Posted by: Amanda | August 18, 2008

Frequently asked questions about dog food – #2

Q: Most dog food seems to have chicken as the main meat, but are other meats ok, too? Is a dog food made without chicken a bad food?

Chicken is not at all necessary to make a good dog food. While chicken is the most commonly used meat in dog food, other meats, including but not limited to beef, fish, duck, turkey, elk, lamb, venison, quail, pheasant, buffalo, and rabbit, are absolutely fine as well. There are even several fantastic foods which contain no chicken at all, and are based completely on “alternative” meats.

Here are a few examples of high-quality dog foods which use “alternative” meats as main ingredients, in addition to chicken:

Orijen Adult (turkey, chicken, lake whitefish, salmon, walleye, herring)
Taste of the Wild Wetlands Formula (duck, chicken, quail, turkey, ocean fish)
Taste of the Wild Prairie Formula (bison, venison, lamb, chicken, ocean fish)
Go Natural Grain Free (turkey, chicken, salmon, duck)
Fromm Four Star Surf & Turf (salmon, duck, chicken)

Here are a few examples of high-quality, completely chicken-free dog foods:

Instinct Rabbit Meal Formula (rabbit, salmon)
Instinct Duck Meal & Turkey Meal Formula (duck, turkey, salmon)
Timberwolf Organics Wilderness Dry Canid Formula (elk, salmon)
Solid Gold Barking At The Moon (salmon, beef)
Innova EVO Red Meat (beef, lamb, venison, buffalo)

Here are a few examples of high-quality, chicken-free dog foods which are completely fish-based:

Orijen 6 Fish (salmon, herring, whitefish, trout, walleye, flounder)
Wellness Core Ocean Formula (whitefish, salmon, menhaden fish)
Timberwolf Ocean Blue (whitefish, salmon)
Taste of the Wild Pet Pacific Stream Formula (salmon, ocean fish)

High-quality chicken-free dog food is fine for all dogs, but as you may know, many dogs are actually allergic to chicken. If your dog has chicken allergies, know that you don’t have to be stuck with a low-quality or prescription food. There are many high-quality chicken-free dog foods out there!

Do you have a specific question that has something to do with dog food? Feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future installment of “Frequently asked questions about dog food.”

Previous installments:
Frequently asked questions about dog food – #1

Posted by: Amanda | August 17, 2008

Frequently asked questions about dog food – #1

This will be another series of posts, this time answering frequently asked questions regarding anything and everything to do with dog food. These will not be posted on any set schedule. Basically, a “FAQs About Dog Food” post will go up whenever I get an idea for one. These first few come straight from some of the “search engine terms” people have used to access this blog.

Q: What is the difference between all these types of chicken I see in dog food ingredient lists?

Chicken – Chicken, inclusive of all water/moisture content. Since the water adds to the weight, this ingredient usually belongs a bit farther down on the ingredient list than it actually appears.

Deboned Chicken – Chicken, minus the bones. Otherwise, it’s the same as “chicken” and includes all water content. As such, its place on the ingredient list is often not totally accurate.

Chicken Meal – Chicken meat that has had all moisture removed. Since Chicken Meal is chicken without any moisture content, you can be confident that the place it holds on the ingredient list is right where it should be.

Chicken By-products and Chicken By-product Meal – Essentially chicken “leftovers.” Feet, necks, intestines, undeveloped eggs, and so on. Basically, chicken by-products are almost everything except the actual chicken meat. The only thing they attempt to keep out is the feathers, but even a certain amount of these will usually end up in the mix.

Chicken feet, usually included in Chicken By-product Meal. While by-products are not harmful by themselves, they are a good indicator of a low-quality dog food, and in very low-quality foods, they are often the only meat content present.

Chicken feet, usually included in Chicken By-product Meal. While by-products are not harmful by themselves, they are a good indicator of a low-quality dog food, and in very low-quality foods, they are often the only meat content present.


—Additional info on chicken in dog food—

While there is nothing at all wrong with “Chicken” and “Deboned Chicken,” in fact both are great ingredients, it’s important to keep in mind that these ingredients include a lot of moisture content. That, in itself, is harmless, but since ingredients are listed in order of weight, and that moisture content adds a lot of weight, these ingredients would actually be placed further down the list when that water is removed (as it has to be to be made into dog food). So if you see “Chicken” as the first ingredient, but there is no other or very little other meat in the food, there is very likely not enough meat in the food. If “Chicken” is the first ingredient, but accompanied by “Chicken Meal” or some other meats high on the ingredient list, then it’s much more likely that there is a good amount meat in the food (although still not certain!).

Lately, a lot of low-quality foods have started advertising the fact that “100% real chicken is the first ingredient!” to encourage consumers to buy, but they are obviously not going to tell you how little that statement really means if there is no other meat in the food. If the first ingredient is chicken, but the next 10 ingredients are corn, by-products, low-quality grains, and other fillers, then the food is still mostly made up of low-quality ingredients, especially after you take into account the fact that the chicken is only the #1 ingredient because of the weight of its water content.

All kinds of chicken, except chicken by-products, are a great thing to see in a dog food. Anytime you see the word “by-products” anywhere in an ingredient list, you are very likely looking at a low-quality dog food. By-products, all by themselves, are not going to harm your dog. However, the presence of by-products in a dog food is an almost certain indication that the dog food in question was produced using cheap ingredients, which in turn is an almost certain indication that it does not contain enough meat, and is likely full of low-quality fillers. This will be true 99% of the time.

