What Is Dry Dog Food?

Dry dog food is typically classified as any commercial dog food with low water content (under 14%). Most dry food is extruded, which means ingredients are mixed together and cooked at a high temperature and pressure. The final product is a bite-sized kibble which is easy to store and measure out for meals. Extruded dog diets were first made in the 1950s and are one of the most popular types of commercial dog foods produced today.

You can learn more about how extruded dry kibble is made here.

Is It OK for My Dog to Eat Only Dry Food?

Most extruded dry dog foods are intended to be fed on their own. If the label states that the food is complete and balanced, no more than 10% of your adult dog’s daily calories should be coming from other sources. Of course, every dog is different so there may be a medical reason for which your dog would not be suited to a diet of only dry kibble. Your veterinarian can confirm if a dry-only diet is right for your pup.

How to Choose a Healthy Dry Dog Food

The diet should be formulated to be complete and balanced for your dog’s life stage—either growing, pregnancy, or adult. There are diets that have been formulated for all life stages, however, these diets may not match your dog’s specific nutrient needs as closely.

On the package label, you should find a nutritional adequacy statement that confirms that a diet is complete and balanced for a specific life-stage.

Ingredients

The ingredients will always be listed on the label in descending order of weight. If a diet is complete and balanced, the ingredients will be selected to ensure that your dog gets all essential nutrients in the right amounts.

Labeling Statements

Free-from claims 

Food manufacturers like to highlight ingredients that their product does not contain. Research has shown that these “free-from” label claims can make us think that what is in the package is automatically healthier. This may not necessarily be true for your dog. The following are some common “free-from” you may see on dry food labels.

Grain-free

Research has shown that dogs are capable of digesting the cooked grains that are found in extruded kibble. Grains are a good source of simple carbohydrates, which provide energy, and fiber, which feeds the healthy bugs in the gut.

Gluten-free

A true gluten intolerance is rare in dogs. The Irish Setter and Border Terrier breeds may have a genetic predisposition for gluten sensitivity. Your veterinarian will be able to help you decide if a gluten-free diet is right for your dog.

No soy

Soy is a protein-filled ingredient that has a good balance of amino acids. Research has shown that soy ingredients are digestible and a nutritious addition to a balanced extruded food.

No fillers

The word “filler” on a pet food label is not defined. What it usually refers to is a carbohydrate-filled ingredient such as corn or beet pulp. Carbohydrate-rich ingredients, in the right proportions,  are a key part of a balanced diet. They can provide a great source of digestible nutrients. Even low-digestibility fiber will benefit gut health as a good addition to a balanced diet.

No animal by-products

Animal by-products are a great source protein from products that would normally be diverted to waste. These products are very nutritious cuts of healthy animals in the food chain which people are not accustomed to eating (liver, for example).

Organic claims

When it comes to extruded dog diets, the term “organic” means that the food must meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP). For the USDA organic seal to be displayed on the package, the contents must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. Foods that contain more than 70% organic ingredients can be labeled as “made with organic ingredients” but will not display the USDA seal. There have been no documented health benefits associated with organic extruded dog foods versus non-organic foods.

Human-grade

The term “human-grade” does not have an official definition. When manufacturers use this term on the label, they are usually following their own set of general guidelines to make this claim. You’ll have to contact them directly to find out more about what standards they use for their human-grade products. 

Superfood ingredients

Any ingredient that has special health-giving properties can be considered a superfood. You might find superfood ingredients highlighted on the front package of a dog food. Oftentimes, they will be included only in very small amounts that may not be enough to actually benefit your dog. If a label does mention a superfood, check the nutritional breakdown to confirm which healthful compounds are actually in the bag. For example, some diets with omega-3-rich fish oil will state how much omega-3 fatty acid will be each bite.

Indicators of a Good Quality Food

It can be difficult to determine the quality of a dog food by only looking at the label. Do your research and contact the manufacturer with questions. The following are some helpful questions to ask when determining if a particular food is right for your dog:

  • Who formulates your foods and what are their credentials?
  • What specific quality control measures do you use to assure the consistency and quality of your ingredients and end product?
  • What research has been done to support the nutritional claims on your products?

Conclusion

With the many extruded dry dog food options available, there are likely to be more than one that’s suitable for your dog. The above points can help you get started on your search, but your veterinarian can always give you the best, personalized advice for your dog.