It’s surprising how many people have no idea what makes up the dog food formula in the brands they offer to their best buddies – according to a dog food formula review conducted by Reviews.com, fully 70% of dog owners admitted to having little knowledge when it came to what their chosen brand of dog food actually contained.
13 Best Dog Food Formulas
And as to the phrase “all natural,” well, think of it this way – cyanide is perfectly natural, occurring in many plants, but you probably don’t want to consume much of it. Cancer is natural as well (in the sense that although it’s a mutation, it’s not man-made), but I’m betting you don’t want it in your body.
It’s important to know what’s in your dog’s food, so if you’re among the 70% that has no idea, I’d encourage you to take a good, hard look at the labeling.
The Beneful Lawsuit
Early in 2015, the Canadian law firm, Morgan and Morgan, undertook a class action suit against Purina, the company that manufactures and sells Beneful dog food. Literally thousands of customers reported kidney failure in their dogs, but despite testimony from a veterinarian to the effect that Beneful contained enough propylene glycol, lead and arsenic to be toxic, the lawsuit failed.
You can still buy Beneful, and the ingredients haven’t changed.
Should you buy Beneful? I’m thinking probably not.
I often recommend certain brands of dog food in my posts. I do my best to make sure that I’m steering you in the right direction, but please keep in mind that I’ve done literally hundreds of posts, and I go with the best information that’s available to me at the time when I’m doing my research. If I have recommended Beneful, I withdraw the recommendation. Maybe the judge who decided the lawsuit was right in saying that the evidence against Purina wasn’t strong enough, but maybe not. And why take chances with your dog’s health and safety?
Of course, no company is going to list toxic ingredients on dog food packaging. So, Review.com evaluated over 2,200 dog food formulas in an effort to find out exactly what’s behind the label. Of the products evaluated, 29 brands were approved, and only 134 specific dog food formulas were approved.
The evaluation team spent more than 1,400 hours on the project, and consulted more than 11,000 experts, including university researchers, animal behaviorists, dog trainers, veterinarians and authors. They also surveyed 300 dog owners to find out if they knew what was in their chosen dog food formula.
The team also read previous studies, and developed a comprehensive list of search criteria to determine what dog owners considered to be most important.
We’ll talk more about the study, and the results, in a bit, but first let’s take a look at some of the issues related to dog food formulas.
You may remember the recalls on dog food from China in 2007. Several dogs died because of tainted food, and that led to dog owners becoming more vigilant about checking labels to find out where their dogs’ food (and their own, for that matter) originated. Of course, this is good practice, but the reality is that even US-sourced ingredients might not always be safe.
AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) is responsible for determining the right levels of ingredients in dog food. The FCA (Food and Drug Administration), however, sets the quality standards, and does not promise that everything in your dog food formula will be safe.
So how do you know what to avoid?
One thing that should be avoided, but can be very difficult to identify, is products from rendering plants. You might see things like “meat” and “meat meal” listed on your dog food bag – you need more information. What kind of meat? You want specific information, like “chicken,” “beef,” “wild caught salmon” and so on.
If you see the term “dry rendered tankage” on your dog food bag, don’t buy that brand, because you’ll have no idea what exactly has been rendered. It could be dead zoo animals, roadkill, and even grocery store meats that are well past the “best before” date. Some rendering plants take grocery store leavings and run them through the processing mill without even removing the plastic!
Even if you’re satisfied that the ingredients in your dog food formula are safe, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those ingredients are properly balanced. In order to be healthy, a dog needs the right mix of protein fiber, fat, moisture and other nutrients. The wrong combination of ingredients can lead to health problems like IBD (inflammatory bowel disease and bloat).
Keep in mind, too, that some dogs are sensitive to corn and wheat, which are often used as fillers in dog food. That’s not to say that these fillers are necessarily bad, just that they might not be ideal for your dog. Personally, I feed my dogs store brand dog food (my vet has checked out the ingredients and he approves), and Janice and Leroy seem to have no problem with corn and wheat. That’s not the case for all dogs, though.
Some dogs have allergies to grain products. With others, the issue is obesity. Usually, if your dog is too fat, it’s because you’ve been over-feeding him, but grain products can also play a role in canine obesity.
Obesity is on the rise in dogs. One main reason for this is overfeeding, but many of the experts we talked to were quick to point out that poor grain-based ingredients are also to blame.
The other potential issue is mental health. Many animal behaviorists and trainers believe that a poor diet can lead to poor temperament, difficulty in focusing, hyperactivity and other mental health issues. They place the blame on colorings and other additives that are used to enhance the appearance and smell of the dog food formula. The reality is, dogs don’t care what color their food is, and the “smell” factor is there to please humans, not dogs.
