What do I require in a dog food? As you’ve probably already guessed, I expect a lot. In order to earn a high rating on the Annette-scale of dog food acceptability the companies must check off boxes in most of the requirements listed below:
1) Be a small, privately owned (preferably family-owned) company that makes the majority of their profits on pet foods and produces only one or two brands of dog foods (not to be confused with dog food varieties within a single brand. More is fine there)
2) Manufacture their own foods; not use contract manufacturers (at all, preferably) at least for their dry foods.
3) The vast majority of their food varieties must be animal-protein based
4) The foods contain highly digestible sources of nutrients.
5) The foods have an adequate proportion of protein-to-fat and very few carbohydrates
6) The vast majority of the food varieties must contain carbohydrates sourced from whole, natural grains or nutritious starchy vegetables (dry food must contain carbs, it is the only way to make it dry and shelf stable as far as I know)
7) The foods avoid GMO products and dangerous additives, preservatives and chemicals.
8) The foods avoid non-nutritious colors and additives designed to make the food visually appealing to humans.
9) The foods do not contain by-products.
10) The foods do not contain corn and corn products.
11) The foods practice straight-forward and honest marketing and ethical business.
12) The companies respond to inquiries quickly and have good customer service.
1) Companies that are owned privately care more about their customers. Companies that are family owned tend to keep the original passion (which likely caused them to start a company) longer and through several generations of company ownership. That passion (with dog food) is generally high quality dog nutrition. Large companies that make a billion other products and pet-foods account for a tiny percentage of their profits are not very likely to care about their pet foods or their pet food customers (dog and human alike).
2) The more foods a company makes and manufactures in the same facility the less likely a particular food is to be the high quality you might be paying for. If company X is manufacturing a premium 5-star food that costs $4/pound in the same facility and using many of the exact same ingredients as a budget-brand food that costs $0.5/pound you can safely say that company X’s expensive “premium food” is not made with the best of the best ingredients. No business is using fresh, locally sourced and healthy ingredients in the $0.50 per pound garbage bag of food. There is just no way. They would lose money and the last time I checked businesses are there to make a profit. And that, in and of itself, is certainly not a bad thing. But let’s keep it in mind always when trying to be informed and responsible consumers. So, ingredients are not being purchased separately, that is a guarantee. Ingredients are always cheaper in bulk. Companies are sourcing all their foods’ ingredients from the same locations, of that I have no doubt. Furthermore when all foods are manufactured in the same handful of plants there is little guarantee that the food you’re paying for contains the right ingredients or formulation you’ve been promised. Minimum wage workers in a large faceless-corporation-type manufacturing plant don’t care very much about the correctness of their work or the cleanliness of their facility. You think they are bothering to clean plant equipment between food brands? You think they are careful to ensure the right proportion of ingredients? Do you think that what gets passed down from corporate even matters when compared with what their plant supervisor is shouting at them? Anyone that has worked for a corporation knows this is how it works. Corporate can send a million emails about their values or whatever but all that really matters is not getting fired by the local boss. He is king. What he wants counts. And I think it is safe to assume that the guy in charge of running the plant is most likely tasked with ensuring the plant saves as much money as possible. I think that is a sure recipe for shift managers encouraging (or outright instructing) plant workers to use more filler ingredients and much less expensive animal-sourced protein ingredients. Giant manufacturing plants and small business run kitchens have very little in common.
3) Dogs are carnivores and require animal-based protein. Most plant-sourced proteins have very unhealthy and undesirable effects on dogs and the vast majority of them are sourced from unhealthy foods or locations (ie third world countries with little regulation and no standards). Many cause allergies and food intolerances and plant-based proteins do not contain the most digestible sources of nutrients for dogs or the right amino acids.
4) It doesn’t do much good to feed your dog when most of it is coming out of your dog’s backside undigested. That is a good way to spend more time cleaning poop and more money for waste. Poorly digested foods require your dog to eat more (which ends up costing you more money) or they make your dog overweight in his quest to get more of one nutrient while he is getting over-dosed on others. Dogs can live with many nutritional deficiencies before such deficiencies make themselves known via obvious physical manifestations.
