Understanding dog food ingredients can be a minefield of complicated lists, manipulative marketing, confusing messages and mixed opinions.
There is no one size fits all solution
At Just Dogs we don't believe in promoting just one or two brands and providing the food is good quality we don't advocate dry over wet food or commercial diets over Raw Foods diets. We believe that they all have their place in the doggy world and there are advantages and disadvantages for them all . We also believe there is not a "one size fits all" solution and what works well for one dog may not work well for another.
We also recommend the Which Dog Food Site should you wish to get further general information on how UK brands of dog food measure up.
Why are ingredients so important?
Poor quality foods can result in a variety of different issues including the following:
- Stool problems - large volumes, increased frequency, poor consistency due to difficult digestibility of ingredients
- Problematic coat and skin conditions
- Longer term health issues and possible internal organ problems
- There is also evidence to suggest that certain poor quality foods can also contribute to behavioural problems and or hyperactivity
Price is not necessarily an indicator of quality
Don't assume that just because the food you select is cheap/expensive that this means the food is poor or good, this is particularly relevant for food on the mid price ranges. Bakers dog food, for example, is not a cheap food but is often referenced as one of the poorest dry dog foods on the market. They have excellent marketing at their disposal to make the food appear attractive to unsuspecting dog owners but when you drill down and look at the ingredients, we believe, it becomes clear that the quality of the ingredients does not reflect the price.
It is also useful to note that buying a very cheap brand of dog food can often be a false economy as you often have to feed more than some of the higher quality foods to allow your dog to get sufficient nutrient levels. This is predominantly due to the high levels of fillers and by-products used in the poorer quality foods.
Always read the label!
We recommend forgetting all the gimmicks and marketing on the front of the pack and focus on the ingredient list on the back. This is the only way to truly understand what is in your dogs food. Below are a list key points to note when reading ingredients:
- Ingredients are listed in order of weight (the first ingredient is the one that there is most of, whatever is last on the list is present least in the food)
- Beware of "ingredient splitting" - This is regarded as a sneaky tactic of manufacturers who wish to disguise the fact that there is more of an ingredient present in a food than the list conveys. This is often used for ingredients which are classed as poorer quality. An example of this, which is often used, relates to Corn as an ingredient. Corn is not so easily digested by dogs so by splitting this into ground corn, corn gluten and corn bran (for example) and spreading these through the ingredient list makes it seem lower on the list. If this was just shown as "Corn" only it would be much higher on the list.
- Beware of poor quality grains - these are often used as cheaper fillers. Certain types of carbohydrates are not so easily digested by dogs (corn, wheat and soy are often the main culprits) and they can often be the cause of allergies or intolerances. Rice is used in many dog foods and this is less likely to cause health problems. If it is not whole grain or brown rice then be aware as this will not hold the same nutritional value and ultimately this can then be viewed as a cheap filler. Grain free diets are becoming increasingly popular as these are often easier for dogs to digest. We have a wide range of grain free diets in store and would be happy to chat these through with our customers.
- Fruits and Veg - good alternatives/additional to grains
- Meat should be at the top of the list - ideally as first and if not 2nd ingredient on the list. Meat is an incredibly important source of protein. Always ensure it is a named meat and not just a derivative or by-product.
What to Avoid:
- Meat by-products/ meat and animal derivatives - There is no way to identify what animal or part of the animal has been used. It is very often the undesirable, least nutritious parts of the animal such as the head, feet, guts, beak and feathers as this helps to keep costs low. Not only do these sort of ingredients often lack evident nutritional value but they can also cause problems with allergies and intolerances as the ingredients are not identifiable and can vary from batch to batch. We have created a full article on identifying and managing food allergies or intolerances.
- Generic cereals and cereal derivatives - Cereals vary greatly in their nutritional value and ease of digestibility. Without the cereals being named there is no way to understand how much nutritional value they are adding to the ingredient list and they are regarded as acting as a cheap filler. Again the contents can also vary from batch to batch making it difficult to manage allergies or intolerances.
- Artificial Colourings - It is widely accepted that artificial colourings are added to dog food entirely for the owner's benefit. It makes the food look more appealing/appetising to the human eye. It matters not one bit to the dog!
