Pet Food - What's Important and What's Not

If you’re reading this post, I would bet that you’re the type of pet owner who wants the absolute best for their pet. You research, read, and try to use every resource you can to learn about your pet’s health and nutrition. The problem is that everyone’s telling you different things. It’s difficult to navigate the flashy marketing and fancy buzz words, but we’re here to help! Our doctors and staff put together some key things to look for (and not look for!) when deciding which food to buy for your pet.

Things to Look For


The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the official organization responsible for assuring the nutritional adequacy of pet food. The label can often be small or in plain writing in the middle of the fine print on the back of the bag, so look very carefully. If you don’t see the letters “AAFCO” anywhere on the label, it’s probably best to find a different food.


With the lack of regulation in the pet food industry, anyone can create a food and put it on the market if people will buy it. Make sure to find a brand that you know and trust and try to avoid random brands that you’ve never seen or heard of. Another good way to do this is to find a local store that you trust. We’ve listed a few at the end of this article for the Des Moines area that we recommend, but there are plenty of others out there!


Ingredients on packages should be listed in the order of what product is the most prevalent in the food. A good sign is if a protein like chicken or beef is the number one ingredient, but companies do have a way of working around this as well so don’t put too much stock into this, as there are more important things to look for. It’s not great to see several carbohydrates like rice or corn listed as a top ingredient. These aren’t necessarily bad for your pet, but like a lot of things in life they should be eaten in moderation.


It is important for puppies under the age of one to have food higher in fat and calories for them to grow. These foods tend to be higher in protein as well. Senior food usually has antioxidants, joint supplementation, vitamin E, and selenium for brain health. It also tends to be higher in protein and fat to combat age-related weight loss.


Large breed dogs should be on large breed dog food. This is especially important in puppies, as high protein content may result in orthopedic problems. Remember, as we mentioned before, puppy food tends to be higher in protein, so make sure your large breed puppy is eating large breed puppy food.


Unfortunately, the better foods do tend to be higher in cost, as the ingredients and quality control do cause a higher overhead cost for the company. This doesn’t mean you have to buy the absolutely most expensive brand, but it does mean you should avoid those brands that are ridiculously cheap and sold at big box stores. These food’s main goal is usually to be affordable, not to provide proper nutrition for your pet.

Things That Actually Don’t Matter


These buzzwords sound great, and might make you want to buy the more expensive food, but in actuality they have absolutely no standard or promise behind them in the pet food industry. Anyone can put these words on their packaging without any sort of guidelines or check system.


Fun fact, if a pet food says it’s “Chicken Flavored” it is only required to have the flavor be “sufficiently detectable” by your pet. That means it could contain no chicken at all, as long as it sort of tastes like chicken. We think that’s pretty unfair to advertise, so while it’s not bad to be “flavored”, make sure you’re reading the rest of the package as well.


This word has had a negative connotation to it for many pet owners for a while now, but most veterinarians agree that meat byproducts in food aren’t as terrible as everyone seems to think they are. Don’t be too worried about this word being in the ingredients list, as animal byproducts, like organs, can be nutritious, too.


We’ve all noticed the grain free trend in human food, and it seems to have leaked into the pet food world. Some pets do have allergies to grains, but most don’t, so there is usually absolutely no reason for a pet to be on grain free food unless recommended by a veterinarian. In fact, there have been some thoughts in the veterinary community lately that the grain free diet may be contributing to cardiac disease in certain breeds. If your dog does require a grain free diet, consider adding a supplement called taurine to their food. We recommend avoiding grain free diets until you’ve spoken with your veterinarian about the decision.

Summary and Resources

All of these things can be difficult to remember and overwhelming to check every box when looking for the perfect pet food, so it’s always a good idea to discuss your food choices with your veterinarian to make sure you’re making the right decision. And lastly, the most common mistake made by pet owners isn’t which food to buy, but rather how much they are feeding. Nutrition is important, but obesity is perhaps the most widespread disease we see in pets. Please consult your veterinarian about how much you should be feeding your pet.
As always, feel free to comment, message, or call us to ask any follow up questions about this post. We’re always here to help you give your pet their best life!


Find a brand and/or store that you trust

Pay attention to who the food is for (life stage and breed)

Don’t buy the cheapest food available

Keep an eye out for the main ingredients and protein amount

Ignore flashy buzzwords

Avoid grain free unless there is a medical reason

Make sure you’re feeding the right amount


Food Recal List:



Jett and Monkeys