Dog Food Analysis

First off, you should note that grains are an unnatural food source for

canines, and that dog food products should be based on meat rather than grain.

There is no single best food for every dog. However good

the quality of ingredients, a food that suits every single dog does not

exist.This site provides its users with information on the content of dog food

products-appropriate quality of those foods. There is no guarantee that any

food, however highly rated, will suit a particular dog (just as one food

suiting a dog does not mean that the next food in the same category will

equally suit the dog). Finding the best food for your individual does, and

always will, involve some amount of experimentation.

Corn is a difficult to digest grain of limited value

and that is commonly associated with allergy problems.

Corn gluten meal is also low quality. This is

defined as that part of the commercial shelled corn that remains after the

extraction of the larger portion of the starch, gluten, and term by the

processes employed in the wet milling manufacture of cornstarch or syrup. In

plain English, the remains of corn after most of the nutritious bits have been


Wheat flour is a further low quality ingredient. In

dog food products, this is commonly a by-product (think floor sweepings)

of human food production and is a grain fragment we consider primarily filler.

Wheat is believed by many to be the leading cause of food allergy problems in

dog foods.

Beet pulp is a controversial filler. It is a

by-product, being dried residue from sugar beets, which has been cleaned and

extracted in the process of manufacturing sugar. It is a controversial

ingredient in dog food, claimed by some manufacturers to be a good source of

fiber, and derided by others as an ingredient added to slow down the

transition of rancid animal fats and causing stress to kidney and liver in the

process. We note that beet pulp is an ingredient that commonly causes problems

for dogs, including allergies and ear infections, and prefer not to see it

used in dog food. There are less controversial products around if additional

fiber is required.

Soy flour boosts the protein content of the food. Soy is a product we

prefer not to see used in dog foods, especially this high on the ingredient

list. Soy is a very common cause of food allergy problems, and although

boosting the (otherwise minimal) protein content of this food, it is very low

quality protein compared to that sourced from meat.

Brewer�s rice is a low quality by-product.

It is impossible to ascertain the quality of by-products and

these are usually products that are of such low quality as to be rejected for

use in the human food chain, or else are those parts that have so little value

that they cannot be used elsewhere in either the human or pet food industries.

The AAFCO definition of chicken by-product meal is �consisting of the ground,

rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks,

feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such

amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.�

We would prefer to see the use of whole eggs rather than egg product

in the food.

Animal fat is an ingredient of unidentified origin

for which it is impossible to determine species, source or quality.

Unidentified ingredients are usually very low quality.

We prefer not to see the use of artificial colorants in

dog food. Some of these are believed to be carcinogenic and cause

hyperactivity disorders and are banned from use in many countries.

Note: Dog foods using citric acid as a preservative and should not

be premoistened prior to feeding (a bloat risk factor for large breed dogs).

A concern is to see chicken fat in the first through third ingredient

on any dog food. Research at Purdue University has identified fat in the top

four ingredients of a dry food as a factor increasing the risk of bloat

in large breed dogs (smaller breeds are untested).

Note that the manufacturer claims to use Ethoxyquin-free ingredients (Ethoxyquin

a chemical preservative commonly added to fish meal ingredients, and

which is believed to be carcinogenic).

The presence of synthetic vitamin K

- a substance alleged by some to be linked to liver problems

and which is progressively being removed from better quality products.

There is no excuse for adding artificial colorings or sugar to dog food


What we should look for in pet foods:

Meat, meat and more meat products. Cats and dogs are carnivores,

and a species appropriate diet for these animals must be based on meat. They

have no evolved need of carbohydrates in their diet. Grains are in pet food

because they�re cheaper than meat products, and are needed to hold the kibble

bits together. Not because they�re species-appropriate nutrition for a

carnivorous mammal.

Meat and fat products that are identified by species. If the species

cannot be identified, neither can the quality. We suggest avoiding any

products that use unidentified �meat�, �animal� or �poultry� products

in their foods.

Where grains are used, we look for good quality whole grains. Avoid

those products that make prolific use of grain fragments (think floor

sweepings) in their foods � these are nutrition less fillers.

