How to Choose a Dog Food-If I Knew Then What I Know Now

26th Mar 2018

Harley and I rescued each other in 2006. If only I had known then what I know now about how to choose a dog food… Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 but I have been avoiding writing a post about my struggles and, honestly, dog food in general. It is such a personal decision. What is right for one dog is not necessarily right for another. It is also a choice where people have very passionate opinions. Diabetes, Allergies, Arthritis and Cushing’s disease influenced our decisions. I want to share our struggles and how we chose a dog food for our special needs dogs. I hope to provide, even a starting place, for you and your beloved furry family member.

What is right for feeding one dog is not necessarily right for another. Diabetes, Allergies, Arthritis and Cushing's disease influenced our decisions. Click To Tweet
How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now

Denise's Dog Dish Affiliate Link Disclaimer

This is an unsolicited review. It is our story.  Halo, Avoderm, Addiction, Caru, Merrick, Tomlyn, and Nom-Nom-Now have not sponsored this post nor have I been compensated. We received a gift box from Addiction, Merrick, and Tomlyn while at BlogPaws and searching for helpful products for Shasta. Denise’s Dog Dish & Shasta’s Yorkie Yap/ only shares information about things we feel you will benefit from as well. Halo, Avoderm, Addiction, Caru, Merrick, Tomlyn and Nom Nom Now are not responsible for the content of this post.  

Harley’s Story

Honestly, when I rescued Harley in 2004 I had no clue about dog nutrition and how to choose a dog food.  My first experience was at a pet boutique where they suggested an exercise. We took 3 different kinds of kibble, put them in bowls in front of him and saw which one he liked best. Yes, my friends, that is how we chose Harley’s first dog food. We spent the next 6 years bouncing between the advice of different Veterinarians, Pet stores, and well-meaning friends.

In 2010 Harley was diagnosed with Diabetes (learn more about our journey). Suddenly I needed an EMERGENCY crash course of all things DOG Nutrition.

I created my first Dog Health Binders. Using them to log research information and document Harley’s health (I’ve perfected them over time. Watch for an upcoming post and free printables).How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now

I also purchased my first dog nutrition book, The Whole Pet Diet: Eight Weeks to Great Health for Dogs and Cats. I learned A LOT about how to choose a dog food for Harley.

Dog food pros (what I wanted):

  • Cost effective. Always a factor but especially as a single income pet parent owner. Know your budget and then choose a dog food that is the best food you can in that price range. Work out the cost per serving vs per pound. It is a bit more difficult but a better tool since different brands will have different serving sizes. For example, a daily serving for a 12-25 lb dog of Lamb is 1-2 cups with Addiction and 3/4 to 1 cup with Avoderm (depending on activity levels).
  • A named animal protein. For example, look for a label listing “Fresh Chicken”. Preferably close to, if not first, on the list.
  • A named animal meal. For example, Chicken meal (the dry product of said chicken). Fresh chicken is awesome but high in moisture so it translates into higher weight and therefore higher on the ingredients list (ingredients are listed by weight).  Therefore it should be followed very closely with Chicken meal.
  • Whole plant ingredients.
  • Check on recalls from the brand. First, I look up the brand at Dog Food to see if the brand has any recalls. Then I research the recall in greater detail.

Dog food cons (what I try to avoid):

  • By-products. Considered waste products for human food, therefore avoid them. Enough said.
  • Generic meat listed as a protein. This includes but is not limited to “Fresh Meat” and/or “Meat Meal”. When the term meat is used, it does not identify one protein source and is a mixture of species and (can be kinda gross) parts.
  • Caution with carbs. First I should say, Carbohydrates have nutritional value and are not all evil. In fact, your dog needs carbs as they convert into energy. However, be discerning. The first prescription dog food recommended to us after Harley was diagnosed with diabetes had beets as it’s primary carb. Yep, prescription diabetic dog food with a sugar converting starch as it’s primary carb. Crazy, and I wondered why we could not get his blood sugar levels stable. Other carbs with a high glycemic index (a rating of how a carb affects blood sugar) include starches like wheat, corn, oatmeal, barley, amaranth, and rice as well as starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
  • Added sweeteners. Of course our dogs, like a lot of us, like the taste of sugar but it is not good for them either. Sweeteners can lead to obesity as well as other health problems. Look for things like corn syrup and sucrose.
  • Artificial colors. Unnecessary as an additive for dog food. Really, do we think they care what the color looks like?
  • Preservatives. There are natural preservatives like Vitamin E (also known as mixed tocopherols), vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid), honey and plant extracts such as rosemary. Natural preservatives are healthier than chemical preservatives.

