The Problem with Dog Food Reviews

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Dog food reviews have at least three valid shortcomings. They can never reveal the true quality of the raw materials that were used to make the products they attempt to judge.

Or the important research and nutritional design effort that went into making these products.

And they cannot evaluate the safety with which the raw materials and products were handled by a company when manufacturing, storing and shipping the finished goods.

So, rating the ultimate “as fed” condition of a specific pet food or predicting product recall events is impossible.

Why It’s Difficult to Control the Quality
of Dog Food Ingredients

Not only do most pet food companies conceal the origin of their ingredients, they also change the sources as well as the quality of those ingredients on a regular basis.

Many raw materials used to make dog foods are bought and sold in commercial-sized lots on the open market.

Bulk prices vary. And so does quality.

From day to day, it’s not unusual for an ingredient to come from a different farm, a different storage facility or a different state.

Even a different country.

Although better companies procure their ingredients directly from trusted manufacturers, others may buy their raw materials through brokers and middlemen.

And many times through less-reputable third party suppliers.

What’s worse, manufacturers are not legally required to report these changes to consumers.

That’s why the method used to review a product is so important.

An Objective Way to Review Dog Food

Although there are many ways to rate a dog food, we’ve settled on using the only reliable information we feel we can consistently trust.

We read and interpret government-regulated pet food labels. Nothing more. And we do this in two simple steps.

  1. We study the ingredients list
  2. We evaluate the meat content

As reviewers, we don’t test dog food. We don’t taste it. And we rarely trust marketing hype. Manufacturer’s claims. Or the fancy artwork on the package.

Nor should you.

Nagging Questions Persist

Of course, like everyone else, we still yearn to know more

  • Where do the ingredients come from?
  • Are they food grade? Feed grade? Or agricultural rejects?
  • Are they fresh?
  • Will my dog like the taste?
  • Is the kibble the right size for my pet?
  • Have they been tested for chemical or biological contamination?

These are all legitimate questions. Some of them can be answered by simply visiting a company’s website. Or calling their customer service number.

Yet remember, company information can be biased.. and almost always subject to change.

That’s why we’re reluctant to simply re-broadcast a manufacturer’s marketing message. We fear it could be misleading and provide a false sense of security to our readers.

Getting Help from the Real Life
Experiences of Others

Reviews can never predict results. However, there’s one valuable source of information that can help. It’s easy to access. Practical. And yet commonly overlooked.

Our readers comments.

So, be sure to check out the Comments section at the end of each review for a more complete picture of each dog food.

Before you buy.

There you’ll find a wealth of helpful information from our readers — dog owners and breeders as well as community-minded veterinary professionals, nutritionists and dog food companies.

  • Tips and suggestions on feeding
  • Candid opinions about specific dog foods
  • Reports of real life experiences and results
  • Comments about a company’s customer service

Best of all, find out whether our readers’ dogs give a “tails up” or a “tails down” to the taste of a particular product.

What Our Stars Really Mean

We tend to dislike dog foods made with by-products — especially plant-based by-products. And we downgrade recipes that contain:

  • Generic animal fats
  • Anonymous meat ingredients
  • Synthetic chemical preservatives
  • Plant-based meat-protein substitutes

We recognize that protein fed in excess of the minimum nutritional requirement of an animal is simply burned as energy.

However, we also believe in the commonsense logic of mimicking a dog’s natural ancestral diet — in modeling a dog food after what an animal would naturally consume in the wild.

So, we shamelessly favor dog foods rich in meat.

In general, a five star dog food is one that is high in meat content and free of most by-products, suspicious chemicals or plant-based protein boosters.

So, does that mean a one-star dog food is bad for your dog?

No, probably not. A product with a low star rating isn’t necessarily a bad product. Some dogs can thrive on these recipes.

It’s just that we passionately believe you should know what you’re paying for. So, dog foods made with by-products and less meat should, of course, cost less, too.

The Bottom Line

The reviews published on this website are not intended to suggest that feeding a particular product will result in specific health benefits for your pet. They should only be used as a tool to help you make a more informed decision when buying dog food.

And remember…

Consumers are forever at the mercy of dog food manufacturers. Even with their well-meaning promises and guarantees, each batch of ingredients can be notably different from the previous one.

The variations in quality of the finished foods can be significant.

So, as a policy, we deliberately avoid reporting the source or the condition of the ingredients mentioned in our reviews.

Safety Problems Are a Certainty

Because of these quality variations, dog food recalls are inevitable, even from the very best companies. No written assurance from any manufacturer (or product reviewer) can ever guarantee safety.

Your best defense? Be sure to check back regularly for all the latest comments, reviews and information about dog food recalls.

And please don’t forget to share what you know about a dog food or a company. Because your knowledge and experience can make a difference.

