If you were asked to help create a list of the Very Best Adult Dog Foods available, what criteria would you recommend using?
Meat content? Recall history? Four stars? Five stars? Does the company need to own its own manufacturing facility? Chinese ingredients? Preservatives? Probiotics? Chelated minerals?
Should the company disclose how it tests for contaminants? Aflatoxin? Salmonella?
Is it important for a dog food to be readily available? Would you suggest excluding dog foods that are not widely distributed and only sold by a few select retailers?
I’d truly appreciate your opinion. What’s most important to YOU when shopping for your dog’s food?
Hound Dog MomParticipant
Hi Dr. Mike –
This is a great question and I think it will make for a great discussion as everyone’s criteria are so different.
First off, in answering it for myself, I’m going to assume we’re looking for dry dog foods – otherwise I, obviously, would give preference to raw foods.
1) The first thing I look at it protein content. I won’t typically consider a food with under 35% protein – however if the food fell between 30% and 34% but had several other exemplary qualities I may make an exception (I would never go under 30% though).
2) I then look at fat content. I typically like dry foods with at least 15% fat (I feed much higher fat levels with raw, but dry foods are generally fairly low in fat).
3) I then look at ingredients. I always want a meat ingredient first – no exceptions. I prefer a fresh meat followed by at least one meat meal – but I would not rule out an otherwise good food if it only contains meat meals. Although there are some exceptions, I typically won’t feed a food that contains by-products. I never feed a food that contains any unnamed animal ingredients – such as animal fat, animal digest or animal by-products. I won’t feed foods with grains and look, instead, for foods that use potato, tapioca, legumes or pseudo-grains (or some combination of these) as a binder. Other ingredients that I look for and would not feed to my animals are: chemical preservative (such as BHA), menadione, artificial colorings, propylene glycol or any sort of sugar (sugar, molasses, honey, etc.). I also prefer to see a short list of added vitamins, minerals and amino acids – this tells me that much of the nutrition is derived from the ingredients in the food itself and there’s less reliance on synthetic supplements.
4) I then look at the company. I won’t rule out a company if it’s had recalls, but I do take into consideration how many recalls the company has had, how far apart they were and how the company handled the recalls. I like a company that is open about where they source their ingredients and that doesn’t source from China. I typically call or email the company’s customer service before feeding a food and if either a) I don’t get a response b) the customer service rep seems knowledgeable c) customer service is rude or d) I get the impression the company is giving me the run around when I ask a question – I will not feed the food.
Thanks for your answer. I’m thinking about adding a few new features to our DFA reviews. And I’m also considering the idea of making available some special research reports, too. Your answers here are a big help. If you think of anything else, just add another comment. Thanks again.
Hi Dr. Mike,
The first thing I look at when evaluating a food I may feed is to evaluate the company that made the food. I often start with the website. I think of it as a resume. What is my first impression?
Are there spelling and grammar errors? A few typos are Ok.. but if a pattern, that shows lack of attention to detail.
How much padding is there? All companies put a bit of spin on their products. But If I’m getting dizzy that’s a bad sign. So I look at the health claims if any. Do they jive with current nutritional knowledge? Does the company understand basic principles of science and nutrition?
Out comes my calculator. I don’t look fondly upon the company if the information provided doesn’t add up.
If the resume passes than I’ll interview. I’ll contact the company. I want to know who formulates the diets and what are their credentials. (Preferably they have a veterinary nutritionist in their employ). I’ll ask about their quality control testing. (I’ve gotten answers that ranged from detailed step by step testing that is done to a company that actually asked me what I thought they should be testing for. SCARY! ) I’ll ask for a nutritional analysis (I’ve had companies ask me what this is 🙁 )or some type of detailed nutritional information. If the company can’t give it to in a timely fashion or says it is proprietary those are a bad signs. I’ll ask about their ingredient sourcing. Is the company forthcoming or vague? (I prefer domestically sourced ingredients) Do they manufacture their food , contract out or both. (I prefer a company to have their own manufacturing plants but as we have seen that is not any type of guarantee of quality).
I like to see companies that invest in research, and conduct in house feeding trials.
Then I do a bit of sleuthing. I look for FDA warnings. I want to see how the company has handled recalls. If a company has repeated recalls and recalled only after a problem is identified in the field ( human or animal illness/death) that may be a problem. If the company downplays the problem, that is a problem. I don’t think a company with out recalls is better than one that has recalled. Maybe the company without recalls doesn’t do any post manufacturer testing to identify when/if the food is out of specifications.
I’m sure I’m forgetting some things… If the company passes then I look at the individual food they make. I’ll post later with what I look for on a label.
Thanks for your suggestions. I like your “resume” approach (to screening) a lot. Great idea! A worthy and valuable requisite, for sure.
However, my only concern here is that requiring a company to perform expensive testing eliminates 95% (or more?) of the dog food companies out there. And many of those organizations could be producing some of the very best foods on the market.
