Without getting into how to read labels – there is a quick way to assess how good (or bad) a food is based on ingredients alone. Visit http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/ and look up the brand you feed, or the brand you are considering. You can also search by star rating to find a high quality ingredient food. The question is… Is that enough?

Dog Food Advisor is very helpful in learning about good vs bad ingredients in dog food. Any questionable ingredients are highlighted in red and we easily begin to learn what to look for on the labels we read. In order to choose the appropriate food for our pets, we do have to go beyond what is on the label. Two additional questions have to be answered.

1. Where is the food made? Does the company selling the food make their own product, or is the recipe given to a food processor to make the food? Remember the massive pet food recall of 2007? The one were pets were getting gravely ill and dying because of tainted ingredients? The reason the recall included so many brands is because the brands involved did not process their own product. They lost quality control when contracting with a processor who made food for 60+ brands of food. It was the processor who was in charge of obtaining ingredients for the brands they produced. In order to procure these pet food ingredients in the most cost effective way, some ingredients were sourced from China. This is where things went horribly wrong. How do you know who processes your food? Check the company web site, email them, google them. I personally, would not feed any brand that wasn’t produced by the company selling it. I would also not feed any brand that had been included in the mass recall. Surprisingly, it includes many popular Vet recommended ‘wellness’ brands such as: Blue Buffalo, Eukanuba, Iams, Nutro, and Science Diet. (a partial list of those brands is provided below).
2. Where are the ingredients sourced? Again, we have to do a bit of digging to get to the bottom of it, but fresh, local ingredients are always best. Some brands do choose to ship in select products for safety – such as fish, but a good rule of thumb is fresh ingredients over frozen, and locally sourced so they are not shipping in from China or other places to save money.

Here are some helpful hints and things to know when reading labels:

Meat by-products: lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, bone, stomach, intestines.

Poultry by-products: heads, feet, internal organs, trace amounts of feces or foreign matter.

Meat and Bone Meal: rendered meat, not containing blood, hair, hoof, horn, manure, or stomach contents.

Ground Corn: entire corn kernel ground or chopped; no more than 4% foreign material.

Animal by-product meal: rendered animal tissue that doesn’t fit in any other category; may contain hair, hoof, horn, manure, or stomach contents.

The following are poor quality incomplete proteins: corn gluten meal, wheat gluten meal, rice protein concentrate, and soy protein.

Corn and Soy: inexpensive fillers with no nutritional value for our pets. Both are at the top of the list for allergens causing dis-ease in our pets!

BHA and BHT: preservatives commonly found in dog food and treats. (people food too)  These are chemicals to avoid!  Some studies show an increased risk of cancer associated with BHA and BHT.

**It is LEGAL in most states to manufacture pet foods using the “4-D” meat sources: Diseased, Disabled, Dead, and Dying. These are animals rejected for human consumption, yet fed to our pets!

The most common pet food & treat ingredients causing allergies are Corn, Wheat, Soy and Chicken!

If your pet has sensitivities to food, the most common mistake I see is continuing to give unhealthy treats which contain the ingredients to which the pet is sensitive! Folks must realize – even a little bite is enough to trigger the allergies! Be as choosy with your treats as you are your food!!

Clients often ask about the food I choose to feed my kids… After reviewing several brands with my Veterinarian, some on line research, and contacting a couple of different companies, I chose a rotation diet of the 4 grain- free Acana varieties. *SEE UPDATE BELOW* While Buster is sensitive to barley, wheat, and corn, none of my kids have sensitive tummies, so they can take the 4 rotating protein recipes. I figure this way, they get the best this brand has to offer – chicken, eggs, fish, lamb, duck, beef, bison, and lamb! My treats are Plato Eos. Grain free Turkey & Pumpkin, Sweet Potato Pumpkin, or Cranberry.