Many people understandably confuse “Chicken Meal” and “Chicken By-product Meal” because of their similar names, but they could not be more different! Chicken meal is real chicken meat with the moisture removed, and is a nutritious and high-quality ingredient, but chicken by-product meal is a low-quality ingredient, and is only included in dog food because it can be purchased cheaply by dog food companies. Unfortunately, in many very low-quality foods, chicken by-products are the only “meat” included in the food (and I use the term “meat” loosely here).


Do you have a specific question regarding dog food or dog nutrition? Feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future installment of “Frequently asked questions about dog food.”

More FAQs about dog food:
Frequently asked questions about dog food – #2

This is part 5 on my series of posts about high-quality, nutritional dog food.

—I tried to switch to a high-quality food, but my dog didn’t like it/his or her stool become loose – why is this?—

Dogs, as we all know, really can be a lot like people sometimes, and just like people, they have different taste preferences, and their bodies also have different tolerances for different things. Some foods may be too “rich” for your dog at first, especially if you are switching from a corn/filler-based food to a healthy meat-based food. Some foods simply may not have a taste your dog likes. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know in advance about any of these things (actually, some companies do offer free samples, but most don’t). It’s all trial and error.

One of my dogs liked the taste of Canidae, one didn’t. I know of many people who swear by Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul and have never had a problem with it, and others who have complained of it causing loose stools. Even though each dog’s nutritional requirements are the same (although certain dogs do have special nutritional needs), the same kind of food is not going to work for all dogs.

One thing to keep in mind is that it takes some dogs a while to adjust to new food. It is not uncommon for a brand new food to cause loose stools (this occurs even when switching between low-quality foods), but usually, once your dog’s body adjusts to the change, they will go back to normal.

Also, when switching foods, it can help to do so gradually, especially if you know your dog has a sensitive stomach. My two dogs have stomachs of iron and have never had a bad reaction to an abrupt food switch, but my late Springer Spaniel had a hard time whenever we changed her food. To make the change easier, add just a little of the new food in with the old food, increasing the amount a bit each day over the course of a week or longer, until you are feeding only the new food. This will usually cut down on, if not eliminate, any bad reactions your dog could have.

If you have food your dog will absolutely not eat, call your local animal shelter or rescue group and ask if they’d be interested in it. They may or may not accept an open bag, but they are always in need of donations, so it wouldn’t hurt to inquire!

—How do I find healthy dog food? How do I know what’s unhealthy? There’s something listed on the ingredients that I don’t understand…what is this?—

Rather than explain it all here, I suggest a visit to these sites, which explain it in more detail and more clearly than I ever could. If you have specific questions though, or if you’re wondering about the quality of a specific brand or a brand’s specific blend, please comment and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.

How to identify a high-quality food:
Ingredients to avoid:
Go here for what each ingredient actually is:
Go here for general label information:

Links for further reading: – Hundreds of dog food reviews with well-explained lists of pros and cons for each one, as well as an easy-to-understand rating system. Full ingredient lists from hundreds of foods listed here, which makes it easy to compare without going to each individual website. While this shouldn’t be treated as the “Bible of Dog Food,” and there are a few ratings I tend to disagree with (for example, I’d say Chicken Soup should be a 5, rather than a 4), it’s still a must read for anyone interested in their dog’s nutrition! – The largest wealth of information on dog food and dog nutrition out there. Talks about anything and everything related to dog food and dog nutrition, and will likely answer every question you have, and many you didn’t even know you had!

Part 5 is the final part of this series, but definitely look for more info and FAQs about dog food and dog nutrition in the future!

This is part 4 on my series of posts about high-quality, nutritional dog food.

—My vet recommended my brand to me! It must be good!—

Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. It’s a little-known, but unfortunately very true fact that most vets are not required to study dog nutrition, and the information on dog nutrition that they do have often comes straight from the dog food companies themselves in the form of sponsored seminars. Obviously, these companies are going to put their products in the best light possible, and since this is often the only information regarding dog nutrition the vet knows, they readily recommend these brands to people. Hill’s is one of the biggest sponsors of these seminars, which is why you have so many vets recommending Hill’s products (such as the low-quality Science Diet line of foods). They believe everything the Hill’s-employed vets told them, and who can blame them? If a teacher tells you something, you believe it, even if it’s self-serving and blatant misinformation. It’s unfortunate, but these vets turn around and pass this misinformation right to you and me, thinking they are giving good advice about which pet food to feed.
Veterinarian recommended...and extremely low-quality
This is true of most vets, but certainly not all. So, I’m not saying, “Don’t trust what your vet says about dog food!” but I AM saying to not take your vet’s recommendation as indisputable proof that your dog food is nutritious and high-quality. Before you decide it’s a good food, take a few minutes to learn what to look for in a good food, and then look at the ingredients list yourself.

Here’s a bit more info on the sad state of nutritional education at vet schools:

—I’ve been using the same brand of food for years, and my dog is fine! How can you say the food I feed is low-quality if that’s the case?—

This is something a lot of people ask, and if you’re asking this question too, then you sound just like I did a few years ago. This is a completely valid question, and one that would likely come to anyone’s mind upon learning that their brand of dog food might not be what they though it was. To answer it, I’ll tell you why I became such an advocate of high-quality dog food in the first place.

