Your Dog Food Matters

December 4, 2013

Recently I had an opportunity to provide some education around dog food choices. It brought me back to the MANY years I had no idea how important it was to do research and pick the right food for your dog. Thought I’d share some info on this recent research adventure of mine.

218011_213363258676989_4570948_nOne site I LOVE is Dog Food Advisor. In the ideal world you’d want to choose a 4 or 5 star food as indicated on this website, because they include ingredients that are best for your dog, but financially I get that’s not always possible so there are lower ratings that still can work. Generally, I suggest being in a category of 3 or above.

I took a look at Purina Dog Chow since this is one of the foods that is found everywhere. I knew nothing about it (other than I knew it wasn’t going to be highly rated), so dug into the details and found this a 1 star food. What does this mean? Well, for starters, there are several top ingredients in this food that are ‘controversial’ or bad for a dog. There are the top ingredients:

  • whole grain corn
  • meat and bone meal
  • corn gluten meal
  • animal fat preserved with mixed tocopherols
  • soybean meal
  • poultry by-product meal
  • egg and chicken flavor
  • whole grain wheat
  • animal digest
  • salt

A few ingredients that are considered inferior are: corn (a terrible first ingredient – dogs can’t tolerate grains well), meat/bone meal (meat source is not identified), poultry meal, animal fat, ‘by products’, animal digest, grains, and many cheap fillers. And if I can get passed all the ingredients I can’t even pronounce, I don’t even see vegetables in there, not to mention one specific meat type (like chicken). 8 of the 10 top ingredients are ‘controversial’, scary. So then I dug into what some of these mean, so glad it wasn’t dinner time…

Animal fat. According to, The problem with generic animal fat is that it can come from almost anywhere — anonymous, unidentified sources such as…

  • Dead, dying, diseased, or disabled farm animals
  • Slaughterhouse waste
  • Dead zoo animals
  • Meat by-products
  • Road kill
  • There’s also disturbing evidence rendered fats could even be sourced from euthanized cats and dogs.

By Product. Basically, animal by-products are what’s left of a slaughtered animal after the edible parts have been removed. They include the waste of meat processing not intended for human consumption. For example…

  • Feet
  • Backs
  • Livers
  • Lungs
  • Heads
  • Brains
  • Spleen Frames
  • Kidneys
  • Stomachs
  • Intestines
  • Undeveloped egg

Animal Digest. This is material which results from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean and un-decomposed animal tissue. The animal tissues used shall be exclusive of hair, horns, teeth, hooves and feathers, except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice and shall be suitable for animal feed.”

So in a nutshell, this food is not good. A reasonably priced brand that we use in rescue is Purina Pro Plan. It is a slightly higher star rating – 2.5. The first ingredient is real chicken so that’s good. There are less ‘controversial’ ingredients here but still a number of them.

Dog_eating-good-dog-foodSo what to do if you feed your dog a brand that isn’t looking so hot? Well, I always first look to Grain Free foods if possible as those are the best for dogs – the best ratios for food are 50% meat, 50% vegetables, grain-free, wheat-free, and no cheap fillers. But again, I definitely get there is a budget, dog food can be EXPENSIVE. I personally feed my dogs Taste of the Wild,  which has a good source of protein, real vegetables and meat (or in my case, fish), no cheap fillers or grains, to name a few. I feed my two little ones Fromm Gold, which is pretty similar to Horizon but has grains in it that can be undesirable. There are many great options there, and I suggest you utilize Dog Food Advisor’s website in the 3, 4 or 5 start star categories to determine what food you want to look at. View our comparison chart>>

According to, some things to consider for buying or making are:

  • Look for natural and/or organic ingredients. A dog food package with “Natural” stamped on it means nothing – there are no regulations in place to define this. So sifting through the ingredients is vital.
  • Avoid corn, cornmeal, soy and wheat. These are difficult for dogs to digest and can cause allergies.
  • Instead, choose your grains from barley, rolled oats, millet, quinoa, and brown rice.
  • Depending on your dog’s ability to digest, check the digestibility of the protein source. For instance, fish is more digestible than muscle and organ meats.
  • Check digestibility of the carbohydrate source. Rice is at the top, followed by, in part, oats and yeast.
  • Avoid animal-by-products which may contain heads, feet, and other animal parts.
  • Avoid preservatives and additives – they have been shown to cause health problems in dogs.
  • Look for Vitamin E and C; they are natural, healthful preservatives.
  • Look for Omega-3; it is good for your dog’s coat.
  • Some dog owners prefer to look for “human-grade” food in their dog food. This simply means the food is purchased from human-grade food facilities.

I went almost 8 years before I realized how important it was to consider what I was feeding my dogs. And that I couldn’t just trust that the dog food I buy was ok for them, in fact I’ve realized most AREN’T good. Downright deadly sometimes (Beneful is one). So now I pay so much closer attention because I don’t want the food I give my dogs to affect their overall or long term health.

This post in no way addresses individual dog needs and could go into much deeper analysis of ingredients. Every dog is different and can react different ways to foods, and many dogs have numerous types of allergies that can be affected by the food they eat. The important thing is to do your research for your own individual situation and keep trying to find the best food for your dog.

So you want to reconsider what you feed your dog? Check out Dog Food Advisor’s best dry dog foods page and best grain free dog foods page for a quick way to narrow down your options to research. And remember, if you do switch your dog’s food, be sure to do it gradually by mixing the old and new food together (start 75/25 and move up from there) so the dog can tolerate the change ok.


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