Premium, Gourmet or Natural Dog Food… Really?

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Premium, gourmet or natural… are these words you can trust on a dog food label?
Woman Using a Magnifier to Read a Dog Food Label

Or are they simply exaggerated claims designed to influence your purchase decision?

Each and every day, agricultural waste declared unfit for human consumption finds its way into commercial dog food.

Just take a look at these dreadful yet perfectly legal ingredients:


Obviously, dog food companies know that raw materials like these couldn’t possibly help sell their products. Can you imagine buying a product called…

“Slaughterhouse Waste Dog Food”

Wouldn’t sell very well, would it?

Yet that’s precisely why some pet food companies invest millions of dollars each year creating misleading packaging… packaging intentionally designed to deceive you.

To distract you from what’s really in their products.

That’s why it’s crucial to not allow yourself to be tricked by dog food packaging. Or by the extravagant words used to inflate the apparent value of a product.

Be Wary of the Seductive Words
‘Premium’ or ‘Gourmet’

For most of us, when shopping for any food product, it’s difficult to resist one labeled “premium” or “gourmet”.

Am I right?

Well, dog food companies know this. So, they intentionally use words like these to dupe us into believing their product is superior to other competing brands.

If you’re like me, you’ll be shocked to discover the FDA has no regulations or guidelines to protect consumers from misleading claims of superiority like these.

FDA labeling guidelines1 state…

“Products labeled as premium or gourmet are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients, nor are they held up to any higher nutritional standards than are any other complete and balanced products.”

But What About Natural Dog Food?

OK, so you think the word “natural” might be an exception? Right?

Well, think again.

The word “natural” actually has no official meaning. That same FDA document2 continues…

“The term ‘natural’ is often used on pet food labels, although that term does not have an official definition either.”

However, the FDA does recognize the decisive AAFCO3 definition of ‘natural’ by elaborating…

“For the most part, ‘natural’ can be construed as equivalent to a lack of artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives in the product.”

Where to Find the Only Information
You Can Reliably Trust

On a pet food package, the legal truth can be found in one place. And one place only. The government-regulated portion of the label.

And nowhere else.

For this reason, we never blindly trust the pictures on the bag… or the words premium, gourmet or natural when we judge dog food.

Nor should you.

  1. FDA Pet Food Labels, Updated March 2010
  2. Ibid.
  3. Association of American Feed Control Officials
  • Thomas

    I know it’s been a long time since your post, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents just the same. I try to keep my thinking as simple as possible. Dogs are still deeply related to wolves. How often do wolves eat something other than raw meat? I have a dog that I feed nothing but raw meat, primarily pork and chicken. The only part from a cow is the stomach and heart. Beef is just too expensive. I buy the following: chicken legs and thighs (including bones), pork loins and shoulders (including bones), tripe (cow stomach lining) and heart, and cheap tuna and sardines. I only give him fruit or vegetable scraps. Wolves don’t need fruits and vegetables. They can’t possibly eat them in the winter. They may eat some in season if they can’t find a kill quickly enough. Dogs are the same. Chicken and pork provide the core proteins, bones (always uncooked) provide calcium and all the vitamins the good stuff in the marrow and cleans the teeth, tripe provides necessary minerals, heart provides iron, and fish provides the important omegas. Avoid beef bones; they’re too hard. I can buy the chicken for about 99c/lb, the pork is 1.29/lb, the heart is 1.99/lb, and tripe is 2.99/lb. Fish are .75 to $1.00/can. All in cost is about $15/week for an 85 lb dog. This includes a couple of pigs feet for .75 each. The total cost is 1/4 to 1/3 the cost of Blue Buffalo, which is clearly inferior to good pieces of chicken or pork. Regarding the infection from handling the meat, don’t we handle raw meat for our own diets?

  • jenniferlvan

    Another thing would be to learn what nutrients a dog needs on a daily basis. This will help to figure out the best food to feed your dog. For example.. they need protein, Calories, Carbohydrates, Salt, etc but how much? Figure this all out for the size of your dog and the dogs activity level. Don’t forget to add a Big Raw Meaty Bone (NEVER cooked)! This will help with keeping his gums and teeth healthy, make him happy and the nutrients from feeding raw meaty bones are remarkable! Companies like Primal and Bravo carry raw bones. You can find them in the freezer section of a local specialty shop. I would call first to make sure they carry them, or ask them to order. They are inexpensive, under $10 for a pack of 6 bone marrows, turkey necks etc. If you are worried about the mess, put down an old towel or sheet, or let your dog take the bone outside. Throw the bone out when he is done. oh..and watch your fingers! my dogs grunt and growl with excitement when they get their bones. I hope this helps!