I had just brought home my first puppy in 15 years, and I asked my vet for a recommendation on what to feed her. He recommended IAMS, and I took his word for it. After all, he’s a vet! Plus, I had seen some great IAMS ads on TV that said it was a great food. “Complete” and “balanced,” and important-sounding studies on how it promotes longevity, and so on. So, I started feeding her IAMS. She didn’t seem to like the taste, but she was still a normal, happy, active puppy. Soon, she developed terrible dandruff, and she always seemed itchy, but I knew she didn’t have fleas. I went online to check out different reasons this might be happening (I even thought it might just be a “puppy thing,” since it had been so long since my last one), and one of the things I kept running across was that it could be the kind of food I was feeding her. Over the next few days, I began looking into different foods and what they were made up of. Over the next few weeks, I digested everything I could find about dog nutrition. I was still skeptical that something as simple as the food I was feeding could make so much of a difference, but I was willing to give the idea a chance. So, I went out to my local pet store armed with all I had learned, and chose a good food. And, low and behold, not long after, her dandruff disappeared, and her breath, which had always been awful, was suddenly completely bearable. These changes impressed me, so I soon tried another, better food and saw even more positive changes. By this time, I had another dog, and I was more interested in dog nutrition than ever, and amazed by what great things a healthy, high-quality food could do for a dog. I tried another, even better food, which yielded yet more positive results, and a few months later, an even BETTER food, and with this one, finally, I think I have arrived on one I will be happy to feed for a very long time.

So if you think your dog is doing fine on your current brand, you may be absolutely right, but that doesn’t mean that he or she couldn’t be doing even better on a higher-quality food. I personally saw improvements in my dogs every single time their food increased in quality. Before you convince yourself that a high-quality food won’t yield any positive changes, I urge you to try one for a few months! I did, and I have never looked back!

Part 5 has been posted, and is the last post in this series (but not my last post about dog food). In it I will talk about how to successfully switch your dog to a new food, and why your dog may experience some temporary side-effects from food switching, such as loose stools, and how to prevent that. I will also talk about how to find a healthy food, as well as list some links that will help you to do just that. Please join me for part 5 tomorrow!

This is part 3 on my series of posts about high-quality, nutritional dog food.

plenty of real meat, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and when grains are used, they are high-quality and easy to digest. All things that will benefit your dog inside and out. These are not included in the food simply because they are cheap, but because they are good for your dog!

A selection of ingredients commonly found in high-quality food: plenty of real meat, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and when grains are used, they are high-quality and easy to digest. All things that will benefit your dog inside and out. These are not included in the food simply because they are cheap, but because they are good for your dog!

—Are all of the foods from the “good brands” equally healthy? Are all of the foods from the “bad brands” equally poor-quality?—

No, and unfortunately, this makes things pretty confusing if you don’t know what to look for in an ingredient list! Although it IS possible to make a blanket statement about most of the “good” and “bad” brands like, “Everything from Hills is generally low-quality” or “Everything Solid Gold makes is generally high-quality,” the fact remains that not every “recipe” from any given brand is as high-quality and healthy as every other.

For example, Solid Gold is a company that would usually be included in a list of high-quality dog food. Certainly, Solid Gold Barking at the Moon is a high-quality food, but some of their blends, like Solid Gold Holistique Blendz for example, have too little meat and too much grain. They are all high-quality grains which are easy to digest, but the fact remains that there just isn’t enough meat in this food to balance out the high grain content.

One the other hand, Hill’s, makers of Science Diet, would definitely be included on a short-list of low-quality brands. Their Science Diet Adult is full of fillers and hard-to-digest ingredients, and doesn’t have nearly enough meat. But Hill’s Nature’s Best Chicken & Brown Rice Dinner really isn’t so bad. It has a bit more meat, and fewer fillers. It’s not an excellent food, but it’s head-and-shoulders above Science Diet Adult.

Your best bet is to do a bit of reading and learn how to read ingredient lists yourself. It’s not nearly confusing as you may think it is. Here are two useful links to get you started:

How to identify a high-quality food:
Ingredients to avoid:

These are clear and easy to understand, and packed with pretty much all you need to know about reading labels. Once you know what to look for, go to your favorite pet store and stroll down the dog food isles armed with your new knowledge. You’ll be surprised at how low-quality some of the most popular foods really are!

corn, corn, and more corn (the most common filler used in dog food), soybean meal, meat and bone meal, animal by-products, various unspecified animal parts from unspecified animals, and low-quality, hard to digest grains. These things are not in the food because they are good for your dog, they are in the food because the dog food company was able to buy them for practically nothing.

A selection of ingredients commonly found in low-quality food: corn, corn, and more corn (the most common filler used in dog food), soybean meal, meat and bone meal, animal by-products, various unspecified animal parts from unspecified animals, and low-quality, hard to digest grains. These things are not in the food because they are good for your dog, they are in the food because the dog food company was able to buy them for practically nothing.

