The pet food industry is rich in money and, sometimes, scam. This forces pet owners to be vigilant when picking the best dog food for their pets. One of the ways to pick high quality dog foods on your own (and not rely on others) is by reading labels, recognizing the signs of bad dog food and knowing exactly what to avoid.
A good place to start is by figuring out what nutrition is best for your individual dog. For example, working and athletic dogs have different nutritional needs than your average pet dog. It's recommended to consult your vet or canine nutritionist instead of online forums. To start you off, here are some tips on how to avoid choosing bad dog food brands.
1. Seek Out Terms “Platter”, “Dinner” or “Entrée”
For a commercial dog food brand to be labeled as “platter”, “dinner” or “entrée,” it must contain at least 25% of the ingredient named in the title (not including water). For example, “Turkey Dinner Dog Food” must have at least 25% turkey.
If you're looking for single protein source food, or a specific protein, this is a good rule to keep in mind. This does not mean that other protein sources are not present in the food, but it ensures that at least quarter of food will be this specific protein source.
2. “Organic” Doesn’t Mean Organic
When human food is labeled as “organic,” it must meet certain specifications as laid out by the USDA’s National Organic Program. Sadly, the National Organic Program (NOP) has not yet found a way to include pet foods in the current guidelines for organic pet foods. This is because pet food manufacturers cannot feasibly produce organic foods yet.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) says that dog food brands should not state that they were produced under organic standards or exhibit a USDA organic seal on the packaging. However, the NOP says that stating that pet food is 100% organic, made with organic ingredients, or is just organic, is not necessarily a lie.
It’s all very confusing, but what does it really mean? It means that nobody can be absolutely sure that pet foods labeled as “Organic” are actually organic by traditional standards. Therefore, when reading dog food labels, do not rely on the wording you see on the packaging, at least not until we get some better regulations.
3. Prescription Dog Food Isn’t Always Better
Prescription dog foods are frequently recommended by vets for specific ailments in dogs. These foods have certain nutritional limitations, but they do not always contain higher quality ingredients. It's the balance of the ingredients that they're focused on.
Also, while it's not always the case, veterinarians are sometimes paid to promote specific prescription foods, and that's how some of them line their pockets. This doesn't mean that prescription brands are somehow bad dog food or that it's never necessary. In some cases, those formulas are the only ones that will fit nutritional requirements of a diseased dog, and they're expensive for a good reason.
The bottom line is, do stay vigilant and instead of blindly accepting a prescription food, make a note of the ingredients, and see if you can find an alternative to this vet prescribed expensive brand among regular commercial dog foods that are cheaper.
4. “Single Ingredient” Doesn’t Always Mean One Ingredient
A pet food company can claim their dog food formula to be a “single ingredient” recipe as long as 95% of the food (not including water) is comprised of that single ingredient.
This means that, technically, a food advertised as “Soley Beef Dog Food” may include 95% beef and 5% of “other” ingredients. This means it's not actually “single ingredient.”
So if you are looking for a truly single ingredient food, it likely does not exist among commercial brands, and it's probably time to consider home cooking or raw feeding.
5. Mentions of Specific Ingredients in a Dog Food Formula
A pet food company can claim their dog food is made with an ingredient so long as at least 3% of the food contains that specific ingredient. For example, “Beef with Tripe” dog food formula needs to contain only 3% tripe.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something that should push you to pay more attention to the ingredient label of your dog food. It is best to choose a brand with a single high-quality protein source rather than a food “with” an ingredient that may sound fancy to you.
6. Celebrity Endorsements Don’t Mean Quality Products
Celebrities are endorsing big brand pet foods left and right these days, but these endorsements do not translate to quality, so do not be swayed by them. Celebrities are paid to endorse these pet products and very few of them (if any at all) have training in veterinary medicine or canine nutrition.
Look for nutrition and ingredient quality rather than celebrity faces, because sometimes, whatever the famous person promotes may actually be a bad dog food for your pet. Do not buy your pet's food simply because Ellen DeGeneres's face said so.
7. Random Quality Testing Isn’t Ideal
These days, most companies have to perform quality testing on their pet foods; however, these testing processes differ based on each manufacturer. Pet food manufacturers who only perform random testing are less than ideal because they do not test every batch of food they produce before shipping.
Choose a pet food manufacturer that tests every batch of their dog food before it goes into stores to avoid a higher likelihood of tainted food consumption. In light of the countless recent recalls on bad dog food, you can never be too careful.
