Best Dog Food
One of the questions dog owners most frequently ask is “What is the best dog food?” That’s also one of the hardest questions to answer for several different reasons.
Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which will direct you to our partner sites. If you purchase the pet foods we recommend through those links, we may earn a small commission – at no extra cost to you.
Even good dog foods are always changing
Even if you have been feeding a very good dog food for several years, chances are that the food is different from when you first started feeding it to your dog. That’s because dog food manufacturers are always making changes to their recipes. They do this to improve the nutrition as more research is done and to improve their bottom line. Both of these things are important to most companies. In some cases you and your dog won’t notice a difference. For example, if a company changes from using whole chicken to chicken meal, it’s not usually a big change for your dog. But some changes can be more noticeable. There can be changes, up or down, in the protein percentage. The percentage of protein usually changes downward since protein is often the most expensive ingredient in dog food. Changes in the kind of carbs used in a food can make a difference to your dog, especially if he has any allergies or food sensitivities.
Even respected and expensive foods such as Orijen have changed their ingredients recently. The new Whole Prey diets have omitted potatoes and added lentils and chickpeas instead. While the food still boasts 50 percent “fresh meat,” more of the protein in the food comes from meals like chicken meal and turkey meal and from plant-based proteins now. The guaranteed analysis of the food remains similar to what it was in the past, but the ingredient changes likely save Champion Pets, the makers of Orijen, some money.
The addition of cellulose and cellulase in some dog foods can be problematic. Cellulose in pet foods usually comes from wood products and it’s used as a filler ingredient to add bulk without adding calories. It’s often used in weight control dog foods. Cellulase is added to help break down the cellulose. Unfortunately, many dogs have trouble digesting these ingredients and can experience gastrointestinal upset if they are in the dog food. And they can be in some expensive dog foods. When Canidae added cellulase to their foods a few years ago, there was an outcry from customers suddenly coping with dogs having problems with the food. The same is true of some other ingredients that dog food companies experiment with. Research tells them that the ingredients will work in dog food and save money but, in practice, they don’t agree with many dogs.
Dog food companies do not make these changes to foods to harm your dog or upset his stomach. If you are a good dog food company, you want to make nutritious food with good ingredients while keeping your costs down. As a dog owner, you should keep an eye on your dog’s condition to note any changes, even if you are feeding the same food all the time. Check the label for any changes to the ingredients. And keep reading about dog foods to see if there are changes in ingredients. If your dog’s coat starts looking different or you notice changes to his stool, the first place to look is your dog food bag to see if there have been changes to the ingredients.
You should be aware that whenever a dog food company makes a change to their food, they are going to tell you that it’s a wonderful thing. Many of them have public relations people who put out this kind of information as part of their job online, on Facebook, and other places. That doesn’t mean it’s true. Always trust your dog and what he is telling you about the food.
Every dog is different
Another reason it’s difficult to say which dog food is best is because every dog is different. You would not feed the same food to a six-month-old puppy that you would feed to a mature dog. You probably wouldn’t feed a Chihuahua the same food you would feed a Great Dane puppy. An active hunting dog has different nutritional requirements from a lapdog.
Some brands of dog food make very good foods for dogs that have different nutritional needs – dogs of different sizes, ages, and activity levels. However, there are a number of brands that make good foods. We also have to consider that there are dogs with specific allergies, food sensitivities, and serious health issues who have their own needs. When it comes to dog foods it’s really not a case of one size fits all. There is no one best dog food for every dog.
Dog owners are different, too
Dog owners also have different attitudes about feeding their dogs – and different budgets. Some owners prefer a grain free diet for their dogs, even if their dogs do not have any allergies to grains. Some owners like a diet for their dogs that emphasizes meat for carnivores. Other owners are more comfortable with a diet that includes grains. Some owners have ethical concerns about how food is raised and they want meat that has been humanely-raised and vegetables that are organic.
All of these choices come with economic ramifications for dog owners. Dog food can be very cheap or extremely expensive. Most dog food is somewhere in the middle. Many dog owners are looking for the best possible quality in dog food for a good price. A lot of dog owners spend more than they can really afford to buy their dogs a good quality dog food because they care so much about their dog’s health and well-being.
We think it’s important to tell you the truth about dog foods so you don’t feel like you have to follow the latest trend. There are many good dog foods for people of different budgets. You don’t necessarily have to buy the most expensive dog food for your dog to be healthy. Many expensive dog foods are very good. That’s true. Some are over-rated. There are also some medium-priced dog foods that are very good. Cheap dog foods usually have cheap ingredients and other ingredients that we don’t recommend you feed your dog such as artificial preservatives (BHA, BHT), dyes/artificial colors, and artificial sweeteners.
The Best Dog Foods
With all of that said, there are still some dog foods that stand out.
