Friday, December 21, 2012

The Dog Food Files: Part 1 Top 5 dog foods that make my skin crawl

Originally Posted 4/29/11. Edited.

I've been trying to write this article for several WEEKS.  It's not as easy as you would think to write an article on pet food.  Mainly because a lot of people feed the foods I'm about to talk about and some probably don't hear what I have to say.  Others, however, probably don't know any better.  The foods I list below have large marketing campaigns that have made their food public knowledge and have designed their packaging to be pleasing to the eye.  What would happen to the quality of the dog food, I wonder, if they stopped spending billions on large advertising campaigns and instead used the money to, I don't know, buy better ingredients?  Food for thought right there.

Stick around to the end of the article - ESPECIALLY if you feed any of the foods listed below - I'll go over some dog foods that are of higher quality and how to pick the right food for your dog.


The #1 food that makes my skin crawl: BENEFUL

I'm not going to lie everyone.  When I have to feed this food to dogs at work little pieces of my soul die.  They have HUGE marketing campaigns and the dog food bags are covered in falling whole ingredients such as peas, corn, carrots, and whole chunks of meat.

Let's take a look at the first 10 ingredients of two Beneful foods:

Beneful Original
Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), rice flour, beef, soy flour, sugar, propylene glycol

Beneful Healthy Harvest
Ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), soy protein concentrate, soy flour, water, rice flour, pearled barley, sugar

Corn is first ingredient in both. The original has chicken by-product meal listed second, and notice SUGAR and Propylene glycol round out the top ten.  Healthy Harvest on the other hand lists NO SOURCES OF MEAT PROTEIN in the first 10 ingredients - but you better believe that sugar is on that list!

Feeding this food to your dog is the equivalent of you eating corn chips and Twinkies for every meal for the rest of your life.  How would YOU feel if you ate corn chips and Twinkies all the time?  Can you imagine what this food does to your dog?!

Not to mention the Propylene Glycol! From wikipedia:

Propylene glycol is an approved food additive for dog food under the category of animal feed and is generally recognized as safe.  Propylene Glycol is used in the following:

  •  As a solvent for food colors and flavorings
  • As a non-toxic antifreeze for winterizing drinking water systems, and in applications where the used antifreeze eventually will be drained into the soil, water, or a septic system.[6]
  • As the killing and preserving agent in pitfall traps, usually used to capture ground beetle.

The #2 food that makes my skin crawl: Kibbles N Bits

This food is absolutely no better than Beneful.  Lots of grains listed in the top 10 ingredients and, again, propylene glycol to keep the "chewy bits" soft and chewy.

corn, soybean meal, beef and bone meal, ground wheat flour, animal fat (bha used as preservative), corn syrup, wheat middlings, water sufficient for processing, animal digest (source of chicken flavor), propylene glycol.

So what is animal digest?  I didn't know so I went searching. From wikipedia:

Animal Digest is a common ingredient used in pet foods. As defined by the AAFCO, it is material which results from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean and undecomposed animal tissue. The animal tissues used shall be exclusive of hair, horns, teeth, hooves and feathers, except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice and shall be suitable for animal feed.A cooked-down broth made from specified or unspecified parts of animals (depending on the type of digest used). If the source is unspecified (e.g. "Animal" or "Poultry", the animals used can be obtained from any source, so there is no control over quality or contamination. Any kind of animal can be included: "4-D animals" (dead, diseased, disabled, or dying prior to slaughter), goats, pigs, horses, rats, misc. roadkill, animals euthanized at shelters, restaurant and supermarket refuse and so on.FDA: Digests, which are materials treated with heat, enzymes and/or acids to form concentrated natural flavors. Only a small amount of a "chicken digest" is needed to produce a "Chicken Flavored Cat Food," even though no actual chicken is added to the food.

The #3 food that makes my skin crawl: Science Diet

Science Diet makes my skin crawl for several reasons: vets promote this stuff through contracts with Hill's since Hill's produces prescription diets for vet use. 