  • jenniferlvan

    i fired the ignorant vet the same day she told me this. Funny thing.. since then, every vet we go to now tells us how great our dogs look and how healthy they are. These vets are pro-raw and have nothing negative to say. What i have figured out….the *better* vets (such as the universities -ex. Michigan State) understand the benefits of feed an animal their natural diet. I encourage anyone to research the beginning of commercial dog food. They say, what you don’t know..wont hurt you. I think what you don’t know WILL hurt you. The more I learn, the more protective I become. We live in a sick, evil, devious, manipulative and unkind world. People kill innocent and defenseless animals (dogs/cats) to put food on their tables. It’s a mess us humans have created and animals have to pay. We should be so ashamed.

  • Chris

    Im not a vet but based on my personal experience I would say try a grain free food. My one dog had the same issues. We switched her food to Taste Of The Wild which is grain free & rated 6 stars. After several weeks the scratching & chewing was almost completely stopped & her coat looked fantastic. We also supplemented her diet with fish oil.Se is now about 99% symptom free without any medication.

  • lisa g.

    Hello I enjoy your website. Although I do not have any dogs for pets, my friend does. I want to please, refer you to a fantastic website about cat food. Dog food is mentioned as well. There is a pdf download on the composition of many different brands of pet food at the site as well. It’s written by Lisa A. Pierson, DVM. If you Google her name you will get her website. Please check it out and let me know your thoughts, if you please. Thank you so much for your hard work. Sincerely, Lisa G.

  • losul

    It doesn’t sound like any argument will ever really change her mindset. If she didn’t already sow too many seeds of doubt in your mind (it kind of sounds like she did), you want to keep feeding raw (do you?), and you want to keep this vet on your payroll for some reason, I would just calmly, not argumentatively, tell her that you believe you have done all the research necessary (hopefully you have) , you have determined with due diligence that raw feeding is best for you and your dogs, and raw feeding is what it’s going to be. She would be remiss in her duties, if she didn’t respectfully make sure you understood the risks, and understood how to properly balance the diet, but if she still won’t accept and work with you, then FIRE her.

  • Jenniferlvan

    Today I let our vet know that we fed our 3 dogs raw food. She looked at me in horror and said that my dogs are more prone to diseases feeding them raw, and so are humans (because we are too lazy to wash our hands properly after feeding/handling raw). I explained my reasoning… pointing out some of the various ingredients as listed here. She said that this is an internet myth. I also told her that the raw food we feed is for all life cycles, she said that dogs should be fed food based on age. she also said that the ingredients in the food I feed are probably not as listed, most likely something else… chicken could be horse…venison could be beef…etc. what really gets me irritated is the vets comment about horrible ingredients being a myth. Do you have any real proof that I could show this vet? Any help/advice will be appreciated.

  • Petsville

     As far as I am concerned all kibble is processed crap, feed your dog a complete raw diet or table scraps they will thrive. Processed is processed and even worse is the junk ingredients they use. How can anyone open a bag of that junk food and feed it to their pets. My guess is it’s the same people that eat and feed McDonalds to their kids.

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com/ Mike Sagman

    Hi Emma,

    Unfortunately, due to the daily variability of consumer prices for the more than 2,500 dog food represented here, I do not track this information on my website.

    Wish I could be more help.

  • Emma Canina

    (I’m sorry but I got so confused on your site because I don’t know how to tell what’s the cheapest. I want the best quality and the best price, I know that’s hard to come by haha. I’m hoping for the best-plan compromise)

  • Emma Canina

    Mike, I am looking for the most economically-friendly 4 or 5 star rated dog food. Can you please give me a list of those?

  • Sheryl

    Thank you for this site! I ran myself ragged doing research on food for my dog.. I did pretty well coming up with wellness 5 mix for small breed. But have been bouncing around on canned over quality and price issues. I think I’m going to finally settle on candea with some help from you!

