Only 6% of 2,223 researched formulas can be named safe and healthy for your dog!
Research carried out and originally posted by Reviews.com
Why does this matter?
In early 2015, the law firm of Morgan and Morgan filed a class action lawsuit against Purina over ingredients found in its line of Beneful dog food. Despite this lawsuit — and the thousands of complaints of kidney failure that led to it — the products remain available to purchase at a store near you.
Of the pet owners Research.com surveyed, 70 percent admitted that they didn’t know all of the ingredients in their dog’s food — including the very ingredients at the heart of the Purina lawsuit. All dog foods claim to be “premium” and “all natural,” but with very few regulations on what it takes to meet these qualifications, many of these claims are no more than flashy marketing gimmicks and false advertising. So, the Research.com team dug behind the label to sort out which ingredients make an excellent dog food and which ones should be avoided.
At the end of the work, they settled on 134 quality formulas across 28 approved brands (out of of 2,223 formulas from 115 brands – that’s only 6%!).
About the research
Ten people on Review.com team dedicated full-time work to this project, investing over 1,400 hours into this single page:
- 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 2,223 formulas from 115 brands and reviewed their ingredients.
Bad ingredients make dog food unsafe and unhealthy
Safety has always been the biggest concern for pet owners — and one of the hardest challenges for dog food manufacturers to meet. Since the 2007 recalls on Chinese-sourced food, many consumers have started reading labels to see where their food was coming from, but even ingredients sourced in the US can be unsafe.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets and maintains standards for the proper levels of ingredients in pet food, but it’s the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that determines the quality. FDA regulations, however, don’t guarantee that all ingredients will be safe.
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, manufacturers have 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 roadkill, zoo animals, and sometimes even spoiled meat from the grocery store that’s still wrapped in plastic.
Bad Ingredients, Poor Health
Just verifying all the ingredients in your food are “safe” doesn’t mean they are optimal or even healthy for your best friend. Dogs need the right combination of protein, fat, moisture, fiber, and nutrients to live healthy, happy lives. The wrong ingredients in the wrong combinations can lead to a host of health problems, both physical and mental.
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 participating experts have seen evidence that dogs are sensitive to wheat and corn, both popular fillers.
Obesity is on the rise in dogs. One main reason for this is overfeeding, but many of the experts were quick to point out that poor grain-based ingredients are also to blame.
Physical problems are only half of it. There was a unanimous consensus among participating trainers and behaviorists that poor diet causes mental health issues in dogs, including poor temperament and lack of focus.
However, many ingredients can’t simply be divided into “good” or “bad.” Some are downright controversial. Beet pulp, for instance, is a common binding agent found in many dog foods, but many conscientious consumers avoid it over concerns of digestive health issues. There is no scientific research as of yet to back this up, but the Review.com experts unanimously agreed: It’s best to avoid it.
Not only do ingredients matter, but also having the right combinations and ratios of ingredients matters. There’s an oft-quoted statistic that claims good dog foods contain 30 percent protein and 18 percent fat, with enough side nutritional content — omega-3s, vitamins, and fiber — to round out your dog’s diet. The participating experts disagree. To them, it’s really what’s best for your individual dog. “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.”
Dog Food Types
When Research.com team made their picks for the best dog foods, they looked at all varieties: dry, wet, homemade, dehydrated, and frozen raw varieties. No matter the type of food, the most important determining factor is still the ingredients. After all, what matters is what’s best for you and your dog.
Your dog’s life stage should factor into his or her diet. Puppies and seniors both have specific dietary needs. Large-breed puppies can develop developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) if they eat too much calcium — the maximum amount of calcium listed in their food should be no more than 1.5 percent. Senior dogs often require less protein because they are less active. And if they suffer from arthritis, many formulas contain glucosamine and chondroitin, both of which alleviate joint pain.
According to the interviewed experts, there’s no indication that specific breeds need specific diets. What you feed your dog is dependent on his or her size and activity level. Foods formulated specially for small dogs, for example, are beneficial because the smaller pieces of kibble are easier for them to eat and digest.
Dog owners need to be as careful as ever
After putting in 1,400 hours of research and analyzing over 2,223 formulas, the Research.com team discovered, that even some of the most popular brands still make food with unhealthy or unsafe ingredients. Of the 2,223 formulas they looked at, only 134 met the standard of approval — only about 6 percent overall. With so many choices on the market, it’s as important as ever to read labels and make informed decisions.
The good news? There are 134 great formulas to choose from, and they represent the best of what the industry has to offer.
Why 2,089 Dog Food Formulas Didn’t Make the Cut
The Decision Funnel
- Removing products where the first ingredient is not a meat of any kind (194 disqualified)
- Removing products containing corn, soy, wheat, grain, or flour (578 disqualified)
- Removing products containing beet pulp or sugar (146 disqualified)
- Removing products that contained by-products or sauces (44 disqualified)
- Reviewing brands for recalls, ingredient sources, history, and customer dissatisfaction (957 disqualified)
- Reviewing the remaining formulas based on the best ratio of protein, fat, and carbs, as well as the source of protein (166 disqualified)
Formulas and Ingredients
Ingredients matter most, so the researchers started by eliminating formulas with ingredients they determined to be unhealthy, unsafe, or unfavorable. It was important that each formula have a meat protein listed first — 194 dog food formulas were removed based on this criteria. They next removed 578 additional formulas that had corn, soy, wheat, grain, or flour in any part of the ingredient list. Overall, this eliminated 772 formulas, taking them from 2,223 to 1,447.
