How to Pick the Best Food for Your Dog

Do you grab a big bag of pet food from your local supermarket without looking at the label? Or are you overwhelmed by the seemingly countless number of ingredients you can’t even begin to pronounce or recognize?

Picking the best food for your dog can be a challenge. Some subtle—and not so subtle— ingredients in your dog’s food could be depriving him of proper nutrition or even be making him sick. We talked to holistic veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney to break down the hidden dangers lurking in pet food and lay out some simple steps to improve your furry friend’s diet.

Quality over quantity

You would never give your dog low-quality junk food that could cause cancer, but sadly many pet parents are unknowingly doing just that. Many popular commercial foods are filled with ingredients dogs have difficulty digesting—like corn, beef, soy, and wheat—or even known carcinogens.

The most important thing owners need to think about is the quality of the ingredients that go into their pet’s mouth every day,” Dr. Mahaney explains. “Most commercially available pet foods are made with feed-grade ingredients—those are the ingredients that have been deemed unfit for human consumption.”


What’s wrong with feed-grade ingredients?

There’s a higher allowable level of toxins, which then penetrate the food.

“Especially mold-based toxins that commonly grow on grains,” Dr. Mahaney adds. “These cause long-term problems like kidney disease, liver disease, and digestive problems.”

Feed-grade ingredients include:

  • By-products
  • Non-specified meat meal
  • So-called 4-D meat.

By-products can quite literally be anything—think feet, intestines, neck—and their quality cannot be guaranteed. Non-specified meat meal is defined as “the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach, and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.” And 4-D meat speaks for itself—dead, dying, disabled, diseased.

There’s a different level of quality that results [from these ingredients],” Dr. Mahaney adds. “Your pet shouldn’t be eating pesticides and plastic—look at these ingredients and scrutinize them.”


Cancer in a bag or can?

Artificial preservatives are another hidden danger in many commercial dog foods and treats. Some of the most inexpensive and highly-marketed brands on store shelves could be slowly killing your dog.

The two biggest offenders are BHA and BHT—common preservatives used to keep animal fat fresh.

Especially those moist and meaty dog treats that look like fake bacon or fake sausage,” Dr. Mahaney adds. “Those chemicals are known carcinogens that cause reproductive toxicity in people, yet we are liberally feeding them to our animals and wondering why 50% of our animals develop cancer.”

Ethoxyquin is another suspected carcinogen commonly added to fish-based pet foods, but is banned for use in human food.  Preservatives like TBHQ and propyl gullate should also be avoided.

Food vs. Feed 

Human food production and packaging is governed solely by the FDA, but when it comes to pet food—sometimes called feed—the FDA takes some direction from an independent non-profit group called AAFCO, who makes determinations on things like nutrient and labeling standards.

The bulk of processed pet food is made up of feed-grade ingredients—in fact, special approval from the FDA is needed to legally use “human grade ingredients” on pet-food packaging.

The Honest Kitchen was the first pet-food company to obtain the FDA approval for human-grade quality.

“We’ve gone through an approval process with the FDA where they’ve literally scrutinized every single one of our ingredients, our packaging, and our processing,” The Honest Kitchen Founder Lucy Postins says. “Being human grade is a line in the sand for us—it’s a way we demonstrate the quality and the integrity of our finished product.”

Dr. Mahaney is a huge advocate of the company’s products and recommends them to his clients.

“The Honest Kitchen has taken not only human-grade ingredients but they prepare them in an FDA approved and inspected human-production facility, so it’s human grade all along the way,” Dr. Mahaney explains. “It’s probably as close as you can get to making your own home-prepared diet, but it’s no harder than opening a can or opening a bag.”

Preparing The Honest Kitchen is so easy—just add warm water, let it sit to moisten and thicken, and serve! Dr. Mahaney praises THK for being more natural than processed food. “It has whole-food based vitamins and minerals that come from fruits and veggies, which are absorbed better than synthetic materials.”

The bottom line

All pet food is not created equal. Read those ingredient labels and do a little digging on exactly what you’re feeding your furry friend to avoid the cheap, low-quality ingredients that could be making your dog sick. At the very least, avoid some of the most common offenders.

Consider spending a little more on your pet’s food today so he can life a longer, healthier life.

“I always say your pet can survive but not thrive on commercially-processed food, so go the natural route,” Dr. Mahaney says. “If you can commit to doing that, you can make your pet healthier on a life-long basis, therefore spend less on vet bills and give your pet a better overall quality of life.”

For a comprehensive list of quality foods on the market, and an explanation why popular supermarket brands don’t fit the bill, check out’s thorough report.


  1. […] along the lines of nutrient deficiency, some dog food is pretty close to the quality of poop. Low-quality supermarket dog foods are full of hard-to-digest ingredients and cheap fillers, and these foods may not contain the nutrients your dog […]

  2. What is a good dry kibble. My Chinese crested powderpuff is a really picky eater. I fuit eating that so now I feed her Rachael Ray. (Hey. If it’s good enough for Racheal. It’s good enough for me right?). That being said and not dissing the brands that I’ve listed. What would be a good kibble to leave out for her to eat. 2nd question. I make her treats in the oven with just plain ole liver frozen section at Walmart. She loves her “puppycrak”. Since it contains iron and you know her weight. How much would you recommend

    • The right food for you really depends on a number of factors, including your dog and your budget. This site did extensive research and has some VERY, VERY high quality standards in selecting the brands they recommend, which can be found towards the bottom of this page:
      I would read through that entire page though to get an idea of how they came to those conclusions.

      I would also ask your veterinarian about the quantity of treats you should give. You want to have the correct calorie count to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Also keep the amount of exercise your dog gets in mind when talking to your vet about serving/portion sizes.

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