Dog food brands to avoid – NEVER feed this to your dog!

dog food brands to avoid

As dog owners, it’s our job to ensure that our pups are getting everything they need nutritionally. Unfortunately, us consumers are at the mercy of pet food manufacturers and their sneaky marketing tactics which makes it hard to determine which dog food brands to avoid.

Manufacturers like to throw around phrases like “all natural”, “premium”, “healthy”, “quality ingredients”, “complete and balanced”, and other similar terms.

Another marketing tactic that dog food manufacturers like to highlight is the “guaranteed analysis” section, where they breakdown the percentage of crude protein and other nutritional information, and draw less attention to the actual ingredients list.

While paying attention to how much protein your pup is getting is important (dogs are carnivores after all), the guaranteed analysis charts won’t distinguish between healthy proteins and questionable protein sources.

These tactics make it hard for the average consumer to know whether the food they see on pet store shelves is actually good for their dog. That’s why in today’s post I want to distinguish what you should be on the lookout for when it comes to shopping for dog food and point out which top dog food brands to avoid.

Is it really that bad?

4-D meat
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to avoid dog food formulas with ingredients that you wouldn’t consume yourself. Would you want to eat 4-D meat?

What is 4-D meat exactly??

If you haven’t come across the term 4-D meat before, that’s not surprising. PR firms create commercials, packaging labels, and branding that feature juicy steaks, fresh fish, and appetizing vegetables – because who wouldn’t want that for their dog. In reality, if the general public knew what was really being incorporated into their dog’s food they’d be shocked and appalled.

So just what is 4-D meat? Large dog food companies incorporate meat unfit for human consumption into their food.

The meat is known to insiders as 4-D and includes meat from diseased, disabled, dying, and already dead animals when they arrive at the slaughterhouse. If an animal cannot walk on its own, that animal is considered a downer or disabled and is therefore unfit for human consumption.

Likewise, if an animal dies or is severely diseased, the USDA inspector would reject that animal for human consumption, but it is considered good enough for your beloved pet. To salvage some profit, that animal carcass is then sent to the closest renderer to be used in pet food.[1]

What exactly is rendering?

According to PetMD, “Rendering is defined as “an industrial process of extraction by melting that converts waste animal tissue into usable materials.”  In other words, rendering involves placing livestock carcasses and possibly “leftovers” into huge vats, grinding it up and cooking it for several hours.”[2]

This process separates fat, removes water, and is designed to kill most bacterial contaminants. However, the valuable enzymes and proteins that were in the raw materials are usually destroyed or changed in some way. The fat that gets separated becomes “animal fat” that goes into pet food (for example, beef fat, chicken fat, etc.). The remaining dried out protein solids become meat “by-product meal” or “meal” to be added to pet foods.

Luckily for pet food companies, you’ll never find reference to rendering on the ingredients list of your pets’ food. So you won’t know whether your pup is getting fed 4-D meat. This makes it especially hard for consumers to determine which dog food brands to avoid. Rendered products are considered unfit for human consumption. If we shouldn’t eat it, then why are we feeding it to our pets?

Other disturbing definitions

By-products: (for example, beef by-products or chicken by-products): clean, non-rendered “parts”, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, blood, brain, fatty tissue  bone, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. This is an affordable way for pet food companies to keep the protein levels “high” (although not high quality) while keeping food costs low.

Meat Meal: (for example, lamb meal): All tissues, exclusive of blood, hair, horn, hoof, manure, hide trimmings, stomach and rumen contents that are rendered. After cooking, the dried solids are added as “meal” to pet food.

Meat By-product Meal: (for example, chicken by-product meal): chicken by-products (defined above) that are rendered. After cooking, the dried solids can be added to pet food.

Digest: material from mammals which results from chemical breakdown of clean meat tissues or by-products (essentially “parts” other than meat).

Aflatoxins in dog food?

Aflatoxin in Dog Food

Did you know that grains such as wheat, corn, and rice are often contaminated with molds due to substandard or extended storage, or as a result of poor growing conditions?

Molds called aflatoxins can easily grow and produce a potent carcinogen (aflatoxin B1).[3] According to the FDA,

“Aflatoxins are toxic by-products of mold growth on certain agricultural commodities. Since their discovery in the early 1960's, aflatoxins have been shown to be carcinogenic to laboratory test animals.”[4]

The FDA allows pet foods to contain 20 ppb (parts per billion) or less of aflatoxin.