Here are the first 7 ingredient in their Adult Active dry food:
Ground Whole Grain Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Animal Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Dried Beet Pulp, Soybean Oil, Dried Egg Product, Flaxseed

I'm only showing 7 because after that they get into chemical additives.   Other than the Dried egg product this food is pretty similar to Beneful. Corn, Chicken by-product meal, and Animal Fat round out the top 3. 

Another reason why I hate science diet - A few years ago they changed all their packages to read "Ground Maize" instead of ground corn.  Maize *IS* corn, but if you didn't happen to know that and you were specifically looking for a food that was corn free, you might have been tricked into buying Science Diet.  They may have stopped that campaign, but that trickery is why this food is number 3 on my list.

The #4 food that makes my skin crawl: PEDIGREE

Ground Whole Corn, Meat And Bone Meal, Ground Whole Wheat, Corn Gluten Meal, Animal Fat (preserved With BHA and Citric Acid), Wheat Mill Run, Chicken By-product Meal, Natural Flavor, Salt, Rice
Man these are all so similar.  Meat and Bone meal.  Notice that they don't specify WHAT meat?

The #5 food that makes my skin crawl: PURINA DOG CHOW

It's interesting to note that Purina makes the Beneful line of foods as well...
Whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), meat and bone meal, brewers rice, soybean meal, whole grain wheat, egg and chicken flavor, animal digest

And, yeah, it's not that much better.

Help I feed these foods!

OK, so you've seen what in my opinion is the worst of the worst.  How do you choose a GOOD dog food?

With so many options on the market right now it's easy to become overwhelmed when choosing a food for your dog. 

Who do you go to for help?

Everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to cover themselves by saying "Consult your veterinarian". Vets do not get much training specifically in dog nutrition. And let's face it, with four years of vet med school already jam packed with anatomy, physiology, common AND obscure diseases and ailments, not to mention the hundreds of procedures and surgeries they must learn I can see how nutrition can get pushed aside a bit.  It's also very common for vets to carry only a few brands of food in their own clinics - often from pet food companies that have the most persuasive reps and the best overall deals for the clinic. Again, that's marketing for you.  So, is a Vet really your number one source to turn to for nutrition?  In my opinion, do not discount your vet - ESPECIALLY if your dog has other health concerns such as kidney or heart disease - but be proactive about doing your own research, and if you really need to know, contact a vet who specializes in canine nutrition.

Carnivore, omnivore, or scavenger?

Plop a large juicy steak fresh from the butcher, a freshly shucked ear of corn, and a rotting carcass in front of your dog: what happens? Well, I'm pretty sure my dogs would gobble the steak and roll in the rotting mess and completely ignore the corn.  Probably a bit over dramatic, but can you imagine your dog eating the corn cob and ignoring the rest?  The fact of the matter is, it doesn't really matter how you classify dogs, many can indeed tolerate grains and added vegetables.  Grains are added to the dog food to provide carbohydrates - a high source of energy.  The bigger question should be does your dog NEED high sources of energy in his dog food? If your dog is mostly a couch potato, then probably not.  If your dog is a sporting machine then maybe your dog needs extra calories provided by carbohydrates to keep at a good weight.

Grain, grain go away!

So why the big campaign against grains?  First thing that comes to my mind is many dogs suffer from food allergies. A majority of these are caused by wheat and corn found in dog foods, and unbelievably some vets miss this diagnosis. My sister's dog Koda, for example, suffered from grass AND food induced allergies so bad for 3 years that he would chew his feet raw and lose large patches of fur due to the scratching. I finally came to his rescue and made my sister change his food to a food devoid of corn and wheat. Now instead of scratching himself raw year round and being on high doses of steroids for many months of the year, he is really only affected in late August when his grass allergies are the worst. If allergies plague your dog try a change of food, but note that it can take upwards of two months feeding the new food to see a difference in your dog.  Food allergies don't have to present themselves as itchy skin or hotspots;  ear infections, diarrhea, and excess gas can all be red flags that your dog's corn or wheat laden diet isn't agreeing with him.

