There are over thirty major brands of commercial dog food manufacturers available in the United States, not to mention many more small, specialty dog food makers. They all claim to be the most nutritious, the most veterinarian recommended, or some other exaggerated marketing superlative. But how do you know which is really the best?
Well, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you may think. To be clear, some dog foods are certainly superior to others, but there are many superior dog foods that each have their own unique pros and cons. That’s why it’s important to assess the qualities of dog foods and compare them with each other to see which is right for you and your dog.
DogFoodInsider.com has all the information you need to assess dog foods and to make dog food comparisons on your own. Even better, we have dog food comparisons written by dog nutrition experts to make your evaluation process even easier.
How To Assess Your Dog Foods
This may go without saying, but the first thing you should look at when assessing the quality of a dog food is the ingredient list—namely, the top five ingredients on the ingredient list. Because ingredients are listed in order of quantity by weight, the top five ingredients comprise most of your dog food, and they should be quality ingredients.
The things you want to see in the top five ingredients are whole meats or specifically identified meat meals. This means things like chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, or any of those meat sources followed by the word “meal.” This is generally a good indicator of high quality proteins and fats that are nutritious and easy for your dog to digest.
Meat meals are heavily processed products obtained from a process known as rendering. They are not inherently bad, if they are made from high quality sources. They are very high in animal proteins on a per pound basis. Most dry dog foods, including those that rank favorably in our dog food comparisons, contain some source of meat meal.
However, manufacturers are not required to identify the specific sources used in a meat meal. It may be surprising to learn, but the more unsavory sources can include diseased animals, carcasses, roadkill, dead zoo animals, and euthanized animals.
So when you see meat meals on an ingredient list, it is best to stay away from generically labeled “meat meals” or “animal meals,” but to look for meals where the animal source of the meal is specifically identified.
What You Don’t Want to See In Your Top Five Ingredients
Again, you should stay away from generically labeled meat meals anywhere on an ingredient list, but especially in the top five. Another similar product to stay away from in the top five are meat by-products. Meat by-products are the waste products from slaughtering animals after all the edible meat has been removed. This can include organs and other inedible parts that are not fit for human consumption.
You dog is a carnivore. Its digestive tracts are good for rapidly breaking down animal proteins and fats, but bad at breaking down carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, such as grains, sugars, and other vegetable derived starches, in dog foods are normally used as a filler ingredient, or as a binding ingredient that allows the dog food to form and keep its shape. It is impossible to avoid carbohydrates completely in commercial dog foods, but they should stay out of the top five ingredients.
For the same reasons you want to avoid generically labeled meat meal, you want to avoid generically identified animal fats: the manufacturers are not required to tell you where the animal fats are from. If there are added fats in the dog food, your best bet is to look for chicken fat or poultry fat, which tend to be higher quality than fats derived from other sources.
What Can I Find At DogFoodInsider.com?
Our dog food comparisons are made by dog nutrition experts who evaluate dog foods using these factors and many more, including the history and reputation of the manufacturing company. Our experts also keep track of past and ongoing dog food recalls to make sure that the brand you decide to buy is not only nutritious, but safe for your dog.