As to the right combination of ingredients, you may have heard it said many times that your dog food should contain 30% protein, 18% fat, and lesser amounts of fiber, vitamins and omega-3. This isn’t necessarily the case. Much depends on the size of the dog, the dog’s activity level, and the dog’s age, to name just a few considerations. Rather than go with the “one size fits all” approach, it would be better to do some research on the typical nutrition requirements for the factors that affect your dog, and also to ask your vet what he or she recommends.
Some ingredients really can’t be classified as to whether they’re good, bad or neutral. Beet pulp, for instance, is often used in dog food formulas. Some experts claim that this ingredient can cause digestive problems, while others suggest that there’s nothing wrong with it, citing a lack of scientific proof. Some people who enter their dogs in shows avoid beet pulp, insisting that it imparts a reddish tinge to the fur.
I don’t think I’ve ever fed my dogs a brand that didn’t contain at least some beet pulp, and I’ve always had healthy, long-lived dogs. If you prefer to avoid beet pulp in your dog food formula, though, there’s probably nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution.
When Review.com evaluated dog food formulas, they considered every type of dog food available – wet, dry, dehydrated, frozen and even homemade. The conclusion that the team came to was that with all types of dog food, the most important consideration is ingredients. The second most important is what’s best for your individual dog.
As previously mentioned, age is an important factor in deciding what to feed your dog. A puppy’s nutritional needs are very different from those of, say, a senior dog. Size also matters – puppies of large breeds can develop orthopedic issues if they consume too much calcium, so for large breed puppies, calcium shouldn’t make up any more than 1.5% of the dog food formula. Senior dogs don’t need as much protein as younger dogs, because their activity level is lower.
As to breed, the consensus among experts is that breed isn’t all that important. In fact, you don’t have to worry about Googling “the best dog food for [insert breed].” You will find information out there in the form of articles that offer suggestions as to the best food for your particular breed of dog – in fact, I’ve written a few of them. What you’ll find in my posts, though, is information that relates to size, activity level, age, and medical conditions that a particular breed may be susceptible to. Most of the time, a large, senior Labrador, for instance, is going to have the same issues and nutritional requirements as a large, senior Golden Retriever, or a large, senior Irish Setter, or a – well, you get the idea.
In other words, if you have a small, young, active toy poodle, choose a dog food formula for small, active young dogs. If you have an aging, sedentary English Mastiff, choose a formula for elderly, lazy dogs. It’s just that simple.
A lot of research went into the Review.com dog food formula study. What I find sobering is that only 134 formulas were approved – that’s about 6%. It’s encouraging, though, that there are still more than 130 dog food formulas that were approved. Some of the approved varieties are very pricy; others not so much. Since the study was focused exclusively on quality, the research team did not factor in price. Here are their top thirteen choices, in alphabetical order.
- ACANA Wild Prairie Regional Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
- Addiction New Zealand Brushtail & Vegetables Entree Canned Dog Food
- AvoDerm Natural Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Formula Puppy Dry Dog Food
- Eagle Pack Lamb Formula Canned Dog Food
- Earthborn Holistic Chip’s Chicken Casserole Grain-Free Natural Moist Dog Food
- Earthborn Holistic Primitive Natural Grain-Free Natural Dry Dog Food
- Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals Shredded Chicken Entree Canned Dog Food
- Horizon Legacy Puppy Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
- Orijen Adult Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
- Orijen Puppy Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
- Pinnacle Grain-Free Salmon & Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food
- The Honest Kitchen Embark Dehydrated Dog Food
- ZiwiPeak Daily-Dog Lamb Cuisine Air-Dried Dog Food
How did they narrow it down? Why did well over 2,000 dog food formulas fail to make the cut?
First of all, the researchers removed from the list any dog food that did not have meat as its first ingredient, and disqualified 194 dog food formulas on that basis. Next, they took any product that contained wheat, corn, soy, flour or other grains off the list, disqualifying 578 formulas. Then, they disqualified 146 brands because they contained beet pulp. 44 more were taken off the list because they contained byproducts. 956 brands were disqualified for a history of recalls, bad ingredient sources, and low customer satisfaction. 171 brands were disqualified because the nutritional ratio was unsatisfactory, or because the protein source was less than desirable.
So, which brands were cut right off? Here they are, in alphabetical order.
- Breeder’s Choice
- Chicken Soup
- Hill’s Prescription Diet
- Hill’s Science Diet
- Himalayan Dog Chew
- Iams Veterinary Formula
- Natural Planet
- Now Fresh
- Nummy Tum-Tum
- Nutro Natural
- Nutro Ultra
- Pet Naturals of Vermont
- Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets
- Royal Canin
The researchers also cut brands that had been absorbed by larger companies that might have changed the formula. You’ve probably experienced something along these lines. While we all know that we’re better off not eating processed foods, we do have our guilty pleasures – our favorite treats. Maybe it’s a particular brand of frozen pizza, or canned soup, or lunch meat. Then, the company that made the product you like is bought out, and all of a sudden, the food you loved isn’t quite so loveable any longer. It’s because they changed the ingredients.