- The Honest Kitchen
- I and Love and You Dog Food
- Natural Balance
Five-star foods are those that primarily use whole meats or meals such as chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, or other named meats. They may have some organic ingredients. They are generally high in protein and low in carbs. Many of them have grain free foods in their product line. They do not use artificial preservatives, dyes, or sweeteners. They have high standards and pass required certifications. The companies have a good reputation and recalls have not been a problem. Most of these foods are produced by smaller dog food companies and they are more expensive.
Four-star foods may draw protests from some dog food purists because some of them use by-products and grains in some of their products. Instead of being produced by small, independent companies, they are mostly produced by large dog food manufacturers. However, they are widely available and popular with large segments of dog owners. They typically cost less than the five-star foods but they still offer good nutrition and many dogs have lived long lives eating these products. The companies that make some of these foods are at the forefront of nutritional research for dogs. We do not recommend all foods made by these companies but their top-of-the-line products are typically very good. For example, if you have a dog with a specific health problem, the prescription diets from Hills’ Science Diet are excellent. Purina ProPlan is absolutely used by a large number of people who breed and show the dogs you see exhibited at Westminster each year. That is not just an advertising gimmick. It’s true. Taste of the Wild, made by Diamond, is somehow a very good food.
You can read more extensive reviews of most of these foods on the DogFood.guru web site.
Choosing the best dog food for your dog food
If you are trying to choose the best dog food for your dog you should consider several factors.
- How old is your dog?
- Does he have any special health issues or allergies?
- What is his activity level?
Dog foods are divided into three main life stages: growth for puppies and nursing dogs; maintenance, and all life stages. Every dog food is required to have a statement saying which life stage it meets. If you are looking for a food for a puppy, you should choose a food that is made for growth or all life stages. That means the food has proven that it can meet those nutritional requirements.
If you have an adult dog (over a year old), you can choose a food for maintenance or all life stages.
If your dog has any special health problems or allergies, you will need to look for a food that meets those needs. Read the label carefully, especially the ingredients. It’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian to see if she recommends a particular food.
You should also consider your dog’s activity level when you choose a food. Many people don’t realize that dog foods have different calories, just like foods for people. More active dogs need more calories than dogs that sleep all day. Some dog foods put the calories per cup on the label but in other cases you can find this information by visiting the company’s web site. The feeding guidelines on the bag are based on recommendations for feeding dogs based on their weight and size. You can follow these guidelines when you start feeding a food but you may have to adjust it if your dog starts gaining or losing weight after eating the food. One food can have more calories than another, so if you feed two cups of one brand it doesn’t mean that your dog will need the same amount of a different brand.
The best advice for choosing a food is to read, look at the ingredients, and see how your dog likes the food. Sometimes it takes a little trial and error but you will find a good food for your dog
A Year In Review
The year 2016 was exciting if you love following dog food and finding good foods for your dog. There were new foods, new ingredients, fewer recalls, more lawsuits, and some exciting pet food trends. Here’s a look at some of the best and worst dog foods stories that caught our attention in the past year.
Protein is HOT!
If you like the idea of feeding your dog lots of good quality protein, then 2016 was a very good year for you. More protein, often from novel sources, was THE big trend of the year. According to information provided at Petfood Forum 2016 in Kansas City last April, 28 percent of U.S. dog owners look for “high protein” as one of the claims in the pet foods they purchase. Some 20 percent of U.S. dog owners also look for “red meat as first ingredient;” and 19 percent of U.S. dog owners look for “poultry as first ingredient.”
Chicken is the top protein bought by pet owners but beef is also favored. Novel proteins such as boar, rabbit, venison, and bison are beginning to move up in the percentages and have experienced large sales gains among the small number of consumers who buy these foods. Other exotic proteins such as kangaroo, goat, duck, pheasant, and quail are also showing gains.
Another hot trend in dog foods in 2016 was the issue of transparency. More than ever before, dog lovers and other pet owners want to know about the food they are buying. Dog lovers want to know where ingredients come from, who makes food, where it’s made, how it’s made, and other details about the food they give their dogs. This trends parallels a similar trend in human foods with consumers wanting to know more about their own food.
More freeze-dried foods
We also saw more freeze-dried foods introduced in 2016. Freeze-dried meats cost more to produce so these foods tend to be more expensive. Consumers are readily purchasing freeze-dried treats where the higher cost is not so noticeable. Some companies are using freeze-dried pieces as part of their kibbles to help off-set the cost. Merrick Backcountry and a few other brands are all freeze-dried food. Expect this trend to continue as consumers get used to the idea. If the costs are extremely high, these foods might be targeted at small breeds, too.
Human food trends in pet food
Again in 2016, many popular human food trends were transferred to dog foods. Dog lovers showed an interest in non-GMO foods, paleo foods, local, organic, and low-carb foods. Many of these trends are expected to continue in 2017.
Changes in packaging
One other trend that has not gone unnoticed are the changes in packaging. For years we’ve seen bags of dog food getting smaller. Pet food manufacturers say that they are catering to the increased presence of small dogs in the population – and small dog owners prefer to buy smaller bags of food. Wet/canned foods are also growing in popularity at least partly due to the popularity of small dogs. Now you can also add small meals in trays aimed at small dogs. With the issues reported due to BPA, we may also expect pet food manufacturers to start moving away from using cans at some point in the future and begin using more pouches for wet food. Pouches have other benefits such as being resealable and not cutting people the way metal cans are prone to doing.
