Why is choosing the best commercial dog food so important?

According to Sciencemag Dog life expectancy has doubled in the last 4 decades, and the primary reasons are better healthcare and a better diet. So in addition to knowing how to deal with an overweight dog (5 tips for an overweight dog and dog weight loss), picking the right dog food is very important as it can not only extend the length of your dog’s life but also improve the quality of it.

Unfortunately we cannot simply tell you which commercial dog food your dog should eat. IT depends on the dog (here’s our blog on FCI Breed Standards and PAWSM Dog Diet and Nutrition APP) and their needs, local dog food brand availability, local producers of the said brand, legislation in your part of the world,…

What we can provide you is some knowledge to make the evaluation of what is the best commercial dog food that is available to you in your locale. This will be a two part blog and  this first blog will answer the question of what is in a certain commercial dog food and what the listed terms mean. The second blog deals with how much of what should be in the dog food.

After you’ve chosen the best commercial dog food for your dog, PAWSM diet and nutrition app can tell you exactly how much of this food your dog can eat at any given time.

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What are the types of commercial dog foods?

Wet food:

This is the least energy filled of all commercial dog foods due to high water content; that means the dog can eat a lot of it. This type of food is a good choice for (older) dogs with no teeth. 

  • Typically sold in cans
  • 75-80% water
  • 8-15% protein
  • 1-15% fat

Dry food:

Nutritionally packed commercial dog food and due to the way it is produced, packaged and stored, it tends to be the most cost efficient of dog food types.

  • Typically sold in bags
  • ~10% moisture
  • 18-40% protein
  • 1-15% fat

Soft/moist food:

The type in between dry and wet dog food; good for travelling, but can be filled with sugar and salt so use in moderation is advised. 

  • Typically sold in single serving pouches
  • ~30% water
  • 18-40% protein
  • 7-22% fat


Dog treats are very varied and can serve different purposes; as such it is hard to give average values to them.

Understanding nutrition label guides

If you want to pick the best commercial dog food, you need to understand that there is a lot to unpack when it comes to commercial dog food declarations. For the time being we’ll focus on the nutrition labels in the EU and USA. In both entities there are standards of what needs to be listed on labels. 

That being said, within the EU there is the legal framework pertaining to commercial dog foods contents and then there are the labeling issues which can be specific to a country or a group of countries – thus only certain parts of the terminology is “set in stone”.

EU and USA typical nutritional label contains:

  • Display panel
    • Product identity
    • Target species
    • Net weight
    • “Percentage rule”
  • Information panel
    • Ingredient statement
    • Guaranteed analysis
    • Nutritional claim / nutritional adequacy statement
    • Feeding guidelines
    • Statement of calorie content
    • Name and address (Manufacturer / distributor name)
    • Statement of calorie content
    • Batch code

There can be differences in how the two entities list and name certain things, so let us dive into it… 

Display panel

Product name

Lists  the name of the product and the name of the brand.

Target species

Lists for whom the food is intended for. Fun fact; legally in the EU all meat used in commercial dog food has to be manufactured out of category 3 meats – meats appropriate for human consumption. That being said, only cuts not typically used by humans or excess meats may be used.

Net weight

We have nothing to add here 🙂

Percentage rule

There are certain “trigger” words in the food name which can quickly tell us how much of what is in a certain food. 

In the USA, if the commercial dog food name contains the word:

  • Chicken flavor dog food (contains between 0 and 3% chicken)
  • Dog food with chicken (contains at least 3% chicken)
  • Chicken platter/lunch/… for dogs (contains 25% – 95% chicken)
  • Chicken for dogs (contains 95% of chicken or more)

In the EU situation is slightly different:

  • With chicken flavor / chicken flavor (more than 0 and less than 4% of chicken)
  • With chicken / contains chicken (at least 4% chicken)

High in chicken / extra chicken / with extra chicken (at least 14% chicken)

Information panel

Ingredient statement

Ingredients lists describe raw materials used and the amounts in which they are present in the commercial dog food. There are large differences between the USA and EU way of presenting things. In the EU additives fall under their own category. They tend to be grouped in five types: vitamins, copper, preserves, antioxidants, coloring agents. In the USA trace elements and vitamins are considered ingredients and are listed in the ingredients statement.

Nutritional claim / nutritional adequacy statement

This explains which and whose needs a certain commercial dog food fulfills. 

The standardized EU terms are:

  • Complete and balanced / 100 % nutritious (complete and balanced nutrition)
  • Complementary (helps with a certain part of a diet, but does not contain everything and needs to be used in combinations)

Sometimes (or in the case of the USA always, with commercial dog foods other than treats, snacks and supplements) the food label also explains which stage of life the food is made for:

  • Growth
  • Gestation/lactation
  • All life stages
  • Maintenance

In the USA all complete and balanced commercial dog foods must contain quantitative feeding instructions.

Guaranteed (typical) analysis

Guaranteed analysis contains information on nutritional contents and amounts. It is the most important part of the label when dealing with commercial dog food plans. While there is some variation in which information is listed the analysis typically states the amount of: crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture.

Again there is a difference between the USA and EU… In the EU the analysis is based on the typical analysis (what it contains on average), while in the USA commercial dog food declarations declare minimum and maximum guarantees.

Feeding guidelines

Feeding guidelines state the amount of feed to be provided based on the given body weight of the dog and the frequency of feeding.

Statement of calorie content

Lists the energy values of food and is expressed as kilocalories per kilogram (kcal/kg).