Whole fruits and vegetables are appreciated, especially where these

replace grains in the foods.

Organic ingredients are appreciated � but note above about the need for

a food to contain a high proportion of meat. Organic grains are very nice

where grains must be used, but they are no substitute for meat content.

What we avoid:

Foods containing any form of by-products, most especially those

of indeterminate origin (�animal�, �poultry�, etc).

Artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives

especially those believed to be carcinogenic or that are banned from use in

the human food chain. In dog food, principally these are BHT, BHA,

Ethoxyquin, Propyl Gallate
. NOTE: Some ingredients, usually fish products,

may contain artificial preservatives that are not disclosed on the ingredient

list; if they are not added by the manufacturer, they are not required to be

listed. We therefore look for assurances by manufacturers using ocean fish

products that their foods do NOT contain any artificial preservatives.

Meats and fats that are not identified by

. These could literally be anything, and are almost certainly of

very low quality.

Practices and ingredients to be aware of:


Splitting is a common practice on dog food labels and it pays to be

aware. Ingredients in dog food are listed in order of their weight � so the

heaviest ingredients, those that make up the largest portion of the food, are

listed first.

Splitting is when a manufacturer lists different components of the same

ingredient as separate items. For example, chicken and chicken meal are both

chicken products. Brown rice, white rice, rice, rice bran, rice gluten and

rice flour are all parts of the same ingredient � rice. Yes, there is a

difference in the nutritional aspects of the different forms of rice � brown

rice is more nutritious than white rice, and grain fragments are far lower

quality and less nutritious than whole grains. But the issue around splitting

is in determining quantity.

The reason for the practice of �splitting� is essentially to make the

ingredient list look better. As an example, when there are large quantities of

rice in the food, a manufacturer might choose to list the component parts

separately. That way, although the total rice products may make up, say, 55%

of the food and meat only 25%, it is possible to list the meat product first

and then three or four individual rice products that each separately weigh

less than the meat product. Combined, however, rice makes up more than double

the chicken content.

Manufacturers don�t disclose the quantity of ingredients on the labeling

though. So you have to make the best assessment you can from the rest of the

information given. Thus, while seeing the component parts of rice (or any

other ingredient) is useful for determining the quality of ingredients used,

when you�re trying to assess quantity you should always mentally add those

component parts together.

Splitting can also serve to increase the level of confidence one has in

the quantity of particular ingredients used. When you see two forms of the

same meat ingredient, chicken for example, at the head of an ingredient list

that can help you come to the reasonable conclusion that there is indeed a

reasonable amount of chicken in the food.

The ingredient �chicken� means fresh chicken, which is inclusive of its

water content. Now water content is of course removed in the process of making

dry dog food. It is thus likely that the true position of that ingredient

(sans water) should be much further down the ingredient list than is stated.

But if that were the first ingredient in a food, and the next ingredient is

�chicken meal� then the practice of splitting can tell us that there was

sufficient chicken meal in the food for it to be rated ahead of the first

grain despite a portion of the ingredient split off. This serves to increase

our confidence that the true first ingredient is that named � a form of

chicken (meat product).

Be careful though that it may not necessarily be the case if the grains

behind it were also split, or if there are a lot of different grain products

in the food.

Some examples:

Example 1:

Chicken, chicken meal, turkey, turkey meal, brown rice, chicken fat�.

That looks excellent. There are �four� meat ingredients at the head of

the ingredient list. And only one grain. Once we factor in the removal of

water content (which is about 80%) from the ingredients �chicken� and �turkey�

then it is likely that these would be more accurately placed somewhat further

down the ingredient list. A more likely �true� ingredient list here is thus:

chicken meal, turkey meal, brown rice, chicken fat, chicken (sans water),

turkey (sans water).

So how does it look now? Actually, still very good. The first two

ingredients are still meat products, and there are two further meat products

in the food. There is only one grain ahead of the fat content. We could have a

very high level of confidence that there really was a decent quantity of meat

products in the food.