Where To Save On Dog Food In 2017
While there were several new ingredients in dog foods this year – “new,” meaning we have not seen them in dog foods previously – here are some ingredients (all featuring protein) that were in the news this year.
Grass-fed meats: Dog lovers are looking for grass-fed, ranch-raised, cage-free, and similar foods. To be sure, these meats cost more. But consumers are interested in them, whether they end up buying these foods or not.
Bone broth: Bone broth is popular in human cooking; perhaps more importantly, people who cook for their dogs know that it’s healthy. And people who feed their dogs a raw diet can attest to the health benefits of bones. Bone broth provides dogs with minerals and collagen for joint health.
Plant superfoods: So-called “plant superfoods” have been popular with people concerned about their health for some time so it’s not surprising that this trend would crossover to dogs. Quinoa and chia seeds are high in plant protein. They are also non-GMO, non-soy, gluten-free, and sustainable foods. Advocates say that including these ingredients in food is a good way to provide well-rounded sources of protein in a dog’s diet along with animal protein. However, it’s important to remember that dogs are not vegetarians or herbivores. They do require animal protein.
Pulses: Pulses, which include peas and beans, are one of the new trends in dog foods. They typically contain 23-26 percent protein, complex carbs, and fiber. Beans are sometimes used as an ingredient in weight loss dog foods per the Journal of Applied Animal Nutrition. Pulses are often considered to be a desirable crop because they need less fertilizer than some grains. They are considered to be environmentally sustainable and economical.
Insects: You read that right. There are already dog foods in Europe based on insects. Some insects are considered a healthy, nutritious food in some parts of the world. Some pet nutritionists believe insects are a good source of protein for pets. They are easy to raise compared to livestock. And they are a source of macro and micro nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Many dogs and cats already eat them when they can catch them. So, you may find dog food online or in your local pet food store with insects as an ingredient sooner than you think. This is certainly a topic of discussion at pet food expositions and forums where manufacturers gather to discuss global trends.
Top dog foods in 2016
There are lots of sites and online articles that purport to tell you which dog foods are best and even which dog foods were best in 2016. These articles often include a lot of bias and opinion. We can provide you with some data based on the dog foods that people actually purchased for their dogs in 2016. These may not be the “best” foods, but these were the bestselling foods in 2016.
Top grocery store dry dog foods in 2016
We did not find similar statistics for premium dog foods so we had to be more creative to find the top sellers in the U.S. According to Chewy.com, which carries literally thousands of premium dog foods, the bestselling foods (all categories) on their site are:
1. Taste of the Wild dry dog food (multiple formulas)
2. Blue Buffalo dry dog food (multiple formulas)
3. Orijen Original grain free dry dog food
4. Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets (several formulas)
5. Fromm Gold Holistic Adult dry dog food (several formulas)
6. Purina ProPlan dry dog food (several formulas)
7. Royal Canin Veterinary Diets (canned and dry, several formulas)
8. Iams ProActive Health Adult Large Breed dry dog food
9. Wellness CORE Grain Free Original Formula dry dog food
10. Canidae Life Stages All Life Stages Formula dry dog food
Amazon.com shows the following top selling brands:
1. Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream dry dog food
2. Purina ProPlan Savor dry dog food
3. Taste of the Wild Wetlands dry dog food
4. Hill’s Science Diet Adult Large Breed dry dog food
5. Purina ONE Smartblend dry dog food
6. Blue Buffalo BLUE Adult Lamb & Brown Rice dog food
7. Taste of the Wild High Prairie dry dog food
8. Diamond Naturals Dry Dog Food for Adult Dogs
9. Purina Focus dry dog food
10. Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free dry dog food
When comparing sites and top selling brands, it’s important to keep in mind that not all sites carry all brands. So, a brand that is very popular on one site may be absent from another site simply because the site doesn’t carry it. Different pricing can also affect a brand’s popularity on different sites. Chewy.com and Amazon.com account for about 80 percent of online pet food sales, with Chewy making up more than 50 percent of these sales.
As you might guess from these lists, dry dog foods continue to out-sell wet foods, but more people are buying wet/canned foods than they once did, possibly due to the increase in ownership of small dogs.
New dog foods in 2016
There were some new dog foods in 2016, or at least new recipes and formulas. Purina introduced natural versions of their popular ProPlan foods with ProPlan Natural – no corn, no soy, no wheat, no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Some of the foods are grain free. Merrick introduced Backcountry, with freeze-dried, raw meat infusions. Victor now has canned dog food. Blue Buffalo now has gourmet sausage rolls for dogs. Zoic dog food, made by the same people that make Wild Calling, also made it’s debut in 2016. Their foods include some interesting novel proteins.