  • Norma P

    Mike: I love your site it has been a godsend to me, I even have it bookmarked :) I found tAste of the wild because of your site.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Pingback: The Shocking Truth About Commercial Dog Food « The Astoria Dog()

  • Meagan

    Vicki- i hope all of us agree. i do!

  • Vicki

    Don’t we pet lovers think of our 4 legged furry companions as “fluffy” NON vegan family members??
    Why can’t the FDA regulate the dog food ingredients & the processing, not just the labels? It should be just as important to keep them healthy as their 2 legged, hopefuly not so fluffy, human companions. If it is road kill or other contaminated product… Get rid of it… bury it & let it become “fuel” of some sort in its next life. Keep it out of the food chain for people &/or animals. Any one agree?

  • Bob K

    Erin – Shhh – Don’t tell anyone but there is a whole multi billion industry around rendering, restaurant oil recycling, Food Processing co-products and by-products. Rarely does the roadkill and by products from an animal processing plant (aka scrap) go directly to a dog food plant, usually there is an intermediate processing plant that filters, treats, cooks. blends, renders and perhaps flavors the stuff they make. Read this pamphlet from the State of Indiana. http://www.in.gov/boah/files/slghtr_LG-3-99.pdf Then start to think of the possiblities when food is not fit for human consumption

  • erin c.

    Do the guys whose job it is to scrape up road kill get a little something for dropping their findings off at the pet food plant? :p

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com Mike Sagman

    Hi Vicki… You’re right. Picking a good dog food can be quite overwhelming. In any case, our star ratings are based strictly upon the government regulated labels and not upon price, past recall history or any of the other factors you reference in your comment. For more information, please see our FAQ page and look for the topic, “How We Rate Dog Food”. Or check back for comments from some of our other readers.

  • Vicki

    WOW…. I just found this site a few days ago and I am getting more confused AS I get more educated. We changed from the TSC Diamond brand dry food (4 stars) when they had the dying dogs recalls in 2007. Since then, we have been feeding my precious baby Dr Foster & Smith dry food which increased her energy, and brightened her eyes & coat (only 3 stars?). She is a senior citizen now and enjoys her 1/2 cup of moist food in addition to her “dry” evening meal each day. (She has dry AM & PM) We are planning to change her from Pedigree choice cuts canned (or little champions pouches when we are traveling in our RV) to Dr. Foster & Smith canned food (5 stars) for this treat, since we already have the dry food shipped from them. With the economy in the mess it’s in, we are trying to cut costs wherever we can. The cost difference between these 2 brands against my dog’s energy, etc. makes me wonder if I should go back to the cheaper Diamond bought locally (& maybe diamond canned also) or stay with what she seems to do so well with. The other part of my question is about a “controlled” (expensive) 3 star food over a “not so well controlled” (cheaper) 4 star food. Would the particular controversial ingredients in question for each of these brands, in addition to the ability of “controlled” product quality with “in house” manufacture make the 3 star ($$$$) preferable to the 4 star ($$) in a case like this? Can I get comments? Other’s personal experiences?? Input? : – ) Thanks!

  • Mike P

    Bob , I always read your post …ur right on here

  • Bob K

    Stephanie – What do you feed your dog? Not all dog food is crap. You have to read the label, get a little educated and make your own decision. There are many big brand name dog foods with lots of advertising, pretty bags and big corporations behind them that you really aren’t getting what you are paying for. If you are confused about what you should feed your dog then spend a little time and start to understand what may be in the dog food you are currently feeding your pet as starters and go from there as an educated consumer. You might be able to get a better dog food and save money which is a win for you and your pet.

  • Mike P

    Stephanie , read the reviews and the comments . Be a big girl and make a decission on what food you feed . To say a guy dedicated to the health of our pets is , “full of crap ” is very rude . Mike rates and reviews , we the caregivers decide …geez

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com Mike Sagman

    Hi Stephanie… There are nearly 500 dog food reviews on this website. They cover over 2,000 products. Look for the ones rated 3 stars or higher. Those are the ones we consider “good” dog foods. Hope this helps.

