This infographic scale is from our resource guide, How to Make Healthy Food Choices For Your Dog, a 40-page document that we researched, wrote and keep updated about how to make healthy food choices for your dog.
The best foods choices to feed your dog are ordered according to this infographic.
However, this list is only as good as the ingredients used. For example, if you purchase canned dog food with corn or soy in it, but purchase a dry dog food product with neither, then the dry dog food might be a better choice.
Homemade raw is the best diet for our dogs, but only if you are careful to give them the appropriate percentages of ingredients and supplements so that they eat balanced meals. Dogs that are sick or with compromised health may do better with cooked food.
Irradiation is a process whereby food is subjected to ionizing radiation to attack bacteria by breaking chemical bonds in molecules that are vital for cell growth. It does not result in radioactive food, but it does increase the free radicals and has shown to reduce nutritional values of food in the same way that cooking does.
HPP is a process whereby food is subjected to intense pressure, which kills pathogens. But HPP also breaks apart protein just like cooking, so in our opinion, based on the information we have seen about HPP, we don’t think there is much difference between food treated with HPP and cooked food.
You will have to contact manufacturers to find out if they use HPP. Some provide that information on their website, but many don’t.
If they do not use HPP, you should ask what they use to control pathogens. By law, dog food manufacturers are required to produce product free of pathogens, unlike human food. They are doing something to control pathogens, so you should ask and find out to be sure you are comfortable with their process.
Another process that at least one manufacturer we know of uses is electrolyzed water, a relatively new process in the U.S. that uses a special water whose chemical composition has been changed through the use of electricity. The ingredients are soaked in this water to eliminate pathogens. This seems like a viable solution to us, but we have not seen studies comparing electrolyzed food to raw food, so we are not 100% sure.
But raw meats, especially chicken, may naturally contain the salmonella pathogen. And that is normally not a problem for humans because we cook our meat, and it is also normally not a problem for healthy dogs because they can digest salmonella. So if you purchase raw dog food with chicken, then it has to be processed somehow to remove the salmonella, which means that whatever process the company uses, the end product is not as healthy. You need to find out what that company is doing.
It is not recommended to feed kibble with raw in the same meal because raw digests faster than kibble. The end result will be kibble in the digestive track that is fermenting and could be causing gas. Try feeding kibble in one meal and raw in another.
Freeze dried food is very convenient, but it’s shelf-stability may be far less than indicated by best-use-by dates on packaging. Studies show that fats can oxidize quickly, even if there are preservatives in the product. It requires a great deal of energy to produce, which increases costs and carbon footprint. But as solar energy becomes more widespread, those costs will go down and the carbon footprint will be much less.
While freeze dried weighs a lot less to transport, with reduced shipping costs, if you buy locally produced dog food from small retailers, there really is not much, if any savings on logistics costs. Sure, if you are shipping freeze dried halfway across the country, then there are some savings in logistics costs, but does it outweigh the energy cost to produce? We don’t know. Regardless, just try to buy from local or regional dog food companies to reduce the carbon footprint to get food to you.
Dry kibble is the predominant way people feed their dogs and is among the worst choices. Please see Why dry kibble is bad for dogs.
The term digestibility coefficient refers to the percentage of a dog food that the dog absorbs into his or her body during the process of digestion.
As a rule of thumb, dry dog foods with digestibility value of 75% or less will be of very poor quality, those with values between 75 and 82 percent are classified as moderate in quality, and foods with digestibility values that are higher than 82% are of high quality.
Dog food companies are not required to obtain or report digestibility and may not disclose it even if asked. But you should ask anyway and if you do feed dry dog foods, try to feed ones with higher digestibility ratings.