We also need to mention that Champion Pet Foods opened their Kentucky kitchen/pet food plant in 2016. Acana and Orijen foods are being made at this facility. Some of these foods have been reformulated to take advantage of local ingredients. If you check the Acana web site you can still compare the old and new ingredients for their Regional formulas. Even though some Orijen foods are made in Kentucky, we do not see any changes in these foods per the Orijen web site. Orijen did bring out new freeze-dried treats for dogs in 2016 and a new Fit & Trim dog food formula.
Top U.S.-based pet food companies
1. Mars Petcare
2. Nestle Purina Petcare
3. Big Heart Pet Brands
4. Hill’s Pet Nutrition
5. Diamond Pet Foods
6. Blue Buffalo
7. Spectrum Brands/United Pet Group
9. Sunshine Mills
10. American Nutrition
2016 Dog/Pet food sales
According to information reported on Petfoodindustry.com, U.S. pet food sales were expected to increase to $31.26 billion in 2016 (Packaged Facts). The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that $24.01 billion was spent on pet food in 2016. Final figures for 2016 have not been reported yet but you can see some global figures here.
2016 dog food recalls
The year 2016 was a relatively light year in terms of dog food recalls. We only tracked nine dog food recall notices, though they did include some big names.
Blue Ridge Beef of Eatonton, GA Recalls Product Because of Possible Health Risk
Mars Petcare US Announces Voluntary Recall of Limited Number of CESAR® Classics Filet Mignon Flavor Wet Dog Food Because of Potential Presence of Plastic
RECALL ALERT: Addiction Dog Food Recalled Due to Possible Health Risk
Blue Buffalo recalls batch of dog food
Smallbatch Pets Inc. Voluntarily Recalls Frozen Dog Duckbatch Sliders Due to Possible Salmonella and Listeria Monocytogenes Health Risk
Fromm Gold Pate 12 oz Can Recall Notice
Purina recalls some Beneful, Pro Plan wet dog food
Wisconsin Firm Voluntarily Recalls Limited Lot of Frozen Pet Food
Big Dog Natural Recalls Chicken and Fish Supreme Dog Food Due to Possible Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes Health Risk
None of these recalls was very large in scope. Since this was the last year of the Obama administration and the USDA-FDA was working on phasing out the use of some antibiotics in livestock animals, we can speculate that they didn’t apply the same scrutiny to pet food manufacturers that they have in some recent years. Or, maybe pet food manufacturers were just that much better at following regulations and making pet food than they have been in the past.
The inevitable pet food lawsuits of 2016
If there were fewer dog food recalls than usual in 2016, there were lots of lawsuits – most of them class action suits. As one observer noted, pet food lawsuits today are often about label claims and ingredients and not about pet deaths, unlike previous pet food cases. Consumers are hawk-eyed when it comes to pet food advertising and claims. They expect companies to live up to their promises and they will take them to court if they believe a company has been lying about quality, ingredients, or other aspects of their food.
J.M. Smucker/Big Heart Pet Brands and Tyson Pet Products were sued in a class action suit over “Made in the USA” claims on their pet treats. Diamond and Costco paid a settlement to Canadian pet owners whose pets required screening, treatment, or which died from Salmonella in 2011-12. A 2015 class action suit against Nestle Purina Petcare over their Beneful food was dropped in November 2016. The plaintiff originally claimed that his dogs became sick after eating the food but he subsequently dropped those allegations and changed the lawsuit to false advertising before it was dismissed.
In December 2016 plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against Mars Petcare, Nestle Purina, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Petsmart, Banfield, and Blue Pearl veterinary providers alleging that pet food companies engaged in price fixing of prescription dog and cat food formulations in the U.S., in violation of anti-trust and consumer protection laws. The plaintiffs claim that prescriptions foods do not contain any drugs or ingredients that aren’t found in conventional pet foods. The foods named in the suit include: Hill’s Prescription Diet, Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets, Royal Canin Veterinary Diet, and Iams Veterinary Formula. The plaintiffs also noted that Mars and PetSmart own co-defendant Banfield Pet Hospital, and that Mars owns co-defendant Blue Pearl Vet Hospital.
And, finally, pet food companies frequently sue each other. Purina and Blue Buffalo finally settled their two-year-old case. The two companies had pending lawsuits against each other which dated back to false advertising claims in 2014. It was during these legal battles that Blue Buffalo was forced to admit that their foods contained poultry by-product meal, despite their advertising claims. Blue Buffalo had to pay a $32 million settlement in a class action suit brought by customers. Since then, the company has filed lawsuits against their ingredient broker and supplier, blaming them for the presence of the poultry by-product meal.
What to expect in 2017
The coming year is expected to see steady growth in dog food sales. Expect to see pet food companies continue to look at human food trends as a way to appeal to dog lovers. Protein should continue to be a leading trend in one form or another. Dog owners like meat in their dog food while pet food companies are investigating plant proteins such as pulses – and really novel protein ideas such as insects. Considering the fact that dog owners are now carefully reading – and understanding – pet food labels, as witnessed by class action suits alleging false advertising, it seems unlikely that pet food companies will be able to substitute insects for meat and sell the idea to the public very easily.