—Will I actually see any changes in my dog if I switch to a better food, or are the benefits all invisible?—

In addition to the obvious internal benefits that come from a nutritious, high-quality diet, the changes I saw in my dogs within the first few months of switching to a high-quality food were shinier coats, much healthier skin (the dandruff, which was so bad that even their vet commented on it, COMPLETELY disappeared, and they stopped itching themselves so much), less-smelly breath, more stamina, and much more energy. You may or may not see these changes, but this is what I personally experienced.

Also, you will likely see a big change in how often they need to “go”, and in the firmness of their stools. If you feed a high quality food, your dog will probably need to go only half as often as he or she would with a low-quality food. The reason for this is that your dog is absorbing more from the food (with low-quality food, a lot of it passes right through your dog), so less of it ends up on your lawn. Your dog’s stools will also be much firmer and easier to pick up. These are also changes I personally saw in my dogs (they each “go” only once a day).

Please keep in mind that none of these changes will be instantaneous. Some will take weeks, some will take a few months, but it sure is worth the wait!

Part 4 has been posted. In it I answer the questions, “But my vet recommended my brand to me! It must be good, right?” and “I’ve been using the same brand of food for years, and my dog is fine! How can you say the food I feed is low-quality if that’s the case?” Please join me for part 4!

*Some food images from

This is part 2 on my series of posts about high-quality, nutritional dog food.


—Isn’t this higher quality food really, really expensive?—

Yes and no. Now, on average, it usually does cost a bit more per bag than low-quality food. Since the ingredients are of a much higher quality, it costs the manufacturer more to make it, and obviously some of that cost must be passed on to the consumer. But, despite this, you will actually save money buy choosing a high-quality dog food!

How can this be? Simple – You won’t need to feed as much as you did with lower-quality food. In most cases, you will only need to feed ½ or ¾ as much, and therefore will only need to buy ½ or ¾ as much.

All dog foods have a recommended amount to feed (usually right on the bag), depending on the age and weight of your dog. Low-quality foods recommend feeding much higher amounts than high-quality food. Because the high-quality food is so much healthier, your dog is getting all the nutrition he or she needs from a smaller amount of it, and more of it is actually being absorbed into your dog’s system. Which means your food will last longer, which mean you won’t have to buy it as often, which means you will be spending much less in the long run!

So how much will you save? Let’s do the math –

For this example, I’ll use Science Diet Adult (low-quality) and Orijen Adult (high-quality). I used their plain “Adult” foods for this comparison. Orijen recommends up to ¼ a cup a day per 5 lbs of dog. Science Diet numbers and feeding guidelines were taken from their official website.

Orijen recommends that an active adult dog weighing 40 lbs be given up to 2 cups a day.
Science Diet recommends that an adult dog weighing 40 lbs be given up to 3 cups a day.

That’s a difference of 1 cup per day, which doesn’t seem like much. But, over a week, that’s a difference of 7 cups. That’s still not much, is it? But over a month, it’s a difference of 30 cups. And over a year, the difference is a whopping 330+ cups! Now that is a lot. How many bags of dog food do you think that is? And that’s for just one 40 lb dog! If you have a bigger dog, the difference is even more.

An active 100 lb dog needs, at most, 4 ½ cups of Orijen a day. A 100 lb dog needs up to 6 cups of Science Diet a day. That’s a difference of over 540 cups of dog food a year!

If you have multiple medium to large dogs, the difference could easily be over 1,000 cups a year!

Now, think about all of this over the course of 10-15 years, the entire life of your dog. That’s easily the difference of thousands of cups of dog food! Several thousand cups of dog food that you never had to buy in the first place!

So think about it… how much is that “cheap” food really costing you?

This is NOT just in the case of Hill’s Science Diet and Orijen, and I did not intentionally pick these because the difference was so wide (you can easily check any brands you are interested in on their official websites – do your own comparisons using your own dog’s weight!). You will find that this applies to 99% of low-quality foods!

You will be paying more per bag, but you will need to buy fewer bags, possibly even half as many as you would a low-quality food, which works out to less cost, period. I hope this has helped to show why it’s actually often cheaper to pay a little more per bag for high quality food, and why over time, you will end up saving money, rather than losing money.

—So… where can I get high-quality food? Can I just walk into any pet store and buy it?—

Yes and no. While there are some good foods available in chain pet stores like PetSmart, some others can’t be found there. These foods can often be found at small local groomers and smaller, locally owned, non-chain pet stores. If you have your heart set on a certain brand, but these small local businesses don’t stock it, most of them will be more than happy to place a special order for you. I have a local groomer order my dog food (Orijen Adult) for me every few months at no extra charge. She calls me when my bag comes in. You also usually have the option of ordering online, but of course, S+H charges will add up over time.

You can also check the official website of the food you are interested in. Many have a “store locator” to help you find a store in your area that sells their food!

—I don’t know if I want to deal with all of that hassle…what are the good foods I might be able to find at my local pet store?—

Two of the “better than the bad stuff but not as good as the good stuff” foods you can find are Blue Buffalo and certain kinds of Solid Gold (check the ingredients and make sure the bag of Solid Gold you are holding has a meat as both the first and second listed ingredients). They have a fairly decent amount of meat (but should ideally have more), and also some filler, but they are still much better than a lot of the foods out there.

