Dog dry food. Probably the first food that any new pet parent will be giving to your new dog. I know, because that’s what I gave Donna right at the start. A gift pack of dog kibble from the shelter we adopted her from.
It’s convenient and affordable and it promises to fulfil your dog’s complete nutritional needs. But with so many brands on the market, how do you choose?
We were Dog Idiots when we first adopted Donna. We didn’t even know kibble comes in different shapes and sizes! :P Perhaps you were like us?
We’ve come some ways since then. Eventually I, like everyone else, discovered dogfoodadvisor.com. From there, I was able to cross-reference the site with some of the Singapore pet online stores to see which of the better rated food were available locally. I then did a price analysis and identified some of the, for lack of a better word – middle of the market – food that was affordable to us. They weren’t premium but they weren’t supermarket brands either.
Today, let’s take a closer look at the dry food I have been buying and see whether they are a good choice for Donna or not. ;)
But first, let’s start by setting parameters so we all have the some common baseline and understanding.
Here are the topics to do with Dog Dry Food covered by this post:
- Achieving a common understanding
- Factors in selecting the dog dry food
- Variety of Brands and Manufacturing Sources
- The First 5 Ingredients
- Does it satisfy AAFCO standards at the minimum?
- The food I bought for Donna in the last few years
- Weight management – do you know the calories you are feeding your dog?
Making sure we have a common understanding
I’m going to be referencing the book Dog Food Logic by canine nutritionist, dog trainer and science writer author Linda P. Case, M.S. frequently in this post, because it has really helped my understanding in the topic.
So the book says the nutrients we need to pay attention to include: water, energy, protein, carbohydrate, dietary fibre, fat, vitamins and minerals.
When you see the “Complete and Balanced” label claim on pet food, it means that ‘the product has all the required nutrients, in proper amounts and proportions, and has been tested to make sure it meets the complex nutritional requirements of a healthy dog or cat. The complex nutritional requirements are a set of nutrient profiles produced by companion animal nutritionists and published by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).’
These are the food that I tended to choose for Donna because they at least have made efforts to comply by standards set by a third party (AAFCO) as being formulated to fulfil Donna’s nutrient needs, versus food claims by an independent manufacturer without verification anywhere else.
Cost was a major factor in my decision making
Donna didn’t like kibble so concurrently I was mixing her dry food with canned food, which is more expensive. I had to balance her food budget somehow. Where I landed at was dry food that fell in the range of $13-$17 per kg or $30 – $38 per 5lb pack from selected online stores.
I also made sure that there was some variety in the protein source – Chicken, Salmon, Duck, Pork, Turkey. Her canned food included other protein sources not in this list for dry food, so Donna actually got quite a variety of different protein sources in her diet.
Rotating brands that are not packed or co-packed in the same facility
Learning from past mistakes where different brands of dog food were recalled because they were all made or packed in the same food processing plant, despite being different brands. I specifically made sure to have some brands manufactured or packed by different plants, as far as it is possible for me to track, in Donna’s rotation of dry food.
We own and operate our award-winning kitchens in Morinville, Alberta, where we make ORIJEN and ACANA pet foods exclusively. It’s simple – we don’t allow our foods to be made anywhere else, and we don’t make any other foods. – acana.com
I can’t find a clear statement where Canidae and Wellness pet food is manufactured and packed on their website, but they were in the past outsourced to Diamond Pet Foods before.
All of our dry pet foods and low-fat treats are made in the USA at our own USDA-inspected plants in Wisconsin. Our grain-free treats are made in Wisconsin at a USDA-inspected, partner plant, and our canned recipes are made in the USA at a USDA-inspected plant in South Dakota. – frommfamily.com
These food have not been recalled in the last two and a half years we’ve had Donna with us.
Are the dry food a good choice for Donna or not? :P
It would seem so. According to Dog Food Logic, “the general rule of thumb is that the first five ingredients (in the ingredients list on the product) provide 80% or more of the food’s nutrients“.
Looking at the table below, at least the first 2 ingredients, if not more, in the dry food I selected for Donna (in orange) comprise animal protein. Considering protein, fat, fibre and moisture are key components in a dog food’s guaranteed analysis, but not carbohydrates, one may deduce that a food containing greater amounts of protein, fat, fibre and moisture will provide better nutrition.
The food in grey Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin and Stomach Formula was the first dry food we fed to Donna. She didn’t like it, so we never bought it again. Applying the 95-25-3 rule in Dog Food Logic to read the brand and product name, I realise that the word Salmon isn’t in the product name at all, my natural deduction is that there is less than 3% salmon in the product. Note: This is my deduction, it may or may not be fact. I don’t know. Haha.
That is interesting because Salmon is the first ingredient in the list. Doesn’t that count for something?
The thing about the product’s ingredients list is that it lists the ingredients by weight. And the catch is, according to Dog Food Logic, this includes the moisture (water) present in the ingredient at the time of processing. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) states on their webpage The Composition of Fish, that the average water content of the flesh of fatty fish is about 70%. For salmon, it’s about 67-77%. So although it’s first on the list, it might have contributed more water but much less in the other essential nutrients.
So if you see salmon, or chicken or turkey first on the ingredients list, followed by salmon or chicken or turkey meal, do not assume that the first ingredient is of higher quality than the meal. The “fresh” meat is often the same product that was used to produce the meal.- Dog Food Logic
Considering the rendering of meat, e.g. salmon, involves removing water to create a highly concentrated ingredient i.e. salmon meal. Salmon meal could in fact be of higher nutritional quality than fresh salmon on the list. Meal from a single animal source will also be better protein sources than generic animal meal. e.g. chicken meal versus poultry meal.