Aflatoxins are extremely stable and even the high temperatures involved in processing kibble won’t destroy them. In fact, in 2014 Purina, Pedigree, Hill’s Science Diet, and AvoDerm were all found to contain the carcinogen aflatoxin B1.[5] Unfortunately, there is no way to know which dog food brands to avoid based on this point as the FDA allows for 20 ppb of aflatoxin in pet food and human grade food alike.

Aflatoxins bind with DNA and cause cell mutations. Newberne and Wogan (1968) were able to produce malignant tumors in rats with less than 1 mg of aflatoxin per kg of feed.

Because eating small amounts of aflatoxins over a period of time will cause cumulative damage, a very small percentage of affected dogs would be reported. Which means that tens of thousands of cases of cancer and liver disease in dogs could in fact be caused by contaminated foods each year, but the link to aflatoxins in dog foods would never be reported.

According to Dogs Naturally magazine, “Processed pet foods also contain other toxic ingredients including heterocyclic amines, acrylamides, and most recently discovered in dry, cooked pet foods, PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) – a chemical used as a flame retardant.”[6]

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology found that the average blood concentration of these PBDEs was ten times higher in tested dogs than in humans.[7]

What about “Complete and Balanced” claims?

complete and balanced

We are sold through commercials, clever branding, and endorsed or sponsored social posts that pet foods are designed to meet 100% of the needs of our dogs.

You’ve probably seen this statement on your dog food label:

“This product meets the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO.”

To meet that ‘Complete and Balanced’ claim, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) has established nutrient requirements for pet foods.  Most of the nutritional requirements established by the AAFCO are only minimum legal requirements.  

For dog food:

  • Adult Maintenance Dog Food must contain a minimum of 18% protein, 5% fat.  There is NO maximum for protein or fat.
  • Puppy Food must contain a minimum of 22% protein, 8% fat.  There is NO maximum for protein or fat.
  • Senior Dog Food has the same requirements as Adult Maintenance.  There is NO maximum for protein or fat.

Truth About Pet Food put together a comprehensive comparison of major dog food manufacturers’ crude protein and fat percentages, and the results are shocking.[8]

In their comparison of 16 different “complete and balanced” senior dog foods the protein percentage varied from 18% – 38% and the fat percentage varied from 7% – 15%. Their comparison of 41 “complete and balanced” puppy foods showed a protein percentage that varied from 25% – 38% and a fat percentage that varied from 11% – 21%.

Their comparison of 28 “complete and balanced” lite, light, weight management, and weight loss dog foods found that protein percentage varied from 18% – 52% and fat percentage varied from 6% – 15%. Finally, their comparison of 71 adult maintenance dog foods found that protein percentage varied from 19% – 42% and fat percentage varied from 7% – 22%.

How can so many different brands who advertise “100% complete and balanced nutrition” have such differences in protein and fat analysis yet tout the same claim?

Interpreting label hype

Interpreting label hype So how do you decipher which dog foods are actually high quality? Dog food labels that include words such as “premium”, “gourmet”, “super premium”, “ultra-premium”, “healthy”, “fresh”, and “quality ingredients” are, for the most part utilizing marketing hype and buzzwords.

Dog foods with these labels are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients than any other “complete and balanced” product – it’s just marketing hype, used to fool you into buying their substandard product.

Pet foods labeled as “natural” do however, fall under the jurisdiction of the AAFCO. The AAFCO defines “natural” pet food as having ingredients from only animal, plant, or mined sources. These foods can’t be highly processed or contain chemically synthetic ingredients (for example, preservatives, artificial flavors, or colorings.

Pet foods labeled as “organic” are made without the use of conventional pesticides and artificial fertilizers, free from industrial waste or human contamination and processed without ionizing radiation or food additives.

If food animals are used, they must be raised without the routine use of growth hormones or antibiotics and fed a healthy diet. Manufacturers must follow specific production standards and have special certification to market their food as organic.

There are differing levels of organic: “100% organic” means just that, “organic” means that it contains at least 95% organic ingredients, whereas “made with organic ingredients” indicates that the product contains at least 70% certified organic ingredients.