Whatever happens in 2017, we hope it will be a good year for you and your dog.
Where To Save On Dog Food In 2017
As always, there have been lots of changes in the dog food world this year. The year 2015 has seen some brands fall from grace while others have gained in reputation and popularity. Companies and brands have been bought and sold, leaving pet lovers to wonder how foods will be affected. As 2015 winds down, here’s a look at what happened this year and where we are headed in 2015.
Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which will direct you to our partner sites. If you purchase the pet foods we recommend through those links, we may earn a small commission – at no extra cost to you.
What’s Hot, What’s Not
In 2015 dog lovers wanted grain free dog foods and more meat. Even people who fed foods with grains wanted more meat in their dog’s food. At the same time, some super premium dog foods known for their high protein levels began to ease back on the meat protein and substitute more peas, lentils, and other plant-based sources of protein. It seemed like as soon as dog lovers identified a great food with good meat protein, the company would start making changes and substituting plant protein. Not only do consumers notice, but dogs notice these changes, too. You can find stories all over the Internet from owners writing about their dogs suddenly having a bad reaction to a food due to a change in ingredients.
Victor Dog Food – Very hot right now. We are hearing about it all over Facebook and other social media from dog lovers. Victor is made by Mid America Pet Food – a company that co-packs for some other well-known brands. The company is located in Texas and it’s been in business for a long time. They were purchased by an investor last year and Victor dog food is becoming more widely available now. They currently have six highly active and sporting dog formulas; five formulas for normally active dogs; and four grain free formulas. All of their foods are free of corn, wheat, soy, gluten, and grain by-products. They use no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Lots of people have been raving about Victor for a while and it’s now available on Chewy.com.
Fromm Gold – Hot. While many people love grain free dog foods, there are plenty of people who prefer to feed foods with healthy grains. Fromm Gold is one of the bestselling dog foods among all foods with grains and its reputation has taken off in the last few years. Made by Fromm Family Foods in Wisconsin at their own facilities, Fromm Gold features meat proteins like duck, chicken meal, and chicken as the first three ingredients. Protein and fat are moderate, with moderate calories. No corn, wheat, or soy. The Fromm family has been making dog food and dog products for over 100 years and they have a great reputation. From also makes grain free kibbles and canned foods.
Purina ProPlan Bright Mind – Hot. Yes, it’s made by Purina but hold your fire. We have heard wonderful things about this food from people with older dogs. This food is made specifically for older dogs who have begun to slow down and show signs of canine cognitive dysfunction – similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. It uses medium chain triglycerides and other ingredients to help improve your older dog’s memory and attention span. Owners report that their dogs start becoming more active again, act more playful, and interact with the family as they used to when younger. We know that some people don’t like Purina but we have heard lots of first-hand reports from people who have tried this food with excellent results. It really seems to work for many older dogs who are starting to withdraw. Even if you hate Purina you may want to consider buying this food if you have an older dog who is showing signs of doggy dementia.
Where To Save On Dog Food In 2015
Blue Buffalo – Pet lovers don’t like to be lied to and this company seemingly lied for a long time about their ingredients. At the very least, they sold pet food with ingredients that were inferior to what was reported on the label, whether they knew it or not. As far as we know, Blue Buffalo has never apologized to their customers for this problem. They get a lump of coal from Santa.
Beneful – Class action lawsuit aside, Beneful has had its critics for years. Purina has been promoting Beneful this year while they fight the lawsuit but most dog lovers will probably not be won over to buy this food. Not everyone can afford to buy the most expensive dog foods and most of us have to work with a budget no matter how much we love our dogs. But you can find better dog foods than Beneful for the same cost. That is not to say that we don’t like Purina. Many of Purina’s ProPlan formulas are very good. But Beneful? Not hot. Another lump of coal.
Small bags and high prices – How much smaller are “large” bags of dog food going to get? We’re paying large bag prices for very small amounts of dog food. Remember when the price of dog food shot up a few years ago and we were told that it was because the cost of oil/gas was so high; and the poor pet food companies had to pay sooo much in transportation costs? Wah. The price of oil/gas is now the lowest it’s been in the last decade. How about lowering those pet food prices? Some dog food prices are flat out ridiculous. We know that some dog lovers seem to take pride in buying the most expensive food possible, but there’s no reason to gouge pet lovers. On the naughty list.
Raw pet food – U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors visited raw pet food manufacturers in the summer of 2015, collecting hundreds of samples of their products. The results were not good. Lots of highly favored raw pet food companies had to issue recalls because Salmonella and/or other bacteria was found in the products. These FDA inspections have, perhaps, been followed by more scrutiny by state inspectors, which have resulted in more recalls of raw pet food.