Next, they took out all formulas containing beet pulp or sugar, eliminating 146 more and further reducing the number from 1,447 to 1,301. Formulas that contained by-products and sauces led to 44 additional cuts, narrowing the choices from 1,301 to 1,257.
The 1,257 dog food formulas left did not have any ingredients they wouldn’t feed their own dogs. This was too large a number, however, so their next step was to review the brands themselves and return to formulas later.
Brands and Recalls
The original 2,223 dog food formulas they analyzed comprised of 115 brands. But after reducing the number of formulas to 1,257, the number of brands dropped to 93.
Brands That Were Cut Because of Their Ingredients:
- Chicken Soup
- Hill’s Prescription Diet
- Hill’s Science Diet
- Iams Veterinary Formula
- Nummy Tum-Tum
- Nutro Ultra
- Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets
- Royal Canin
- Breeder’s Choice
- Natural Planet
- Now Fresh
- Nutro Natural
- Pet Naturals of Vermont
- Himalayan Dog Chew
Of the 93 brands left, researchers went straight to their recall history to look for any major recalls, any significant controversies, and unusually high numbers of customer complaints and reports.
Next, they took out brands that had been sold to large companies and, as a result, may be changing or have changed their formulas in a manner that compromises integrity. Just as in human food, often, acquisitions and changes in ownership can lead to changes in formulas and manufacturing processes. In dog food, that can mean dramatically different ingredients that pet owners may not even notice.
For this reason, they eliminated dog food brands that had recently been acquired by large companies like Procter & Gamble (P&G), because there’s no guarantee that the data available on them, or the ingredients listed, were up-to-date and reliable.
The research team has 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: Not enough information
- Artemis: Manufactured by Diamond
- Blue Buffalo: False label claims, bad customer reviews, and outsourced foods
- Canidae: Many negative customer reviews, manufactured by Diamond
- Canine Caviar: Not enough information
- Dave’s Pet Food: Not enough information
- Dogswell: Some ingredients come from China
- Evanger’s: Many consumer complaints and false labeling
- EVO: Sold to P&G and also lost a class-action suit over false labeling
- Farmina: Not enough information
- Go!: Lesser-quality ingredients and issues with upset stomachs
- Great Life: Mediocre reviews and not enough information
- Holistic Select: Holistic Select’s parent company, WellPet, no longer has any ties to Diamond. However, Holistic Select has still received customer complaints of gas and loose stool in pets.
- Innova: Bought by P&G
- Merrick: History of recalls
- Nature’s Recipe: Manufactured by Del Monte
- Nature’s Variety: Many recent recalls
- Newman’s Own Organics: Some products made in Uruguay
- Nulo: Not enough information
- Nutrisca: Contains ingredients from China
- Pioneer Naturals: Not enough information
- Premium Edge: Too many recalls
- Solid Gold: Customer complaints of packaging and ingredient changes
- Taste of the Wild: Manufactured by Diamond
- Tiki Dog: Manufactured in Thailand
- TruDog: Not enough information
- Vital Essentials: Not enough information
- Wellness: Was associated with Diamond’s 2012 massive recall, but has since cut ties with Diamond. We’ll revisit Wellness in the future.
- Weruva: Some of their products are made in Thailand.
- Wild Calling: Food is manufactured and packed by Evanger’s.
The Review.com Stance On Recalls
The Review.com acknowledge that their methodology might not be perfect, but they continue to evaluate it each day, especially when it comes to recalls. They took a hard stance on not including brands that had a history of multiple recalls.
Though recalls happen, not all companies respond as swiftly, carefully, and transparently as everyone would like. Which means that even after a problem is corrected, they may continue to cut corners, which could lead to future safety concerns.
So while a recall in and of itself isn’t necessarily the last straw for a dog food company, a slow or sloppy response is. In their research, the team didn’t initially look at recall response, but adjusted their judgments on a case-by-case basis.
That doesn’t mean the products from eliminated brands are worse than the products from brands on the recommended list. Many of these products pass all of the tests when it comes to assessing quality ingredients. Some of the recalls were created proactively by the brands themselves, meaning there were no incidents reported. Still, the line had to be drawn somewhere, but Review.com plans to continue modifying and improving their methodology over time.
On that note, the research team also removed any and all products that had previously been associated with Diamond brand dog foods. Diamond pet foods have a history of recalls, including one extremely large and dangerous incident in 2012, which impacted many of its smaller labels. Dog foods that appear to be of higher quality, like Taste of the Wild, Canidae, and Solid Gold, were all involved at the time, though many consumers were unaware that these particular labels were associated, and several brands have since separated from Diamond and its manufacturers. The researchers did not feel that Diamond was transparent or diligent enough in its response to meet the criteria.
For this reason, dog foods that were owned or manufactured in Diamond’s factories were initially excluded, because their ongoing safety just could not be assured. However, those brands that have severed the ties and found new manufacturing locations are reconsidered on a case-by-case basis, based on the visible work the brand has demonstrated. The research team will continue to consider these brands moving forward, but maintain their hard stance on recalls.
The Final Choices
This left the Reviews.com research team with 300 remaining formulas. The final step was to determine if they had the proper ratio of protein, fat, and carbs based on the research. And making sure that the largest source of protein came from an animal.
After reviewing all 2,223 formulas, the research team ended up selecting 134 dog food formulas — manufactured by 28 brands — which can be confidently recommended: