Everything You Need To Know (But Probably Don't Care) About Dog Food


One of my true passions is dog food. 
...Let me rephrase that. One of my true passions is canine nutrition. There. That sounds better. 
I love to learn about nutrition and the different types of diets available to dogs and their owners. Most people are of the mind set that there's either dry food or canned food and that's about it. Oh, nay nay! Doggie diets are varied and complex, my good pet people. But before we get into that, let's talk about what dogs eat...and what they don't. 

1. Dogs eat meat. 
Period. If some one tells you that dogs are omnivores they are either lying to you or are seriously misinformed. Dogs are scavengers or "opportunistic carnivores". What does that mean? It means if a dog is hungry and there's no meat to be found, he'll eat that carrot. But if you plop down some lamb or chicken or venison next to the carrots you know he'll be chowin' down on the meat. 

2. Dogs don't eat grains (wheat, corn, soy, sorghum, rice, etc).
This is not a part of the normal doggie diet and yet you find these ingredients in just about every type of dog food out there. Why? Two reasons: it binds the ingredients together to help form the kibbles and it's cheap.  Because we over-feed grains to our animals we are seeing more and more animals with food allergies or sensitivities. If you see your dog chewing at his back end just above the tail, has severe tear stains or red and inflamed ears that's a good sign he's eating something that is triggering an immune response-allergies.

3. Dogs CAN eat raw meat.
A dog's core body temperature is around 101.3 degrees (F) and their intestinal tract is much shorter than ours. This means that meat, even partially spoiled meat, can be perfectly safe for most dogs to digest. However, no one can eat green meat or maggot-infested meat. That's just nasty. Don't feed your dog rotten meat.  

The foods

Score of 62

Score of 123

Score of 73
Score of 44

Score of 81
Score of 100-120

Score of 68
Score of 14

Score of 68
Score of 83

Scores from 68-104

Score of 98
Score of 106

Score of 62

Score of  98

Score of 118
Score of 103-113

Score of  9
How to grade your dog's food

Start with a grade of 100:
  • For every listing of "by-product", subtract 10 points
  • For every non-specific animal source ("meat" or "poultry", meat, meal or fat) reference, subtract 10 points
  • If the food contains BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin, subtract 10 points
  • For every grain "mill run" or non-specific grain source, subtract 5 points
  • If the same grain ingredient is used 2 or more times in the first five ingredients (i.e. "ground brown rice", "brewer's rice", “rice flour" are all the same grain), subtract 5 points
  • If the protein sources are not meat meal and there are less than 2 meats in the top 3 ingredients, subtract 3 points
  • If it contains any artificial colorants, subtract 3 points
  • If it contains ground corn or whole grain corn, subtract 3 points
  • If corn is listed in the top 5 ingredients, subtract 2 more points
  • If the food contains any animal fat other than fish oil, subtract 2 points
  • If lamb is the only animal protein source (unless your dog is allergic to other protein sources), subtract 2 points
  • If it contains soy or soybeans, subtract 2 points
  • If it contains wheat (unless you know that your dog isn't allergic to wheat), subtract 2 points
  • If it contains beef (unless you know that your dog isn't allergic to beef), subtract 1 point
  • If it contains salt, subtract 1 point
Extra Credit:
  • If any of the meat sources are organic, add 5 points
  • If the food is endorsed by any major breed group or nutritionist, add 5 points
  • If the food is baked not extruded, add 5 points
  • If the food contains probiotics, add 3 points
  • If the food contains fruit, add 3 points
  • If the food contains vegetables (NOT corn or other grains), add 3 points
  • If the animal sources are hormone-free and antibiotic-free, add 2 points
  • If the food contains barley, add 2 points
  • If the food contains flax seed oil (not just the seeds), add 2 points
  • If the food contains oats or oatmeal, add 1 point
  • If the food contains sunflower oil, add 1 point
  • For every different specific animal protein source (other than the first one; count "chicken" and "chicken meal" as only one protein source, but "chicken" and "" as 2 different sources), add 1 point
  • If it contains glucosamine and chondroitin, add 1 point
  • If the vegetables have been tested for pesticides and are pesticide-free, add 1 point.
1. Dog Chow. Now this has been on the market longer than dogs have been around. Not really, but you get my point. At some point I'm sure everyone has fed this to a dog they have owned. So what's so wrong with it? Let's review the ingredients, shall we?
Whole grain corn (dogs who eat a ton of corn poop a ton. Less corn = less poop), poultry by-product meal (A by-product is anything except the beak, feathers and feces that exceed allowed contamination amounts. Also, it doesn't say what kind of poultry. Could be chicken, goose, duck, hawk, pigeon...mystery meat. Mmm.)  corn gluten meal (Yay! More corn!), animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E) (What *kind* of animal? It doesn't say! It could be cow, chicken, horse, dog, cat, mouse, rabbit, moose...mystery meat is scary.), meat and bone meal (Hey! More mystery meat! There have been studies showing that some commercial dog foods have tested positive for  pentobarbitol-the drug used to euthanize pets. No, I'm not making this up. That's right-you could be feeding Fluffy to Fido. Don't feed mystery meat!), soybean meal (You know why YOU shouldn't eat soy? Yea, same goes for dogs.), egg and chicken flavor (Yummy. We'll flavor the food like chicken to get the dog to eat it because otherwise they probably wouldn't.), whole grain wheat (This one ingredient the leading cause of allergies in dogs. Second leading cause is chicken.), animal digest (Again with the frickin' mystery meat! And what is this "digest"? Why, it's all the stuff an animal normally wouldn't eat that has been soaked in a chemical bath to pre-digest it for your dog to consume. Tasty!) , salt, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, potassium chloride, choline chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), zinc sulfate, Vitamin E supplement, ferrous sulfate, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, manganese sulfate, niacin, Red 40, Vitamin A supplement, Blue 2, copper sulfate, calcium pantothenate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin B-12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin D-3 supplement, riboflavin supplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite. 
Wait, what? There's food coloring in the food? What the heck for?! Your dog can't see green or yellow! Why do we need to put food coloring in it? To make YOU want to buy it. If your dog food looks like this:
you probably shouldn't be feeding it to your dog. All these pretty colors and shapes are just advertising gimmicks for the owner. Don't fall into the trap!