  • kitty

    How can I find out where the meat ingredience in Blue brand dog food come from ? That is supposed to be a very good brand of pet food. I wonder If it is or isn’t made with euthenised animals like some of the other brands ? ( Sorry about the misspellings.

  • funnydude

    Yup bad choice for dogs

  • Elise

    Misser, get your dog allergy tested. Vets are not trained in food, and if they are, they usually don’t have time to keep up to date. Many years ago I rescued two different dogs. Both had such bad allergies that they were dying from it. It is not uncommon for a dog to rate an allergy with meat grain and vegetable. Save yourself from dog food testing hell n just get them tested.

    Also, allergic reactions are cumulative. In other words, they build n it is when the proverbial “straw that breaks the camels back” happens, you get the reactions you have. One of my dogs was literally allergic to everything, but I reduced her intake to two allergens instead of seventeen. Symptoms went away and she lived to seventeen.

  • Shawna

    I would DEFINITELY get a second opinion on that.. It would be VERY VERY VERY VERY unlikely for a dog to be allergic to ALL meat proteins. Besides that — grains, potato, peas, tomatos and other non-meat foods can cause the same skin issues you are seeing in your dog. My dog gets really itchy from barley and other gluten grains.

  • Pattyvaughn

    It is true that allergies and intolerances are a reaction to protein. However, there are proteins in grains and almost every other sort of food item, for that matter. So a dog wouldn’t be allergic to potato starch, but it could be allergic to potato protein. Allergies are very specific to the one single protein, so a dog that is allergic to one protein is not necessarily allergic to a different but related protein.

  • Tracey South

    now you know what some know; that purebreds can often have more health issues than the average mixed breed. But that does not mean you cannot find the solution ! Don’t give up. I did put my 2 cents worth into the discussion before I realized so many others had. I am new-ish to this forum.

  • Tracey South

    never heard about feeding pumpkin during transition period ; neat idea.
    I only recently learned it is good for diarrhea. Which I find mind boggling ; to me , I would have thought it would cause diarrhea ! like I say I learn something every day. Now I can add your input to my list. :)

  • Tracey South

    the vet that explained the allergy to protein thing to me, if you read my other reply….she said it was indeed a “molecule” or something in the specific protein . I don’t know if she said it that way to make it easy for me to understand. Maybe when she said molecule it meant epitope …..(whatever that is) Smile. :)

  • Tracey South

    I am not a vet and cannot say what might be good for your dog. Here is what a vet told me about my dog and skin allergies. She told me it is not really the grains the dogs are usually allergic to if they have food allergy. She said it is the proteins. The protein one dog is sensitive to is not the same as another dogs’ sensitivity or allergic reaction. She said however it is the commonly used proteins (i.e., chicken, etc) maybe in your case, meat (?) but the more the dog is exposed to the protein in question (if dog is becoming sensitive to it) the worse the problem. She said the vets used to recommend a less common protein source, say duck or salmon as opposed to chicken….but that it can be tricky these days since all those other proteins are so often marketed now. My guess would be to maybe do a trial run of a poultry he is not used to , like duck or something . Or, when you said “no meat of any kind” were you talking about poultry, also ? In that case, how about salmon ? Fish oil is great for inflammation anyway. Good luck.

  • mward1993

    http://oakwayfarmandgarden.com/uploads/Naturals_Chicken___Rice.pdf

    Judging from this chicken and rice ingredient list and GA i looks like an all around good food. Especially if you run a kennel and feed a large number of dogs, this is a great choice. It would probably rate 4 stars on this site unless they decided 26% STILL isn’t enough for 4 stars.

  • beelzbubba

    We had continual problems with any commercial foods for our dog. The “meat” allergies are often from the types of meats used in commercial products. They’re ok for most dogs, but present problems for some. I am a vegetarian, but experience tells me that isn’t the best thing for my dog. In my case, consultation with my vet and a lot of trial & error led me to create a blend of boneless skinless chicken breast (75%) spinach (20%) and kale (5%). Now our girl can’t digest fats, which is why the boneless. However a dog with skin issues, weight loss, digestive problems, and a poor prognosis to live past 5 or 6 is going on 12 with excellent skin, weight, energy.

  • Pattyvaughn

    There isn’t a review for it yet, but it is probably on the list to be done. It will probably have a better rating than the regular Southern States, but I wouldn’t expect it to be a great deal better just by looking at the other ingredients that they don’t have a problem with including in dog food.

  • Bart Howard

    I see there is a fairly bad review about Southern States advanced dog food (dry). Is there an opinion or a review about Southern States Naturals? This is Grain, Soy and By-Product free and the Lamb and Rice formula has been most beneficial to all my dogs (We board, and Train clients dogs)
    Bart

  • jimbo

    When our dog had issues like you reported, we switch to an all raw meat natural diet. The change in her skin and coat conditions was remarkable. Best thing we ever did for her. I can’t buy your vet’s suggestion.

