Dog Food Ingredients & Nutrition

Last Updated 

Subscribing to dog food delivery can certainly be convenient—it’s automatically shipped to your door, so you never have to worry about running out, and many options are pre-portioned so you don’t have to worry about measuring. But many of these brands also claim that their food is healthier for your dog than the traditional pet grub you’d grab at the pet or grocery store. Here’s the skinny on the nutrition and ingredients you’ll find in subscription dog food:

Dog food

Nutritional Standards

Every dog food delivery brand—and most pet food brands you find in the store—meet the pet food nutritional standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO. Here’s a short selection of the AAFCO’s standards; you can read more details about these standards on the AAFCO website:

Dog Food Nutrition Facts

Nutrient Required amount for “Growth and Reproduction” Minimum amount for “Adult Maintenance”
Crude Protein 22.5% of total food 18% of total food
Crude Fat 8.5% of total food 5.5% of total food
Vitamin A 5000 IU per kilogram of food 5000 IU per kilogram of food
Vitamin D 500 IU per kilogram of food 500 IU per kilogram of food
Vitamin E 50 IU per kilogram of food 50 IU per kilogram of food
Vitamin B12 0.028 mg per kilogram of food 0.028 mg per kilogram of food

Vegetables in Dog Food

Almost every dog food delivery brand includes vegetables in its recipes—either as whole chunks of vegetables that you can see in “fresh” or raw meals, as part of the air-dried mix for kibble, or mixed in with meat in their wet or dry foods. If dogs are carnivores, what’s with all the green stuff? Is it just filler, or does it help your dog’s health?

Science says it helps: According to studies, when dogs eat vegetables three times per week or more, their risk of cancer is greatly reduced.

Grain-Free Dog Food: What You Need to Know

“Grain-free” is one of the hottest terms in pet foods. And it makes sense! If we believe our dogs are descended from wolves, well, wolves don’t eat corn on the cob. 

But our dogs aren’t wolves, and just like they can eat vegetables, they can also digest grains. For some dogs, in fact, going grain-free can be dangerous: The FDA has investigated some grain-free dog foods as being connected to  a specific type of canine heart failure. These foods lacked a key amino acid called taurine.

That doesn’t mean all grain-free foods are bad! Most subscription pet foods are grain-free, but the best grain free dog food is fortified with taurine. Others have some grains, but they aren’t hiding them—they usually have “brown rice” or “ancient grains” right in their names.

If you’re worried about feeding your dog food with grains—or food without it—talk to your vet.

Dog Food with Fish Oil (and Other Oils)

Besides vegetables and meat, most home delivery dog food brands include another ingredient—oil, either fish oil or castor oil or another type. Why? The same reason fish oil is supplemented in humans: Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help dogs with their coat and skin quality, allergies and heart health. Dogs can’t make these fatty acids on their own, so they’re included in these high-end foods. 

Why Brands Keep Talking About Poop

When you check out the websites or read reviews for home delivery dog foods, you’ll see a lot of talk about poop—specifically about dogs pooping less. 

That doesn’t mean the food is making dogs constipated! Instead, the brands are showing that more of their food is digested … instead of being pushed out as waste. Some of the brands have specific studies about their foods that have been conducted by independent researchers, and they focus on poop. Nom Nom dog food, for example, conducted a study that showed that dogs digested 90 to 95 percent of the calories in their food, compared to just 85 percent for a “nutritionally similar” kibble. Less poop may mean a healthier dog—and less picking up poop for you.

Foods for Dogs with Medical Issues

Most delivery dog foods start you off with a quiz on their website: By filling in some information about your dog’s age, weight, breed and activity level, the brand will recommend one or more of their foods that your dog might like, as well as a plan for how much they should eat. Some of these quizzes also include questions about allergies or certain medical conditions—like skin conditions, heart problems, kidney disease, etc.—to guide you to foods that have been designed by vets to work with those conditions. Many brands, for example, offer dog food for joint health.

If your vet says there are certain ingredients your dog shouldn’t have for their condition, it’s easy to find out whether those ingredients are in one of these foods—the ingredients lists are easy to find on the brand websites, and are easy to understand. 

Some brands also have foods specifically for use with a prescription from your veterinarian. These foods are made specifically for dogs who need renal support, hepatic support, metabolic support, joint & skin support, and more.

Even if you aren’t looking for a prescription food, but want to find the best food for your dog’s particular health issue—the best food for joint support, kidney disease, heart disease or any other condition—talk to your vet about the options and ingredients offered by dog food delivery services.

Foods for Dogs with Allergies

Dog food delivery services are a great option for owners of dogs with allergies. Why? The ingredients lists are clear and easy to read: When a “fresh” meal says it’s a turkey meal, for instance, you can be pretty sure the only meat inside is turkey. But you can be double-sure by checking the full list of ingredients for that recipe on the company website—each company lists the full ingredients for each recipe on its flavor page.

Some companies even include questions about your dog’s allergies in their initial food recommendation quiz. Ollie, Nom Nom and JustFoodForDogs all ask about your dog’s potential allergies to certain proteins, so you can find a meal option from their offerings that fits your pooch’s needs. 

If you’re still not sure if a food is safe for your dog, take the full list of ingredients to your vet.

Dog Food Safety: Is It Safe to Order Dog Food Online?

For meals that require refrigeration or freezing, dog food delivery companies ship their meals in refrigerated boxes, or boxes packed with dry ice or other cold materials. These boxes, like meal delivery kits for humans, can usually sit outside for many hours before being transferred into the freezer—the amount of time the box can be outside is different for each brand.

Many brands also allow you to adjust the delivery window so that it matches the time you’ll be at home to grab the box and freeze your dog’s food.

Interested in a dog food subscription service but not sure where to begin? We’ve got everything you need to know in our Dog Food Delivery Buying Guide.