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How To Choose the Best Dog Food for Your Golden Retriever

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You love your golden and want what’s best for him. But there are so many choices.

The pet food industry has exploded in recent years.

It’s so confusing when you go to the pet store or look on-line to choose a specific food for your special pup.

Of course, there’s more than one food that will help your dog grow properly, be healthy, and thrive.

Golden Retriever Eating kibble from yellow bowl of food

I’ll discuss some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a great food.

I’ll also recommend some foods that have been highly rated for large-breed dogs.

Remember though that, if you intend to switch your dog to a new diet, do so over the course of seven to 10 days to help avoid intestinal upsets or diarrhea.

Types of Foods

The main types of commercial foods are dry, moist, dehydrated, and fresh. 

I’ll discuss types of dry foods as they are the most popular and cost-effective. As a large-breed dog, it would take a lot of moist food to properly feed a golden.

Dry kibble also can help keep your golden’s teeth cleaner because of its abrasive nature.

Why Do the Ingredients of a Food Matter?

Of course, your golden is a highly intelligent and sociable dog. He’s very lovable and everyone’s his friend.

Unfortunately, goldens have a higher-than-average incidence of cancer. Many factors, including genetics and nutrition, determine a dog’s health.

All dog foods are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They must also meet the Association of American Feed Control Official (AAFCO) nutrient standards for the correct life stage.

But AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles consist only of minimum values for all the nutrients required by dogs and maximum values for just a few nutrients that can be toxic if consumed in excessive amounts. 

As long as a food meets the minimum nutrient values expressed in the profiles, and doesn’t exceed the maximum values, it can be labeled as complete and balanced.  

But, even with such regulation, not all foods are created equal.

Feeding a food with low-quality ingredients may contribute to chronic inflammation and obesity. And chronic inflammation can contribute to arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and infection.

Foods should be made from wholesome, natural ingredients with no fillers, by-products, or artificial additives. 

They should be rich in high-quality animal sources such as poultry, meat, and fish. They should also name the specific protein sources such as chicken, duck, beef, lamb, not a generic “meat” label.

Our beloved goldens are one of the breeds most likely to become obese. Of course, the quality and amount of food fed as well as the amount of exercise your golden receives are all factors that determine whether he’ll become obese.

If your dog becomes obese, you can even ask your vet about prescription weight-loss diets.

There are certain requirements foods should meet. The Merck Veterinary Manual states that adult dogs require a minimum of 18 percent of protein in their diets, whereas puppies require at least 22 percent protein.

A good food should contain healthy meats and fats. They should also contain fruits and vegetables. And, of course, the proper mix of vitamins and minerals for optimal health.

Natural preservatives such as tocopherols (vitamin E), vitamin C, or rosemary extract should be used rather than artificial ones. 

Also, make sure that your dog’s food is labeled as being “complete,” not “complimentary.” A food that’s labeled complementary needs to have things such as a protein added to it to be nutritionally complete. 

What Do Large-Breed Dogs Like Goldens Require?

Large breed dogs and puppies have different nutritional requirements than small breeds do.

They grow more quickly than breeds who are small or medium-sized as adults.

Golden retriever puppies have a greater risk of developing a crippling form of hip disease if fed a diet that contains too much calcium.

It’s important that, as puppies, they’re fed a diet specifically for large-breed puppies.

Golden retriever puppies don’t stop growing until they are 12 to 24 months old. So it’s important not to switch to an adult formula too soon.

Adult goldens can be fed any high-quality kibble or a kibble specifically for large breed dogs.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), large-breed dogs have shorter lifespans than their smaller counterparts and can be considered seniors when five or six years old.

In 2018, the FDA announced an investigation into reports that eating certain pet foods–mainly those labeled as “grain free”–may contribute to dogs getting a disease called canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). 

The veterinary community has also been compiling and analyzing data on diet-related DCM in dogs.

A common thread of the dogs who aren’t genetically predisposed to DCM getting it has been ingesting foods containing  peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients–none of which are grains. 

Grain-free foods don’t contain corn, soy, wheat, rice, barley, or other grains.