But let’s not be quick to jump to conclusions
The AAFCO sets the baseline for formulas that provide complete and balanced nutrition for the maintenance of adult dogs. This means that the product has been tested to provide adequate nutrition for the dog.
Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Pro Plan Focus Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach Formula provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs. – proplan.com
It’s not bad food from that point of view. But since we are a one-dog family, possibly with slightly more budget to play around with, than a family with multiple dogs, I was seeking complete and balanced food from more quality animal protein sources for Donna.
Did I succeed in doing so?
In the table below, the products in blue are the ones I rotated buying for Donna. I rotated between poultry, fish and pork and I try to switch brands with every next bag I buy. I’m probably in the segment the marketing department calls “switchers” :P and yet, I am also a pretty loyal customer because every other month or two I buy from them. Just for fun, I’ve also thrown in some other well regarded brands that I don’t buy regularly for comparison.
I’ve calculated the components in the guaranteed analysis on dry matter basis. That means we’re excluding water here to have a clearer representation of the proportion of protein to fat to fibre and carbohydrates and others that make up the nutrients in the food. The AAFCO has no maximum or minimum recommendations for carbohydrates in dog food, which is why it’s not reported on the guaranteed analysis on dog food labels. Any numbers we find online are estimates calculated from estimates, so I’m just not going to bother spending time calculating those. My estimates here are calculated using the equation shared by the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center here.
For adult maintenance diets, the Minimum level of Crude Protein on a Dry Matter basis set by AAFCO is 18%. The mininum level of Fat is 5%.
The table shows that Donna is getting anywhere from a minimum level of 27% to 37% of protein and 16% to 21% fat, far above the minimum levels set by AAFCO for complete and balanced nutrition. So yes, it would appear Donna is getting satisfactory levels of protein and fat in her diet.
Note: Of course the nutrient profiles include requirements for other nutrients as well. The nutrient profiles published in 2008 can be found here.
But just making sure she has good nutrition is only part of the story.
When we first adopted Donna, she was overweight at 17-18kg. Every time we visited the vet, the vet indicated that her weight was “OK” but it would be better if she were lighter.
I was already walking Donna for at least an hour a day, sometimes 2 hours. So the vet suggested that perhaps we can look at decreasing her food intake. I did that but still Donna’s decrease in weight was too gradual for my liking.
Now let’s look at the food I have been feeding her again. All these food are adult maintenance food. Some of them are for All Stages, meaning the food is suitable for puppies too. With the exception of Fromm Pork and Apple Sauce and the two Taste of the Wild products, the rest of the blue products I have been feeding Donna provided 400 kcal/cup or more.
The interesting thing is from my book reading, I now learn that performance dry food at 400kcal or more is recommended for active working dogs! Donna is not an active working dog, but she sure was keeping me active with those long 1-2 hour walks daily! Just to slowly whittle away some of that excess weight, that I probably was fueling with the high calorie food!
I didn’t know anything about calorie counting for the dog then. I now know that the estimated metabolizable energy requirements for adult maintenance of the 15kg adult dog Donna is:
- 724 kcal/day for an inactive couch potato
- 990 kcal/day for a dog who runs and jumps and plays
- How many calories a day does your dog need? Browse according to your dog’s weight in the chart referenced here, click!
Assuming most 15kg pet dogs are weekend warriors, meaning they get most exercise over the weekends because their humans are too busy at their jobs for long walks over the weekdays, 2 cups of food (e.g. Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream) a day may be just right to fulfil that 724 kcal/day requirement for such less active dogs.
It’s a good thing, Donna does get at least an hour walk daily. Although the rainy weather for the past weeks have made this challenging. Now the challenge here is to find quality food that gets her somewhere between 724 – 990 kcal/day so that her weight still remains at her ideal 15kg with regular exercise.
Now those pet parents passionate about food will probably have comments about the current list of foods I give to Donna – such as how digestible the food really is or that raw is better, etc, etc
I’m not saying my list is perfect. But I will say it has been satisfactory for the past two years. Donna is now at her ideal weight, and I do receive comments on how shiny her hair is, etc. But I am going to start reviewing what other food may be beneficial to her – looking at both the metabolizable energy the food gives as well as the quality of the ingredients. That will probably shake up the original list of brands and products that I have been feeding her with.
I would be happy to know if you have any suggestions at all for what dry food I should explore for Donna!
Or if you would like to see a similar post comparing the food you feed your pet, leave me a comment as well and I’m sure I can plan that in if there’s interest in that area.
I am obviously learning and not the expert where it comes to dog food. I am not a pet nutritionist. But writing all this down does help an awful lot in clarifying and making concrete the thoughts in my mind to myself with regards feeding Donna. So I apologise in advance if I unintentionally have inaccuracies with regards evaluating dog food in the post above. Please do point them out if you spot them.
And of course, I strongly encourage you to check out this book from a real nutritionist – Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices. Author Linda P. Case has written a book that helps a lot in making sense of the dog food label and what we should be thinking about when evaluating dog food specific to our dog, his age and activity levels, etc. She doesn’t tell you what to buy, but she does tell you what you need to be thinking about. I wouldn’t be able to write this post without her pearls of wisdom. ;)
Also, check back here next Thursday where we will talk about ALLERGIES and why the chicken crossed the road. Hah!
See also All other posts on Dog Food by weliveinaflat ;)