Some of the very high quality foods you can often find at pet stores are Blue Wilderness (made by the same company that makes Blue Buffolo), Wellness Core, and Taste of the Wild. Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul, while not quite as good as the three mentioned above, is a very good food as well, and is widely sold and easy to find. All of these have a nice amount of meat and few, if any, fillers.

Keep in mind that not all pet stores will have these. My local PetSmart has them all, and I believe my local PetCo does as well. Call around! It’s very easy to locate most of these brands.

—I don’t really mind a bit of searching… what brands are really good?—

I currently feed Orijen, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking for a better food. It’s full of high-quality, human-grade ingredients, has great meat content, it’s completely grain-free, and contains nothing even resembling fillers, plus it has a taste my dogs can’t get enough of (even my picky one loves it). I’ve done a lot of searching and trying different foods, and I personally feel it doesn’t get any better than Orijen. Of course, this is just my personal opinion!

Below is an incomplete list of high-quality foods – there ARE many more out there – this is just to get you started:
Innova EVO
Taste of the Wild
Wellness Core
Timberwolf Organics
Blue Wilderness
Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul

What do all of these have in common? High meat content, no fillers (cheap and/or unnecessary ingredients which do little good for your dog), and high-quality ingredients (whole grains, often human-grade meat, the veggies aren’t rotten leftovers from the human food industry, etc).

These are not all created equally – some ARE better than others. However, these are all generally great foods, so you can’t really go wrong. If you have questions about the quality about a specific brand, please comment.

Prices vary, so if one is a bit too expensive, chances are there will be another one that is well within your budget!

Part 3 has been posted. In it, I answer the questions, “Are all of the foods from the “good brands” equally healthy? Are all of the foods from the “bad brands” equally poor-quality?” and “Will I actually see any changes in my dog if I switch to a better food, or are the benefits all invisible?” Please join me for part 3!

I’m going to start a series of informational posts about nutritional, high-quality dog food in a FAQ type of format. I’m going to cover many things, including how and why it is beneficial to both you and your dog, and how it is not as expensive as many people believe it is (and how it can actually save you money). Since this will be long, I won’t be posting it all at once. I will post a portion of it every few days over the next week or so. If you are interested in making sure your dog is eating a high-quality, nutritional food, this is definitely for you!

What is your dog really eating?

You might be surprised to learn that most of the best-known and widely sold brands are also the lowest-quality and least nutritional. Packed with fillers, and with very little meat content (and what little meat there is if often something you wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole), 99% of the foods available in your favorite pet supplies store or grocery store are inferior products made up of ingredients that do your dog very little good (and some which can actually do harm).

Is your favorite brand among these? You may think you know the answer, but you might be surprised!

Do not be fooled by words like “Premium” or “Balanced” or all of those cute commercials until you learn what makes a good dog food, and take a good look at the ingredients yourself!

What is a “filler” ingredient? Why don’t I want fillers in my dog food?

A filler is a cheap ingredient that has little to no nutritional value for your dog. Fillers are included in most dog foods because it costs the manufacturer very little, but still “fills” up the bag, and “fills” up your dog. Think of it this way: If you wanted to drink a glass of milk to quench your thirst, as well as for its nutritional value, but you filled the glass ¾ full of water, and only ¼ with milk, your glass would be full of mostly “filler” material. It would still quench your thirst, but have very little nutritional value. For us, that wouldn’t be such a big deal, since it’s just one glass of milk. But our dogs rely on their dog food to provide almost all of their nutrition, which keeps bones and organs strong, skin healthy, and coats shiny. If there is very little nutrition in their food, they have nowhere else to get it.

If you are paying for a dog food full of fillers, you are paying for a food your dog’s system can’t fully digest or utilize. You are paying for a food that is going to pass right through your dog and end up on your lawn without doing your dog a bit of good. I don’t need to tell you how much of a waste of money that is!

Is there really THAT much of a difference between dog foods? It all looks exactly the same!

You only have to compare ingredients to see the difference, and yes, there IS a big difference. Since dog food ingredients are listed in order of weight, the dog food is mostly made up of the first 8-10 ingredients or so. Here are a few comparisons of several brands’ standard “Adult” dry food (if there was no regular “Adult” food on the market, I used the chicken-based Adult recipe of the same brand) using only the first 10 ingredients of each food. I will use five well-known and widely-used low-quality foods, and five high-quality foods. While the other ingredients are absolutely important, these are what your dog is mostly eating.

Keep in mind that the higher up the good ingredients are listed, the better.

Poor quality and filler ingredients are in bold italics.

LOW TO VERY LOW QUALITY FOOD (in no particular order)

Ground yellow corn, chicken-by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, beef tallow, rice flour, beef, soy flour, Minerals

Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, meat and bone meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat, rice, natural poultry flavor, potassium chloride, dicalcium phosphate, salt

Chicken, Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Meal, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Fish Meal*, Chicken Fat, Brewers Rice, Natural Chicken Flavor, Dried Beet Pulp (Beet Pulp is a controversial ingredient – some consider it of decent quality, others consider it a filler).

*Fish Meal is meat, and can be considered a “good” ingredient, but most high quality foods will include only specifically named meat, rather than the vague “Fish Meal” or “Poultry Meal.” An example of specifically named meat would be “Salmon Meal” or “Turkey Meal.”