Halo food for Harley

At the time, I did not realize the full connection between “The Whole Pet Diet-An 8 Week Plan” and Halo but what the book said made sense. Their approach to the research and keeping track of your dog’s health made sense.  It appealed to my healthcare professional (for humans) brain using researched based medicine.

Week 1

Assess your dog’s current health and food. Harley was on six units of insulin twice a day. Quite a high dose for a thirteen-pound dog and his glucose levels were uncontrolled. They seemed to be climbing and requiring more insulin. All while he was on a “Prescription” dog food. Thank goodness the second task, evaluate your current dog’s food, was next.

Even eight years later I am still shocked by the ground beet carb thing (see “caution with carbs” above). No wonder his blood glucose levels were uncontrolled. I discussed my finding with our vet and they called the manufacturer with not so great results. Our vet’s response, “continue your research, figure out which food you would like to give Harley and let me know”. Gratefully weeks two and three would have my answers.

Weeks 2 & 3

The art of the stew and the art of the treat respectively. How would I choose a dog food for Harley? After reading these two chapters I had a game plan

I purchased Halo Spot’s Stew, Halo Grain Free Surf and Turf Kibble, and Halo Liv-a-Littles Freeze-Dried Protein Treats. They recommended converting Harley to the stew and new treats then slowly adding the grain free kibble.

What happened was nothing less than a miracle. Harley’s insulin dose requirement decreased from six to two units twice a day and was stable. It changed our lives and helped him live for two more years with stable diabetes.

How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know nowHow to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know nowHow to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now


You can read more about Week 4: The art of the sun, Week 5: The art of well being, Week 6: The art of immunity and healing touch, Week 7: The art of healthy teeth and bones and Week 8: The art of the spa by purchasing a copy of The Whole Pet Diet: Eight Weeks to Great Health for Dogs and Cats.

Shasta’s Story

November 9, 2013, Shasta joined us at the PAWfect time. I love the way our friend Kristin at the Daily Pip tells our story, “Shasta’s California Dreamin’ Senior Dog Bucket List“. I continued feeding him Halo’s Surf and Turf. He enjoyed it and did really well. It is great food after all. However, soon after he joined us we discovered he had allergies. Back to the drawing board. I would again need to choose a dog food this time with allergies in mind. I discovered the protein source is the most common cause of allergies. The elimination diet is a way to determine which protein is causing symptoms. Through isolating his food’s protein source and then watching for signs of allergies (itching, diarrhea, gas, and licking). In addition to my previous dog food requirements, I had several new needs. One, a single sourced protein. Two, the ability to change the kibble easily while not upsetting Shasta’s stomach with the regular changes.

Avoderm food for Shasta

How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now

The answer came with Avoderm’s natural revolving dog menu. Avoderm’s revolving formula has several versions. Shasta needed the adult formula for small breeds (though, as you can see in the photo, we also tried the Adult formula). It has isolated proteins solving problem number one. Revolving means they are formulated specifically for rotational feeding. I did not need to change slowly through mixtures of the previous and new kibble also solving problem number two. Avoderm additionally made “The Whole Dog Journal’s 2014 approved list“, and met my previous requirements including only having one, non-worrisome, recall in 2012 (also see Dog Food Advisor). Sold!


After a few months, we isolated poultry as the source of Shasta’s allergies (interesting note, chicken fat is ok). That left only the lamb and beef formulas for small breeds so it wasn’t going to be that easy. I was not going to be able to use only one dog food brand.

Shasta enjoyed Caru Real Beef Stew a nice change for him but, since we already had beef covered with Avoderm I used it to mix into his dry food. Thank goodness for BlogPaws. Through our conferences, I have been able to learn about Addiction, Merrick and Nom Nom Now. All brands meeting our requirements.