Honestly, Salmonella is probably present in your kitchen. Your dog has very strong stomach acid that, in most cases, can easily dispatch the bacteria found on food (unless he has a compromised immune system, is elderly, or has some other health problems). However, humans cannot handle Salmonella as well as dogs can. Pet food inspections and recalls are often done for human safety as much as for animal safety.
At any rate, all of these recalls of raw pet food don’t mean that you shouldn’t feed your dog raw food purchased from a pet food maker, or make your own raw pet food. However, they do mean that raw pet food makers need to raise their game so they meet the standards required by the government (which are stricter than they are for human food). Some pet lovers may have had their confidence shaken in raw pet food this year. It appears that there was a widespread belief that raw pet food was healthier for dogs than kibble and canned food; and that raw pet food was never recalled. Neither of these beliefs is necessarily true. Raw food diets have to be balanced to be healthy. And raw pet foods do have recalls.
You can read more about this recall on the Truthaboutpetfood.com site. However, we note that the FDA has also singled out kibble for testing in the past (summer of 2013), which resulted in finding bacteria and led to recalls. The FDA does offer warnings about feeding raw pet food on its site but this investigation was probably a routine part of their work following their kibble investigation. It might also be linked to the animal food rule regulations they have been developing.
Some brands seem to stand the test of time, at least considering that the super premium dog food market is only 15-20 years old. Here are some brands that continued to thrive this year.
Taste of the Wild – With Blue Buffalo faltering a little in sales, Taste of the Wild – a close competitor – appears to be picking up some of the slack. Despite the fact that TOTW is made by Diamond (a repeat recall offender in the past), this food remains highly popular with owners and dogs. It is grain free with good meat content – for now. There are rumors that the company is thinking of cutting the meat protein percentage by adding more plant protein. This would probably send many long-time customers looking for another dog food. But for now the food continues to deliver good nutrition for a moderate price. Always one of our favorites.
Orijen and Acana – Both of these foods are made by Champion Pet Foods in Canada. People rave about them. They have a high meat protein percentage and good quality ingredients. Orijen has a little more meat than Acana, but both far exceed the average. To be honest, the recipes have changed over the years. If you compare current recipes with their older formulas, there is more plant protein in the foods now, but most people still like them. They are very expensive foods, so out of the price range for many dog lovers. If you have large dogs or multiple dogs, it can be hard to feed dog food this expensive. Don’t feel bad if you can’t buy them. There are other great foods that are more affordable.
Merrick – Merrick has been a favorite food for many dog lovers for years. Purchased by Purina this year, a lot of people have been wondering if there would be changes or if the quality of the foods would dip. So far we haven’t heard any complaints or seen any changes. The sale was in July so food that has been made by Merrick after the sale should be out on the shelves by now. Merrick (and now Purina) also owns Castor & Pollux, one of the few genuine (or mostly) organic dog foods.
Natural Balance L.I.D. – Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets remain as popular as ever for dogs with allergies. With 16 dry formulas, 8 canned formulas, and 22 L.I.T. (Limited Ingredient Treat) formulas, there is a huge selection. Be sure to read the labels and check the dry matter basis for the foods. They are not all the same.
There were quite a few dog food recalls in 2015. Many people tend to believe that small companies make better pet food, use better ingredients, and are better for their dogs. They avoid feeding pet food from large companies. However, many times large companies have their own facilities and can perform their own ingredient tests and quality control. Large companies often have fewer recalls than small companies that do not have as much control over their ingredients and products. Should you avoid smaller companies? No, not necessarily. But you should try to find out as much as you can about a company: Do they make their own food? Do they use a co-packer? Have they had recalls in the past? What kind of testing and quality control do they have? A company can use terrific ingredients but if they have constant recalls, you have to wonder about the quality of the food.
Note that some very good brands use co-packers so that’s not automatically a reason to avoid a dog food. Some co-packers have been in business for decades and work with some very good dog food companies. For instance, Simmons co-packs for lots of pet food companies and bought out Menu Foods after the melamine recalls. Like everything else, co-packers vary in quality. Small companies often have no choice but to use co-packers, especially for canned foods. Canned foods require special machinery that is completely different from the machinery used to make kibble. Fewer companies have canning facilities so it’s not unusual for a co-packer to make canned foods for many companies.
One recent trend is for some super premium foods to use canneries in Asian countries, such as Thailand. Some sources have criticized this practice because of the conditions under which people work in some of these countries, referring to them as “slaves.” However, from a pet food perspective, Thailand and some other Asian countries have strict regulations for canning and canned food. If your pet food is canned in one of these countries, the quality should be as good or better than pet food canned in the U.S.
As already mentioned, many of the recalls this year involved raw pet food because of the FDA’s focus on it in their inspections in the summer of 2015.