Name and address (Manufacturer / distributor name)

Name and address of manufacturer, importer, or distributor. If the food is imported it also lists the country of origin.

Batch code

Ensures traceability of the food. This category also lists the date of manufacture.

A more in depth analysis of the labels can be found on wikivet.

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Commercial Dog food Meat Terminology (on the origins of meats)

This part can be offensive to some sensibilities, so feel free to skip it if you’re squeamish…

Basically in the USA, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) has a list of terms for identifying ingredients that can be used in commercial dog food. This is an excerpt of their list of terms that they have listed on their website. Similar terminology is also used in the EU.

These terms are not necessarily a verdict on the quality of ingredients, but they do explain the origins of meats and what parts of meats are used.

AAFCO defined terms for meats

We’ll just quote this disclaimer part from the AAFCO website

“The following descriptions are the AAFCO ingredient definitions as they occur in the official publication. Guarantors cannot modify the name; and the ingredient must comply with the ingredient definition.

The first four ingredients below are all raw products. These ingredients are cooked in the process of manufacturing pet food to destroy any harmful bacteria, just as food is cooked for human food.”

Sidenote for all meats; all parts must be suitable for animal food.


the muscle tissue of the animal, but may include the fat, gristle and other tissues normally accompanying the muscle. May include parts of the animal that are less appealing for human consumption. It is often mechanically separated from the bone and ground into a paste-like consistency. Does not contain bones.

If simply the generic term meat is used, it can only be sourced from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats. If it comes from any other mammal the specific species must be listed. If it comes from a non-mammalian species it cannot be declared as meat, but must use the appropriate identifying terms.

Meat by-product

Non-rendered, clean parts (stomachs and intestines freed of their content) other than meat from slaughtered mammals. It includes most parts of the animal such as internal organs and bones (yes, bones). Does NOT include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. Unless the by-products are derived from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats, the species must be identified.


Clean combination of poultry flesh and skin (with or without bones), excluding feathers, heads, feet and entrails. Unlike meat it may include bone; if the bones are removed it can may be declared as deboned poultry. Depending on the species the more common name chicken or turkey may be used.

Poultry by-product

Non-rendered clean poultry sourced parts such as heads, feed, viscera. Must be free from fecal content and foreign matter (other than trace amounts which mightoccur unavoidably in good factory practice” – quoting AAFCO here).

AAFCO defined rendered product terms

The following are rendered products (material are subject to heat and pressure, removing most water and fat leaving mostly protein and minerals).

Meat Meal

Is the rendered product from mammal tissues (excluding blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents). May include tissues from mammals other than cattle, pigs, sheep or goats without further description. Manufacturers may designate a species if they so choose, but are not obligated to do so.

Meat and Bone Meal

Same as above, but may include bone. Similar naming rules as for Meat Meal, but can include bone in the “recipe”.

Animal By-Product Meal

Same as above, but includes by-products in excess of what could normally be found in “meat meal” and “meat and bone meal”.

Poultry meal

Dry rendered product derived from clean flesh and skin of the birds (excluding feathers, heads, feet and entrails) – with or without bones. Similar to poultry, but in rendered form.

Poultry By-Product Meal

Ground rendered clean parts such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines (excluding feathers). Similar to poultry by-product but in rendered form.

Other, legally non-defined terms

These terms appear on certain labels, but are not necessarily legally defined everywhere  and are thus sometimes dependent on the manufacturer.


Usually implies no preservatives, colouring, flavoring, antibiotics, growth hormones or filler.


Refers to the way animals / plants were grown, rather than the food not having additives.

New Protein

Contain “exotic” animals – such as bison or kangaroo… or insects (some places allow for use of non-mammal sourced parts for food).

Human-grade food

May theoretically be consumed by humans without harm, though the enforcement of the standards/law varies by country.

Bone appetit everyone.


If you just read the terms above you probably realize there is a lot that manufacturers may put into commercial dog food; probably more than they should. However it is also true that dogs don’t necessarily share our food sensibilities. That being said as a dog owner you have a responsibility to make sure your dog eats food that is appropriate for them.

Of course, making there is also the option of homemade dog food; or occasionally treating them with fruit, but more on that in our Awesome Homemade Dog Food Preparation and Recipe, and Dogs and Fruit blog posts.

This was part one of the series, giving you the knowledge to read the dog food labels and understand their contents. In the next blog we’ll go over what needs to be in commercial dog food, because not all commercial dog foods are made the same. Some “complete and balanced” commercial dog foods are neither “complete” or “balanced”, but merely fit the minimal legal rather than nutritional criteria.

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Top 5 Manufacturers and Top 5 Commercial Dog Foods Used by PAWSM Dog Diet and Nutrition App Users

Top 5 manufacturers used pa PAWSM users

  1. Royal Canin
  2. Pedigree
  3. Purina One
  4. Hills Prescription Diet
  5. Taste of the Wild

Top 5 commercial dog foods used by PAWSM users

  1. Purina ONE® SmartBlend® Lamb & Rice Formula Natural Adult Dog Food
  2. Hill’s® Prescription Diet® r/d® Canine
  3. Purina Mighty Dog Thick-Sliced Chicken Dinner Wet Dog Food
  4. Baby BLUE™ PUPPY Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe
  5. Beneful Healthy Puppy Dry Dog Food with Real Chicken

Of course as user base from around the world grows, we might start seeing changes in these rankings and we’ll keep you up to date.

Remember, use PAWSM be awesome!

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