5) Many foods say they are overwhelmingly animal-sourced. For example, many cans are now advertised as 95% chicken, when in reality over half the product is fat and another large portion of the product is indigestible ash (like ground bone) and the protein content is lower than expected for that deceptive 95% label. Dogs are not meant to eat that much fat and can truly suffer as a result. While fat is absolutely necessary there needs to be an adequate balance of the types of fats being consumed. A large quantity of human-food refuse-sourced fat isn’t healthy for your dog and can lead to fatty deposits in organs and tissues as well as terrible conditions like pancreatitis. So sure, the food is technically 95% chicken, but no natural predator or scavenger eats a chicken and intentionally aims for the fat and trimmings and swallows the bones but carefully avoids the muscle meat and nutritious organs. These companies know it is a deceptive marketing strategy and so do we.
6) Cereal grains devoid of nutrition due to the good parts having already been used in human food production, or starchy vegetables that are non-nutritious and very poorly absorbed are not very nutritious and frankly a bunch of crap when found in expensive “premium” foods. I especially hate seeing beet pulp in dog food and I refuse to use dog feed with sugar-beet pulp as an ingredient. Dogs don’t eat beets, and they certainly don’t eat GMO beets grown for their enormously high sugar content, flooded their short lives with Round-up and used to produce sub-par sugar for human food processing. (which, by the way, is just listed as ‘sugar’ on food labels, so you don’t even realize you’re eating it. Sugar from sugar cane will be written ‘cane sugar’ on ingredient labels. If it says ‘sugar’ you’re eating those awful beets. Deceptive marketing strategies at their best.) Save your dog the nasty and daily dose of toxic and mostly indigestible sugary mess and skip on the so-called “premium” foods that are charging you for beet garbage from a human food processing plant.
7) Stay away from GMOs for yourself and your pets. GMO foods are made to withstand treatments from very heavy and regular applications of pesticides. Many are even modified to produce their own pesticides!! Avoid foods that are proven in many studies world-wide to create major health problems in animals (and humans are animals) and the pesticides that are used on these foods alone should be enough to make you run in the other direction. GMO foods are not made so we can “feed the world”. That is just a lie. They are made to boost profits and reduce labor costs. They are made with money in mind and never, ever the health and safety on humans or animals and especially not the environment at the heart of production.
8) Avoid the extra and unnecessary toxins and preservatives applied freely to processed foods for both pets and humans. We “discover” all the time that chemicals (developed for one unnatural purpose or another) are extremely dangerous (surprise? Hardly).
9) By-products by definition are nasty and undesirable and can even contain medicated or diseased animal parts. It is all the left-overs after anything even remotely useable has been picked off the carcass. Skip things like droppings, floor sweepings, beaks, feet, diseased tumors and growths, fetal material, etc. Don’t pay premium prices for by-products.
10) Corn and the products of corn (in the US and certain other countries) grown for processed human foods and especially animal feed are all GMO, unless certified organic. Moreover they often contain extremely toxic molds called aflatoxins because of the way they are grown, processed and stored en masse. There are recalls all the time because of these molds. They grow readily in corn feed, products, meals/flours, etc. because of the disgusting way corn is stored. Aflatoxins are extremely toxic to humans and pets. They are nothing to mess about with. Just avoid corn products in all foods (really) and avoid fresh corn at Walmart as well since they currently sell fresh GMO corn (without labeling it as GMO).
11) Don’t give those slippery used-car-salesmen of the pet food world your money. You should be able to trust your pet food company. Then you’ll get honest answers if you have a problem, you’ll be able to trust the integrity and quality of the food you’re giving your best friend, and you’ll feel confident in knowing the ethical company you use will immediately announce and take responsibility for recalls, to avoid risking any pets out there unnecessarily. Contamination happens, even in the best of manufacturing facilities. Good companies aren’t afraid to apologize for these occasional occurrences.
12) Customer service is important and you never know when you might have an emergency and need honest answers fast. That and I’m getting annoyed at the evasive responses I get from pet food companies (I email them and ask one or two polite, basic questions like “what company manufactures your food” and many refuse to give a straight and honest answer) and the poor customer service of these particular companies. High quality food companies should always have customer service to match the quality of their food, in my experience the real high quality food companies do, and I’ve spoken via telephone and email to several companies, and have attempted with many more.
Soon I’ll begin posting reviews to tell you which foods make the cut!