How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know nowWhy chose Addiction a dog food from New Zealand? They have unique proteins, with wild game meats like Wild Kangaroo & Apples (though Kangaroo cannot be shipped into California), Salmon Bleu, and Viva La Venison. Additionally,  they have dehydrated formulas great for backpacking!How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now


How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now

We won Merrick’s Lil’ Plates Small Breed Wet Dog Food and Shasta loved them. I use them as mixers. They also have a Limited Ingredient Duck Recipe adding an additional single source protein.

How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now

Shasta’s limited protein for allergies recap

All have four-five star ratings out of five at Food You can check out how your dog food compares, its ingredients, cost per pound (do not forget to break it down to cost per serving) and any recalls there as well.

How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now

A note about aging dogs & calories

Shasta loved food and treats. However, as he aged, he started eating less and losing weight. Gaining or losing weight can be a normal part of aging but never ignore them and chalk it up to old age as it can be a sign of something much more serious. We had regular visits with Shasta’s vet, he was eating less but his activity level was still high and he needed additional calories. We were already using and loving Tomlyn Pill-Masker so we started also using their High-Calorie NutraGel as well. It can be used for dogs that hunt, work or are like Shasta.How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now

Nom Nom Now

Nom Nom Now is part of a new movement where they tailor to your pet and deliver directly to your door. Think Hello Fresh for dogs. Shasta crossed the Rainbow bridge before we had a chance to try them out but I’ll definitely be keeping them in mind for the future.How to choose a dog food-If I knew then what I know now

Whew, if you lasted through all of the information I hope you found information helpful. You and your furry family member(s) are the reason I am here.

Of note, we looked into raw feeding but since Shasta did well with the aforementioned changes we stayed with kibble and he was able to continue to work as a therapy dog. Our friends over at Big Dog Mom have a terrific post if you are interested in learning more about raw feeding, “Raw Dog Food: The Myths, Facts and Future of Raw Feeding for Dogs“.
How to Choose a Dog Food-If only I knew then what I know now

Vet Care Disclaimer for Denise's Dog Dish

Please let me know if you have questions, additional information, and your own experiences.Denise's Dog Dish-Smiles, Barks and Wagging Tails

22 comments on “How to Choose a Dog Food-If I Knew Then What I Know Now

  1. What an awesome and informative post! Thank you for sharing your journey and the logic you used to help determine which type of food (including brands, but also protein sources and other ingredients) was the best fit for your dog(s) based on their specific needs. With there being SO MANY options out there, it’s difficult to weed through them to determine the best option for our pets. This post will hopefully assist people with that decision making process.

  2. This was really great, thank you so much for sharing! You and I approached this topic similarly – with sensitivity toward those who have made a different choice. It seems there is so much rancor among dog owners with respect to what we feed our dogs. Quite honestly, as a mother of two young children, not one person has ever mentioned or cared what I feed my kids. But the second I say I raw feed my mastiffs, whoa boy, watch out! I’m sure that my experience would be the same if I fed kibble, just in the reverse. Kind of crazy since we all love our dogs and want the best for them. Terrific post! I definitely shared it! And thank you for the mention of my post at the end. I’m sure those in your audience considering a raw diet will appreciate some of the info, links and resources I share in there.

    • I honestly cried when I read your post as our views are so similar. I have to laugh regarding your kids and food, so true (unless you are going through Fost-Adopt like we are, then they are checking what we are feeding LOL). I want people to practice research-based pet parenting (just came up with that phrase today) and I love having a site like yours (no guilt-parallel sides of the same coin) to share with my readers. I will be directing more to you as well!

  3. Finding the right dog food for your dog can be a hard choice! Every dog is different too. Thank you for sharing your experience with these different brands!

  4. So sorry for your loss- the Daily Pip article about Shasta was so beautiful. I went through the same food evaluation process when I started Talent Hounds after interviewing vets and nutrition experts. Then with Kilo the Pug, I have learned so much from my friends through BlogPaws. I had never paid much attention before and was extremely lucky that Cookie and Isabelle were healthy and resilient. They had homemade in Chile then switched to low cost kibble in Canada with a little homemade. Cookie got cancer at 13 after a very active happy life and Isabelle thrived until nearly 17. There were not as many options even 5 or 10 years ago. Dog food has followed human trends and you can now find a food to match most needs. It is quite daunting shopping. Kilo does not appear to have allergies so far and has never had a problem switching foods. I alternate between different high quality ones including Merrick. He LOVES that Caru stew and also the NOW stew as a mixer. Haven’t tried Addiction or Halo yet. XS

    • It is truly amazing how quickly things change in human and pet health care. Kristin (The Daily Pip) told our story so beautifully. I am grateful for all of the pet loving friends I have met through BlogPaws. I look forward to seeing you soon!

