A few years back, when my dog Syd was still alive, I became interested in dog food. At the time I was unemployed (I had recently left my job) and was doing a course on dog training and dog behaviour correction. I believe someone at the course must have mentioned something about quality of dog food, I kept it on the back of my mind, and at some point decided to investigate it myself. I focused mainly on kibble which was what Syd ate at the time.
I didn’t like what I found at all. As it turned out most of the dog food sold in supermarkets was of extremely low quality (it’s cheaper!) and even inappropriate for dogs. Most of this food has a very high content of grain products, which are not part of a dog’s natural diet. Even if it is from a well-known brand, such as Royal Canin or Affinity, it is not a guarantee of quality as they have several ranges with varying qualities and prices.
But how can we determine the quality of dog food? The easier way to tell is by looking at the list of ingredients. Although some dogs seem to be omnivores, eating everything from meat to vegetables, dogs are actually carnivores (notice their long fangs and their small incisors). Therefore, the main ingredient in their food should be meat (this includes fish). Food manufacturers have to list the ingredients according to the quantity: the first ingredients are the ones with the higher presence in the food.
Be aware, however, of the following things:
- Manufacturers may do “splitting” of ingredients, to give the impression that it contains more meat than it really does. Let’s see an example. If I’m manufacturing kibble that contains 40% chicken meat and 60% rice, according to the law, I should list the ingredients in this order: rice, chicken meat. However, of this 60% rice, 39% is brown rice and 21% is white rice. Then, by “splitting” the rice into its types, I can honestly state that the food contains: chicken meat, brown rice, white rice. Now it seems that my food contains more meat than rice, but this is not the case, as we have seen.
- Run away from generic descriptions of ingredients, such as “animal fat”, “meat” or “poultry”. If they do not name exactly what the ingredient is, then it’s probably because it’s not good, as a good rule of marketing is to make sure that you publicise what you do well. A good description would be something like “salmon meal, chicken meal, potatoes, peas”, in which the meats’ types are clearly described.
- Take into consideration the water content of the ingredients. Dry foods (i.e. kibble) have almost no water, but the ingredients may be listed considering the water content which is then removed to make the food. So, the quantity of a certain ingredient in the final product may actually be lower than indicated by the ingredient list.
If you feel a bit overwhelmed by all this information and have no clue where to start digging for high quality pet food, I can highly recommend checking the web Dog Food Analysis. I checked it multiple times when writing this article, as they have lots of basic information on dog food. However, what is probably going to be more useful is the fact that they include reviews of many different brands of dog food: they list the ingredients (always according to the manufacturer) and then they review the food and explain why it is good or not.
Bear in mind, though, that it seems like the web has not been updated since 2010 or so. It is highly likely that most of the brands will have updated their ingredients since then, so the reviews may not be completely reliable. Despite this, I still think that it provides a really good basis on which to start your research.
And, if you want my advice, I recommend checking Orijen and Acana, two different brands from the same Canadian company, Champion Pet Foods. Both brands are known for the high quality of their foods. Orijen has a higher meat content than Acana, and for this reason is more expensive. However, both are really good. In fact, after all my research in 2010, I ended up getting Acana Pacifica for Syd. And, for canned food, check Applaws. It’s expensive in contrast to others, but you can actually see the real ingredients in the can.
Final note: Right after writing this post I found a couple of websites which also review dog food and which seem to be more up-to-date than Dog Food Analysis. The websites are Dog Food Advisor, Dog Food Insider, and Dog Food Guru. I haven’t had much time to browse through, but they all seem to be reliable. If you care about looks, Dog Food Insider and Dog Food Guru are more visually attractive than Dog Food Advisor by far.