What to look for

The key is in the first 5 ingredients.  You want to see MEAT as the first several ingredients.  You don't want to see by-product meals or unspecified meat and bone meals.  You don't want to see a lot of corn or wheat.  You DO NOT want to see sources of SUGAR!

Excellent Foods

Let's look at some examples of good food and their first 5 ingredients:

Pinnacle Chicken and Oatmeal Formula:
Chicken Meal, Chicken, Oatmeal, Tomato Pomace, Potatoes

Orijen Adult:
Fresh boneless chicken*, chicken meal, fresh boneless salmon*, turkey meal, herring meal
* DELIVERED FRESH, preservative-free and never frozen.

EVO Turkey and Chicken Formula:
Turkey, Chicken , Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Potatoes  

See the difference??  So the problem with these MUCH higher quality foods is, of course, cost.

Beneful: 31.1 pound bag retails for around $31 dollars.  at (~$1/pound)

Pinnacle: 30 pound bag retails for $53 at ($1.76/pound)

Orijen: 29.7 pound bag retails for $65 and you have to go to specialty pet stores for it or order online (price quote from ($2.19/pound)

Good food without breaking the bank

Ok, so where, then, is the happy medium?  A grain free food with good list of ingredients that isn't going to break the bank.  Does it exist?

Of course.

Diamond Naturals Lamb Meal and Rice Adult Dog Formula:
Lamb meal, ground rice, cracked pearled barley, millet, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols)
Millet, if you're wondering is: gluten-free grains harvested from certain seed grasses. Millet is hypoallergenic and naturally rich in B-vitamins and fiber… as well as other essential minerals.
Found in Pet Supplies Plus or Tractor Supply Co.  Retails for about $35 for a 40 pound bag. (87cents/pound)

Lamb, lamb meal, whole grain brown rice, oatmeal, cracked pearled barley

Found at Tractor Supply Co.  Retails for $35 for a 35 pound bag. ($1/pound)

Kirkland (aka the Costco brand)
Lamb, Lamb meal, whole grain brown rice, rice flour, white rice
This is the dog food I personally feed, it's also the food we now feed at Camp.  40pound bag retails for $26 - but you must have a membership to Costco.  Kirkland is manufactured by Diamond. (65cents/pound)


Check out these sites for excellent dog food reviews and information on ingredients.

Sources for information and definitions use above

Direct links to all dog foods listed above


  1. Pretty much got my list down... Beneful and Science Diet especially make my skin crawl because people only feed those if they want to feed their dogs a really good food. But, instead of doing actual research, they just believe the commercials and advertising about it. (Similar to how people only say "I feel poorly" if they are trying to be proper, but don't realize that "I feel poorly" means you actually have a physical problem with feeling, not that you emotionally feel bad for someone.)

    1. Especially Science Diet. I mean, it has "Science" in the name, it should be good, right? and Vet's recommend it, it should be good, right?

      Unfortunately.... no. :(

  2. My only problem with your good food list is that they are Diamond products...and personally I'm sick to death of all the Diamond pet food recalls.

    1. That is very true. I did write this originally before the most recent recalls, but it's a good reminder to do some more research and keep current. Do you have any suggestions for affordable, higher quality pet food?

    2. No more so than you :) Your list is good, I just can't stomach Diamond anymore. I used to feed Taste of the Wild and my girls did wonderful on it. But with the advent of their last recall I decided enough was enough. My personal problem is that finding decent kibble in my town is hard, as there is only one place to buy it. I don't like using my credit card so I won't buy dog food online (not to mention the waste associated with shipping one bag of food all the time). Buying from another town means I have to drive 1.5 hrs just to get dog kibble. The same problem exists with going to whole or even part raw for me. So for now I've chosen to to feed Blue Buffalo kibble. Low, almost non-existent, on the recall lists, decent quality ingredients, and about the same price as Taste of the Wild.