Introduction

There is a wide variety of wet dog food brands on the market today. You can buy wet dog food in a pet store, grocery store, or online, and you can even get subscriptions so you don’t have to remember to order it every month. But if you’re looking for a new brand of wet food, how do you go about choosing between all the different options? The good news is that there are a few easy things to look out for when trying to select a wet food for your dog. 

What Is Wet Dog Food?

“Wet” dog foods are those in tins, sachets, or trays, and can usually be found in pet stores and grocery stores, as well as online. In contrast to dry food (also called kibble or biscuits), wet food has a high moisture content, which gives it a stronger odor and a different flavor that some dogs may find more appealing. It also comes in a variety of different textures, including loaf, pate, or chunks in jelly or gravy. 

Wet food is made by sealing a selection of ingredients inside a container and then heating them up. This heating process cooks the food and also sterilizes the contents to stop them from spoiling. This means that these foods have a long shelf life. 

We must not confuse wet dog food with “fresh” dog food, which is usually cooked separately and then vacuum-sealed inside the container. This means that it needs to be kept refrigerated or frozen to stop it from spoiling. 

Is Wet Dog Food Better for Dogs?

While research has not yet been conducted to suggest that wet dog food is better (or worse) for healthy dogs than other options such as dry or fresh food, there are some situations where a high moisture content can be helpful. For example, dogs with certain health conditions (such as kidney or bladder diseases) may benefit from eating wet food since it would increase their water intake. Your veterinarian can advise you on whether your dog would benefit from this.

How to Choose a Healthy Wet Dog Food

You should be able to find all the information you need on the wet dog food’s label, or the food manufacturer’s website. Keep in mind, though, that a lot of what you will see when you look in those places is advertising, not science. Here’s what matters most:

A Balanced Diet

The first and most important thing to check when choosing a wet dog food is that it will provide your dog with all the nutrients he or she needs to live healthily and happily. Thankfully, the information that you need should all be on the label.

AAFCO standards

The sale of pet food in the U.S. and Canada is regulated by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). They have set out three different ways by which a manufacturer can prove that a particular food provides a balanced diet:

  • Formulate it to meet the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles
  • Put it through an animal feeding test
  • Formulate it to be the same as another diet that has been through a feeding test

The label on a tin or sachet of food should tell you which of these standards that diet will meet. Always choose a diet that meets these standards!

Watch out for foods that are “intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.” These are not balanced diets, and should not be fed as your dog’s main food. It is fine to give them a little of these kinds of diets (as a topper for dry food, for example), but it should only make up a maximum of 10% of their diet, by weight. 

Right for Their Age

Dogs at different stages of life have different nutritional needs. After all, a bouncing puppy and a sedate senior dog are rather different creatures!

AAFCO has four different designations of life stage, and again, foods should say on the label for which stage they are designed. The four stages are the following: 

  • All Life Stages
  • Growth (puppies)
  • Maintenance (adult dogs)
  • Gestation/Lactation (pregnant or nursing dogs)

Diets that are suitable for All Life Stages or Growth should also say whether they can be fed to puppies who will be over 70 pounds as adults. These puppies have slightly different nutritional needs, and it’s important for their lifelong health that they are fed the right diet when growing. 

Age-Specific Foods

Some manufacturers may also advertise foods that are specifically designed for narrower age ranges, for example, tailored diets for seniors, young adults, or middle-aged dogs. These can come with age-specific benefits (for example, added antioxidants for brain health in senior dogs), so choosing a diet like this may be better than a one-size-fits-all version.  

Avoid choosing a diet that is not designed for your dog’s life stage, unless it has been specifically recommended by your veterinarian. A diet designed for dogs of a different age may be unbalanced for your dog. 

Formulated by Experts

The process of designing and formulating a balanced pet food is complicated. Although the AAFCO guidelines offer manufacturers a basis for this, there can be nuances in how easily dogs can digest different nutrients depending on how the food is put together. This is why the World Small Animal Veterinary Association now recommends that this kind of work should be done by specialists—either veterinarians who are board-certified in nutrition or scientists with a doctorate in Animal Nutrition. 

Your veterinarian can advise on choosing a suitable diet based on your dog’s life stage and any health conditions they may have. However, they are not taught to create these diets from scratch as part of their training. 

You should be able to find out whether a company employs these kinds of specialists from their website. 

Nothing Too Exotic

There is a recent trend toward using exotic ingredients in pet food. By this, we mean ingredients (meats, grains, or vegetables) that are not commonly used. We need to be cautious with this simply because there is less detailed nutritional information available on these ingredients. There are some circumstances where we do have to choose more exotic ingredients, usually for dogs with food allergies. This should be done in consultation with your veterinarian. 

Should I Go Grain-Free?

Some wet foods are advertised as “grain-free,” but there is no scientific evidence to say that this is beneficial for our dogs. Indeed, dogs’ digestive systems have adapted well since they have been domesticated and can now happily digest all kinds of grains. These are a good source of fiber and contain various useful vitamins and minerals, so they can be fed as part of a healthy balanced diet. 

Allergies to grains are possible (the most common would be a wheat allergy), but dogs with food allergies often need specialized diets, rather than those you can find in the pet store. You should speak to your veterinarian for personalized advice about food allergies. 

Should I Choose Organic?

Several brands of pet food advertise that they are organic, and you may prefer to choose one of these. However, there is currently no conclusive evidence that organic diets are any better for our pets than regular diets. 

Should I Choose Human-Grade?

Many premium pet foods now advertise their ingredients as “human-grade.” Ingredients that are suitable for humans to eat do not necessarily have a higher nutritional value than normal ingredients, and little research has been done to prove additional health benefits to feeding this type of diet. 

Conclusion

Choosing a new food can be stressful, but following these guidelines should ensure that your dog gets a safe wet food suitable for him or her. Always choose a diet that is complete and balanced, that has been formulated by experts, and that is right for your dog’s age. And don’t forget that your dog may have opinions about flavor and texture, too, so be sure to get their seal of approval before you go out and buy in bulk!

As always, consult your veterinarian for personalized recommendations for your dog.