Goldens aren’t one of the breeds genetically predisposed to DCM but veterinarians have been diagnosing it in them more frequently than they had in the past.

DCM is a disease in which the heart muscle weakens, leading to the loss of the ability to contract normally and pump blood through the body. Symptoms of DCM can include weakness, lethargy, shortness of breath, fainting, and the inability of exercise. It can become life-threatening.

The link between grain-free foods and DCM is still being investigated, as there are many variables to be considered. 

Note that some dogs are allergic to certain grains and may need to avoid them. But this is best decided by a veterinarian, especially a board-certified nutritionist.

Diseases which impact goldens, such as inflammatory bowel disease or atopic skin diseases and allergies, have a strong link to the foods they ingest. 

And, in determining how much to feed, the manufacturers of pet foods provide guidelines on their labels. But remember that the guidelines are just that. 

Your golden’s age, lifestyle, daily activity level, health, and medical conditions are relevant regarding what food they eat and the quantity.

You can always adjust the amount of food he eats depending on his weight and health.

In addition to doing your own research, you can consult your vet or a veterinary nutritionist to determine which food and amount would be best for your golden.

But remember: there is no one perfect food for any dog. You’ll have many choices to select from so that your golden is healthy and happy. 

And choosing a high-quality food may also reduce his risk of health problems. And it’s more cost-effective because you can feed a lesser quantity because it’s more nutritious. 

What Do the Terms on the Label Mean?

The labels on pet foods can be confusing. Learning what the terms mean can help you decipher which one is a higher-quality product.

The terms on a label are listed in descending amounts of ingredients. So the first few listed are found in larger amounts than those at the bottom of the items listed on the label.

And check the “best by” date to be sure that the food is fresh.


Meat is the skeletal muscle of animals as well as tissue from the heart. This may be beef, chicken, pork, lamb, or salmon. 

This is the animal flesh without any water extracted.

Meat Meal

It can include only actual meat, skin, and bone, which can be nutritious. But it can legally contain animals who were dying, diseased, deformed, or had died before slaughtering.

Unfortunately, companies aren’t required to disclose this to the consumer.

Meat meals are the product after the excess moisture has been removed from the meat.

Meat By-Products or Poultry By-Products

This means the non-meat part of the animal. By-products.are what’s left of a slaughtered animal after the parts intended for human consumption have been removed.

These include lungs, kidneys, brains, bone, blood, heads, spleens, stomachs, beaks, feet, feathers, and intestines.

But they shouldn’t include hair, horns, teeth, or hooves.

Unfortunately, like meat meal, it can contain animals who were very sick or dead before slaughtering which need not be disclosed to the consumer.

Whole Meats versus Named Protein Meals

These are named proteins such as chicken, salmon, beef, and lamb. They can contain up to 70 percent moisture prior to cooking.

Named protein meals, such as lamb meal, have that excess moisture removed being processed into kibble.

So meals actually have more protein by weight than whole meats do.

Fish Meal

Fish meal is the clean ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, with or without the oil extracted.

Ground Corn

Ground corn is the entire corn kernel ground or chopped.

Corn Gluten Meal

Corn gluten meal is the by-product after the manufacture of corn syrup or starch, and is the dried residue after the removal of the bran, germ, and starch.

Brewers Rice

Brewers rice is the small fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from larger kernels of milled rice.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is the unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.

Soybean Meal 

Soybean meal is a by-product of the production of soybean oil.

Holistic or Natural 

These are terms that some companies use. But they have no meaning according to the FDA. 

So beware that such foods may not be what we think of as being holistic or natural.

Human Grade

This term as well as “fit for human consumption” can’t legally be used by pet food companies, according to the FDA.


This means that the food is free from antibiotics, synthetic hormones, pesticides, and preservatives. It’s also non-genetically modified (non-GMO).

What To Avoid

Although a food’s price may be a guide regarding a food’s quality, it’s not the only consideration. Of course, higher-quality ingredients cost more.

It’s best to stay away from foods that contain artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. These include propylene glycol, BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin..