8. Avoid Questionable Meat Products
Very few pet food companies use USDA approved meats. It is not necessary for you to seek these manufacturers out, but make sure to avoid dog foods that use “4-D” meats. 4-D meats are meat from dying, dead, disabled or diseased animals.
Legally, any pet food manufacturer can incorporate this type of meat into their dog food products, unless they export their foods to Europe. Europeans have stricter regulations on the quality of pet food sold, thus these things will not fly there, while this stuff is fine to sell in the U.S.
We recommend you to avoid purchasing from companies that are not APHIS EU certified. Basically, these pet foods have not been approved for European export because they're deemed not high enough quality, which means they may contain unhealthy meat source.
9. “Natural” Isn’t What You Think It Is
“Natural” dog food sounds desirable, but this can actually be deceiving. Natural ingredients are anything that is sourced from an animal or plant or that has been mined. That is to say, natural ingredients are not necessarily healthy ingredients, and even bad dog food can be “natural”.
For an extreme example, diseased meat products are natural, but they're unlikely to be healthy. Therefore, instead of looking for “natural” dog food, concentrate on looking for foods with high quality and healthy ingredients.
10. The Secret Behind Premium Pet Foods
There are no regulations that must be met in order for a company to claim their dog food formula as “premium”. Dog foods that are labeled as “premium,” or any variation of “premium” label, are not always better than any other pet food out there.
In fact, in most instances, the term is simply used as a selling point to dupe consumers. Instead of looking for pet foods labeled as “premium”, look at the ingredients in the food and whether it is nutritionally balanced.
Also, read more about the company itself, their reputation and manufacturing practices, and reasons why their food is more expensive. Some of them do in fact deserve the “premium” label.
11. Regular Recalls Should be Heeded
A number of pet food manufacturers have been guilty of issuing recalls on their foods due to contamination. Pay particular attention to a pet food company that has issued multiple or regular recalls, especially for similar issues. This pattern shows lax quality control and a failure to learn from prior recalls.
That said, understand what recalls mean, because a voluntary dog food recall doesn't mean you should avoid that company's products. These things happen in any industry, and it's better to recall than to hide the fact. Avoid purchasing bad dog food only from pet food companies that continue with the same pattern of multiple recalls over and over.
12. Avoid Secretive Dog Food Companies
Dog food companies that are secretive about what their foods contain, where it's made, where the ingredients are sourced from, or those that use evasive language, should be avoided. When companies hide or refuse information, they are not looking out for the good of the consumer or the health of your dog.
A good dog food company will be happy to provide full disclosure of what is in their food. In fact, with all reputable companies, you can call them and ask anything related to their manufacturing. So if you call or email them, and find that you cannot obtain necessary information, find another brand of dog food.
13. Avoid Foods Sourced from Certain Countries
It's not only important for dog food to be made in USA (or EU, or Canada, or New Zealand), but that the ingredients also come from a place with proper quality control.
Dog food companies that source their ingredients from countries with lax regulations on quality control such as China should be avoided. Lax quality control can often result in tainted ingredients being incorporated into final food products.
Even if tainted foods aren’t used, subpar ingredients almost always are, and that's what makes up bad dog food in the end. For the piece of mind, stick with made in USA dog food brands who only source from the U.S., Canada, European Union and New Zealand.
14. Steer Clear of Foods with Concerning Ingredients
Certain ingredients such as BHA, menadione sodium bisulfite complex, dyes, and artificial preservatives should be avoided. Certain types of artificial dyes have been linked to cancer and have no reason to be in your dog's meal.
Additionally, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (synthetic vitamin K) has been linked to various illnesses in dogs, including vitamin K toxicity, weak immune systems, allergies, and hemolytic anemia, yet some bad dog food brands include this substance.
Quality dog food brands will not have any questionable ingredients, and especially no toxic substances that have already been proven as harmful to dogs. Read dog food labels and make sure you recognize all the ingredients, then research the rest.
15. Expensive Doesn’t Mean Good Quality
Some owners believe that because a dog food is expensive, it has to be a good quality. This psychology is true for many humans, but that's simply not the case. Many companies take advantage of this psychological human flaw, and deliberately overprice bad dog food for a bigger payday.
Often, this approach is paired with a deceptive name like “premium dog food”. While expensive dog food can definitely mean “better” in some cases, it's not always like that.
To make sure that expensive dog food is worth the price, read the ingredients and other claims on the bag. Use the above tips on avoiding bad dog food, steer clear of deceptive marketing techniques, and simply buy the best dog food for the money, where you can hit the sweet spot on the price tag vs quality ratio.