2. Castor & Pollux Organix. Wow! A score of 123! Let's see what's in this stuff!
Organic Chicken (Hey, not bad! First ingredient is a protein source and you know exactly what it is! Downside? It's just chicken, not chicken meal. That means it hasn't had the moisture taken out of it which means that, after cooking, there's not a whole lot of actual chicken as the first ingredient. It takes about 3-4 pounds of chicken to make one pound of chicken meal.), Chicken Meal (Score one for the home team!), Organic Brown Rice , Organic Peas*, Organic Millet*, Organic Oats*, Chicken Fat (Naturally Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), Salmon Meal (Sweet! Salt water fish is loaded with omega 3s, 6s, and vitamins you can't find in poultry, beef, or lamb.), Natural Chicken Flavor, Organic Quinoa*, Dried Egg Product, Organic Flaxseed (Awesome stuff, here. More omega fatty acids than you can shake a stick at.), Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Organic Carrots*, Organic Apples*, Organic Broccoli*, Organic Pumpkin*, Organic Pears*, Salt, Choline Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2 Polyphosphate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Niacin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B12  Supplement, Biotin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Chondroitin Sulfate, Yeast Culture (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus Niger Fermentation Extract, Dried Trichoderma longibrachiatum Fermentation Extract, Dried Bacillus subtilis, Fermentation Solubles (All of these are pre and or pro-biotics which are essential to any animal's health. Kudos to Castor and Pollux!) Rosemary Extract.
*Truthfully, I'm not a big fan of all these fruits and veggies. Why? Dogs are carnivores. They don't need all this stuff, they need meat. I'm happy there's a good chunk of protein in this food, but this food is actually a grain-based kibble and while it's really good food, it may not be the best choice for people who have pets with diabetes or weight issues.

Based on these two reviews, you can get an idea of what you want to look for in a good dog food. I don't think I should go through all the ones I mentioned above because, honestly, who's got time for that?

Next, let's just skip to what I call the Golden Trio: Science Diet, Purina Pro-Plan, and Royal Canin (pronounced KAY-NIN. Sorry, that's a pet peeve of mine. Any-hoodle!). I call these the Golden Trio because they are probably the three top selling brands of dog food, and part of that is because they all offer prescription diets.

1. Science Diet. This food is heralded as the #1 Veterinarian Recommended Food on the market and that's true, but not for the reason you think. Science Diet has the most extensive prescription line of dog and cat foods on the planet, hand's down. If your dog has anything ranging from thyroid disorder to liver disease, this company has a diet specially formulated just for your dog. Allow me to demonstrate:

But, this food also has one really bad thing going for it: corn. LOTS and LOTS of corn. It's in just about every recipe they offer both Rx and OTC. Something else Science Diet likes to add to their OTC foods is something called beet pulp. This stuff is not only chocked full of sugar, but it acts as a stool solidifier to compensate for the high corn content. The result is usually lower stool volume but really stinky farts and bowel movements. Science Diet also loves chicken as their protein source but it's usually the bi-product. Thankfully they don't add food coloring to their kibble so it at least as that going for it. IF YOUR VET PRESCRIBES A SPECIFIC DIET FOR YOUR PET STICK WITH THAT DIET AND DON'T ALTER THE MEAL PLANS!!! There is a reason your vet put your pet on a specific diet and if you supplement with additional treats or food you could end up causing more health issues.

2. Purina ProPlan. Ingredients-wise I like ProPlan's prescription diets better, but they have a much lower variety of diets.

