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[Help] Finding the Best Dog Food – How do you research to choose the best dog food?

I want to feed my dog the best and healthiest food. With the incidences of so many dog food recalls, it makes choosing the right food even more important. But there are so many different types, brands, and prices to choose from. All this can be overwhelming. Googling for “dog food reviews” yields www.dogfoodadvisor.com as top result. Finally, I’ve found something to help me!

At first glance, dogfoodadvisor.com does a good job of breaking down what’s in the dog food. But I noticed a few people saying that the site is unreliable. The first complaint is that the site is run by a dentist with no veterinary background. The second is that the reviews are based on ingredients list, which have major shortcomings. What are the shortcomings? From hillspet.com, “You can't assume a food is right for your dog simply by reading the ingredient list, because nutrients are just as important as ingredients. Making a high quality dog food requires a precise blend of ingredients to meet a specific nutrient profile based on a dog's lifestage, lifestyle or disease condition.” .

So nutrition is just as important as ingredients. It’s not enough to assess the quality of food based on ingredients alone. Even dogfoodadvisor.com itself acknowledges this fact . If the ingredients list isn’t enough, what about the nutritional value listed under “guaranteed analysis”? According to dogfoodadvisor, “guaranteed analysis” isn’t reliable since dog food companies can easily manipulate these numbers . dogfoodadvisor.com itself states.

The reviews published on this website are not intended to suggest that feeding a particular product will result in specific health benefits for your pet. They should only be used as a tool to help you make a more informed decision when buying dog food.

What to do now? Maybe r/dogs would know what’s best… Popular recommendations on r/dogs include Acana, Blue Buffalo, Fromm, Kirkland, Merrick, Orijen, Purina, Taste of the Wild, and Wellness. I wonder how people come to the decision in choosing these brands. Most suggest personal anecdotes with nothing else to back up the claims.

veterinary nutritionists are concerned about all the unscientific fads and advertising myths about nutrition that are getting posted on internet blogs and pet forums. In particular, they strongly disagree with all the premises about ingredients that the pet food ratings at popular blogs like Dog Food Advisor and Whole Dog Journal are based on.

/u/googoogoojoob then provide links to sources based on “scientific consensus among veterinary nutritionists.” So I checked out the links provided. And here’s what I found.

GoodGuide.com – /u/googoogoojoob claims this site is based on scientific consensus among veterinary nutritionist. But what I found was that the site claims to use data derived from regulatory disclosures mandated by AAFCO. They base their scores of dog food on whether the manufacturers meet the AAFCO nutritional adequacy test . The top dog food brands listed on this site are Purina, Science Diet, Eukanuba, and Innova. I tried to find these data that they purportedly have obtained, but I couldn’t find them. GoodGuide.com says they use AAFCO tests to score dog food, which begs the question what is the AAFCO? What does it do? And what is the AAFCO nutritional adequacy test? AAFCO endeavors to protect the consumer through labeling requirements, ingredient requirements and nutritional requirements. Any dog food manufacturer that wants to make the claim that their food is ‘nutritionally complete’ must meet AAFCO’s nutritional requirements, feeding trial requirements, or produce a food similar to one which has met these requirements .

The second link provided http://vet.tufts.edu/nutrition/faq/general_pet_nutrition.html is from Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine. The site says that “consumers should look for foods made by reputable companies with long histories of producing quality diets. Diets that have an AAFCO statement on the label saying that the diets have undergone animal feeding trials.” It also warns that using the ingredient list is not an effective way of determining the quality of pet foods, warns of the risks of feeding raw diets, claims that grains contribute valuable nutrients, that by-products are vilified but actually contain more nutrients than muscle meats. However I couldn’t find sources to these claims. I did, however, discover that Tuft University has conducted research about the benefits of cranberry juice that was sponsored by OceanSpray. This made me wary of potential biases in their research.

The third link provided http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/05/q-a-vets-weigh-in-on-fido-s-food/index.htm is a Q&A with pet food nutrition experts. Even the article states in the beginning that all but one of the experts have received some funding from the pet-food industry. Again, potential bias.