The following companies had recalls in 2015:
- Nutro Dog Treats 12/13/15
- Stella and Chewy’s Dog and Cat Food 12/12/15
- Centinela Withdraws Duck Jerky Treats from Stores 12/11/15
- Bravo Dog Food Recall 12/10/15
- Dave’s Dog Food Recall 12/3/15
- Hill’s Science Diet Dog Food Market Withdrawal 11/29/15
- Blue Buffalo Dog Chews Recall 11/25/15
- Good ‘n’ Fun Beefhide Chicken Sticks Recall 10/26/15
- K-9 Kraving Raw Dog Food Recall 10/5/15
- Good ‘n’ Fun Chicken Sticks Recall 10/1/15
- Dingo Dog Chew Treats Recall 9/30/15
- OC Raw Dog Food Recall 9/27/15
- Nature’s Variety Instinct Dog Food Recall 7/24/15
- Bravo Dog Food Recall 7/23/15
- Tremenda Sticks Dog Chews Recall 7/21/15
- I and Love and You Dog Treats Recall 7/13/15
- Vital Essentials Dog Food Recall 7/7/15
- Stella and Chewy’s Dog Food Recall 7/5/15
- Boulder Dog Food Company Recall 7/2/15
- Boulder Dog Food Company Recall 6/19/15
- Himalayan Dog Chews Recall 5/28/15
- OC Raw Dog Food Recall 5/16/15
- Nylabone Dog Chews Recall 4/26/15
- Nutrisca Dog Food Recall 2/11/15
- Pet International Beef Trachea Treat Recall 2/11/15
- J. Fuds Pet Food Recall Expands Again 2/6/15
- Big Bark Dog Treats Recall 2/1/15
- J. Fuds Raw Pet Food Recall Expands 1/28/15
- J. Fuds Raw Pet Food Recall 1/23/15
- Jump Your Bones Pet Treats Recall 1/1/15
For more information on these recalls you can visit the FDA web site or the individual company web sites.
We don’t have completed statistics for 2015 yet but American Pet Products Association reported that Americans spent $58.04 billion in the pet industry in 2014. The estimated figure for 2015 is $60.59 billion. This figure has been rising every year since APPA began doing research in 1994. Americans spent $22.26 billion on pet food in 2014. APPA estimates that we will spend $23.04 billion in 2015. Although there are more pet cats in the country, people spend more on dog food and treats than on cat food and treats. APPA estimates that these figures will continue to rise in 2015.
Petfoodindustry.com, an information source for the pet food industry, reports that you can expect to see more “smart label” technology in the future, providing more information for pet lovers. They also report on the trend for more healthy products, ‘clean’ label claims, transparency, and authenticity from companies. These trends are entwined with trends in human foods.
Interest in pet foods perceived to be healthy, organic foods, and foods without fillers, by-products and other ingredients that have been questioned also continues to grow.
Bought and Sold
According to Petfoodindustry.com, the top pet food companies in the world today are (annual revenue listed)
|Mars Petcare Inc.||United States||$17,215,800,000|
|Nestlé Purina PetCare||United States||$11,722,000,000|
|P&G Pet Care||United States||$3,100,000,000|
|Hill’s Pet Nutrition||United States||$2,211,000,000|
|Big Heart Pet Brands||United States||$1,989,000,000|
|Diamond Pet Foods||United States||$1,150,000,000|
|Blue Buffalo||United States||$750,000,000|
WellPet is several rows lower, with an annual revenue of $564,000,000.
This list represents a slight shake-up from a few years ago. Procter & Gamble sold their pet food holdings in North America and Latin America in 2014 to Mars for $2.9 billion. This included brands such as Iams, Eukanuba, and Natura, among others. P&G kept their European pet food concerns, as well as some pet food lines in other parts of the world, but Mars now owns the bulk of their pet food products. Mars discontinued Natura but they still make Iams, Eukanuba, California Natural, and Evo. The Evo formulas have been revamped but they still appear to have good quality ingredients. While this sale took place in 2014, the changes are still trickling through pet foods.
Another sale that affects pet lovers was the sale of Merrick to Purina. For years Purina’s top-of-the-line dog food had been ProPlan. This food does come in various formulas, including a recipe for sensitive skin and stomach, grain free, natural formulas without corn, wheat or soy, and so on. However, some people unalterably dislike Purina for whatever reason. Perhaps to reach more of the super premium pet food market, Purina bought Merrick. Merrick is a Texas company that has been making dry and canned foods at its own facilities for quite a few years. They use food grown locally and their natural foods have a lot of meat and fish protein. It’s a popular brand so the purchase was a smart move for Purina in July 2015. There have been no changes announced to the management or operations. Although some pet lovers were nervous that the food might change, we have not heard of any changes to the food or any complaints from people that feed the food so far.
If you formerly fed pet foods made by Del Monte then you have probably already noticed a change in labeling. Del Monte no longer makes pet foods. Del Monte split off their pet food division in 2014 and it is now known as Big Heart Pet Brands. Products include Milk-Bone, Natural Balance, Nature’s Recipe, and others. The company is using the same offices and plants that it formerly used. We have not heard of any changes in the products.
Another major purchase that may affect pet lovers in the future is the sale of Petco for $4.6 billion. Petco also changed hands last year. Changes at the top may or may not affect company policies and the products they carry.