Also avoid foods that have been overly processed or contain hormones or steroids.

Meat by-products and poultry by-products are one of the lower-quality ingredients. Try to avoid them.

A generic fat such as “animal fat” can be any type of fat from an animal. It can also be restaurant grease. It’s better if the type of fat is named, such as chicken or duck fat.

Added sweeteners appeal to a dog’s palate. But they’re usually found in lower-quality foods with little healthy animal proteins.

Corn and soy are generally regarded to be inferior ingredients and fillers.

Some Suggested Foods for Your Adult  Golden Retriever 

The following list contains some foods for you to consider for your golden. Remember that if you feed a high-quality food to your dog without fillers, you often can feed less.

A general guideline I’ve found when choosing a food is to make sure that it has specifically-named ingredients, not vague, generic ones. So “lamb meal” would be preferable to the generic term “meat meal.” 

The same is true of preservatives and other ingredients.

I feed my golden a food that’s been recommended by many reliable sources such as the Whole Dog Journal and that’s been well-rated by the Dog Food Advisor. 

I won’t name it just because it’s one of many choices and what I’ve found to be great for my dogs may not be for yours. 

And I also considered various foods before making my selection. My dogs are doing well on this food.

You don’t need to break the bank to find a great food. Goldens love their food and eat a lot because of their size. So I’m providing a wide selection of price points to select from..

I’m listing the top-five adult and puppy formulas for large breeds and links to the Dog Food Advisor and Chewy so that you can see additional information regarding these foods and their ratings.

The Dog Food Advisor is a public service website designed to help you make a more informed decision when buying dog food.

The write-ups are taken from those found on the Dog Food Advisor website.

The links will also lead to information regarding additional high-rated foods.

Wellness Core Grain-Free Large-Breed Dog Formula

The top five ingredients are deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, lentils, and peas. 

The formula contains a minimum of 34 percent of named proteins. Its high-protein content helps form strong muscles.

It’s a grain-free, high protein recipe with substantial kibble size to promote proper chewing time for larger mouths like goldens have. 

The formula includes increased amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin to support bone and joint health in larger-sized dogs.

This recipe contains the preferred amount of fat and calories to help maintain a healthy weight for a dog the size of a golden.

It’s a higher-quality food with an abundance of animal protein and nutrient-rich vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli. 

The food doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. It has no meat by-products or fillers. And no corn, wheat, or soy.

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Adult Large-Breed Chicken Formula

The top five ingredients are deboned salmon, chicken meal, pea protein, peas, and tapioca starch, with a minimum of 32 percent protein.

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Large Breed Chicken is a great option for those looking for higher protein and an optimal blend of calcium, phosphorus, and essential vitamins to help keep bones strong.

Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids found in fish meal and flaxseed ensure a healthy coat. 

An ideal blend of protein, fat and carbohydrates are also included to assist your large breed dog in keeping a healthy weight. 

The formula doesn’t contain any grains or gluten and has no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

It also has antioxidants to boost immune health and no poultry by-products.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are added for healthy joints.

Now Fresh Grain-Free Large-Breed Adult Formula

The top five ingredients are de-boned turkey, whole dried egg, potatoes, peas, and potato flour. It contains a minimum of 27 percent with named proteins.

Now Fresh Large Breed Adult contains balanced proteins and fats from turkey, salmon, and duck.

The formula also has antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables such as spinach, cranberries, pumpkin, blackberries, and carrots. These are great for building a strong immune system to help fight disease.

This recipe is recommended for dogs over 50 pounds and between 15 months and five years of age.

It contains extra nutrients such as glucosamine and chondroitin for hip and joint care for larger-breed dogs.

There are no by-products or artificial preservatives. The formula contains probiotics to support digestion. 

There is no gluten, wheat, corn, or soy 

Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Large-Breed Adult Formula

The top five ingredients are deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. The food contains a minimum of 38 percent protein.

The Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Large Breed recipe contains added glucosamine and chondroitin to help support healthy hip and joint function, essential for large-breed dogs. 

