Knowing how to make dog food comparisons that accurately reflect the quality of the foods you're looking at, is the key to navigating the confusing world of dog food ingredients,
labels and manufacturer's claims.
It will also help you to decipher dog
food labels and get to the truth behind the 'gobbledegook', slogans and
claims that you'll find slapped all over every bag, can or packet!
On this page you'll find a system that shows you how to objectively evaluate any dog food by taking a close look at it's ingredients.
That way you can compare as many different products as you want without having to rely on 'creative' labeling, advertising or manufacturers claims.
How To Compare Dog Food
If you want to, you can start by analyzing the dog food you're currently using,
and then compare it to any other brand/s you're interested in.
Or you can just start out by looking at the products you're thinking of switching to.
This method of grading dog food in order to make dog food comparisons
was developed by Great Dane owner, Sarah Irick.
Sarah has very kindly
given me permission to reprint her 'Dog Food Grading Scheme' here, and
would like you to know that....
This food grading system is specifically to help those who have
trouble deciphering dog food labels and the many articles about what
If you have a quality dog food and are not looking to make
a change, or if you know about reading dog food labels and can choose a
dog food on your own, then by all means continue as you are.
However if you are looking for a quality food and would
like some guidance on choosing between seemingly equal brands in the
store, and you'd like more to base your information on than a friend or
store clerk's recommendation, please feel free to use this handy
But be aware that there may be other important information
by breed type or size (i.e. in giant breed puppies you need a food with
lower protein levels than is typically available in puppy foods, even "large breed" puppy foods), so you will need to research that as well)'.
You need to start with the list of the ingredients for the food you want to grade/rate.
It's easy to find
an ingredient list for any particular food on the manufacturers
website, or use the one on the dog food bag.
With the ingredient info. in front of you:
Start with a 'Grade' of 100 points, then......
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
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 "fish" 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
Your dog food's grade/score is....
94-100+ = A
86-93 = B
78-85 = C
70-77 = D
69 = F
Although this may sound a little complicated, it's really very straighforward.
It will take a little time as you need to look closely at the ingredients and do some basic math, but it well worth the effort!
Once you've analyzed a couple of different varieties of food, you'll
be able to make some very useful dog food comparisons, and you'll start
to have a much clearer idea of whether a food is 'good' or not - and
whether it's suitable for your dog.
To save you some time (and brain effort!) I've done some of the math for
you - see the resulting 'Report Cards' for 48 of the most popular dog
food brands (rated using this system) on my Dog Food Ratings page.
NOTE: It's important to realize that dog food ingredient lists
and formulas do change from time to time! I'd recommend double-checking
the ingredient list of any food you're considering to make sure there
haven't been any significant changes recently, before you start making comparisons
Understanding Dog Food Labels
When you're comparing foods, your most important tool are
the dog food bags (or pouches, cans etc.) themselves.
advertising/PR slogans and the nutritional and ingredient information
need to be examined and understood.
BUT, there can be a lot of information on these labels,
and reading it is one thing, but understanding what it all means can be
something else entirely!
So, to help you out here is a quick run down of some of the most
commonly seen wording on dog food bags (and what it means), plus a look
at the ingredients that you want to see, and those that you don't....
AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) Standards - all puppy and dog food needs to meet the standards set by this organization before being sold to consumers in the USA.
There are two different ways a food can be evaluated - either
through feeding trials or through chemical analysis and testing.
Depending on the method used to evaluate a particular food the AAFCO
wording will vary slightly, but it should always be there, usually as
part of the Ingredient List/Analysis
Basic Product Description
- This is the obvious stuff, such as the brand name of the food, the
manufacturer's name, the category (whether it's for weight control,
puppy, adult, senior etc.), the recipe (ie 'Lamb and Rice) and the
weight of the food contained.
Ingredient Information & Analysis - This is the most important piece of the puzzle and where you'll find the information to use with Sarah Irick's system above.
The ingredients will be listed in the order in which they
appear in the food, percentage-wise.
The first three ingredients in any
dog food are the most important ones to look at as they are what
constitutes most of the food.
You want the first ingredient to be a good source of high-quality
protein, preferably a specific meat (such as 'Chicken' or 'Lamb') or a
meat meal. Even the meal should be a specific one though, such as
'Chicken Meal' or 'Beef Meal'. No generic 'meat' or 'meat meal'
Other ingredients may include a second meat source of protein,
grain, a specific fat source (ie 'Chicken Fat', 'Canola Oil' etc.),
vegetables and/or fruit, and natural preservatives (such as Vitamin E).
The ingredients you DON'T want to see include generic protein or
fat sources such as those mentioned above, any type of 'by-product',
unspecified grain sources or grain hulls, artificial preservatives,
colorings or sweeteners. Also avoid foods containing Menadione(aka
'Vitamin K3' or 'Dimethylprimidinol Sulfate').
If you're interested in learning more about feeding your dog, and how the right diet can dramatically improve his health, check out these great books....