PetSmart was sold at the end of 2014 for $8.7 billion, resulting in a change of senior leadership. It has also brought changes to PetSmart Charities.
The pet food industry seems to be prone to lawsuits. If it’s not consumers suing companies, then it’s companies suing each other.
One lawsuit that caught national attention this year involved charges that Beneful (made by Purina) was killing dogs. The lawsuit expanded into a class action suit. There were no recalls associated with Beneful. Purina responded by launching a national campaign in support of the brand. The lawsuit is currently making its way through the courts.
Another high profile lawsuit this year is the fight between Purina and Blue Buffalo. It looks like Purina has definitely won this battle, though the court proceedings continue. Purina sued Blue Buffalo in 2014 for false advertising, among other things. They claimed that Blue was using poultry by-product meal, corn, and artificial preservatives in their foods, contrary to their product labeling and advertising. At the same time, Blue was blasting other pet food companies, including Purina, for using some of these same ingredients. Analysis of Blue Buffalo products showed that Purina was correct. Blue’s foods did contain these ingredients. They had apparently contained them for a long time. And, despite trying to plead ignorance and blame their suppliers, internal e-mails showed that Blue knew the contents of their foods. As a result, Blue has been hit by lots of lawsuits (combined into a class action suit) from consumers alleging false advertising. They recently settled these suits for $32 million. To be honest, we’re not sure where Blue Buffalo stands now with regard to their foods and ingredients. We have been hesitant to recommend Blue this year, at least until they can rebuild consumer trust. Confidence in the brand has definitely been shaken.
New Developments in 2015
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011. It has taken several years for the FDA to work with farmers, feed companies, pet food manufacturers, and other companies affected by animal food regulations, as well as agencies and consumer groups, to come up with revised rules for manufacturing. The FSMA Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Animal Food is the result. Otherwise known as the regulations to Establish Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals, the new rule is supposed to make animal food (food made from animals) safer. Many animal feed companies and pet food manufacturers already had good manufacturing practices of their own while other companies were lacking. The new rule tries to bring everyone into compliance to a level prescribed in the rule. It is set to go into effect starting in September 2015. It will take that long for some companies to begin to make changes to their way of doing things.
In pet food trends, many better quality foods continue to add probiotics, prebiotics, fermentation products/enzymes to their formulas. You can find ingredients such as dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried Bifidobacterium animalis fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus reuteri fermentation product and others. Farmers have been adding fermentation products to their animals’ feed for years with good results. Studies show that fermentation products can help animals digest their plant-based feed better and gain more weight – an important goal for most livestock. However, whether similar fermentation products are really helpful for dogs is debatable. Some people are not convinced. When pet food manufacturers first started adding them to dog foods they tended to use strains that worked for humans for livestock. There are some strains now designed for dogs (Taste of the Wild uses K9 Strain probiotics – registered trademark – for example) but there are other issues. Many people raise concerns about adding dried fermentation products to pet food – since these products are believed to only be useful when they contain living organisms. Pet food manufacturers maintain that they add lots of extra probiotics to their formulas to be sure that some of the organisms are still alive when the pet food reaches your dog’s bowl, but testing has shown this doesn’t always work. You may be spending money for nothing when you pay for these ingredients.
There is one dog food that uses a live probiotic in their foods – VeRUS. The company uses a freeze-dried live probiotic that seems to be unique among pet food manufacturers. Whether these freeze-dried live probiotics really survive freeze-drying and the pet food manufacturing process very well, we can’t say. It would be nice to see test results to back up these claims.
New ingredients you may see in pet foods in the future include a few things that may cause you to balk. If you thought hydrolyzed feathers were bad (for dogs with extreme allergies), then consider insects. Jonker Pet Food in the Netherlands is already making food from insects, though they have not said which ones. Insects are considered a good source of protein in some parts of the world. Insects may also be cheaper to raise and have other benefits that animals like cows and chickens don’t have. Presumably dog food made from insects could be fed to dogs with severe allergies. Pet food researchers have made presentations about pet food made from insects at various trade meetings in Europe and Asia. You could see dog food made from insects on pet store shelves sooner than you think.
As peas and pea protein continue to replace grains in pet food, expect to see more pulses in dog food. Pulses include peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Researchers are working on more dog foods with more of these ingredients. It will be up to dog lovers to keep checking labels to make sure there dogs are eating balanced foods with enough meat protein. Some dogs have problems digesting these ingredients so you may want to look for dog foods that use other carb sources.
Overall this was a good year for dog food, with interesting foods and the truth coming out about some other brands. We expect consumers to continue to wrestle with companies for more information. It’s hard to know why companies keep some basic information so secret – such as who makes their food or where it’s made.
Looking Forward to 2015
Dog lovers are much more knowledgeable about dog food today than they used to be and better at reading ingredients and judging analyses of food. The more information we have, the better.
We hope you and your dogs have benefited from this site in 2015 and we look forward to providing you with more information in 2015.