Example 2:

Chicken meal, brown rice, white rice, rice bran, rice gluten meal,

barley, and chicken fat�

At first glance, that also looks fairly good. The first ingredient in

the food is a meat product � in meal form too, so we don�t have to factor in

the effects of water removal. But is it really the first ingredient? Actually,

we can�t be confident that it is. Once we add all the different forms of rice

together, they may well outweigh the chicken meal. And in fact they probably

do, by a significant margin. Note that there�s another grain right behind the

rice products in the ingredient list too. In short, it is impossible to be

confident that the food contains an adequate amount of meat.

While not strictly an example of splitting, you should also take note of

foods that use a lot of different grain products, and mentally add all those

grains together to compare against all meat products.

For example:

Chicken meal, brown rice, barley, oat grouts, ground corn, chicken fat,

wheat flour, corn gluten meal, fish meal, millet�

No splitting going on there, so we can read that as a true list. But we

should look carefully at the overall meat versus grain content. The first

ingredient may be meat, but in this case it is followed immediately by four

different grains ahead of the fat content, and three more grains after that.

There is one further meat product (a meal) but it�s 9th on the ingredient

list. It is likely that the combined grain products outweigh the total meat

products by a large margin. This too is a grain heavy food.

The manufacturers won�t tell us the exact proportions of the ingredients

that go into the products, so it is really a case of making an assessment

based on the information you do have. And when it comes to dog food, it is

wiser to err on the side of scepticism than of blind trust.

What DFA does NOT do:

The ratings and reviews on this site are based solely on the

ingredients the manufacturers state they use in the foods and other

information given. We make no assessment of their ethics, involvement in food

recalls, animal testing, Phenobarbital 'scandals' or other practices,

believing this to be a matter for the individual consumer. If you wish to

include such considerations in your food purchase decision, we would encourage

you to research widely prior to purchase.

If first ingredient in the food is a named meat product and is not a

meat meal, it is inclusive of water content (about 80%). Once this is removed,

as it must be to create a dehydrated product, the ingredient will weigh around

20% of its wet weight. As ingredients are listed in order of weight, it is

thus unlikely that this is truly the first ingredient in the food, but would

be more accurately placed much further down the ingredient list as a minor

ingredient in the food.

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Transitioning Your Dog to a New Pet Food

Why Transition When Changing Your Dog's Diet?

Your dog's digestive tract is sensitive and needs time to
acclimate to changes in diet. The following transition guidelines based on
customer feedback, advise from veterinarians and our own experience with our
family pets. Dogs who are used to eating a different diet will transition
easier if the old food and new food are mixed together for a short time.An
abrupt change to a different diet can cause some dogs to experience
gastro-intestinal upset, for example, loose stools or vomiting. While this
upset usually disappears in a matter of days, it can often be avoided by
following these simple transition guidelines. Unlike humans, dogs often eat
the same diet for months or years and their digestive systems are not as used
to change as ours are.

How to Transition Your Dog's Diet

We have found that the smoothest transition from
one dog food to another is to mix the foods together. This process should
usually take about six days as outlined below, but you can increase the
transition time if your dog is particularly sensitive.

Additional Tips for Food Transitioning

  • In most cases we realize transitioning slowly is not possible. In that case,
    feed smaller portions more regularly. We suggest breaking up the daily intake
    to 3 to 4 feedings per day. Adding small amounts of warm water to the food
    will also decrease the chance of your dog eating too quickly and not chewing
    thoroughly. Gulping a highly palatable product could cause vomiting.

  • If at any time during the transition, your dog experiences gastro-intestinal
    upset, keep the ratio of new to old food the same for several days. This will
    allow your dog to adjust to the new ratio before you incorporate more of the
    new food. In the event you are not transitioning with your old food, withhold
    food for 1 day and then start re-introducing 3 to 4 feedings per day mixed
    with warm water. All other treats and supplements should be withheld until
    fully transitioned.

  • You may notice a change in the appearance of your dog's stool even after the
    transition period. This can often be a result of a change in the amount of
    fiber and protein in the new diet and is normal.

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