “kibble” – is the most convenient and cost-effective way to feed dogs. The quality of dry food varies significantly, with cheaper foods tending to have less carefully chosen ingredients, leading to poorer palatability and a less impressive long term impact on the dog. 
Burns is my top pick for dry dog food because of the simplicity and high quality of its ingredients (essentially, chicken and brown rice). Several variants (e.g using duck or lamb as a protein, and oats as a carbohydrate source) are also available.
Skinners is my second choice, again with high quality ingredients and a broad range of nutritionally complete diets to suit a variety of dogs, from hard-working active animals to older dogs that live more sedentary lives. Arden Grange and James Wellbeloved are also highly rated brands, with many dogs thriving on them. But Burns is the one I recommend.
£16.69 for 12x400g, Pets At Home
Best wet dog food, 9/10
We like: wide range of simple flavours
Wet dog food (tins, sachets or aluminium-type trays) tends to be pricier and less convenient than dry food, but it’s more palatable, so it can be a better choice for fussy dogs. There are many choices on the market, but Harringtons is my top one. The range offers a wide choice of wet foods, including chicken, turkey, lamb, beef and salmon, with simple, specific ingredients making up the final product. 
Other options in this group include Burns, with varieties including free range chicken and egg, as well as wild fish and lamb to choose from, Chappie, which is a traditional tinned dog food that has been a favourite of vets for decades, Lily’s Kitchen which offers human-kitchen type formulations such as Sunday Lunch, Cottage Pie and Lamb Hotpot (they also sell vegan dog food) and finally Butternut Box, which is an exceptionally well marketed, high quality wet food that’s sold on a home-delivery subscription basis with the precise ingredients customised for your pet’s needs, based on your answers in an online questionnaire. 
All good options, but Harringtons is my choice – and widely available.
From £14.99 for 1.5kg, Pets At Home
Best puppy food, 8/10
We like: huge range, tailored to specific breeds
Royal Canin is a high quality dry puppy food that has a range of options designed for different breeds, allowing owners to choose a type of food that’s optimised for their particular breed or type of dog from an early age. 
Specially formulated puppy food contains extra protein to support healthy development of body structures as well as optimised levels of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and iron to help build strong bones and teeth.
There’s an extra complication for large and giant breed dogs: they need to grow slowly and steadily rather than too quickly. That’s why special “large breed puppy” diets are recommended, designed to provide all the needs of a large growing pup, but with slightly lower density of nutrients, so that they don’t grow more quickly than is good for them.
Hills and Purina Proplan are two other top end brands that produce specific types of puppy food for different types of dog. But Royal Canin are perhaps best-respected in this area.
From £13.51 per month, Tails.com
Best food for elderly dogs, 9/10
We like: detailed questionnaire identifies your dog’s exact needs
Tails.com is a market leader in home delivered pet food, sold via an online subscription, selling both wet and dry food that is specifically tailored to a dog’s needs, described as a “personal chef” to your dog. Dishes are made from a range of wholefood ingredients including salmon, chicken and root vegetables. 
Many older dogs have specific health issues such as obesity, arthritis or heart disease and a questionnaire is completed online to choose the best Tails formulation for your pet. This can help to individualise your older pet’s nutrition in the optimal way. 
There are many other excellent foods available for older dogs, with favourites including James Wellbeloved Senior dry dog food, which has added Vitamin E to help support a senior dog’s immune system, and the ever-popular Burns Senior range of foods. But I like the way Tails.com tailor the formulation to your elderly pet.
From £14.99 for 1.5kg (dry) or £2.99 for 390g (wet), Yora
Best dog food for allergies, 8/10
We like: insect-based recipe avoids all the common dog allergens
My top hypoallergenic dog food is the insect-based Yora pet food, available as both dry and wet formulations, which has the added advantage of being sustainable and animal-welfare friendly, as no living creatures (other than insects) are used in its manufacture. Dog food made from insect larvae are likely to be highly effective since dogs are unlikely to ever have been exposed to these proteins before, they are highly unlikely to be allergic to them. 
Allergies are common in dogs, causing skin issues (such as itchiness) as well as dietary upsets. The definitive way to diagnose and manage food allergy is to use a specially formulated type of diet known as a hydrolysed product, sold at vet clinics. The protein chains are pre-digested in the factory so that they are so short that they cannot stimulate an allergic immune reaction. These products are pricey, but they can be the best way to make a specific diagnosis of a food allergy. 
At a less extreme level, there are a number of diets that are described as “hypoallergenic”, in that they contain a reduced number of the most common ingredients that are known to stimulate allergic reactions in dogs. The most common allergens are  dairy, beef, chicken, chicken eggs, soy, and wheat gluten, so hypoallergenic foods often avoid these. 
Other hypoallergenic foods I could recommend include Burns’ grain-free Duck and Potato; these proteins are less likely to stimulate an allergic response.