  • Stephanie

    You write this article saying there is some bad stuff in dog which is appreciated but you don’t say which dog food is good or bad based on what you supposedly say is bad stuff in our dog’s food. If it is that bad then tell us which food is good and which is bad! Otherwise I think you’re full of crap.

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com Mike Sagman

    Hi Kim… To a limited degree, the FDA does regulate the ingredient labels, naming rules and other pet food features. But it doesn’t regulate the quality of each ingredient used to make dog food any more than it does for human food. We review and rate the only information we feel we can reliably trust… government regulated pet food labels. To see why we intentionally ignore virtually everything else, please be sure to read my article, “The Problem with Dog Food Reviews“. Hope this helps.

  • Kim

    Hi Mike, Thanks for this site. I’ve enjoyed looking through it. I understand that the USDA does not regulate the ingredients in dog food and even if they did, I’m not sure I would believe it. Is there any way of being sure that the ingredients are high quality, i.e. not cobweb sweepings, and that when it says chicken, it really is just chicken? Also, I would love to see who are the parent companies of these brands and where the brands are produced/maunfactured if that information is available and trustworthy. Thanks and keep up the good work!

  • Rachel

    It’s also good to point out that the term “human grade” has no regulation on it’s use either – another brilliant marketing ploy.

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com Mike Sagman

    Hi Connie… I’m so sorry to hear about your Lab’s scratching and chewing problem. Unfortunately, since I’m not a veterinarian, you’ve asked a question I don’t feel qualified to answer. Like with humans, each dog responds to a particular food (or an ingredient) in its own unique way. And many times, the signs and symptoms you see aren’t even related to the food in the first place. So, it would be misleading for me (or anyone) to assure you feeding a specific product would provide the results you’re looking for. Wish I could be more help.

  • Connie

    Hi Mike,
    Our labs scratch a lot and chew their feet sometimes until they bleed. I’ve been told it’s due to allergies and the grain in the dog food. We are thinking of switching to a grain free food, specifically Premium Edge Weight Reduction based on its 5 star rating. Any thoughts as to if this might help with these issues?

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com Mike Sagman

    Hi Carol… Dogs are a lot like people. Each responds to different foods in its own unique way. And sometimes gas and GI upset are symptoms are not related to the food but another health issue. Since I’m not a vet it would be inappropriate for me to assure you a particular food would resolve your dog’s gas condition. Unfortunately, finding the right food for any specific pet can be a matter of trial and error. I’d suggest discussing this issue with your vet. Sorry I can’t be more help.

  • Carol

    My 3yr aussie has developed gas after being on Cannidae All Stage and switched to the chicken and rice – no change. Put him on probiotics to help but not really. Just started transitioning him on Taste of Wild-Fowl-no grain with only 1/2 C mixed twice now. His gas is worse. Can you recommend a premium food. He has had the most beautiful coat being on Cannidate but the gas has to go. My thinking was a 1 protein source and no-grain. Can you help me? Thanks so much, Carol

  • Abby

    Thanks, after alot of research (alot of which was on your site) I think I’m going to go with Orijen, my first choice was My nature organics, but they don’t have it for puppies. I will definitely switch gradually from what the breeder was feeding him.

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com Mike Sagman

    Hi Abby… I’d love to be able to share with you my favorite dog food. But I don’t really have one. Besides, it would be unfair to publicly endorse a particular product while there are so many other good ones to pick from. Dry. Canned. Raw. Grain-free. I couldn’t possibly feed Bailey and all the products I really like. Aren’t our dogs lucky? :)

  • Abby

    Hi Mike, thanks for all the great reviews and articles, it made narrowing down my decisions for my new puppy really easy.
    I wanted to ask, what do you personally think is THE BEST dry and wet dog food? What do you feed your dogs? Do you have any suggestions about what I should feed my new golden retriever puppy? (I am picking him up next week)

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com Mike Sagman

    Hi Esther… Don’t worry about those stars. Any balanced food that fits your budget is just fine.

    However, there are many 4 and 5-star dog foods that cost considerably less than the one you’re currently feeding. Take the time to “shop” some of our recommended brands and you’ll probably be able to save a lot of money.

    In any case, taking care of a dog in need in any way you can is the work of an angel. We love you for what you do :-).

