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
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
is 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
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
species. 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
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.
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.
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.
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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