The AAFCO has established four rules about ingredients and their relation to a product’s name (scroll to bottom of post to get this list in infographic form):

  1. The 95% rule. At least 95% of the dog food must be the ingredient named. For example, “Chicken for Dogs” must contain 95% chicken. If the food is labeled “Chicken and Rice Dog Food”, the chicken is the ingredient that must be 95%. If there is a combination of animal ingredients such as “Chicken and Liver for Dogs”, the two ingredients together must make up 95% of the total weight and the first listed ingredient must have the higher percentage in the food.
  2. 25% or “Dinner” rule. When the named product contains at least 25%, but less than 95% of the total weight, the name must include a descriptive term such as “dinner”. For example, “dinner”, “platter”, “formula”, and “entree”, are all terms used to describe this type of product. So for example, “Chicken Dinner Dog Food” must contain at least 25% Chicken. With this label the food could contain beef and possibly even contain more beef than chicken.
  3. 3% or “With” rule. This one is very tricky. Usually, the “with” label identifies extra or special ingredients. “Chicken Dinner for Dogs with Egg” means that it is a food containing 25% chicken and at least 3% egg. However, you’ll want to avoid this type of “with” label: “Dog Food with Chicken”. This dog food only needs to contain 3% chicken!
  4. “Flavor” rule. With this type of label a specific percentage of meat is not required, but it must contain an amount of flavor sufficient to be detected. For example, “Chicken Flavor Dog Food” may contain a digest or enough chicken fat to flavor the food, but there might not actually be any chicken meat in the food.

So how do you determine which dog food brands to avoid?

which dog foods brands to avoid

In order to help you sleuth out which dog food brands to avoid you should always look at the ingredients list. (scroll to bottom of post to get this list in infographic form):

  1. Avoid ingredients such as meat meal, animal fat, and animal by-product meal, which are defined as rendered product by the AAFCO and don’t need to be from slaughtered animals. This broadly-defined description can signify that 4-D meat is being used[1]. Also, when a specific protein type isn’t mentioned that can also signify lower quality ingredients (for example, poultry by-product meal vs. chicken meal).
  2. Avoid dog foods that contain corn, especially since mold-ridden (aflatoxin) corn is added to animal feed and pet food.
  3. Avoid dog foods that contain grains as these are considered “fillers” and aren’t healthy for your dog. Many dog food manufacturers use grains in their food as primary ingredients because they are an affordable way to meet basic nutritional requirements and fill up a bag.
  4. Avoid corn syrup, MSG, and propylene glycol, which are artificial flavors regularly used in pet food manufacturing to disguise inferior food quality and some of these additives give flexibility and dampness to semi-moist foods and treats.
  5. Avoid dog foods that have several preservatives. Many preservatives are known to be carcinogens in humans.[2]
  6. Avoid artificial colorings, these are used to entice consumers to make a purchase, yet they have zero nutritional value and may cause adverse reactions in dogs.
  7. Don’t fall for the marketing hype. Now that you know the kinds of misleading language that dog food companies like to use, you can avoid falling into their confusing trap.
  8. Get to know your local pet boutique owner. Unlike the mainstream chain pet stores, these independently owned stores are usually more knowledgeable about high-quality foods and are more focused on nutrition.

Top dog food brands to avoid

Finally, we get to the meat of the matter (pun intended) – which top dog food brands to avoid. In this section I’ll share the company’s product description, my analysis of the ingredients, and the unsavory dirt on the brand.

Purina® Alpo Prime Cuts®

Purina® Alpo Prime Cuts®

The Marketing “Fluff”

Here’s the product description straight from Alpo’s website:

“Every bag of Prime Cuts® Savory Beef Flavor is packed with the good stuff your dog needs. Once he chomps into these hearty shapes and crunchy textures with savory beef flavor, there’s no stopping him from devouring every last crumb. Bite after bite and bowl after bowl, Prime Cuts is always a favorite.

This is no ordinary dry dog food. With high-quality protein and 23 vitamins and minerals — including calcium to help support strong bones and linoleic acid to help support healthy skin and coat — Prime Cuts delivers 100% complete and balanced nutrition for adult dogs. It’s everything your adult dog needs, right in one bag.”

The Analysis

While this food is advertised as “prime cuts”, it’s really anything but. Meat isn’t even listed as the first ingredient – corn is. There is no identifiable real animal meat in this food! You’ll only find meat and bone meal, beef tallow, along with poultry and pork digest.

In addition to the questionable meals and digests, you’ll also find harmful dyes, preservatives, and flavors. As per the AAFCO’s “Flavor” rule, this food only needs to contain an amount of beef flavor sufficient to be detected. The marketing language that is used to promote this product is atrociously misleading!

The Dirt

The Alpo brand has been affected by numerous recalls, and in the past decade, there has been one major recall affecting more than a dozen products that was issued due to concerns of melamine contamination.[9] Alpo also has a significant number of consumer complaints.[10]

Purina® Beneful Originals

Dry Dog Food with Chicken - Beneful® Originals

The Marketing “Fluff”

Here’s the product description straight from Beneful’s website:

“Good ingredients is what you'll find at the heart of our Originals With Real Chicken recipe. We take our #1 ingredient, real farm-raised chicken, and blend it to perfection with whole grains and accents of vegetables. It’s 100% nutrition with a taste your adult dog will love.”