  • Esther N. Moore

    If you live on budgeted money, what do you feed your pets? I have a 100 lb. American Bulldog (4 yrs.), a 65 lb. Collie mix (10 yrs.), and a 30 lb. Golden Retreiver/Shepard mix (5 mths.). I feed them Purina One. Is this a bad dog food also? I have made sure the older two have always remained their adult weights through the years. There are those who would say, “If you can’t afford to take care of a pet, don’t have them”. I tend to agree with that, but my pets are being taken care of excellently. I love all pets of every type. If I did not have the ones I do they would either be dead or Pitt bate. My vet says my pets are healthy with shiney coats, sparkly eyes, and damp noses. Is there any good manufactured dogfood out there that will not cross me over into total poverty?

  • http://DogFoodAdvisor.com Mike Sagman

    Hi Dean… Thanks for your heart-felt comments. I can understand your frustration with commercial dog food makers. But not all dog food companies are “bad”. I believe it’s important to acknowledge there are many conscientious manufacturers out there that consistently produce very fine products.

    In reality, many pets get sick (and even die accidentally) each year from (tainted) homemade food fed by well-meaning pet parents.

    My recommendation… it’s OK to make your own dog food… as long as you have the time… and you enjoy doing it. Otherwise, be sure to use other resources (including this website) to help you find better products. Yes, sometimes things can go wrong… horribly wrong… even with the best of dog foods… and people foods, too. Yet most of the time, the better manufacturers can be trusted to deliver quality meals for your pet.

    Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to share your feelings with our readers.

  • dean

    i feed a doog food once was cooking for my pets before the use of this so called natural food . now i am back to cooking for my dogs. i will never by dog food again ever. this brand was sold only in natural pet food stores for pets only one bag nearly cost the life of my pets. and yes you never saw it on the recall list and the pet shop of natural foods never called . i noticed a bad funny smell in my dogs mouth called the vet off i went… with both my dogs … he looked it up sure enough recall but not listed in with all the other recalls and this was 2 years after that 2007 recal. threw the bag away. called the company they said we did not have a recall. and told them that my vet said yes you did. i don’t know how my vet found the info out or where he looked but now it is listed and most stores have quite selling the food. as i was told. did not check it out but did find out that 4 or 5 dogs have died on that food.that is all my vet could find out. my vet is a wonderful vet and works with his clients in any help… he feeds his own pet home made dog food.that should tell alot of folks. paying 85.00 for a bag of dog food is not meaning that is is best.it killed dogs pets. and what i saw in the plants of using pets and the skunk deal and rats in the food make me sick. i will never buy another can of dog food nor a bag of dog food ever. i always made my dogs food but as i was working still and a nurse i worked that month 19 hrs a day for 2 months and my husband isn’t that great of a cook.. when i make my dogs food it was then and now day to day. never did i freeze it now i frezzer. that will never happen again. if only others would believe… there will be another recall…. how could there not be . i am without words. buit i am fighting mad for all those poor pets and to think that some one could buy a bag that has their very own loved 4 legged child in that bag and feed it to the pet they now have . how very un human for the money from loving pet owners. well these companies will never get one red cent from me and i spend on my pets but it is home made and only one time did they get money from me that nearly cost the life of my pets… i am angery as i can be over this fact. and the unhuman acts they do to our pets for their pockets. they don’t even care one thing about our pets health or if the live or die. and i read how one company put too many minerals and vitamins into their food and that too me is uncalled for. but our goverment needs to stop this because it is unfair to the humans even if they could care less about the pet. we are not getting what we are paying for period. we are not paying money to have our pets killed… at least i am not and i am so very upset with all that could stop this and are doing nothing… what if they had aheart to have a pet and lost their pet … then what? as long as it doesn’t effect them! it’s okay… no, it is not okay with all of the pet owners out here….. people and their pet’s are in this not $$$ signs. our pets are breathing living beings that god gave us. .. to love ,feed and care for.. and a pet has alot of feeling. it needs to stop. what happend to the time people could stand up and something was done …. well.we want action and we want things fixed for the sake of our pets . if no one will buy the stuffed labled as food(food?) then who will this sick stuff be made for. i am so very upset over these findings and i want it stopped. yea pet owners should be able to take a stand to end this. and yes a pet owner should spay netur and do what is right and the law’s who request this from us should do for us.what should be a law to.