Next link is from an organization called Pet Nutrition Alliance http://www.petnutritionalliance.org/pet_owner_faqs.aspx?section=Facts_and_Fiction This page provides some answers to myths regarding pet food. Again, claims that byproducts aren’t bad, grains are healthy, corn is an excellent source of nutrients, and the importance of not determining the quality of pet food based on ingredients. So I researched about this organization. Pet Nutrition Alliance claims to promote the importance of nutrition in the health of pets worldwide. They are made up of the following organizations: American Animal Hospital Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, American College of Veterinary Nutrition, American Society of Veterinary Medical Association Executives, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, and World Small Animal Veterinary Association .

What the animal needs is the nutrients, proteins and amino acids in the foods, which weighs heavier than the ingredients they are coming from. Corn, wheat and soy are usually innocent when accused of causing food allergies. Moreover, vilification of food grains as pet food ingredients may be myths started by small pet food companies as a way to compete with larger, established companies. “It may have been started by companies that wanted to distinguish themselves, to sell diets in a crowded marketplace,” added Heinze, assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “To say that these ingredients are ‘common causes of food allergies,’ as I’ve seen reported, is not very accurate.”

The last two sites http://www.petdiets.com/Library/Pet-Foods/ and http://petnutritionconsulting.com/faq reiterates the importance of “nutrient profile” of pet food over ingredients and to always look for products that state that AAFCO feeding trials have been used to substantiate the effectiveness of the product.

After reading all this I still have no clue what’s best to feed my dog. It seems like nobody has a definite answer. And those who do, it’s important to find out what their agenda is.

tl;dr – Wanted to buy good dog food, found dogfoodadvisor, some say the site is lacking, went on reddit, too many different opinions on dog food but no consensus, then saw post by /u/googoogoojoob which I thought was helpful, until I read the links provided and realized /u/googoogoojoob probably has an agenda. Still no answer on which dog food is best.

reddit history delete.

Hey, thanks for replying! The first quote you provided appears to come from some layperson's blog. You're totally right about the fact that some people can be naive when they claim to know more than experts studying in the field. However, most people don't claim to know more than experts. We want to trust these experts. They are the ones with PhD's after all.

There are also conspiracy theorists who believe AAFCO, the FDA, veterinary schools and veterinary nutritionists are lying about pet foods because they've been corrupted by money from "the Pet Food Industry".

Should it be of concern if a leading research makes claims that corn is healthy in dog food, but at the same time is backed by a dog food company who favors using corn in their product? Is it too far-fetch to think that money from "Pet Food Industries" can corrupt science? Or is science immune to bias even when the source of research funds come from those with vested interest in the outcome of the research?

If you don't believe in science or don't believe scientists are telling the truth, you're going to have trouble making good decisions about a lot of things, not just pet food.

You're right about this. If someone doesn't believe in science and logic they would probably have a hard time making sound decisions. I believe in science, but does that mean I should believe everything scientists say? Are all scientists the same? Do they all tell the truth about everything, or just some of the time?

Read the book Dog Food Logic. Don't stress about it too much. Your dog is not going to live five years longer because you fed them Wellness instead of Pedigree.

I picked a food based on appropriateness of calorie level, price point, protein/carb/fat ratio, resulting stool and coat quality, history of recalls, and lack of "red flag" ingredients. I add stuff to my dog's food for coat health and joint health.

What'd you think about the rest of the book?

Well, it's not an easy decision and I've just had to go through it myself. The sorry truth of the matter is that if you're looking for consensus, you won't find it. All things in the world of dog food are a matter of opinion and every side believes they're right (some of them are, but that's my opinion!). It's confusing and frustrating, and I'm sorry it has to be this way – but we all have to work around it.

Try not to worry, though. It will work out all right in the end.

My method was to use Dog Food Advisor – at least they admit to their shortcomings – to compare foods available in my area, according to my price range. I followed my own personal opinion (more meat is better, grain is not helping Pete right now) on ingredients. I don't really buy the "Don't trust the ingredients list" thing – yes, there are loopholes, but it's still a useful guideline and at the very least it lets me avoid most of the things I want to avoid. Then I looked at company websites.