£14.99 for 2kg, Burns Pet
Best small breed dog food, 9/10
We like: smaller biscuits, highly digestible
Small breeds of dogs need smaller sizes of biscuit and many brands include formulations designed with this in mind. Burns include a range specifically designed for small and toy breeds of dog, including variants for puppies and senior dogs of these breeds, so these cover all the bases. The usual high quality of food, with high palatability and acceptance by dogs, is found with these versions as with all of the others in the extensive Burns range.
From £11.99 for 2kg, Pets At Home
Best cheap dog food, 8/10
We like: high quality for the price
There are a number of lines of own-brand type food that can offer surprisingly high quality at lower prices than the well known top brands. Ava, sold uniquely in Pets At Home stores, is my number one option. 
There’s an element of unpredictability when choosing this type of dog food: what suits one dog may not suit another. It’s important to introduce a new food gradually, by mixing with your dog’s original food for a few days, and observing how your pet reacts. Careful observation over six to eight weeks of feeding the new diet may be needed before you can make a clear judgement about whether a new , less expensive food suits your pet. It makes more sense to consider this with adult dogs, rather than puppies or elderly pets whose digestive systems may be more easily upset.
Other supermarket own brands, such as the Aldi range, are also worth considering in this category.
From £12.99 for 2kg, Burns Pets
Best dog food for sensitive stomachs, 8/10
We like: simplified formula is more digestible
Some dog foods are less likely to cause gastrointestinal upsets: they have been specially formulated to produce less irritant reactions as the digestive processes proceed. The sensitive Burns range is a winner in this regard, as the ingredients (chicken and wholegrain maize in this case) are naturally highly digestible. Other products that have been designed for this purpose and have been proven to be popular include Royal Canin Sensitivity Control and Royal Canin Digestive Care. But Burns is my choice for sensitive dogs.
There are no definite rules as to how much a dog should be fed, due to the variation in individual metabolisms between different animals. The best answer is to weigh your pet, and start with the mid-range of the amount recommended for that body weight. You should also pay attention to your pet’s behaviour: if they seem ravenously hungry, looking for more, then you should give them some more. Or if they leave uneaten food in the bowl, give them less the next time. 
A month later, weigh your pet again. If they have gained weight, feed a little less, and if they have lost weight, feed a little more. As long as you are weighing them once a month, you can adjust quantities fed as needed to keep them at their optimal weight.
Puppies need to be fed around four times daily till three months of age, then three times daily till four months of age, then twice daily.
Adult dogs generally do better when they are fed twice daily, rather than just having one larger meal per day.
Dry food on its own is a good answer for most dogs, but wet food tends to have a richer odour, making it more palatable, so if you have a fussy dog, you may prefer to offer them wet food.
Dogs can be masters of manipulating their owners to get what they want. In general, you should put the food in a bowl, present it to your dog, leave them alone with it for 20 minutes, then remove the bowl, even it remains uneaten. Then twelve hours later, do this again. If a dog is fussy at first, usually after a couple of days of this routine, they start to tuck into their food. If you stay beside them after putting the food down, watching them, fretting if they don’t eat and offering something tastier, they are less likely to learn to enjoy a new food.
Standard dry dog food is no better for dogs’ dental care than wet food. There are some special “dental” diets that include ingredients that limit the accumulation of dental tartar in the mouth, as well as having a more abrasive, chewier formulation which does a better job of rubbing plaque away from the surface of the teeth. Alternatively, you can offer your dog a daily dental chew, or you can resort to daily toothbrushing.
Raw meat is an increasingly popular choice for some dog owners, but vets have reservations about this trend for two main reasons. First, raw meat often carries bacteria that can cause disease in immunocompromised humans in the household (such as babies, elderly people or anyone on chemotherapy). And second, care needs to be taken to ensure that a balanced diet is fed: pure meat does not provide enough nutrients. If you do choose this option, look for a supplier who is a member of UK Petfood, (formerly the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association) so that you can be sure that certain standards are adhered to.
In general, it’s safe to give up to 10 per cent of your dog’s daily diet as household scraps, added to their main meal. You should not give more than this, as you risk creating an overall diet that is imbalanced, with an inappropriate mix of nutrients that may not cater to their needs.
A dog on a poor diet tends to pass voluminous droppings more often, while a high quality diet creates smaller, infrequent motions because more of the nutrients are absorbed rather than passing straight through the system. This means that a cheaper diet is not always better value: more of the product is “filler” that passes straight through the animal.
It’s important to note that it takes six to eight weeks for changes from a new diet to be visible in the animal: it takes this long for nutrients to be absorbed, processed and integrated into body cells.
Acquired a new pet? You may want to read Pete Wedderburn’s guides to the best cat food and the best pet insurance next.


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