As recalls flourish and lawsuits against Purina and Blue Buffalo make headlines, Reviews.com decided to take matters into their own hands and find out which dog food formulas were most likely to be safe.
To complete this massive undertaking, 10 people on their team dedicated full-time work to this project, which started on March 16.
According to their research, they:
- Built a list of over 11,000 people with connections to the dog food industry and narrowed it down to the best.
- Over 20 experts contributed their valuable time to our work, including veterinarians, dog trainers, animal behaviorists, university researchers, and authors.
- Surveyed 300 dog owners and asked them if they knew what was in their dog’s food.
- Gathered a list of over 8,000 search queries to find out what matters most to dog owners.
- Read and analyzed 72 of the most popular articles and studies on dog food.
- Compiled a list of 2219 formulas from 115 brands and reviewed their ingredients.
The first shocking revelation? 70 percent of the dog owners they surveyed did not know all the ingredients in their dogs’ food.
Is it Really Safe?
First they looked at the safety of dog food – who is really regulating it?
Dog food standards are set by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the same people who regulate livestock feed. However, the FDA supposedly determines the quality – but their regulations clearly are not working – all the recalls and poisoned pets are a testament to that.
“Ingredients from rendering facilities, for instance, should be avoided. You’ll recognize these ingredients on the label under generic terms like ‘meat’ and ‘meat meal.’ In California, they’ve given them the appetizing name of “dry rendered tankage.” So why avoid them? It’s almost impossible to tell what’s being rendered: it can be road kill, zoo animals, and sometimes even spoiled meat from the grocery store that’s still wrapped in plastic.” (www.reviews.com)
Is It Healthy?
Another component they looked at was if the ingredients were actually healthy for your dog. Just because they are not dangerous or toxic, does not mean it’s healthy. A human could live on a diet of junk food, but eventually it would catch up to their health. Same is true for your dog.
“Digestive problems, including bloat and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are symptomatic of poor ingredients that don’t contain enough whole, unprocessed foods. Food allergies can also lead to digestive issues — many of the experts we reached out to have seen evidence that dogs are sensitive to wheat and corn, both popular fillers.” (reviews.com)
This image is a quick snapshot of common ingredients that are put in dog food that are healthy and unhealthy.
It is important to note that, just like us, each dog has individual nutritional needs based on health, exercise level, age, and any medical conditions. Many dog foods, for example, advertise they are the best because they are high in protein, however a high protein diet can actually cause issues for dogs with certain medical conditions.
“Protein is very important for your dog, but there are instances, such as old age or liver issues, where your dog should be on a lower-protein diet,” says Dog Files creator Kenn Bell. “Make sure you have a conversation with your veterinarian.” (reviews.com)
Narrowing the Field
Reviews.com look at 2,219 dog food formulas from 115 brands with over 2,500 distinct ingredients and narrowed it down to 119 formula from 15 dog brands that were satisfactory.
- We removed products where the first ingredient is not a meat of any kind.
- We removed products containing corn, soy, wheat, grain, or flour.
- We removed products containing beet pulp or sugar.
- We removed products that contained by-products or sauces.
- We reviewed brands for recalls, ingredient sources, history, and customer satisfaction.
- We reviewed the remaining formulas based on the best ratio of protein, fat, and carbs, as well as the source of protein.
It is important to note, they did no actual third party testing of the foods, to check ingredients.
“We did not do third party testing on the food because there were so many quality final choices,” explains Mike Jelinek, co-founder Reviews.com. “We used ratios/ingredients from the company and then compared them with other third party sources to ensure the data lined up. Given the time it would take to test over 100 formulations, we didn’t feel like we could pull that off in time. However, we plan to come back to this review in the future and look at reviewing the individual brands. At that time, it will make sense to go beyond the data/ingredients and get the products tested.”
That left them with the following 25 brands.
- Back to Basics
- By Nature
- Earthborn Holistic
- Grandma Lucy’s
- Hi-Tek Naturals
- K9 Natural
- Nature’s Logic
- Precise Holistic Complete
- Stella & Chewy’s
- Stewart Pro-Treat
- The Honest Kitchen
- The Real Meat Company
As mentioned above, they plan on digging deeper and testing dog foods in the future. In addition, they want to look more at raw and homemade diets to determine if they really are better for your dog.
“We’d like to get a better consensus on homemade/raw diets,” says Jelinek. “Many of the experts we spoke with were fearful of a homemade diet saying things like, ‘most people can’t even feed themselves proper nutrition’ and worried about the consistency or safety of feeding pets. Other experts have been feeding homemade diets for 20 years. I think more work needs to be done here and it ultimately depends on the lifestyle of the pet owner. In the future, we’d like to analyze homemade diet plans to provide some recommendations for those who want to avoid commercial diets altogether. Supplements are another big thing among dog owners and experts we spoke with.”
Jelinek also mentioned to us that he would like to address the problem of “sticker shock” for pet parents on a budget.
“We want to create a page for dog owners who might be on a budget,” he explained. “As you can see by our top choices, most are very premium products and not affordable for the masses. They are the best of the best. We want to look at more affordable brands as well (while still focusing on quality ingredients) but perhaps not being as picky with our filtering. Nothing would be harmful in the ingredients, but we had to make some tough calls when cutting down our list of products.”