Chicken, corn meal, ground grain sorghum, ground wheat, chicken by-product meal, brewers rice, soybean meal, animal fat, natural flavor, vegetable oil


Whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols, corn gluten meal, meat and bone meal, brewers rice, soybean meal, barley, whole grain wheat, animal digest, calcium carbonate

Notice the almost complete absence of meat in Purina, Pedigree, and Beneful! Instead of real meat, they use chicken or poultry “by-product meal,” which is essentially discarded parts, such as feet, intestines, and undeveloped eggs. These foods are almost exclusively made up of fillers! How can a company like Purina call their Dog Chow “Complete and Balanced” if it’s almost all corn and chicken feet?! They even include “Animal Digest” in their food, which is basically a mixed up soup of unspecified animal parts from unspecified animals. Even euthanized pets from animal shelters have been used by some dog food companies, all under the name “Animal Digest!” Some of these ingredient lists are downright scary.

Science Diet and Eukanuba both have chicken as their first ingredient, which is a good thing. However, since it says “chicken” instead of “chicken meal,” not to be confused with chicken-by-product meal, it means the chicken’s weight includes all moisture and water content. What does that mean? It means the actual “chicken” part of it, without water, does not weigh as much, and is not truly the first ingredient. Its actual place is farther down the list. And almost all ingredients other than that one “Chicken” are filler or low-quality. In this short list, Eukanuba is probably the “best,” but it is by no means a high-quality food.

Another thing to keep in mind is that what little meat these brands do have is mostly 4D meat. 4D meat has been rejected for human consumption and comes from animals which were “Dead, Dying, Disabled or Diseased” when they were inspected. They use this meat because they can get it dirt cheap. They don’t care about the quality.

HIGH TO VERY HIGH QUALITY FOOD (in no particular order)

Chicken, turkey, chicken meal, ocean fish meal, cracked pearled barley, whole grain brown rice, oatmeal, millet, white rice, chicken fat, potatoes

Turkey, chicken, chicken meal, barley, brown rice, potatoes, natural flavors, rice, chicken fat, herring

Turkey, chicken, turkey meal, chicken meal, potatoes, herring meal, chicken fat, natural flavors, egg, apples

Deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, russet potato, lake whitefish, chicken fat, sweet potato, whole eggs, turkey, salmon meal

Deboned Turkey, Deboned Chicken, Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Potatoes, Dried Ground Potato, Tomato Pomace, Natural Chicken Flavor, Canola Oil, Chicken Liver

Notice the abundance of meat and the lack of any filler in these high-quality foods. Also note that when grains are used, they are quality, easy-to-digest grains, rather than the “brewers rice” (fragments of rice kernels leftover from the human food industry) and other inferior, hard-to-digest grains you usually find in low quality foods. An investigation into the sources of these ingredients will show that the majority of high-quality foods are made with human-quality meat (the same meat you could put on your table for dinner) and organic or otherwise human-quality fruits and vegetables.

Even if you know nothing at all about dog nutrition, it isn’t hard to guess that a dog should be eating meat (chicken, lamb, fish, etc) and other high-quality, easily digestible ingredients, rather than “ground yellow corn” or “soybean meal.” Many of these low quality foods look more like they’d fit a farm chicken’s nutritional needs more closely than they would fit your dog’s!

YOU CAN FIND PART 2 HERE. In it I will tell you how you will actually save money by buying a high-quality food. I will also tell you where to find high-quality food, including which ones are commonly sold in pet supplies stores (PetSmart, PetCo, etc.), and which ones may take a bit of effort to find and how to locate those.

YOU CAN FIND PART 3 HERE. In it I will answer the questions, “Are all of the foods from the “good brands” equally healthy? Are all of the foods from the “bad brands” equally poor-quality?” and “Will I actually see any changes in my dog if I switch to a better food, or are the benefits all invisible?”

Posted by: Amanda | August 4, 2008

Free-feeding vs. Scheduled Meals

Free-feeding vs. scheduled meals is a subject of much discussion and dissension in the world of dogs. Which is the “correct” way to feed, and if you don’t use that method, are you hurting your dog? Everything you read and everyone you talk to will tell you something different. Some say that free-feeding your dog is a sure-fire way to end up with a fat, disobedient dog with health issues. Others will say that feeding only at certain times will lead to food aggression and a dog who will feel forced to eat even when not hungry.

Many people will insist that their way is the only “right way” and that anyone doing anything else is a horrible dog owner who doesn’t care about their dog’s well-being. It can all be pretty confusing, and worrying.

We all want the best for our dogs, but how can we know if we are doing the right thing is there is so much difference of opinion on a subject?

Which method is really better?

Commonly mentioned free-feeding pros and cons

-Dogs eat only when they are hungry, and do not feel pressured to eat when they are not hungry.
-Dogs eat only as much or as little as they need. For example, if a dog gets a lot of exercise one day, s/he can eat more. If s/he isn’t very active the next day, s/he can eat less.
-You don’t have to worry about missing meal times, and your dog will always be able to eat when hungry.
-Some dogs will free-feed themselves right into obesity.
-If your puppy/dog is still housetraining, free-feeding can delay the process.
-Your dog will not be food motivated, which can make training difficult.