I refused to consider any food company that wouldn't state where they source their ingredients. I also paid close attention to safety standards and whether or not they were independent, AAFCO tested, preservatives, etc. If a company makes too many health claims or uses a lot of gimmicky language, I find that suspicious. If they're too eager to make excuses for controversial ingredients, I also find that suspicious. Obviously they're all trying to sell me something – I'm just trying to get a feel for their version of ethics. It makes me feel better, if nothing else.

Bottom line? I've got a few sorted out and I'm going to rotate my dog through them and see what fits. Scientific? No. But if I can't trust the major pet food companies than I have to trust my gut. I'm not saying this is a perfect method – I have no idea if such a thing exists, and if it does, I doubt mine is it. It's just the one I'm choosing to use.

It is overwhelming, but you do need to look for the expertise if the person writing their advice. tend to lean more towards trusts Tufts, a top vet school that does independent research in animal nutrition and sees tons of pets with nutrition issues, over the human dentist that writes dog food advisor.

The WSAVA also has some great stuff, there is a section for pet owners on the bottom here: http://www.wsava.org/nutrition-toolkit.

In my experience, when people refer to "junk" food for pets, they're making that assumption based on what they "think" or "heard from a website" as constituting junk food, rather than what animal nutrition experts would constitute as junk food.

Well, human food is not kibble. Kibble is by-definition highly processed, and our perception of "quality" kibble usually is derived from marketing and not much beyond that.

Now this, this is a great example of totally overanalyzing dog food.

Feed your dog what works for them. There is no "best" dog food.

Also, the Tufts and Oceanspray thing is just completely silly. You distrust the entirety of Tufts, a well-established prestigious university, because one research group was once sponsored to conduct a study? Right.

Haha, I may have sounded a little paranoid. But I was just trying to stimulate some discussion.

Also, the Tufts and Oceanspray thing is just completely silly. You distrust the entirety of Tufts, a well-established prestigious university, because one research group was once sponsored to conduct a study?

It would be unreasonable to distrust the entirety of Tufts based on one sponsored research. You're correct about that. I was merely making a point that even biases can occur in "well-established prestigious" universities such as Tufts. iirc, there was another research done by another prestigious university, which countered the claims of Tufts Oceanspray-sponsored research.

All internet sources are not created equal. The availability error is a very real issue on the internet. Just because something is repeated on a hundred websites doesn't make it true.

Just because an organization receives funding from a company doesn't automatically invalidate all of their statements and positions, it only means that you must use your critical thinking skills when researching their findings. Of course companies with reasons to support research of a certain kind are going to be putting a lot of money into various studies and organizations.

But if not them, then who? The government isn't going to do it, and individuals certainly don't have the resources. This is why publishing the results and having them peer-reviewed is so important. Those processes help identify biases and validate results. If you were to discount all research that had any inkling of possible bias, you'd be living in a cave eating worms.

The fact is, all of the published & peer-reviewed & evidence-based science supports the statements from most veterinary universities, and veterinary professional organizations. Potential bias doesn't wipe out 70+ years of nutritional science.

Places like Dog Food Advisor and their fans are a product of the "natural craze" or the "chemicals are bad" hype. It's mostly a bunch of bullshit spewed by scientifically illiterate people, or those who are paranoid of every large company out there. Skepticism is good, being dismissive isn't.

Nutritional (animal & human) science has decades upon decades of research, and a lot of it overlaps. Most mammals share huge similarities in the way the base-chemicals or proteins are processed at the cell level, so dog nutritional science isn't this nebulous and young science. Many people seem to think it is.

And if you want to learn a little about the research that goes into the big name pet foods (Hill's & Iams, etc) read this great article, which is surprisingly written by a magazine that generally doesn't approve of these company's foods:

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) is an association of associations. Its membership is made up of veterinary organisations from all over the world, which are concerned with companion animals. Currently there are 92 member and affiliate associations, representing over 145,000 individual veterinarians from around the globe.

Here is what they, along with a few other (overlapping from your post) expert resources have to say about pet/dog nutrition. You should listen to them, not "experts" that use buzzwords like "filler", "grain-free", "ancestral diet", etc.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association.

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

'Dog Food Logic' Book Excerpts written by an animal nutritionist (MSc)

I HIGHLY recommend reading the full book. It's a great read, and dives into detail on the science of dog nutrition for the layman. No, seriously, read the book Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices. It will help you, it certainly helped me.

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