The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Dog Food

October 29, 2023
Diana Bocco
Reviewed By: 
Dr. Farshad Goodarzi - Animal Nutritionist
5 minute read


Let‘s face it – all dog foods are not created equal, and some are healthier and much better for your dog than others. Ever wondered what is the best diet for dogs? It's a complicated question and as science and technology advances, the answer to this question rapidly changes. Here are five things you should look for in high-quality dog food when the almighty “What should I feed my dog?” question comes up. The best dog food should be:

  1. Addressing Individual Needs
  2. Nutritionally Complete
  3. Well-Balanced
  4. Fresh, Tasty and Easy to Digest
  5. Safe and Hygienic

1. Addressing Individual Needs

Dogs are individuals and have different nutritional needs depending on their age, breed, gender, weight, physical activity, and reproduction status (whether they’re castrated, pregnant or lactating)1. Ideally, the best dog food should allow dogs to receive a specific daily food ration that caters to those needs, including:

Age: Age affects the nutritional requirements of a dog and the basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the minimum number of calories required for basic bodily functions. Below you can find 2 examples of the effects of age and BMR.

  • Example 1. The BMR of a 1-month old Dachshund puppy per kg body weight is considerably higher than that of a 3-year-old Dachshund adult. This means puppies have higher nutritional requirements (including the need for more calories) than adults.
  • Example 2. The BMR of a 3-year-old Dachshund per kg body weight is considerably higher than that of a 12-year-old senior Dachshund.

This means the nutritional and calorie requirements of an adult dog are higher than those of a senior dog. Most dog food producers focus only on age and weight when formulating diets for dogs. This is why you see lots of commercial foods labelled as „puppies“ or „adult dog, “ but you rarely see a focus on some of the other factors that affect nutrition, such as body condition (whether the dog is over or underweight), reproduction status (whether they’re castrated, pregnant or lactating), breed or physical activity level. These needs are equally important, as they affect the BMR and the kind of nutrition a dog needs to thrive.2

Breed: The BMR and mass-specific metabolic rate (MSMR) vary widely among breeds. For example, small breeds have a lower BMR and a higher MSMR than large breeds.3

  • A dog’s nutritional requirements change based on his breed and age, among other factors.
  • Dogs become seniors at different ages, depending on breed size. Most large-sized dogs are considered seniors when they turn 8 years old, but small breeds won‘t reach their golden years until they are 10 or 11.

Castration: Spaying and neutering lower the BMR in dogs. A few months after castration, the BMR begins to decrease, and as a result, the maintenance energy requirements decrease. So if you continue to feed your dog the same type and amount of food, you are over-supplying your dog with nutrients (including energy), which can lead to obesity and other problems.4

Reproduction status: Pregnancy and nursing increase the nutritional requirements of a dog. The pregnancy stage and how many puppies the dog is carrying should also be considered when choosing a proper diet.5

Body weight and condition: How much energy a dog uses, and his metabolic rate depends in part on his current body condition (proportion of lean muscle and fat tissues) and amount of metabolically active tissues. Your dog‘s weight is an important factor in evaluating body condition and calculating the weight of metabolically active tissues. 6

Physical activity: Dogs that are physically active regularly will spend more energy than dogs with a sedentary lifestyle. This means not only dogs involved in competitive sports but also dogs who regularly hike or run with their humans. The amount of activity your dog engages in regularly will considerably affect his nutritional requirements. 7

2. Nutritionally Complete

Personalized, customized fresh dog food should be formulated in a way that meets all the nutritional requirements of your dog. To do that, an expert like a veterinarian/animal nutritionist should:

  • Carefully evaluate your dog’s nutritional needs according to his breed, gender, age, weight, physical activity, and reproduction status(whether they’re castrated, pregnant or lactating).
  • Carefully evaluate the nutritional composition of available food ingredients (different types of meats, fishes, cereals, legumes, fruits, vegetables, oils) and then formulate a balanced recipe for your dog.

The final dog food recipe MUST contain all the required nutrients, such as energy (carbohydrates and oils), vitamins (A, D, E and Bs), macro minerals (such as calcium and phosphorus ) and micro minerals (including iron, selenium, and copper, among others), essential fatty acids (from animal fats and plant oils), proteins and amino acids (from human-grade animal-derived proteins and amino acids). These nutrients must be provided in the correct quantities that aren‘t too high or too low for your dog‘s needs.

