Group of dogs - a Chihuahua, St. Bernard, Aussie, Golden Retriever, and Standard Poodle outside

Custom Dog Food: The Ultimate Guide

Learn how personalized dog food can help address the unique needs of your pup.

By Emily Shiffer —

7 minute read

featured, health + nutrition

Reviewed by Emily Luisana, DVM 

Walk down any store’s dog food aisle and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the kibble choices available to pet parents these days. And though it may seem like there’s an option for every single breed, size, and dietary need, in reality, even the most specialized kibble formula on the shelf is still a one-size-fits-most solution, at best. 

That’s why countless pet parents are turning to a new and better option — high-quality, customized kibble crafted to meet the unique health and nutrition needs of our one-of-a-kind pets. 

Personalized dog food that’s tailored to address the specific needs of individual dogs isn’t just a growing trend. It’s a science-backed shift that’s reshaping the dog food industry. 

“In general, interest in animal nutrition has gone from 0 to 60,” says Tailored Pet Veterinary Advisor, Emily Luisana, DVM, who is residency-trained in small animal clinical nutrition. “Custom diets have exploded in popularity. From homemade foods to kibble blends, pet parents are seeking personalized dog food recommendations for their pets more than ever.” 

 

The Benefits of Personalized Pet Nutrition

White standard poodle eating Tailored customized dog food

For many pet parents, the goal of putting our pups on personalized diets has a lot to do with addressing a range of common health concerns. Selecting the right personalized diet can not only alleviate pain, promote good health, and address specific nutritional needs — like those of large breed puppies — personalized pet food can also deliver peace of mind. With a customized diet, pet parents no longer have to worry about mystery ingredients, allergens, or other fillers in our pets’ food. Customized recipes can make sure they’re getting everything they need to thrive... and that’s it. 

But with so many options out there, it can be overwhelming to choose the best customized diet for your pup. 

“Every pet is different, and having professional nutritional guidance is important,” says Dr. Luisana. “The goal is to simplify and prioritize what your dog needs and ultimately find a diet that will help your dog enjoy a healthy, long life.”

And besides guaranteeing quality, personalized pet food can also make feeding your pup easy and convenient. Here’s what you need to know about personalized pet nutrition and how to choose the right custom dog food for your beloved pooch. 

 

Is Custom Dog Food Right for Your Pet?

Veterinarian, Dr. Emily Luisana, training her Australian Shepherd dog outside
 

Every dog is different, and that goes for their nutritional needs, too. That’s what makes customized dog food so appealing to so many veterinarians. The right formula can help address a wide variety of nutritional needs across all ages and stages of life, as well as health issues that impact your dog’s overall wellness and quality of life. 

Here are just a few of the ways a customized diet can benefit your pet: 

  • Weight Management -

According to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, 55.8% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. This can lead to serious health issues or compound pre-existing conditions your pup may be dealing with. But with a diet that’s customized to help your specific breed and size of dog lose weight, it’s easier to make sure your dog is getting a healthy, balanced diet crafted with their health needs in mind. “Weight management diets are typically lower in fat and higher in fiber,” says Dr. Luisana. 
    • Digestive Health -

    If your dog struggles with digestive issues, like poor stool quality or vomiting, this could signal an issue with their diet. 
      “Digestive issues are very common reasons pet owners bring their dogs to the vet,” attests Dr. Luisana. While many different things can trigger digestive issues, diet can be a large contributing factor. And a customized diet may help alleviate some of these not-so-pleasant issues. 
       
      “For dogs that have more mild digestive issues, these could be alleviated with a change in diet,” says Dr. Luisana. “I typically change the protein and carbohydrate sources first if I suspect my patient’s diet is playing a role in their clinical signs.” 
      • Allergies / Sensitivities - 

      If your dog has a true food allergy or sensitivity, a customized diet is an easy way to eliminate foods or ingredients that don’t agree with your pet. But to get the maximum benefit, it’s important to know whether your dog has a food allergy or sensitivity. 
        “A true allergy evokes an involved response from your dog’s immune system,” says Dr. Luisana. “That can present in many different ways, from itchy skin to GI upset. A food intolerance does not trigger an immune response, but can cause symptoms similar to an allergic reaction, such as digestive upset."
         
        Your veterinarian can help you determine which one your dog is dealing with, which may involve putting your pet on an elimination diet. Your veterinarian may also recommend a diet that’s tailored to your dog’s particular allergies, sensitivities, and health needs, or prescribe medication or prescription dog food to help.
         
