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Dog lying on the floo -next to a food bowl

The essentials

  • Proper nutrition is key — Regardless of the type of food you choose, it must be complete and balanced nourishment for your dog’s life stage.
  • Breed-specific foods don’t replace therapeutic diets — If your vet recommends a urinary diet, feeding them food made especially for schnauzers might not cut it.
  • Your vet is the best person to help you pick dog food — Balanced food that helps you care for your pet’s individual needs is best decided between you and the vet.

Some pet food brands will have you believe that the absolute best thing to feed your dog is their breed-specific food. They tout specialized formulas designed to give your pup the best nutrition for their breed or size. Just like us, they understand you want to feed your dog the best food for them. Unfortunately, dog food brands rely on this desire to sell more food. Let’s discover more about breed-specific diets and if your dog needs one.

Does the type of dog food really matter?

Pet food manufacturers often prey on pet owner’s desire to feed only the very best food. This leads to many false claims and confusing statements.

The most important thing about the food you feed your dog is whether it contains the necessary vitamins, minerals, and calories to help your dog live a long happy life. You must learn what a complete and balanced diet means for your dog’s individual needs to confidently choose dog food.

How do I pick the right dog food?

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) publishes nutrition guidelines for dogs and cats along with a nutritional assessment you can fill out and take with you to the vet. This form will help you and your vet identify potential problems with your pet’s diet and ensure they’re getting a complete and balanced diet.

It also provides tools such as how to read labels and how to determine which sources to trust when it comes to pet food. One of our favorites is The Savvy Dog Owner’s Guide to Nutrition on the Internet.

Many vets prefer WSAVA guidelines over The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) because they’re created by vet nutritionists rather than a government agency. AAFCO doesn’t approve foods, only the requirements for food trials.

WSAVA-approved dog food brands include Purina ProPlan, Purina Dog Chow, Purina One, Hills: Science Diet, Royal Canin, and Eukanuba. Several of these brands offer breed-specific food. But, that doesn’t mean your dog needs to eat one of them.

You should focus on a complete and balanced diet for your pet’s life stage (puppy, adult, or senior) and individual needs. If your dog has health problems and your veterinarian suggests a particular food, it’s a good idea to follow their recommendation.

What to look for on pet food labels

WSAVA also provides many great resources on selecting pet foods. Understanding ingredients and inclusion can be frustrating and time-consuming. WSAVA guidelines state it’s not just what’s on the label but also about the brand itself. We’ve summarized WSAVA’s guidelines below.

Key factors for choosing a pet food brand:

  • Qualified nutritionist. Ensure the brand has a vet nutritionist with a PhD or Board Certification (ACVN/ECVCN). Check their name, qualifications, and if they are a full-time employee.
  • Experienced diet formulator. The diet should be developed by someone with advanced knowledge in animal nutrition or food science. Look for formulators with MS/PhD degrees or Board Certification in veterinary nutrition.
  • Quality control. The brand should meet AAFCO guidelines and have strict quality control for ingredients and finished products. Quality checks should include nutrient analysis, safety testing, and shelf-life assessments.
  • Research and studies. Prefer brands that conduct or publish nutritional research in peer-reviewed journals, indicating a commitment to animal health.

Important information on pet food labels:

  • Nutrition adequacy statement. Check if the food is labeled as a “complete” diet and suitable for your pet’s life stage. Foods labeled as “short-term,” intermittent,” or “complementary” are not for daily feeding on their own. Verify if it meets AAFCO nutrient profiles for reproduction, growth, or maintenance depending on your pet’s individual needs.
  • Caloric content. Look for calorie information to manage pet weight and prevent overfeeding. If not on the label, request this information from the manufacturer.
  • Contact information. Ensure there is a phone number or email for customer support to ask about nutrient details.
  • Manufacturer details. Identify if the food is made by the brand itself or a third party. Be cautious of brands that do not provide this information.

👉 Still not sure about choosing dog food? Check out the betterpet library on dog food + nutrition!

Close up of dog food kibble

Exceptions to the breed-specific rule

Some breed-specific diets could indeed help with health concerns, but feeding other food won’t necessarily harm them. Certain dog breeds are more prone to health issues.

  • Miniature schnauzers often suffer from pancreatitis and may need a low-fat diet.
  • Breeds like Labrador retrievers and rottweilers may have joint problems like hip dysplasia and benefit from food that includes joint support.
  • Large-breed dogs can benefit from food formulated for them because it has fewer calories and fat. These dogs generally have a slower metabolism.
  • The opposite is largely true for small breeds.
  • Grain-free foods might help a dog with food allergies, but they can cause more harm than good. Not to mention, most food allergies in dogs are to protein rather than grains.

So, some exceptions to the rule exist. But the most important factor in choosing dog food is your dog’s specific, individual needs. It’s best to consult your vet about your pet’s food and follow their recommendations to provide a complete and balanced diet.

The bottom line on breed-specific dog food

Breed-specific dog food can benefit dogs with certain health concerns, but it’s primarily an advertising gimmick designed to convince pet owner’s the food is better for their pet. Following WSAVA’s guidelines and talking to your vet about your dog’s specific needs is the best way to pick dog food.

If you want further guidance after talking with your vet, consider consulting with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.

Frequently asked questions

Does the type of dog food really matter?

Yes and no. The dog food you choose should be complete, balanced, and selected for your dog’s individual nutritional needs.

How do I select the right dog food for my dog’s specific breed and age?

The best way is to ask your vet. They’re trained to help you make food choices and feed your dog according to their specific requirements.

Does large-breed dog food make a difference?

Large-breed dog food can make a difference because it’s usually lower in calories and fat. Since large breed dogs tend to have a slower metabolism, they’re prone to obesity. Selecting a large breed dog food can help.

What dog food is best for breeding dogs?

Breeding dogs, especially pregnant and nursing mothers, require a complete and balanced diet, too. Many vets recommend feeding mothers puppy food because it has more protein, calcium, and fat than adult diets. These ingredients help them produce milk and maintain their weight. Some vets may also recommend a “sport” diet such as Purina Pro Plan Sport, which also has increased protein and fat.

What happens if you feed a small dog large breed dog food?

While it’s unlikely to hurt your dog, they may not get the calories they need to support their high metabolism. In the long run, this could lead to inappropriate weight loss and unbalanced nutrition.