Acana is more expensive than Beneful, or Pedigree, or even some of the higher quality foods on the market. I justify it because; 1. My kids aren’t going to the Vet for illnesses, allergies, or costly medications, and 2. Higher quality foods containing less fillers are sometimes more economical to feed (even at a slightly higher price point per pound) because I feed my dogs less! While one brand recommends 2 cups 2x/day, often times a higher quality brand food may have you feed 1.5 cups 2x/day.

UPDATE, January 2023: Late 2022, it was announced that Champion Pet Foods was selling to Mars Inc.  This means that the Acana and Orijen brands would be changing.  The small pet food company has made some questionable moves in the past few years, but now, rather than being a company focused on their final product, they will become part of a large corporation looking to increase profits.  How is that done?  Skimping on quality ingredients.  I no longer feed, nor do I recommend Acana or Orijen foods.

Feeding amounts – dog food manufacturers want us to feed our pets more! Why? So we buy more food! Usually, the amount on the label is for a dog approximately 2 years of age, who is an athlete! Always start with the lower amount on the range, then, watch your pet’s weight. Is this amount right? Sometimes they will require a little less, or a little more. Be sure to consider your pet’s age in the equation. Just like people, pets need fewer calories as they age and activity levels decrease – the dog food companies don’t always include this on the label! I portion out my pet food using measuring cups! This helps keep weight consistent, and feeding will be consistent no matter who is feeding the pets each meal – spouse, child, or professional pet sitter!

Overweight pets – So often, I see people feeding their pets way too much! We already determined that the amount on the bag may be more than pets really need. What about pets who are already over weight? The mistake folks make is finding their pet’s current weight on the dog food bag, and following those guidelines. Will this help the pet lose weight?? NO! Feeding to their current weight will keep them at their current weight. For poochies who need to lose a few pounds, we need to feed to their proper weight! This may need to be done a little at a time – as not to drastically cut their food portions, but eventually, we need to feed to their healthy weight – not the amount listed on the bag that is their current (over-weight) weight. Please seek the help of your Veterinarian. ASK them how your pet’s weight is! I always ask when my pets weigh-in what their weight was at the last visit. This way I know if their weight is creeping up, or if we are doing a good job maintaining. (If only it was this easy for me to maintain my proper weight – sigh)

I cannot tell you specifically where I gathered all of this information.  I had much of it in my files; things gathered over the years.  I’d like to give credit where credit is due, and the most recent information added regarding ingredients found on labels was from my Veterinarian’s office – CountryCare Animal Complex in DePere, WI.  Thank you for keeping Sadie, Nemo and Buster feeling great!
Below is a list of some of the brands recalled in the 2007 dog food recall.
• Alpo Prime Cuts, Nestle Purina
• Americas Choice, Preferred Pets
• Authority
• Award
• Best Choice
• Big Bet
• Big Red
• Bloom
• Blue Buffalo
• Cadillac
• Companion
• Demoulas Market Basket
• Eukanuba
• Food Lion
• Giant Companion
• Great Choice
• Hannaford
• Hill Country Fare
• Hills Science Diet
• Hy-Vee
• Iams
• Laura Lynn
• Loving Meals
• Meijers Main Choice
• Mighty Dog Pouch
• Mixables
• Natural Balance
• Nutriplan
• Nutro Max
• Nutro Natural Choice
• Nutro Ultra
• Nutro
• Ol’Roy Canada
• Ol’Roy US
• Paws
• Pet Essentials
• Pet Pride – Good n Meaty
• Presidents Choice
• Price Chopper
• Priority Canada
• Priority US
• Publix
• Roche Brothers
• Save-A-Lot Choice Morsels
• Schnucks
• Shep Dog
• Springsfield Prize
• Sprout
• Stater Brothers
• Stop & Shop Companion
• Sunshine Mills Inc.
• Tops Companion
• Wegmans Bruiser
• Weis Total Pet
• Western Family US
• White Rose
• Winn Dixie
• Your Pet