Commonly mentioned scheduled feeding pros and cons
-Can help with housetraining. Since your puppy is eating at the same times each day, s/he will also need to “go” at around the same times each day.
-If your dog knows the food comes from you and only when you decide, s/he will be more likely to see you as the ‘leader,” respect you more, and therefore be more obedient.
-You control when and how much your dog eats, which can help regulate his/her weight.
-Dogs may feel they have to eat even when they are not hungry.
-If your dog knows the food is limited, s/he may be protective or aggressive during meal times.
-You may not be feeding your dog enough without your knowledge/you may be feeding your dog too much without your knowledge

Please take all of this with a grain of salt. For any given dog, some of it, none of it, or all of it may or may not apply. I personally agree with some of it, but not all. For example, I’ve never believed that a dog will be more obedient if they know the food comes from you only when you decide. There are millions of poorly-behaved dogs who are on scheduled meals, and millions of very well-behaved dogs who have always been free-fed, and vice-versa. I also don’t believe that free-feeding takes away food motivation – I free-feed my dogs, and was I still able to teach my younger girl to “sit” within 10 minutes using nothing but plain kibble as a reward. There was a bowl full of it sitting right behind her, but she still wanted the kibble I had in my hand. And even if your dog is not kibble motivated (and many aren’t, even if they are fed scheduled meals), you can use healthy treats like carrots or boiled chicken for training. And while food aggression can be caused if a dog feels food is limited, that’s the exception to the rule, rather than the norm. But I included it all to give a more balanced list of commonly mentioned pros/cons, although there are probably many I missed.

So, in the end, which way is “right?” I have always felt that the “right” way is whichever way you and your dog are most comfortable with and works best for your situation. Don’t force yourself or your dog to use a method that doesn’t work, or that neither of you feels comfortable with just because some insist it is the only “right” way to do things. The “right” way for you and your dog is the “right” way.

Of course, free feeding DOESN’T work for every dog. I can’t stress this enough. Some dogs simply can’t be trusted to eat only until they are full. If you keep filling their bowl, they will keep eating…and eating…and eating, until you eventually have Godzilladog on your hands. And weight gain can catch you by surprise. It happens slowly, until one day, you look up and your dog is fat. For these dogs, scheduled and measured meals are an absolute necessity.

In addition to a significant decrease in energy and stamina, diabetes, heart disease, increased risk of cancer, and stress to joints and bones are just some of the many negative effects an overweight dog may experience. NO fat dog will get off scot-free – there will be problems caused by the extra weight now or in the future. Some owners may laugh and joke about their “big roly poly boy,” but I doubt they’d find their dog’s myriad of heath issues and/or early death funny at all.

Switching your dog to scheduled meals
Decide on the feeding schedule you’d like to keep. Make sure that it’s something that will be easy for you; build it around your own regular schedule. Most people find that feeding twice a day works best, but all dogs are different and you may need to adjust the number of meals to suit your situation. More than three is generally not recommended unless your dog is a young puppy. Puppies under 4-5 months of age should be fed 3-4 times a day.

The first thing to do is check your dog food for the recommended amount to feed your dog per day. Some dogs will need more than this (if they are exceptionally active, for instance), and some less, but this recommended amount is a good place to start. Divide that amount evenly between however many meals you have decided to feed per day (if you have decided on one meal, you would obviously give it all at once). For this example, I will be using two meals.

Measure out the food for the first meal, and put the bowl down in front of your dog. Give your dog 15-20 minutes to eat, and then take the food away.

Don’t expect your dog to take to this immediately. If your dog has always had a bowl full of food in the corner, or s/he is a new member of your family and hasn’t ever been fed on a schedule like this, s/he probably won’t understand that right now is the time to eat. It’s fairly likely that your dog will just look at the bowl and walk away, or just eat a small portion of the offered food. Don’t be discouraged, and keep to the schedule. For the second meal, fill the bowl with the other half of the day’s food. If your dog didn’t eat the first meal, don’t double-fill the bowl – give your dog only the second meal’s portion. Again, put it down for 15-20 minutes, then take it away. Your dog, who has not eaten all day, may be more likely to eat the second meal than the first, but even if s/he doesn’t, don’t be tempted to mix anything into the food. This is a mistake a lot of people make, and it can actually delay the process. If you do this, your dog will soon learn that you will put something really tasty in his/her bowl if s/he refuses to eat. It could very well reach the point where your dog won’t ever eat dog food unless something tasty is in it. You don’t want to get stuck in this trap. If plain dog food has always been good enough for your dog, it will be now as well.

To further encourage your dog to eat, don’t fill him/her up on treats between meals. Once he/she is used to scheduled meals, the treats can come back.

None of this in harming your dog – s/he is not going to starve him/herself to death and will eat when s/he is hungry. Some dogs understand the change within a few days, some take a bit longer to understand. Be patient and give it time. If you stick to the schedule you have decided on, your dog will take to it eventually.

Switching your dog to free-feeding

Whether you’ve decided to free-feed for the first time, or you’ve been doing it for years, I’ve found that it’s best to put the dish in an area you spend a lot of time. This is so you can keep an eye on how much your dog is eating, and will also make it easier to notice if he or she suddenly stops eating (which can be the first sign of a health problem).