  5. You are wise to point out to evaluate the cost of foods based on the servings, not by pound…few pet parents think of that. Every dog is different. Fortunately, we have many choices today…however, that can also be confusing. Gusto has a favorite brand that meets his needs.

    • Dog food choices have changed SO MUCH over the last 10 years it is crazy. The options are endless so doing your research is imperative. I am glad Gusto has found something good for him that he also likes. It is always such a relief to find the right food.

  6. I’ve always tried to feed my girls the best cat food I could find for them (and one they liked). Now, I have a new challenge ahead of me since Truffle’s diet will need to change because of her bladder stones. She’s not eating much of the prescription diets I’ve tried with her, but I’m hoping as she is healing, she will eat them more. I don’t want her to have to go through this type of surgery again, but I want a good, tasty, and healthy food for her.

    • I was reading about Truffle’s struggles and I am so glad she is doing better. I am sure the Vet will have recommendations after the results return from the stone analysis. Thank goodness the testing is available as it will help guide your decisions. It always is such a relief to have the information be that specific. Healing hugs and love from us.

  7. I’ve gotten so frustrated with trying to find the best dog food for Bernie and Lizzie. Reading this post certainly made me feel much less alone in that struggle. I’ve read so much about Nom Nom Now that I’m intrigued by their model, but the Tomlyn and Addiction products look so good too. Doing more research into this topic is one of my summer projects. Thank you for providing your perspective and the resources that helped you and your fur kids!

    • I am so glad to know the information has been helpful. I know we all try very hard to give our precious furry family members the very best! Keep me posted on your journey. I’d love to hear the direction you end up going for Bernie and Lizzie.

  8. Dog food certainly has gotten more complicated over the years, and hopefully, healthier! My dogs really like Avoderm and Nom Nom Now.

  9. Thanks for sharing your personal journey deciding what was right for your dogs and the process. Sorry for the loss of your dog Shasta too. As pet parents often times we do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time. Then with time, you realize there are so many more options and hazards out in the world it can be overwhelming. I think you gave great advice to do your own research as a pet parent and trial/error to see what foods your pet likes too.

    • I find it parallels human medicine so much and in so many ways. Not the least of which is how quickly things can change. I practice researched based human medicine and try to practice research-based pet parenting as well. 😉

  10. Hindy Pearson on said:

    Thanks for being brave enough to tackle this subject, I consider the world of dog food a minefield and yes, I too wish I had known more about it in the early days. What I find the most troublesome is not only how conflicting the information is, but how passionate each “camp” is they are right and the other side wrong. I encourage everyone to do their research and choose what makes sense for their dog. I’m sure your recommendations will help end some of the confusion.

    • I love how Big Dog Mom said it, “We are not opposite sides of a coin but two parallel sides of the same coin. On the same team. Loving dog owners trying to do what is best for our furry family members”.

  11. I didn’t know anything about dog nutrition in my early days with Pip and I really regret it. I wonder now if I could have slowed down his heart disease. Once he was diagnosed, I started cooking for him so that was good – but before that ugh.

    Ruby eats a mix of things – Halo, Caru and Open Farm mostly. She loves Caru’s beef stew as well. I also take into consideration the source of the protein. I hate factory farms and try not to support them in any way. When choosing pet food I also look at where and how they are getting their meat, chicken, etc. Halo uses small farms, which I prefer – not always perfect but better than huge factory farms where the animals are treated horribly. I also like Open Farm because they are the only certified humane pet food (I just wish they had more choices).

    I haven’t tried Addiction but am definitely curious. Since they use more game meat like Kangaroo I wonder how it is sourced? Of course, you know me I won’t serve anything with rabbit in it either. I’m complicated!
    The Daily Pip recently posted…11 Ways To Help Dogs, Cats, and Shelters This SpringMy Profile

  12. Sorry for your loss of Shasta. Losing a pet has always been so hard for me. I’ve had dogs all my life and never really put too much thought into it. We do need to evaluate some food options as our girl is almost 8 years old and could probably benefit from a more senior-focused diet. Thanks for the great tips!

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