FirstMate Dog Food (Dry)


Rating: ★★★★☆

FirstMate Dog Food receives the Advisor’s above-average tier rating of 4 stars.

The FirstMate product line includes four dry dog foods, two claimed to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for all life stages and two for adult maintenance.

The following is a list of recipes available at the time of this review.

  • FirstMate Maintenance/Adult Formula
  • FirstMate High Performance/Puppy (5 stars)
  • FirstMate Trim and Light Formula (2.5 stars)
  • FirstMate Lamb Meal and Rice Formula (3 stars)

FirstMate Maintenance/Adult Formula was selected to represent the other products in the line for this review.

FirstMate Adult Maintenance Formula

Dry Dog Food

Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Content

Protein = 29% | Fat = 17% | Carbs = 46%

Ingredients: Chicken meal, pearled barley, oatmeal, brown rice, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), pacific ocean fish meal, fish oil, potato flour, tomato pomace, dicalcium phosphate, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, calcium propionate, sage extract, rosemary extract, garlic oil, minerals (zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, manganese proteinate, copper proteinate, iodine, cobalt, selenium), vitamins: (vitamin E supplement, vitamin C supplement, riboflavin, niacin, d-pantothenic acid, thiamine, vitamin A supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, biotin, vitamin B12 supplement, vitamin D3 supplement), glucosamine hydrochloride

Fiber (estimated dry matter content) = 4.4%

Red items when present indicate controversial ingredients

Estimated Nutrient Content
Guaranteed Analysis26%15%NA
Dry Matter Basis29%17%46%
Calorie Weighted Basis25%35%40%

The first ingredient in this dog food is chicken meal. Chicken meal is considered a meat concentrate and contains nearly 300% more protein than fresh chicken.

The second ingredient is barley. Barley is a starchy carbohydrate supplying fiber and other healthy nutrients. However, aside from its energy content, this cereal grain is of only modest nutritional value to a dog.

The third ingredient is oatmeal, a whole-grain product made from coarsely ground oats. Oatmeal is naturally rich in B-vitamins, dietary fiber and can be (depending upon its level of purity) gluten-free.

The fourth ingredient is brown rice, a complex carbohydrate that (once cooked) can be fairly easy to digest. However, aside from its natural energy content, rice is of only modest nutritional value to a dog.

The fifth ingredient is chicken fat. Chicken fat is obtained from rendering chicken, a process similar to making soup in which the fat itself is skimmed from the surface of the liquid.

Chicken fat is high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid essential for life. Although it doesn’t sound very appetizing, chicken fat is actually a quality ingredient.

The sixth ingredient is pacific ocean fish meal, another protein-rich meat concentrate.

Fish meal is typically obtained from the “clean, dried, ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish and fish cuttings” of commercial fish operations.1

Unfortunately, this particular item is anonymous. Because various fish contain different types of fats, we would have preferred to have known the source species.

The seventh ingredient is fish oil. Fish oil is naturally rich in the prized EPA and DHA type of omega-3 fatty acids. These two high quality fats boast the highest bio-availability to dogs and humans.

Depending on its level of freshness and purity, fish oil should be considered a commendable addition.

The eighth ingredient is potato flour. Unlike potato starch, potato flour is made from the whole potato (even the skins). This item is considered a gluten-free source of digestible carbohydrates with only modest nutritional value.

From here, the list goes on to include a number of other items.

But to be realistic, ingredients located this far down the list (other than nutritional supplements) are not likely to affect the overall rating of this product.

With four notable exceptions

First, tomato pomace is a controversial ingredient, a by-product remaining after processing tomatoes into juice, soup and ketchup.

Many praise tomato pomace for its high fiber and nutrient content, while others scorn it as an inexpensive pet food filler.

Just the same, there’s probably not enough tomato pomace here to make much of a difference.

Next, garlic oil may be a controversial item. We say “may be” here because we are not certain of the oil’s chemical relationship to raw garlic itself.

Although most experts favor the ingredient for its numerous health benefits, garlic (in rare cases) has been linked to Heinz body anemia in dogs.2

However, the limited professional literature we surveyed provided no definitive warnings regarding the use of garlic — especially when used in small amounts (as it likely is here).

In addition, we find no mention of probiotics, friendly bacteria applied to the surface of the kibble after processing to help with digestion.

And lastly, this food also contains chelated minerals, minerals that have been chemically attached to protein. This makes them easier to absorb. Chelated minerals are usually found in better dog foods.

FirstMate Dog Food
The Bottom Line

Judging by its ingredients alone, FirstMate Dog Food looks like an above-average dry product.

But ingredient quality by itself cannot tell the whole story. We still need to estimate the product’s meat content before determining a final rating.

The dashboard displays a dry matter protein reading of 29%, a fat level of 17% and estimated carbohydrates of about 46%.

As a group, the brand features an average protein content of 27% and a mean fat level of 14%. Together, these figures suggest a carbohydrate content of 51% for the overall product line.

And a fat-to-protein ratio of about 53%.

Near-average protein. Below-average fat. And above-average carbs when compared to a typical dry dog food.

Free of any plant-based protein boosters, this looks like the profile of a kibble containing a moderate amount of meat.

Bottom line?

