What Should You Look for in a Dog Food?

Just because your dog likes eating a certain food doesn't necessarily mean it's good for him. (Photo: joshblake/iStockphoto).

A California dog owner recently filed a lawsuit against Nestle Purina PetCare Company, claiming that thousands of dogs have been sickened or have died from eating Beneful kibble-style dog food.

Frank Lucido said he fed the food to his three dogs and not long after, two were ill and one was dead.

In the lawsuit, Lucido alleges that in the past four years, there have been more than 3,000 online complaints about dogs that have become sick or died after consuming Beneful.

The FDA hasn't issued any warnings about the food, but in recent years Beneful has faced two lawsuits that were dismissed, and in May Purina and pet-food maker Waggin' Train LLC agreed to create a $6.5 million fund to compensate pet owners who said their pets were harmed from eating China-made dog treats.

Those jerky treats have been linked to more than 1,000 dog deaths since 2007, and some pet stores have removed the treats from shelves.

With all this controversy, you may be wondering what dog food is safe for your canine companion.

If your dog has allergies or health issues, your veterinarian may recommend a specific type of food, but generally, you should look for food that's appropriate for your dog's life stage or breed and ensure the packaging contains an Association of American Feed Control Officials nutritional adequacy statement.

The AAFCO recognizes two life stages, "growth and reproduction" and "adult maintenance." Food that's labeled "all life stages" means it's formulated for puppies and meets the "growth and reproduction" guidelines; however, it may not be nutritionally appropriate for older dogs.

The most important ingredients in dog food are always the first few on the list of ingredients. Just like our food, the ingredients on the package are listed in descending order of weight, so the first ingredient listed is the one the food contains the most of.

Dogs are omnivores, so a healthy food should contain 30 percent to 70 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein, and 25 percent fats and oils, according to PetMD’s MyBowl, the equivalent of a food pyramid for canines.

If a label says a food is natural, that means there have been chemical alterations, according to FDA guidelines. Be wary of foods labeled "holistic" as this term has no legal definition.

While it's normal for dogs to occasionally vomit, if your dog vomits frequently after eating, or if he has diarrhea, loses appetite, loses weight, becomes increasingly thirsty or seems lethargic, see your veterinarian immediately.