Omega fatty acids from salmon oil help ensure a healthy skin and coat.

A unique raw-infused kibble recipe is loaded with protein. 

Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, apples, and blueberries are also included to boost your dog’s immune system

This formula has a large kibble size.

The recipe has no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives and is gluten free.

Purina Pro Plan Adult Dog Food

The top five ingredients in this formula are chicken, rice, whole grain wheat, poultry by-product meal, and soybean meal. It has a minimum protein of 26 protein percent.

The formula also has live probiotics to support healthy digestion.

Pro Plan Adult Shredded Blend combines a hard kibble with tender, pieces of real, shredded chicken for enhanced flavor and texture. It’s a more cost-effective formula than some that are higher-ranked.

It has live probiotics to support healthy digestion as well as omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. 

It contains no artificial colors or flavors.

Although this formula is highly-ranked and has been a favorite with consumers, please note that it contains poultry by-product and soybean meal, both of which are often considered to be inferior ingredients. 

But apparently many consumers have found that their dogs are doing well on this food.

Some Suggested Foods for Your Golden Retriever Puppy

Of course puppies require a higher amount of protein and fat than adults generally do. 

But note that adult goldens who are very active, such as dogs who do agility, generally need more protein and fat  than other goldens do. But they may not need as much as puppies do. 

If in doubt, it’s best to check with a vet who knows canine nutrition regarding your dog’s specific needs.

Wellness Complete Health Large Breed Puppy Food

The top five ingredients are deboned chicken, chicken meal, peas, ground brown rice, and salmon meal. The recipe contains a minimum of 32 percent protein. 

It has 14 percent fat, and 45 percent estimated carbs and has a fat-to-protein ratio of about 44percent. It also has a safe, balanced amount of calcium. 

It’s also a relatively inexpensive food for the quality of its ingredients.

Origen Puppy Large Breed Formula

The top five ingredients are deboned chicken, deboned turkey, yellowtail flounder, whole eggs, and whole atlantic mackerel. 

This recipe contains a minimum of 43 percent protein, 18 percent fat and 30percent estimated carbs, creating a fat-to-protein ratio of about 41percent.

This high-quality food is more expensive than many five-star rated foods.

Diamond Naturals Large-Breed Puppy Formula

The top five ingredients are lamb, lamb meal, whole grain brown rice, cracked pearled barley, and ground white rice.

This budget-friendly food has a dry matter label analysis of 30 percent protein, 17 percent fat, and 45 percent estimated carbs. 

It has a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56 percent.

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Large-Breed Puppy Formula

The top five ingredients are deboned chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, oatmeal, and barley.

The dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 29 percent protein, 17 percent fat and 46 percent estimated carbs. This results in a fat-to-protein ratio of about 58 percent. 

This is a top-rated food that is budget conscious.

Purina Pro Plan Large-Breed Puppy Formula

The top five ingredients are chicken, rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, and poultry by-product meal. The dry matter label analysis reveals the recipe contains 32 percent protein.

It also contains 15 percent fat and 45 percent estimated carbs. This yields a fat-to-protein ratio of about 47 percent.

It’s listed as a “time-proven field-tested formula with balanced calcium levels ideal for large and giant breed puppies.” 

This is a budget-friendly food that many people recommend.  This formula is highly-ranked and has been a favorite with consumers.

Purina Pro Plan is what we are currently feeding our guide dog puppies.

But, as is true of the adult Pro Plan food listed above, please note that it contains poultry by-product and soybean meal, both of which are often considered to be inferior ingredients. 

But apparently many consumers have found that their dogs are doing well on this food.

Final Thoughts

There are so many choices when selecting a food for your beloved golden retriever. It can really be challenging to find the right food.

But remember because there are so many choices, there is no one right food for your pup. 

Dog food ratings can help make a choice. So can knowing the basics regarding what the terms on a food label mean.

How did you choose the food you’re feeding your dog? Are you thinking of switching foods?

Please leave your comments in the section below.

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Best Food For Golden Retrievers - Golden Retriever down in front of bowl of kibble with some spilled onto the floor

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