How To Pick THE BEST DOG FOOD – Part 1

DOG FOOD DATA IS CONFUSING  

The FDA requires certain nutritional information be clearly marked on packages of food for humans to help consumers make informed decisions about what they are feeding their family.

woman relaxing on the sofa with her dog and using tabletUnfortunately we are not given the same level of clear information when it comes to dog food. Dog food recommendations are developed by an organization called AAFCO that was originally formed by large corporation dog food industry leaders in a successful attempt to self regulate their own industry and prevent outside agencies from telling them what they could and couldn’t do with dog food. Now the government agencies at the state level  simply adopt whatever regulations the AAFCO board suggests for the dog food industry, which often seem purposely complex or vague and difficult for the average consumer to make much sense of. 

Dog owners usually turn their attention to the List of Ingredients and the Guaranteed Analysis to give them insight into the quality, or lack of it, in dog food. This is helpful information to some degree, but can also be confusing.  One example is the way AAFCO determines the order of the ingredients on the list. They specify they are to be ordered by weight with the heaviest listed first, and so on, which can be misleading because the average consumer would naturally conclude that the heaviest item that’s first on the list has more of whatever it is than any other item below it on the list and that’s not necessarily true.

For instance, as a dog food manufacturer there are two ways I can add chicken (or any animal protein) to dog food:

  1. The first is a frozen block of ground up chicken, which AAFCO designates as “Chicken”. The protein content of this is only about 18% because 70% of the weight is water – water that will eventually be removed when it is converted to kibble . The intention is to give the illusion that this is “fresh” chicken and that there is more of it than there actually is because the 70% water content is being weighed and counted as though it’s chicken to determine its position on the Ingredient List.
  1. The second source of chicken is designated by AAFCO as “Chicken Meal”. It can be the same quality as the frozen chicken but it is already dried and has a protein content of 65%, which is 3.6 times the protein in the frozen block of Chicken.

Once the frozen block of Chicken is ground up, added to the other ingredients, cooked, and dried, it is the same thing as the Chicken Meal (but with far less protein).

It creates the illusion there is more protein in the frozen block of “Chicken” because it is placed higher on the ingredient list than the “Chicken Meal” which, pound for pound, contributes 3.6 times more protein to the final food. This misrepresentation of reality, in my opinion, is yet another example of why the dog food industry continues to be regarded with a certain amount of skepticism and distrust.

Another example of how the Ingredient list can be misleading is shown in the comparison of the following 2 actual formulas. They each have  the about same amount of protein, fat, and carbs in them but the protein sources in Dog Food #2 are purposely split up into 16 very small portions of different protein sources to create the illusion of more meat. Dog Food #1 (Brothers Complete Turkey & Egg) has the same protein content as Dog Food #2 and actually gets a higher percentage of it’s protein from animal sources (over 90%) although looking at the long list of proteins in #2 you would never guess that.

Both dog food formulas have about the same guaranteed analysis on a dry matter basis: 40% protein, 20% fat, 30% carbs, 10% moisture. 

#1 – Brothers Complete Turkey & Egg

Turkey Meal, Whole Eggs dried, cassava, peas, pea starch, chicken fat

#2 – Unnamed Actual Dog Food

Deboned turkey, yellowtail flounder, whole eggs, whole atlantic mackerel, chicken liver, turkey liver, chicken heart, turkey heart, whole atlantic herring, dehydrated chicken, dehydrated turkey, dehydrated mackerel, dehydrated chicken liver, dehydrated turkey liver, whole green peas, whole navy beans, red lentils, chicken necks, chicken kidney, pinto beans, chickpeas, green lentils, alfalfa, chicken fat

The Guaranteed Analysis helps when comparing one dog food to another in general terms but detailed descriptions about the quality of the protein being used are not allowed. To give an example that is extreme, there is a huge difference between free range Venison without hormones or antibiotics and meat from a rendering plant that can include meat rejected from human grade processing plants as well as road kill, and other less savory offerings.