The one we probably use and sell the most at the practice I work at is called EN for gastroentestinal upset or dietary needs. This is specially designed to have very low fiber, high digestibility, and a moderate specially modified fat source. Dogs who have a moderate to large amount of undigested fats in their stools, bacterial overgrowth, or blood cells may be put on this diet to relieve the inflammation and irritation of the intestines. 
Brewers rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, chicken meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), coconut oil, calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, wheat bran, animal digest, potassium chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, sodium bicarbonate, salt, fish oil, zinc proteinate, Vitamin E supplement, dried colostrum, choline chloride, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), manganese proteinate, ferrous sulfate, niacin, copper proteinate, Vitamin A supplement, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin B-12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, garlic oil, folic acid, Vitamin D-3 supplement, calcium iodate, biotin, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), sodium selenite.
I know, the ingredients suck just at a quick glance. But the science behind it is what makes the prescription diets so essential. Dogs with kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, etc need specially formulated diets to help maintain their health and treat their disease. Unfortunately, that sometimes means less than optimal ingredients are used...but used in the most optimal way, if that makes sense.

3. Royal Canin. (Remember: ROYAL KAY-NIN!)
Here is just a list of the various veterinary diets Royal Canin offers. In parentheses are the number of varieties offered that cover the condition listed. Some of these foods treat multiple conditions:
Allergy Care  (20) 
    Arthritis  (2) 
    Constipation  (2) 
    Degenerative Joint Disease  (2) 
    Diarrhea  (8) 
    Gastritis  (2) 
    Heart Disease  (2) 
    Hip & Joint Care  (5) 
    Inflammatory Bowel Disease  (16) 
    Intestinal Care  (5) 
    Kidney Disease  (4) 
    Pancreatitis  (5) 
    Parasites  (2) 
    Sensitive Stomach  (23) 
    Skin & Coat Care  (18) 
    Urinary Tract Care  (9) 
    Weight Management  (4) 
Whoo! That's a lot of food. One of the recipes offered is called "Calm". Let's take a look at that, shall we?

Brewer’s rice, chicken meal, corn, chicken fat, wheat gluten, wheat, dried chicory root, natural flavors, salt, vegetable oil, fish oil, calcium sulfate, potassium, chloride, sodium silico aluminate, fructooligosaccharides, sodium tripolyphosphate, DL-methionine, taurine, choline chloride, vitamins [DL-alpha tocopherol acetate (source of vitamin E), inositol, niacin supplement, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), D-calcium pantothenate, biotin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin supplement (vitamin B2), thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), vitamin A acetate, folic acid, vitamin B12 supplement, vitamin D3 supplement], dried hydrolyzed casein, marigold extract (Tagetes erecta L.), trace minerals (zinc proteinate, zinc oxide, ferrous sulfate, manganese proteinate, copper proteinate, copper sulfate, manganous oxide, calcium iodate, sodium selenite), L-tryptophan, rosemary extract, preserved with natural mixed tocopherols and citric acid.
And the little description blurb: Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Calm Formula Dry Dog Food is a vet-prescribed formula that contains a hydrolyzed milk protein and tryptophan (amino acid) to help maintain your dog’s emotional balance. There are also nutrients present that combat digestive and skin manifestations. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Calm Formula Dry Dog Food should be used ten days before any foreseeable difficult event. Basically, it's got tryptophan which can have a calming or tranquilizing effect on a patient (human or dog) and doggy breast milk. So we're making them sleepy and making them feel better with mommy-like hormones. I can get behind that...but I wish they didn't put so much wheat in it. Blech.

But, Kate! I'm a Vegan/Vegetarian and I want to feed my dog vegetarian food! 
Dogs are not vegetarian and you should not attempt to force them into a diet they are not biologically accustomed to.
See those teeth? See how long and pointy they are? Those are not the teeth of a frickin' vegetarian. Those teeth were meant to tear and rend flesh from bone, not nibble on a damn carrot. Feed your dog meat.

But, Kate! Those high-grade dog foods are REALLY expensive! I can't afford that!
Let's do some math, shall we?

34 pound bag of Dog Chow                                                          
Cost: $26.99                                                                             
Serving size for a 20 pound dog: 1 - 1 1/3 cup daily
Cups per bag: Roughly 68
Servings per bag:  Roughly 51
Cost per pound: $1.26
Cost per serving: About $0.84 
Cost to feed per day: $0.84 - $1.68

30 pound bag of Blue Buffalo
Cost: $51.99
Serving size for a 20 pound dog: 3/4 - 1 1/4 cup daily
Cups per bag: Roughly 60
Servings per bag: Roughly 80
Cost per pound: $0.58
Cost per serving: About $0.36
Cost to feed per day: $0.36 - $0.72

Would you look at that? They even give you MORE kibble in the Dog Chow bag and it's still more expensive per day because of how much you have to feed. Now you may be going "Hold on, Kate. How did you come up with these magic numbers?" With math!

1) XYZ Dog Food sells for $12.00 for an eight pound bag.

2) Eight pounds into $12.00 = $1.50 per pound

3) Two cups (estimate) per pound = $.75 per cup.

4) Multiply suggested feeding amount (cups per day) X cost per cup = Cost per serving.


But, Kate! Now my dog is eating better than I am! What's up with that?
Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but...WHY?! If your dog is eating a better, healthier diet than you are what are YOU eating? Perhaps your dog's diet isn't the only one that needs an over-haul!

So that's my rant about dog food. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed rambling on about it. Just remember: Feed them meat; stay on a prescription diet if it's been prescribed for them; no food coloring, mystery meat, corn, wheat or soy. Happy tails, folks!