The Analysis

While this food does contain chicken as the first ingredient it also contains corn, other grains, questionable animal by-products meals, soybean meal, “egg and chicken flavor”, animal digest, and artificial dyes. Even though chicken is listed as the first ingredient, according to the AAFCO’s 3% or “With” rule, this food only has to contain 3% real chicken.

The Dirt

The Beneful line had one major recall in 2016 in regards to their wet food product. The recall was due to inadequate levels of key vitamins and minerals in their food.[11] In 2013 FDA testing of Beneful found above the allowed levels of cyanuric acid and melamine, and ethoxyquin wasn’t listed on the ingredients label.[12] Beneful has also suffered many consumer complains.[13]

Purina® Dog Chow® Complete Adult

Purina®Dog Chow® Complete Adult

The Marketing “Fluff”

Here’s the product description straight from Dog Chow’s website:

“High quality protein sources, including real American-raised chicken, support strong muscles and in a tasty recipe dogs love. This highly digestible original recipe provides 100% complete and balanced nutrition that adult dogs need to help them live long and healthy lives.”

The Analysis

Meat isn’t even listed as the first ingredient – corn is. Unlike the Alpo brand, you can actually find chicken as a listed ingredient in addition to meat and bone meal, poultry byproduct meal, and animal digest. You’ll also find other grains, soybean meal, artificial flavors, preservatives, and four different dyes to achieve its color.  According to the AAFCO’s 3% or “With” rule, this food only has to contain 3% real chicken.

The Dirt

While the Purina brand as a whole has been subject to several recalls, none have targeted the Dog Chow product line. Dog Chow has also had several consumer complaints.[14]

PEDIGREE® Dry Dog Food Adult Roasted Chicken, Rice & Vegetable Flavor

PEDIGREE® Dry Dog Food Adult Roasted Chicken, Rice & Vegetable Flavor

The Marketing “Fluff”

Here’s the product description straight from Pedigree’s website:

“PEDIGREE® Adult Complete Nutrition Roasted Chicken, Rice & Vegetable Flavor Dry Dog Food is formulated to give dogs all of the energy and nourishment they need to continue living life to the fullest. This chicken-flavor dog food is packed with B vitamins, zinc and omega-6 fatty acid to help keep adult dogs looking their best. PEDIGREE® Dry Dog Food also contains leading levels of the antioxidant, vitamin E, to help keep adult dogs' immune systems strong. Plus, this balanced dog food features our special fiber blend, which helps promote healthy digestion, to keep yard patrol in control. Feed your dog this oral care kibble to help keep teeth clean and give them a great taste.”

The Analysis

The closest thing to a natural protein in Pedigree is chicken by-product meal. Meat isn’t even listed as the first ingredient – corn is. You’ll find meat and bone meal, animal fat, additional low-quality fillers like wheat and soybean meal. There’s also “natural flavor”, and 4 different dyes to make this food look more appealing. As per the AAFCO’s “Flavor” rule, this food only needs to contain an amount of chicken flavor sufficient to be detected.

The Dirt

The Pedigree brand has been affected by numerous recalls in recent history.The most recent recall of August 2014 involved reports of small metal fragments in the food.[15] Another recall in 2012 involved reports of small blue plastic pieces in their weight management dog foods.[16] Other recalls were issued in 2008 regarding potential salmonella contamination. Pedigree has also suffered many consumer complains.[17]

Grreat Choice® Complete Nutrition Adult Dog Food – Chicken

Grreat Choice® Complete Nutrition Adult Dog Food - Chicken

The Marketing “Fluff”

Here’s the product description straight from PetSmart’s website:

“Adult dogs have certain nutritional needs, and Grreat Choice Adult Dog Food can help you to address them. This delicious-tasting dog food offers delectable chicken flavor as well for a meal your dog will love. Only at PetSmart.”

The Analysis

Meat isn’t even listed as the first ingredient – corn is. The closest thing to a natural protein in Grreat Choice is chicken by-product meal. You’ll also find cheap fillers like wheat, 3 added dyes, and “natural flavor”. Again as per the AAFCO’s “Flavor” rule, this food only needs to contain an amount of chicken flavor sufficient to be detected.

The Dirt

The Grreat Choice brand has been affected by numerous recalls in recent years. In February of 2017, a recall was issued due to possible metal contamination.[18] A 2009 recall was issued due to potential salmonella contamination and a 2007 recall was issued due to potential melamine contamination.[19]

 

Conclusion

If you care about your dog, you’ll do what it takes to make sure that your pup’s nutritional needs are met in the healthiest way possible. Always remember to check the ingredients list of dog food and dog treats. Don’t fall for marketing hype surrounding mainstream products sold by low-quality brands – give your dogs the nutrition they deserve and they will live a long and healthy life.

