What to Look for in Dog Food: Dog Food Ingredients & Nutrition

Last Updated May 2024

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 or weighing. But many of these brands also claim that their food is healthier for your dog than the traditional grub you’d grab at the pet or grocery store. But is that really the case? In this helpful guide, we’ll answer that question. We’ll do a deep dive into the ingredients and nutrition in subscription dog food to help you decide if it’s the best thing for your best friend.

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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 and Fruit in Dog Food

Most dog food delivery brands include vegetables in their 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.

That’s no surprise. Vegetables are concentrated sources of nutrients that are essential for the health of dogs as well as for people. Carrots and sweet potatoes, for instance, are loaded with vitamin A, which supports clear vision, strong muscles, and healthy skin and fur. The fiber in vegetables also keeps dog’s digestion working smoothly. The Farmer’s Dog recipes feature lightly cooked vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots and squash, which are selected for your dog’s needs based on age, size, breed and other individual factors.

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 for a connection 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.

Grains are often used as filler in low-quality dog food, providing bulk and calories but little nutrition. Wheat and corn are the most commonly used grains for filler and when you see them on the ingredients list you probably want to avoid that food. On the other hand, grains such as oats, brown rice and quinoa have valuable nutrients for your dog. They are high in B vitamins that help them absorb the other nutrients in their food. Quinoa also provides your dog with protein, a key source of energy and the building block of muscles. Fresh meals from Spot & Tango feature quinoa, millet and brown rice. 

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 premium-quality foods.

The most nutritious type of fish oil comes from salmon. It has a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids along with two other types of beneficial fats: Omega-6 and omega-9. These all help lubricate joints, enhance brain function and strengthen a dog’s immune system, along with the benefits to heart health and skin care. The Farmer’s Dog and Ollie include salmon oil in their fresh recipes. 

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, rather than 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. Less poop may mean a healthier dog—and less picking up poop for you.

There probably are several reasons for the better digestion, including the use of real food ingredients rather than fillers like chicken meal or corn. Preparation matters, too. Food that’s cooked until it’s dry, like standard kibble, is digested too fast for your dog to absorb its nutrients. Dogs are healthiest when they eat whole foods, lightly cooked and served fresh, like the meals offered by the best home delivery services, such as The Farmer’s Dog, Ollie, and Spot & Tango.  

Foods for Dogs with Medical Issues

Most delivery dog foods start you off with a quiz on their website. Once you provide 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, a key concern as dogs get older.

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 they’re 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 and 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.

If you need to be sure your dog’s specific health needs are met, The Farmer’s Dog gathers a wide range of information about your dog, including serious conditions like cancer, seizures and anxiety to more mundane (but still troubling!) problems like bad breath and chronic flatulence. You can even get a plan to help your dog with weight management. 

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 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. The support team at The Farmer’s Dog works with you to customize your dog’s meals to accommodate food allergies. 

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.

Brands such as The Farmer’s Dog also allow you to adjust the delivery window so that it matches the time you’ll be at home to grab the box and store 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.

UPDATE: The team at The Farmer’s Dog are extending an exclusive offer to our readers.

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