        Itchy Chihuahua, scratching his ear outside
        • Ear Infections - 

        If your pup shows signs of itchy ears - head shaking, scratching ears - this could be a red flag pointing to the need for a change in diet, as the culprit could be an ear infection (otitis). 
          “Studies show up to 65% of dogs with food allergies have otitis, says Dr. Luisana. In some dogs with food allergies, otitis is the only clinical sign they have." 
          • Mobility - 

          Your dog’s diet can help improve and support healthy joints, bones, and muscles. This is especially important if you have a larger breed dog, a senior pet, or a pup with other mobility issues. 
            Feeding your dog a diet customized for improved mobility “can help reduce inflammation, and also promote weight loss, which can help with mobility,” according to Dr. Luisana. “Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can be beneficial, as well as Omega 3 fatty acids.”
            • Puppies - 

            Having the proper diet for your dog as a puppy is essential. It may be the most crucial time to focus on diet, since a properly balanced puppy diet helps create a foundation for proper growth and development throughout a dog’s entire life.
              “Think of your puppy’s diet like baby formula; you have to be precise,” says  Dr. Luisana. “They’re growing rapidly and need the correct amounts of proteins, fats, minerals (especially calcium and phosphorus), essential amino acids, and fatty acids.” 

               

              What to Look for in Personalized Dog Food

              Two Yellow Lab puppies, eating Tailored customized dog food
               
              Choosing the right kind of personalized dog food for your pup requires considering a variety of factors about your pet and their unique health needs. This may also require some consultation with your pet’s veterinarian or a pet nutritionist. But when it comes to filling in the blanks about your pet’s needs and behaviors on a day-to-day basis, you are the best source of crucial information. 
               
              “Your vet is the expert on the health of your pet. Nutritionists are the experts on the dietary needs of pets. Pet parents are the experts on their own pet,” says Dr. Luisana. Pet parents provide key input that helps shape every customized diet plan, including “age, breed, muscle mass, conflicting nutritional needs due to health issues, sensitivities/allergies they may have, dental health, energy and exercise levels, and the pet’s personal preferences,” according to Dr. Luisana. 
               
              To gather this information and ensure a final product that’s perfectly personalized, Tailored Pet uses an in-depth quiz to help shape a customized diet plan that’s 100% nutritionally balanced, complete, and (best of all) ships right to your door. 
               
              “When pet parents have some type of subscription or delivery service, they don’t run out of food! It’s a sustainable way to ensure your pet has access to their food and helps you avoid situations where you’re running out to find the next best choice,” says Dr. Luisana.

               

              How to Get the Most Out of Tailored Dog Food

              Australian Shepherd dog, eating Tailored customized dog food in a kitchen
               

              Once you have chosen the best customized dog food for your pooch, it’s important to implement it properly. Transitioning your dog’s food can be tricky, but Dr. Luisana has a simple suggestion to make the transition easier for you and your pet. 

              “For the first two weeks, I recommend the ‘Two-Bowl Method.’ Grab two bowls, and fill the first bowl with 90% of a full serving of your dog’s ‘old food’ and the second bowl with 10% of a serving of the ‘new food. Slowly change the ratio each day to favor the ‘new food’ over the next two weeks,” recommends Dr. Luisana. “This can help if your dog is reluctant to eat the new food, and won’t throw them off of the old food too quickly. It encourages them to make the transition on their own without you forcing it.” 

              "This can also help mitigate any gastrointestinal (GI) side effects, especially for sensitive stomachs", notes Dr. Luisana.

              For extra picky pups, she also suggests talking to your vet about giving your pet some more time to make the transition or adding some yummy ‘toppers’ to make the new kibble more palatable. 

              Ultimately, once your pet adopts their new custom dog food, you should be able to tell it’s working in about one month. 

              “For most dogs, within one month of fully transitioning, you should see some positive effects. However, it can take up to three months to see the full effect of the new food, especially if your dog has any GI inflammation,” says  Dr. Luisana. 

              Best of all, since the formula is custom crafted to fit your dog’s specific needs and preferences, there’s no second-guessing and expensive trial-and-error, like there can be with off-the-shelf options. And that’s a benefit every pet parent can appreciate. 

               

              About the author

              Emily Shiffer - freelance writer

              Emily Shiffer is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania and is a former online staff member at Men's Health and Prevention magazines. She writes for a multitude of publications, including Women's Health, Parade, SHAPE, and more. Emily loves all things antiques, cilantro, and American history. She grew up with two dachshunds and aspires to one day be a Doxie mom.

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