Overall, I do agree. We do need to give a notable weighting to companies meeting most of your criteria.
However, I don’t believe we should overlook second-rate ingredients and questionable nutrient analysis just because a company employs 150 vets and 50 nutritionists (many of whom simply occupy figurehead positions on the Board — or who perform public relations duties.
Bloated corporations can be wasteful, inefficient and less responsive to their market compared to small to mid-sized organizations.
As in other technological industries, one or two well-informed, conscientious vets, nutritionists or formulators have the potential to create extraordinary products, too.
In any case, being an obsessive “label reader”, I’m looking forward to hearing what you suggest we look for on a label.
As always, thanks so much for your help.
I don’t see myself as requiring expensive testing. I just like to see some basic quality control being in place. Additionally, I don’t think a nutrient analysis is out of reach for even the smallest of companies. I like to see feeding trials but don’t require them (though during growth I do choose to feed diets that have underwent trials) nor do I think they are a measure of quality. There are foods that have passed feeding trials that I would not choose to feed. If the company invests in research it is icing the cake. There is plenty of opportunity for small companies to fit my bill.
Honestly, though a lot of companies don’t make it past the website evaluation. I just can’t bring myself to financially support a company that has egregious errors here.
Through my own negligence (for not making myself clear), I’m surely not opposed to making quality control testing a criterion. As a matter of fact, routine quality control testing is, of course, a must.
However, by “expensive testing”, I’m referring to field testing (feeding trials). This is cost prohibitive and would prevent many well-designed products from ever reaching the market.
One criterion I’m most interested in (as you suggested) is the need for a real nutrient analysis — a laboratory analysis made available either on a company website or by request.
The label-based Guaranteed Analysis can be very misleading. We use it because it is both regulated and readily available on ALL products.
However, stating a fat “minimum” can be notably deceptive — and especially common with canned or raw foods. High fat content can be a tip off that a company is using fatty trimmings, connective tissue and other low quality by-products in their finished formulations.
For example, a stated GA for fat of 16% (a “guaranteed minimum”) could in actuality be 25% or more.
In summary, I believe in creating a list of “favorites”, we may wish to obtain a real and current batch nutrient analysis. Thanks for making this excellent suggestion.
I would love to see more disclosure about the ingredients in a companies foods. All companies use the prettiest marketing terms to describe the quality of their ingredients “only the best” “highest quality” “human grade this or that” etc.
I like the way the Whole Dog Journal won’t review a food if it doesn’t disclose who manufactures it. In the beginning some companies balked at this idea and refused to disclose the manufacturers name and the location of the plant. They used terms like proprietary information as an excuse not to disclose. WDJ stood firm and now they all disclose because they all want to be in the WDJ’s dry food list of top foods!!
Many companies use your websites rating to promote their foods. “fill in the blank” received a 5 star rating from the Dog Food Advisor. You could easily ask a manufacturer to disclose more info to be reviewed on DFA. Who actually manufactures their human grade this or that. Where do their meat meals come from, their vitamins, their meats, their fats etc.
This would accomplish several things. Manufacturers would start to disclose more, consumers would get a chance to learn more, companies that use inferior ingredients would start to upgrade their ingredients in order to get your coveted 5 star rating and people would start to avoid the companies who refused to disclose.
A less restrictive option would be to remove a star for non disclosure. A 5 star food would become a 4 star food. This way would not place any limits on the the foods you were able to review!
Great suggestion. Unfortunately, like any other writer, I really have no control over being quoted by companies when they use our ratings and reviews to help market their products.
However, I do agree it would be nice to know who manufactures each product. We’re planning to add that kind of information (when available) along with each company’s recall history, too.
So, if a company refuses to disclose that information when requested, we’ll be able to inform readers as such on the company’s profile page.
Thanks so much for your contribution, here.
P.S. Your avatar image of the dog is especially cute. Please forgive my ignorance, but what breed is that?
That is [name removed by moderator at user’s request], the cream chow who changed my life when he rescued me and my family in 2002. He is in heaven now.
- This reply was modified 6 years, 5 months ago by Mike Sagman.
Hi Dr. Mike,
Quality control testing is indeed important. Scary thing is we have no way to know if it is being done properly. It was because of a company not following their own testing protocols that approx. 100 deaths resulted from aflatoxin. The excessive Vit. D recall came about because equipment wasn’t cleaned between running a high Vit D concentrate and the next run. Basic stuff is skipped and it is our companions that pay the price. Looking at the reasons behind a companies recalls and any FDA reports give clues here.
You bring up a good point about the min. fat content on a G.A. On a recent post I had calculated that the actual fat in the diet was near 26% while the G.A. min fat was listed as 12%.
I’ve found some companies run an actual N.A. and others only provide a calculated N.A. Either way a N.A. does give us more information, but a lab N.A. is always preferable. A calculated N.A. assumes that the actual nutrient content of their sources are known. This may not be true.