  • Betsy Greer

    Hi Mlisser,

    It happens. : )

    The 4Health you chose sounds like a good choice. In Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, whitefish is a cooling fish. Here’s a good food energetics chart from Herbsmith: http://www.herbsmithinc.com/Home/Education/foodcharts/default.asp.

    Take your time on the transition from the Beneful to the 4Health. Give him a spoonful of canned pureed [plain] pumpkin with each meal ~ it helps with GI issues that can happen when you switch foods. Even though you’re eager to switch, take the transition slowly, mixing the two together (75% old & 25% new) and gradually increasing the new while decreasing the old only after his stool is solid and formed. It might take two or three weeks to get him there since he’s only eaten the Beneful. He’ll get there though. It might be helpful to give him some probiotics and digestive enzymes as well to help repopulate his gut flora and digest the animal proteins in the new food.

    He may get worse before he gets better!

    That’s disappointing that your vet didn’t even ask what you were feeding and suggest getting him off of the Beneful.

    Here’s a link to find a holistic / integrative medicine vet near you:
    http://www.ahvma.org/Widgets/FindVet.html

    Good luck!

  • Sugar

    My neighbor’s dog also had the same symptoms. The belly was all red. He also had a rash from licking. Any grain free food is now good.

  • Mlisser

    Grain free is what we will try. I had no idea. He is red but it is not a rash it is just his skin color, if that makes sense. You can tell it is coming from the inside out and just on his underbelly. Not impressed with the vet although I was not there so maybe it was more thorough of an exam than it sounds. This is the first purebred dog I have ever owned and he seems much more sensitive in general than the Heinz 57′s I have owned in the past.

  • Mlisser

    We have been feeding him Beneful which I see now from the posts is the worst possible food to feed him. My husband went by the store and bought him 4 health grain free whitefish. We will see how that works. I am not sure of the prescription as my husband gives it to him but I will look once I get home.

  • Betsy Greer

    Hi Mlisser,

    Two questions. What are you feeding your dog currently? What is the prescription medication that the vet prescribed your dog?

  • Sugar

    How can the vet say something like this without backing it up with evidence or a good theory?
    My neigbor’s vet told them the reason for the rash would be fleas. The vet did not even look for fleas and has not found any fleas. The dog did not have fleas! Not even the steroids she gave the dog would help the dog. She did not recommend changing the food and claimed the reason for the rash would not be the food/the grains without saying why. Well she was completely wrong.
    The moment they stopped all medication and gave the dog grain free food the skin condition went away. I could not believe as to how wrong the vet was.
    I would try some good grain free foods and see if it works, otherwise cut out the chicken too.
    I would look for another vet too.

  • Sugar

    Good idea!

  • Dr J

    This sounds rather bizarre to me, considering that dogs a preferentially carnivores and designed to eat meat. I have never heard of a general protein or meat allergy. Usually one has an allergy against a specific epitope and not an entire protein. Additionally, if your dog was allergic to proteins he would also be allergic to proteins found in a vegetarian diet. What do you feed him currently?

  • Mlisser

    No, there were no tests run. It would be nice to know more specifically other than cut out all meat products, chewies, dog bones, protein,everything. He can have green beans which he will eat. He is on his second prescription. The first time the antibiotic did help as a temporary fix. We have spent more than $300 so far and it is just the beginning I suspect. We will give the surf n turf a shot as well as look for the Horizon. Thanks so much.

  • InkedMarie

    The first thing I recommend is a second opinion, preferably with a holistic vet.

  • Sugar

    I haven’t never heard of a vet making this recommendation. Did he do any tests?
    Often skin conditions are caused by grains, or certain types of meat proteins, such as chicken.
    They can also be environmental as well.
    My neighbor also had a dog with a similar skin condition and the vet said things which were not true. They spent $ 200 and the condition got worse. I gave them a bag of Fromm surf n’turf and the skin condition went away very quickly.
    Halo has a vegetarian food line.
    Have you tried fish and grain free dry food? For instance Horizon Pulsar or Legacy? I believe they are of good quality and a bit lower priced.

  • Mlisser

    My Vet recommended my English Springer Spaniel no longer eat meat of any kind. He has a skin condition where he has chewed and scratched himself raw apparently caused by protein and meat products? Can anyone recommend a food that I can afford? All of the vegetarian foods are way out of my price range.

  • SophiasMommy

    Decided to go with Castor & Pollux Grain Free Duck for my 12 wk old pit, after feeding her Science Diet (vet recommendation) and Simply Nourish Puppy (bought when we got her). Hope she likes it! :)

  • Frances Andrews

    Both my dog and I got salmonella from Purina One Chicken and Barley dog food, which has been recalled. Beware!

