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
PURINA DOG CHOW
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 SOUP FOR THE DOG LOVER’S SOUL
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?”