For humans, that’s not a big deal, but for dogs, it can be. The ingredients and nutrients in the “new and improved” version could be very different from those in the original product, so this is why the research team at Review.com eliminated these brands. They simply didn’t have access to enough information. These, and some other brands that were eliminated for multiple reasons, are listed below, in alphabetical order, and stating the specific reason why the particular formula was eliminated.
We also removed anything that is manufactured in countries that don’t have strong food-quality regulations, that were known to include lesser-quality ingredients, or do not have enough available information:
- Against the Grain – inadequate information
- Artemis – changed manufacturers
- Blue Buffalo – misleading information on labeling, outsourced ingredients and poor customer reviews
- Canidae – made by Diamond (massive recall in 2012), and numerous bad reviews.
- Canine Caviar – inadequate information
- Dave’s Pet Food – inadequate information
- Dogswell – ingredients from China
- Evanger’s – misleading information on labeling and bad customer reviews
- EVO – sold to Procter and Gamble, and lost a false labeling class action lawsuit
- Farmina – inadequate information
- Go! – poor quality ingredients and reports of gastric problems
- Great Life – inadequate information and bad reviews
- Holistic Select – complaints of gastric problems
- Innova – sold to Procter and Gamble
- Merrick – Numerous recalls
- Nature’s Recipe – made by Del Monte; recall issues
- Nature’s Variety – numerous recalls
- Newman’s Own Organics – ingredients sourced from Uruguay
- Nulo – inadequate information
- Nutrisca – ingredients sourced from China
- Pioneer Naturals – inadequate information
- Premium Edge – numerous recalls
- Solid Gold – changed the formula without indicating changes on packaging; made by Diamond
- Taste of the Wild – made by DiamondTiki Dog – made in Thailand
- Vital Essentials – inadequate information
- Wellness – originally made by Diamond but has cut ties; not enough information to know if this has made a difference
- Weruva – some products made in Thailand
- Wild Calling – made by Evanger’s; recall issues
The research team took a very hard line on recalls, eliminating any brand that had multiple recalls. Of course, it’s far better for a company to recall a dog food formula than just to lay low and hope nothing goes wrong, but when recalls happen over and over, you pretty much have to assume that there’s something not quite right with the manufacturing process. Sometimes, too, even when a company corrects the issue that led to the recall, it might still continue to cut corners in other ways. Repeated recalls are an indication that this is exactly what’s happening.
That said, a recall doesn’t, in and of itself, mean that you can’t rely on a dog food company. Recalls can be due to serious concerns, or even something as minor as improper labeling. A lot of the time, the consequences are minimal, or even non-existent – the dog food company is simply going overboard with erring on the side of caution.
Some companies seem to have recalls over and over, and they’re less than transparent, and slow with follow-up. Diamond is one such company. The 2012 recall was due to issues that could be very dangerous, and even their higher-priced, supposedly higher-quality brands were affected. Several dog food brands that were once associated with Diamond have since cut ties. The Review.com team eliminated any brands that were associated with Diamond, because of Diamond’s lack of transparency and responsiveness. The team is, though, reconsidering some of the brands formerly associated with Diamond, on a case-by-case basis.
The Final 134 Choices
In the interests of brevity, I’m not going to list all 134 approved dog food formulas here. You can see them at Review.com. With 29 brands and 134 specific formulas, you’re sure to find a dog food formula that you can feel safe in offering your best buddy.
Keep in mind, of course, that just because your dog food brand isn’t on the approved list, that might not necessarily mean that it’s bad for your dog.
The Final Word
I was amazed at the idea that of over 2,200 dog food formulas tested, only 29 manufacturers and 134 specific products made the cut. My brand of choice isn’t on the list of approved dog food formulas, because it does contain grain products. However, my vet feels that this is fine for the age, size and activity level of my dogs. And, as I’ve already said, I do have a history of having very long-lived dogs.
The research done by the Review.com team is indisputably valuable, particularly where it deals with bad manufacturing practices, outsourcing ingredients from undesirable sources, and recall information. However, your veterinarian is always the best source of information when it comes to knowing what to feed your dog. So, take a look at the list, and if your dog food isn’t there, consult your vet. Next to you, he or she is the person who has the most vested interest in ensuring that your dog enjoys a long, healthy life.
The Best Dry Dog Food for 2017 – Reviews.com
Best Dog Food Reviews and Ratings of 2017 – Reviews.com
The Best Grain-Free Dog Food for 2017 – Reviews.com
Best Canned Dog Food – Reviews.com
Dog food research by Reviews.com | the malamute blog