Cola's Kitchen Fresh Dog Food in a bowl with fresh ingredients around the bowl

3. Well-Balanced

Certain nutrients negatively interact with one another, so they must be provided in the right quantity, so all are appropriately absorbed. For example, if the food is high in calcium, the dog will also need to consume higher levels of iron, zinc, manganese and copper to meet all his nutritional requirements. On the other hand, too much iron, zinc, manganese and copper can impair absorption of other trace elements like selenium.

To avoid a negative interaction between nutrients, they must be provided in the right proportions and ratios. For example, the right protein to calorie ratio, the right calcium and phosphorus balance, the right ratio of calcium and trace elements, etc.

4. Fresh, Tasty and Easy to Digest

The dog food industry relies on extrusion to produce commercial dry food. This is a process that grinds, mixes and then heat-treats ingredients. Unfortunately, the method also degrades vitamins and amino acids, so you end up with food that‘s lower in quality and harder to digest.8 For the food to be the optimal quality and as healthy as possible, it should be made up of fresh ingredients that haven‘t been extensively processed.  

Despite what it might look like, dogs aren‘t technically carnivorous animals. They are omnivorous. This means they need a diet that‘s more than just meat to fulfill all their nutritional needs. This doesn‘t mean meat is less important, and any source will do – in fact, dogs will thrive when fed human-grade meat that supplies quality protein and amino acids with additional nutrients added in. Remember that not all calories are equal and that the best dog food is one that considers all of your dog's individual needs. 

5. Safe and Hygienic

The ingredients in your dog‘s food must be from safe and reliable sources to ensure the final mix is safe as well.

  • Free from pathogens like Campylobacter, Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella
  • Free from toxins like aflatoxins (produced by certain fungi), ochratoxin A (often found in contaminated grain and pork products), and more
  • Free from chemical preservatives like Ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT, TBHQ and Propyl Gallate (added to foods to prevent oxidation).
Cola's Kitchen fresh dog food in a bowl between dogs paws

How We’re Changing Things Up

Cola’s Kitchen fresh dog food is the first and only pet food company that creates individually balanced recipes tailored to your dog’s specific needs. We do so in a way that provides your dog all the required nutrients through Complete and Well-Balanced Natural Fresh Food. At Cola’s Kitchen, we’ll design and produce every dog’s meal in individual batches based on the individual needs of each dog and any unique conditions that might apply.

Our recipes are designed based on the profile our customers make for their dogs. These choices then allow our AI system to formulate and individually balance recipes. The concentration of each ingredient in each recipe changes from one dog to another based on the individual characteristics of each dog and their unique requirements.

Our AI formulates each diet in a way that allows all the nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, to be supplied from natural sources. This means that, in contrast to other fresh food producers, we do not need to add synthetic vitamins or minerals to our food.

about cola's precision diet

Cola's Kitchen precision diet is the first truly tailored diet for a unique approach to nutrition. Our diets are individually formulated and balanced to address the most precise nutritional requirements of your pup.

learn more


1, 2, 7. Bermingham EN, Thomas DG, Cave NJ, Morris PJ, Butterwick RF, German AJ. Energy requirements of adult dogs: a meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2014 Oct 14;9(10):e109681. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109681. PMID: 25313818; PMCID: PMC4196927.

3, 6. Middleton RP, Lacroix S, Scott-Boyer MP, Dordevic N, Kennedy AD, Slusky AR, Carayol J, Petzinger-Germain C, Beloshapka A, Kaput J. Metabolic Differences between Dogs of Different Body Sizes. J Nutr Metab. 2017;2017:4535710. doi: 10.1155/2017/4535710. Epub 2017 Oct 26. PMID: 29225968; PMCID: PMC5684564.

4. Kawauchi IM, Jeremias JT, Takeara P, de Souza DF, Balieiro JCC, Pfrimer K, Brunetto MA, Pontieri CFF. Effect of dietary protein intake on the body composition and metabolic parameters of neutered dogs. J Nutr Sci. 2017 Aug 18;6:e40. doi: 10.1017/jns.2017.41. PMID: 29152244; PMCID: PMC5672309.

5. Ottka C, Vapalahti K, Arlt SP, Bartel A, Lohi H. The metabolic differences of anestrus, heat, pregnancy, pseudopregnancy, and lactation in 800 female dogs. Front Vet Sci. 2023 Feb 2;10:1105113. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2023.1105113. PMID: 36816179; PMCID: PMC9932911.

8. Tran, Quang & Hendriks, Wouter & Poel, Antonius. (2008). Effects of extrusion processing on nutrients in dry pet food. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 88. 1487-1493. 10.1002/jsfa.3247.

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