If your dog has always had scheduled meals and is used to finishing all the food in his/her dish at each meal time, then you may find s/he continues to do this for the first few days of free-feeding. Don’t be alarmed, and use common sense. Don’t fill the bowl up over and over and over – you don’t your dog throwing up. Once your dog has finished what is in his bowl, and walks away, try putting a bit more in the bowl without your dog noticing, so that the next time s/he comes to it, there will be food. Do this a few times throughout the day. There’s no need to fill it to the brim each time – just a little will do. You want your dog to understand that there will always be food there.

Another option is to simply over-fill the bowl and let your dog eat all s/he wants until s/he is full. Most dogs will stop when they are full (but not all, so again, use common sense). If they walk away from the dish with food still in it, and the bowl and food stays down all day, this will hopefully help them realize that the food will always be there. Most dogs will eventually realize that things have changed and that there will now always be food in his dish. For the first few days, your dog may very well eat more than s/he usually would have, but soon, his/her eating habits will even out, and s/he will only eat when s/he is hungry.

Weight gain is probably the #1 undesired side-effect of free-feeding. For this reason, it’s best to weigh your dog before you begin free-feeding, and continue to do so frequently for the first few months. If weighing isn’t an option for whatever reason, carefully monitor your dog’s physical condition instead. Is it becoming more difficult to feel his ribs? Is her “waist” less pronounced when viewed from above? This will help you catch any weight gain immediately and take the proper steps to halt and reverse it. As already mentioned, some dogs just can’t be trusted to feed themselves, and will keep eating and eating and eating for as long as there is food. For these dogs, scheduled (and measured) meals really may be the best way to go. If your dog is gaining weight (or already overweight), then you may want to reconsider whether free-feeding is really right for your dog.

Is your dog a de-stuffer, like mine are? Or maybe your dog (or you) gets bored of toys pretty quickly? If you find yourself buying new dog toys often, then you probably know how increasingly expensive they are! An average stuffed toy at a pet store costs anywhere from $4-$10. Over time, even one or two new toys a month can add up fast! So, what to do? Is there somewhere to get really, really cheap dogs toys?

Nope. Not that I’ve been able to find, anyway.

But there IS somewhere to get really, really cheap “people toys” that are just as fun for your dog! I’ve been buying stuffed toys at garage sales for 10-25 cents each for the past year, and it’s been great. My dogs get a few new toys every single week of the summer (and I put some away for the winter, too), and it doesn’t even put a dent in my wallet! They love it, I love it, and all of those ruined toys no longer make me cringe thinking about how much I’ll have to spend on new ones. Just $.50 can usually buy anywhere from 1-5 new toys at a garage sale. On the other hand, 5 toys at PetSmart would cost anywhere from $15-30!

Garage sales are my Saturday morning ritual all summer, but even if it isn’t a regular activity of yours, keep an eye out for signs on telephone poles. If you’re out driving around on Saturday morning, you’re sure to pass a few. Or, if you have a bit of extra time, take a look at the ads in your local newspaper, and pick out a nice neighborhood sale to browse. There are always lots of people selling old stuffed animals for virtually nothing. You might even find a few bargains for yourself!

You can even take your dog(s) along with you, as I often do. It’s a great opportunity for socialization, since there are people and kids and strollers and other dogs everywhere! Especially if you have a puppy, this is a great way to get him or her used to different people and surroundings (provided all shots have been finished, of course).

It’s true that the toys you buy at garage sales may not always be quite as cute as the ones at the pet store (although I have found some really nice ones), but believe me, it won’t make any difference to your dog!

Please think of your dog’s safety and use common sense when picking out toys. Make sure there are no plastic eyes or small parts of any kind that could be a choking hazard if torn off, and always supervise your dog during playtime to make sure he or she is not ingesting the stuffing, or any of the materials. This could be harmful with both dog toys and people toys alike. If your dog doesn’t mind “empty” toys, you could even do the de-stuffing yourself before you give the toy to your dog. Then there’s no mess, and no worry.

Luckily, my dogs aren’t toy eaters, they just like to rip everything out of the poor things and spread the “guts” around the room. That seems to be part of the fun for them!

Posted by: Amanda | July 30, 2008

Bully Sticks

I am always surprised when people don’t know what bully sticks are, but I guess I shouldn’t be. At many stores, they are expensive, and they are, after all, just boring brown sticks in usually unremarkable packaging. It’s not the kind of thing that screams “Your dog will love me!”

But your dog will love them! These are the one chew my dogs never tire of, and I love them because they are healthy, long-lasting, and don’t stain.

Quick Info:
What are they? – They are made from bull penises, which are apparently irresistible to dogs. Who knew?
Do they stain? – Not at all
Do they smell? – Unfortunately
How long do they last? – It takes one of my super-chewer Dachshunds about two hours to finish one off. If you have a bigger dog, they likely won’t last quite as long.
Where to get them? – You can find bully sticks at almost any pet store. PetSmart and PetCo both have them. I buy mine from or because it’s a bit cheaper, usually about half the cost per piece if I buy them online, even with the cost of shipping figured in. I don’t recommend any particular brand; my dogs have liked all of them.
Misc. Info – Since these are made of 100% beef, they are also 100% digestible!
Misc. Info – May be too tough and hard for young puppies or very tiny dogs.

If you’re looking for a new chew for your dog that doesn’t stain and is completely digestible, give these a try!