- Certain Artificial Flavourings - These are often added to increase the palatability of the food. It is often argued that these should not be necessary if the food is high enough quality and contains enough meat.
- Certain Artificial Preservatives and Antioxidants - These ingredients are highly controversial and there is great debate around this area. These are used to increase the longevity of the foods dogs consume and to prevent it from oxidising and turning rancid. They often appear on ingredients lists as "EC permitted Antioxidants" and there have been strong arguments to indicate that they can have a harmful effect on your dog particularly if exposed over long periods and in larger quantities. Because there is often no real breakdown of the amounts and types used we believe that it is easier and safer to opt for foods that use Natural Preservatives such as Mixed Tocopherals and Rosemary.
Just Dogs example of a poor quality Dry Dog Food
We are often asked why we don't stock Bakers Dog Food. Whilst they have the marketing clout of a large company and the backing of all the big supermarkets we dont feel we would be doing our doggy customers (or their owners) any favours promoting a food like this. We feel that as an independant store valued for our expertise that this would go against what we believe in. Let's look at the ingredients to justify why we believe this is a poor quality food.
Ingredients: Cereals, Meat and Animal Derivatives (min. 4% Chicken and min. 4% Fresh Meat In The Soft Moist Kernel), Vegetable Protein Extracts, Oils and Fats, Derivatives Of Vegetable Origin, Various Sugars, Minerals, Yeasts, Vegetables (min. 4% Vegetables In The Green Kernel).
- The first ingredient on the list (the one there is most of) is generic "Cereals". Not only do we not know what those cereals are but by virtue of the fact that it is top of the list it is immeditiately apparant that the nutrional value of the food is questionable. We can't establish how digestable the cereals are for the dogs.
- Next is "Meat and Animal Derivatives" - Again we don't know what meat types or meat parts and with only a minimum of 4% chicken, it again leads us to question the quality and nutrional value of the ingredient. This and the "cereals" ingredients make it difficult to identify possible ingredients which may cause an intolerance and as the type of meats and cereals can vary per batch the dogs reaction to the ingredients could also vary.
- Vegetable Protein Extracts - Which vegetable protein? What is the nutrional value of this?
- Derivatives of Vegetable Origin - Again we are unable to identify what this is and what sort of value this brings to the food
- Various Sugars - Why does the food need sugar? Many Dog Nutrionists/Vets/ Behaviourists would generally argue that the addition of sugar can have a detrimental effect on the behaviour of your dog in terms of hyperactivity, anxiousness.
- With colourants, antioxidants and preservatives - what are these? The website dogfoodanalysis.com is a really handy resource for getting an unbiased breakdown of a number of dog foods on the market. They have mentioned the following regarding the preservatives used by Bakers and it makes scary reading : "We note that BHA, BHT and propyl gallate are chemical preservatives. The first two are known to be carcinogenic and have been banned from use in human foods in most countries for around 50 years. We would never consider feeding our pets on foods containing those chemicals. Propyl gallate is believed to cause skin irritations and gastric upsets. It is not permitted in foods for infants and small children, because of the propensity of gallates to cause blood disorders. There is no need to add artificial colourants to pet food either - some of these are believed to be carcinogenic and cause hyperactivity disorders and are banned from use in many countries."
Many owners tell us that they use the food because their dog loves it and wont touch any of the higer quality foods. We often use the metaphor of children who would much rather eat a McDonalds and don't like eating vegetables. Some of the higher quality foods may not be as palatable due to their lack of artificial flavourings and their lack of sugars. You need to weigh up what is more important. We have produced an article for owners of reluctant/fussy eaters and perhaps reading this will help you manage your dog eating something other than a poor quality food.
A Widely Accepted Mid Quality Dry Dog Food
We stock Arden Grange in our store. The ingredients are not necessarily right for every dog but it is widely regarded as a premium dog food. We have tried to provide an unbiased review of why this is a good, but not best, food on the market. One of our team uses Arden Grange with great results.