FirstMate Dog Food is a plant-based kibble using a moderate amount of chicken or lamb meals as its main sources of animal protein, thus earning the brand 4 stars.

Highly recommended.

Please note certain recipes are sometimes given a higher or lower rating based upon our estimate of their total meat content.

We review the company’s FirstMate Grain-Free Dog Food line in a separate report.

A Final Word

The descriptions and analyses expressed in this and every article on this website represent the views and opinions of the author.

The Dog Food Advisor does not test dog food products.

We rely almost entirely on the integrity of the information posted by each company on its website. As such, the accuracy of every review is directly dependent upon the quality of the test results from any specific batch of food a company chooses to publish.

Although it's our goal to ensure all the information on this website is correct, we cannot guarantee its completeness or its accuracy; nor can we commit to ensuring all the material is kept up-to-date on a daily basis.

Each review is offered in good faith and has been designed to help you make a more informed decision when buying dog food.

However, due to the biological uniqueness of every animal, none of our ratings are intended to suggest feeding a particular product will result in a specific dietary response or health benefit for your pet.

For a better understanding of how we analyze each product, please read our article, "The Problem with Dog Food Reviews".

Remember, no dog food can possibly be appropriate for every life stage, lifestyle or health condition. So, choose wisely. And when in doubt, consult a qualified veterinary professional for help.

In closing, we do not accept money, gifts or samples from pet food companies in exchange for special consideration in the preparation of our reviews or ratings.

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Have an opinion about this dog food? Or maybe the review itself? Please know we welcome your comments.

Notes and Updates

05/09/2010 Original review
12/09/2010 Review updated
03/17/2014 Last Update

  1. Association of American Feed Control Officials
  2. Yamato et al, Heinz Body hemolytic anemia with eccentrocytosis from ingestion of Chinese chive (Allium tuberosum) and garlic (Allium sativum) in a dog, Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 41:68-73 (2005)
  • Rochelle @ Newmac

    I agree that it sounds like a food intolerance. Chicken is one of the most common allergies for dogs, besides grain ingredients so it’s definitely a possibility. If you changed the protein source and it cleared up, I would guess that your dog has an allergy/intolerance to chicken.

  • Rochelle @ Newmac

    I don’t think it’s been proven to be safe or unsafe for your dog, but it is a chemical preservative and considered potentially carcinogenic (cancer causing). A few things I have read say to avoid it. I haven’t seen any concrete evidence either way, though. What are you feeding now? If First Mate is better quality in other aspects, I would definitely consider switching. If you are already feeding a good food, I would do more research and make a decision from there if I were you.

  • WandaSteeves

    Hello Annie, Lelo loves her first mate, I just had her teeth done, so I’m waiting for her to heal. But her hair, nails, eyes r all growing and well. I’m am not sure on what Calicum propionate is, I too shall look into it. It’s been about a year now, she does have more tearing but she’s 9 :-( now, so that’s expected!

  • annie

    is calcium propionate a safe preservative? i m considering switch to firstmate but i saw the ingredient i don’t know from their web. is it safe for dog ?

  • WandaSteeves

    No her name is LELO, she’s a bichapoo!

  • ozzy

    You said Leo, is that the name of your dog or are you referring to a Leonberger? I am asking because I have a new Leo pup who too is on First Mate puppy food.

  • Pattyvaughn

    Sounds like it could be a food intolerance to one of the ingredients in the food. Compare its ingredient list to whatever you were feeding before and what you are feeding now to get an idea what it could be.

  • WandaSteeves

    What were u feeding her before,.? My Lelo has been on it for 1.5 years and is doing great. We do change her food, she’s 9 now and is as playful as ever!

  • BJ ours

    My dog loves the First Mate Chicken w/blueberries formula but soon noticed some “balding” spots on her skin….did help cut down the runny eyes but had to stop feeding this to her an it’s now been 3 weeks, feeding another grain free brand and the balding spots are clearing up???? Any other comments in regard to this…..

  • wgallamore

    Hoping this food might help with my dog’s anal-gland issues, given it’s high-fiber content.

  • Wickedwanda

    My dog is very fussy, and I am greatful to have found a dog food that is sourced here in Canada, she loves the grain free chicken/blueberries

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  • Muddie

    The reason that First Mate’s minerals are not chelated is because they use vacuum infusion to add them fresh to the product after it is already cooked. Vacuum infused vitamins and minerals are considered to be higher quality and more easily digestible than chelated minerals. Another point that you failed to mention is that they do all of their processing in their own processing facility, something that is extremely rare in the pet food industry today. Due to owning their own facility they have also not had any recalls to date. Since they are based in Canada they have to follow the British standards of food processing, which are much higher than the American standards of food processing. They also boast that all of their ingredients are locally sourced and the fish in their fish formula is caught in the Pacific Ocean.
    –Been in the pet food industry a few years.

  • Mike Sagman

    Hi Cali,

    Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve added the grain-free product line to my To Do list.

    However, Sandy and I are in the midst of updating hundreds of reviews. So, for the near future, we may be slowing down a bit on our new reviews.

    Thanks again for the suggestion – and your patience.

  • cali

    any reviews of their grain free line?  firstmate is a really popular food in my area, but I have never even seen this “classic” line reviewed here.. only their large line of grain free’s which have been around for many many years

  • Liisa

    Is this the same as Dog Mate?