 

References:

[1] Rejected Meat”. 2017. Vamddcdog.Com. Accessed November 25 2017. http://www.vamddcdog.com/rejected-meat/.

[2] petMD, LLC. 2017. “Pet Food (What You Need To Know) For Your Pet's Sake | Petmd”. Petmd.Com. Accessed November 25 2017. http://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_pet_food_for_your_pets_sake.

[3] Cancer-Causing Aflatoxins Found In Dog Foods – Dogs Naturally Magazine

“Cancer-Causing Aflatoxins Found In Dog Foods – Dogs Naturally Magazine”. 2014. Dogs Naturally Magazine. Accessed November 25 2017. http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/cancer-causing-aflatoxins-found-in-dog-foods/.

[4] CPG Sec. 683.100 Action Levels for Aflatoxins in Animal Feeds

“CPG Sec. 683.100 Action Levels For Aflatoxins In Animal Feeds”. 2017. Fda.Gov. Accessed November 25 2017.

https://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/CompliancePolicyGuidanceManual/ucm074703.htm.

[5] Cancer-causing toxin found in Hong Kong pet food sparks alarm

“Cancer-Causing Toxin Found In Hong Kong Pet Food Sparks Alarm”. 2014. South China Morning Post. Accessed November 25 2017. http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1482845/carcinogen-found-hong-kong-pet-food-consumer-council.

[6] Kibble: Why It's Not A Good Option For Your Dog – Dogs Naturally Magazine

“Kibble: Why It's Not A Good Option For Your Dog – Dogs Naturally Magazine”. 2012. Dogs Naturally Magazine. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/kibble-never-a-good-option/.

[7] Venier, Marta, and Ronald A. Hites. 2011. “Flame Retardants In The Serum Of Pet Dogs And In Their Food”. Environmental Science & Technology 45 (10): 4602-4608. American Chemical Society (ACS). doi:10.1021/es1043529.

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es1043529.

[8] Thixton, Susan, and Susan Thixton. 2014. “Complete And Balanced And Misleading”. Truth About Pet Food. Accessed November 25 2017. http://truthaboutpetfood.com/complete-and-balanced-and-misleading/.

[9] REINBERG, BY, and HEALTHDAY REPORTER. 2017. “Pet Food Recall Widens After Toxin Found”. ABC News. Accessed November 25 2017. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=4506404&page=1.

[10] Food, Alpo. 2017. “Top 213 Reviews And Complaints About Alpo Dog Food”. Consumeraffairs. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.consumeraffairs.com/pets/alpo.html.

[11] Beneful Dog Food Recall Info – Petful

“Beneful Dog Food Recall Info – Petful”. 2015. Petful. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.petful.com/brands/beneful/.

[12] Thixton, Susan, and Susan Thixton. 2016. “FDA Releases Concerning Information About Beneful”. Truth About Pet Food. Accessed November 25 2017. http://truthaboutpetfood.com/fda-releases-concerning-information-about-beneful/.

[13] Foods, Beneful. 2017. “Top 1,772 Reviews And Complaints About Beneful Pet Foods”. Consumeraffairs. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.consumeraffairs.com/pets/beneful.html.

[14] Chow, Purina. 2017. “Top 159 Reviews And Complaints About Purina Dog Chow”. Consumeraffairs. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.consumeraffairs.com/pets/dog-chow.html.

[15] “Pedigree Dog Food Recall Expanded”. 2017. Dog Food Advisor. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-recall/pedigree-dog-food-recall-expanded/.

[16] “Pedigree Dog Food Recall Info – Petful”. 2017. Petful. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.petful.com/brands/pedigree.

[17] Foods, Pedigree. 2017. “Top 957 Reviews And Complaints About Pedigree Pet Foods”. Consumeraffairs. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.consumeraffairs.com/pets/pedigree.html.

[18] “Petsmart Grreat Choice Dog Food Recall Of February 2017”. 2017. Dog Food Advisor. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-recall/petsmart-grreat-choice-dog-food-recall-2017/.

[19] “Grreat Choice Pet Food Recall Info – Petful”. 2017. Petful. Accessed November 25 2017. https://www.petful.com/brands/grreat-choice/.

 

Disclaimer: Advice given on the Things Bella Likes blog is not to be construed as medical advice, as we are not licensed or unlicensed veterinarians. Always do your own research, and consult with your veterinarian for medical advice relating to your pet.
 
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