Dog with vegan and meat foodThere is also no distinction between protein derived from plant matter versus animal sourced protein, the protein our pet carnivores were designed to eat…and prefer! Just ask any dog which protein source she prefers – vegetable or meat? The Brown Lab above makes her answer obvious.

Finally, there is no way to know if the vitamins and minerals are balanced in relation to each other to make them most effective. It is entirely possible to adjust them within the low and high limits recommended by AAFCO in such a way as to make them almost dysfunctional. As an example, if you had the Calcium at the upper levels allowed by AAFCO and the Magnesium at it’s lower levels, or the other way around, one would essentially restrict  the function of the other – they must be balanced TO EACH OTHER to function effectively.

It is basically impossible to accurately guarantee the overall performance of a dog food with nothing more than the Ingredient List and the Guaranteed Analysis. It’s a good starting point, but as they say, “The devil is in the details” and for the most part those details are kept fairly vague. Furthermore, numerous times we find out that some dog foods have things in them that are not supposed to be there and are not listed on the list of ingredients for obvious reasons. Others have been effectively prosecuted when it was discovered that they had ingredients in the food they specifically stated were not in their food. 

We learned a lot about the performance of different dog foods with thousands of dogs that we came to know through our dog food store and observed over extended periods of time. In the final analysis, the ultimate test of performance must be based on the actual results a dog food produces on the health and wellbeing of the dogs that eat it and that includes the percentage of the dogs that it produces positive results on as well. Helping restore health to 1 dog in 10 is nice for the one dog but it doesn’t compare to a food that does that for 9 out of 10 dogs.

After 7 years of watching dogs become incredibly healthy eating Brothers Complete Dog Food we simply recommend you feed your dog Brothers for 6 months. You won’t need to understand the complex science involved in making it a perfectly balanced, highly nutritious dog food, or figure out if it’s more marketing hype than actual reality – you will witness the positive transformation to health and vitality first hand. You’ll see the itching, hot spots, rashes, smelly ears, dull eyes, and dull, stiff fur fade away and your dog will evolve into a shining example of health and vitality. There really is no better way to determine how well a dog food performs because theory is no substitute for reality.

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Heidi, above, is a 22 month old 72 lb GSD that’s been on Brothers since she was 16 weeks and she is just now achieving the weight her 7 brothers and sisters were at when they were 6 months to 1 year old which is the kind of slow measured growth you want for a large breed dog. Her 7 siblings are now all overweight while Heidi is a magnificent example of what a healthy GSD looks like.

There are two additional indicators that can be used to help judge the quality of your dog food. They will also help determine what it is costing you to feed your dog for a month, which you can then compare to another dog food. You may find that the best foods can actually be less expensive to feed than you might think when compared to a food with a smaller sticker price. It’s not the price on the bag of food alone that determines the real “cost” of that food. You need to know what the cost per day to feed it is. That’s the Sticker Price divided by the number of days that bag will last divided into the Sticker Price to get the Cost per Day to feed.

Brothers has made a Dog Food TRUE COST CALCULATOR that will give you this information. Go to the URL address below and put the following 3 things about the food you feed now into the blue spaces for them in the calculator: 1) Sticker Price 2) Size of the Bag in Lbs 3) Recommended feeding rate for a 25 lb dog.

Get the “feeding rate” off their bag or website (or you can get it on Chewy.com). By always using the feeding rate for an average sized dog of 25 lbs we can compare one food to another. The calculator will give you the cost per day to feed that food and will even compare it to the cost of one of the best foods made – the results of which will probably surprise you.

Understanding the feeding rate and cost per day to feed your dog can go a long way toward helping you judge the quality of the dog food. Obviously there is a lot more value in a dog food that can nourish your dog on one cup a day than another that requires 1 1/2 to 2 cups a day.  You may be surprised to find that you can feed the very best dog food for about the same or even less than you’re now paying to feed a mediocre, poorer quality food – the facts are the facts and they could spell very good news for you and your best friend.

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 Richard Darlington CO-CEO

Brothers Complete Dog Food, LLC