  • Pattyvaughn

    Those are meal moth larva and you don’t want them to get loose in your house!! They are a pain to get rid of and are usually from a bag being stored too long and/or not properly rotated on the shelf.

  • Pattyvaughn

    I believe that no dog food is prefect, they all are high or low in some nutrient. So I feed a variety of foods. For kibble, I feed Brothers Complete, Nature’s Variety Instinct, Earthborn Holistic, and soon I’ll try Nautre’s Logic. I believe a fresh high meat diet is best, but I have too many squeamish people living in my house to make that my dogs total diet, but half of their food is fresh or frozen raw food.

  • somebodysme

    She just said that Diamond makes the DRY food by Solid Gold.

  • kassicast

    What do u feed your dog I am stressing trying to find good dog food for my dog which is a cocker spaniel 2 year old found out that I have been feeding her bad food I feel terrible now I am trying to find her the bestt dog food I can but its hard why is there so much recalls on dog food

  • DEBBIE

    I bought the Simply Nourish for w/chicken Seniors yesterday and also about two months ago the same thing happened, when I opened the bag I noticed before if you get a really tight sealed bag everything is ok. But these two bags had WHITE WORMS CRAWLING ING THE FOOD AND IT LOOKED LIKE SOME KINDA WEBS TOO i WILL BE TAKING THIS BAG BACK TODAY.

  • Pattyvaughn

    This site favors feeding raw. Period. But if the meat is in a kibble, it isn’t fresh raw protein. Ever. Kibble can never be raw, it is a bakery product. And most kibbles are stored in hot warehouses for months before they make it to store shelves. Not fresh, not raw.

  • Michael Barber

    Yeh this site is useful but it is by no means absolute. They seem to prefer “meal” over “raw protein”. For example, they rate Chicken soup “LOWER” than “Taste of the Wild” when it lists the FIRST TWO raw proteins…citing “moisture”. Despite the claims of this website, saying that no bone makes its way into chicken meal is absurd. I guarantee a large amount of meal is comprised of bone especially in something like Chicken which would take too much work to completely break down the bone and cooking would still release soft bone and small bones. Just like in the case of fish meal. Bone can be useful for some nutrition but I would take fresh raw protein over all an all protein meal dog food all day long and I’m sure my dog would as well.

  • losul

    Thnx, Shawna.

  • Shawna

    Well said losul.

  • Pattyvaughn

    You apparently have missed the whole point. Nobody can possibly try all 3000+ dog foods, so people need a way to narrow their search. This is a place to start, not a place to finish, just like seeing a trailer is a place to start to figure out if you want to try a movie. At least Dr Mike realizes the shortcomings of a dog food review and writes about it, unlike movie reviewers, who apparently think everyone wants to see what they do.

  • losul

    Comparing a dog food review to a movie review is a poor comparison, nevertheless, without even watching a movie, most of us can judge whether a movie is highly likely to be poor quality if the leading role actors/actresses are known to be third rate (even if it has a tiny guest appearance by a better performer) it’s very low budget, and the producer is known to be a low-life.

  • L. Molgat

    With all of the shortcomings listed above I’m surprised that anyone would even speculate on how good a food might be. In most cases Pet Food Review websites are constructed by people who have had no formal education or experience in the field, have had some kind of issue with a pet & pet food and who have never even seen or let alone tried the food they are rating. For me that is like someone who is not in the Movie Industry, has no Journalistic background, seeing a glimpse of a trailer for a film then writing a review on the movie.

    Sincerely
    L. Molgat

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=519441296 Susan Israel

    If the vets think likewise, the animal hospital is not so wonderful. Find a holistic one.

  • Guest

    @ Storm’s Mom, I only use the DRY food of Solid Gold, and then I buy Merrick’s Wet food as a LIGHT mixer. Who makes their Dry food? I’ve tried investigating it and havn’t found an answer.

  • Angie Hendrickson

    Right, I’ve heard that from quite a few people. But I guess recalls happen and it doesn’t always necessarily mean you’re a terrible company when it does happen. I heard about 2012′s recall of Wolf Cub (exactly what I’m buying), but honestly.. the list of ingredients are so impressive to me, and our puppy does so incredible on it, that I can only assume that they fixed what happened. I also can only assume that accidents happen out of your control as a company. If you order mass quantities of certain ingredients from various companies to MAKE your dog food, you can’t always know for fact that what comes to you is 100% safe until you start getting complaints. Then at that point it’s too late, and boom, better start ordering that particular ingredient from some one else. As this article states, ALL dog food companies order from multiple companies to get their ingredients. They can’t always be perfect. For now I’m going to trust Solid Gold because of the results I am seeing.

  • somebodysme

    OH well, they don’t know much at the front desk…get this, the lady at MY vet’s office didn’t know what DEMODEX was…GAH!