Ingredients: Chicken Meal* (min 27%), Whole Grain Rice (min 26%), Whole Grain Maize, Chicken Fat*, Beet Pulp, Fresh Chicken (min 5%), Dried Brewers Yeast, Egg Powder, Fish Meal*, Linseed, Fish Oil*, Minerals, Vitamins, Nucleotides, Prebiotic FOS, Prebiotic MOS, Cranberry Extract, Chondroitin Sulphate, Glucosamine Sulphate, MSM, Yucca Extract. *Preserved with mixed tocopherols and rosemary extract.
- Named meat meal is the top ingredient - The first ingredient is a named meat (in ground format) and they have even indicated the percentage of meat within the food. Some nutrionists argue that the meat content should be higher but there are others that believe that too high a meat/protein content can increase hyperactivity. We would comment that given the wider appeal of Raw Food Diets and foods such as Orijen with a very high meat content that high meat/protein content contributing to hyper behaviour is not a solid enough argument and this is just something you will have to decide for yourself when selecting a food.
- Whole Grain Rice - a named grain is the 2nd ingredient and rice is widely considered one of the better grains to use in food.
- Maize is the next ingredient and whilst this is acceptable for use in dog food it is not as easily digested as Rice so it can contribute more readily to allergy/ intolerance issues.
- Beet Pulp - owners should be aware that Beet Pulp is often regarded as low quality filler and can be associated with allergies. Manufacturers that use Beet Pulp argue that is provides a good source of Fibre.
- Natural Preservatives - encouraging to see that these are used rather than artifical preservatives
- Additional Supplements - listed in the ingredients are Chondroitin Sulphate and Glucosamine Sulphate which are supplements which are used to help with keeping joints supple. Prebiotics are also used which can help aid healthy digestion.
A Very highly regarded Dry Dog Food
We have recently introduced Simpsons 80/20 to our range of dry dog foods. This is widely regarded as one of the best dry dog foods on the UK market.
Ingredients: Deboned Chicken(27%), Dried Chicken(16%), Deboned Salmon(13%), Sweet Potato, Potato, Dried White Fish(7%), Dried Salmon(5%), Dried Turkey(4%), Chicken Fat(2%), Chicken Gravy(2%), Dried Whole Egg(2%), Deboned White Fish(2%), Pea Fibre, Lucerne, Minerals, Vitamins, Dried Apple, Dried Carrot, Spinach, Dried Seaweed, Dried Cranberry, Prebiotic FOS, Aniseed, Fenugreek, Glucosamine, MSM, Chondroitin, Thyme, Marjoram, Oregano, Parsley, Sage.
- Over 70% meat content - The first 3 ingredients are named meats and the overall meat content is over 70%. Extremely high and very transparent
- The main carbohyrdate in the food is potato so there are no grains ensuring a high digestibility and eleminating issues with allergies/intolerances relating to grains.Many Dog Nutrionists believe that because grains are not a part of a dog's diet naturally that feeding in this manner is much more akin to their dietary requirements. It is often referred to as being a Biologically Appropriate Form of feeding.
- There are no ingredients on the list that suggest poor or low quality and this is why this is one of the most highly regarded foods on the market.
The BARF (Biologically Approriate Raw Food) philosophy is based on the theory that domesticated dogs have the same dietary requirements as their wild ancestors. This means that their diet should be made up of predominatly raw meat, with minimal cards and a selection of fruit and veg and that this should be fed Raw. BARF feeding is becoming increasinly popular in the doggy world with many raw feeders speaking extremely highly of this method of feeding. Again it may not be for every dog but it certainly ensures the most transarency in what you are feedining your dog. At Just Dogs we believe that dogs are incredibly versatile and now removed far enough from their wild ancestors that they can survive well on other diets as well as raw (providing they are high quality) and some dogs can actually find that raw feeding is too rich a diet. We have produced a raw feeding article for further information on this way of feeding and we also stock the highly recommended Natural Instinct range of raw food in store.
Copyright Note - We are happy for these articles to be shared but would ask that these are credited to us as it has taken us a long time to pull together all this information and research and it is our own wording so we would be upset to see this being reproduced without the appropriate credit.