In the end we are still relying on the manufacturer to give us accurate information, and they may not. For example, I asked a company what was the actual level of phos in their diet on an energy basis. They did promptly answer my question, however, they insisted it was a level that was far below the AAFCO min. The AAFCO statement said that the food was formulated to meet AAFCO and using their own min % phos posted on their website I came up with a level exceeded the AAFCO min. Who knows what the actual phos level in their food really is ??
I suppose to some this is nit picking, but if I find multiple inconsistencies it speaks volumes about the company to me.
Anyway on to the label.
The first thing I look at is the AAFCO statement. I’m looking to see for what stage the food is formulated for (is it marketed as adult but is ALS? ) and how the requirement was met. I did find one food labeled as “Puppy” whose AAFCO statement said the food was formulated to meet maintenance levels. At min. I think this would be an illegal label. Was the food suitable for growth or not?? Who knows! But I’m not feeding it. Even a year later the labels said the same thing.
Feeding trials are not a guarantee of quality but I do look favorably upon them. However, I wouldn’t pass on a food for an adult solely based on not having a feeding trial. I have no idea what they cost but if a company is international I’d think the finances would be there. I understand all the limitations of trials.
I look at the guaranteed analysis. I like to see the protein at 2-3 times the fat level. Then on to the ingredient panel.
I personally put no stock in added probiotics, or enzymes, I see it as window dressing. Chelated minerals may be of benefit .
Ingredients: Well…I don’t vilify ingredients. I do look for animal sourced ingredients. I think fresh ingredients do have some advantages over meals. I prefer named over unnamed ingredients, if I have questions I call the company. By-products on the label don’t concern me too much. I think of nearly everything that goes into pet food as being a by-product of the human food industry. I prefer whole ingredients over fractionated but having some fractionated ingredients are fine. I pass on foods that have added dyes and sweeteners.
The ingredient list can only tell me so much as I really have no clue as to the quality of the ingredients, ( calling the company may clarify this) how they were handled and processed, or how digestible they are.
The final test is the food itself and how my dogs do on it.
I am concerned about the use of feeding trials. I have read that the dogs are kept in cages for the whole length of the trial. Here is one example of what I read:
“Wysong does not agree with animal testing of any sort, including feeding trials. Even though there is no invasive, toxic, or disease-inducing experimental abuse in feeding trials, there is nonetheless a cruelty in keeping animals in a caged environment for such tests.”
So if the dogs are kept in cages I am against it. If there are other ways of doing the trials I would like to know about them.
Hi James Bailey,
Here is a link to WDJ that has information on research facilities. I’m not aware or any requirement that the animals be in cages.
This is a timely post for me….I agree with everything said here. I say it’s timely because I am meeting today a new dog food maker. It’s similar to Red Moon, a customizable dog food, and it’s called Petbrosia. It’s supposed to launch in March and I’ve been invited to coffee to talk about their website, etc. I’m not too sure about it, yet, and it’s very, very expensive! I’m open to speaking with the owner, though, and I’ll find out all I can, and maybe even make suggestions, idk yet. These things that have been mentioned here will be on the list of questions/topics I will want to discuss. I’ll let you all know how it goes. Thanks!
Very late reading this but for me, I prefer a food with a higher amount of protein and one with a good amount of meat. If it’s a grain inclusive food, I want it to be meat based (such as the Dr. Tim’s Pursuit I current feed one dog).
I do not want to use a food that has known ingredients from China. As far as where foods are located, that’s sort of a pet peeve of mine. I know of people online who have two pet stores in their town; there may be other foods available in a store 20min away but they refuse to drive. Most foods are also available online.
If there is a food that is only available in a certain area (buying in person or online), maybe mention that. I’m sort of sick of people who have dogs with issues and when you offer up suggestions, they refuse it because they won’t order, they won’t go anywhere other than X store…
I would love to see you mention if a food has had a recall or production issue, just like you mention when a company has horrible customer service.
I agree with the person who said to add a star ato the score for disclosure and transparenccy. I would not necessarily penalize a manufacturer for using a co packer or for having one or very few recalls over time, rpv provided the company remedied the problem and made that apparent. it would be very helpful for manufacturers to s reveal their safety and quality test ing rp protocols. I would alo also like to contribute pressure for more feeding trials.
Hound Dog MomParticipant
So you’re saying that if ‘Ol Roy had a lot of disclosure and transparency they should get a boost from one star to two stars? Or that if 8 animals are fed a food for 26 weeks and 6 survive that the food should get a higher rating? Feeding trials are a joke. Feeding an animal a food for 26 weeks tells you nothing about the long term effects of a low quality food on an animal’s health. The effects of excess nutrients or minor deficiencies can sometimes take years to manifest themselves in clinical symptoms. Beneful passed feeding trials, come on now.
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