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Dog Food: Reviewing the Reviewers

Okay, we’ve all seen review and ratings lists and personal/professional recommendations of high quality versus low quality foods, right? But you have to wonder… who watches the watchers? Which rating groups are ardent and sincere animal lovers who only care about the health of our pets and the nutritional quality of their food — and which ones are disguised industry shills astroturfing for a corporate paylord? Well, it’s hard to tell sometimes, but Consumer Search has reviewed the reviewers for dog food, and I’m inclined to go along with their findings because their first five top-rated review groups have also been my personal favorite top five review groups for a long time. I’ve used every one of these sources to learn more about nutrition in general, as well as find details about specific commercial foods, and they are all useful. To me, though, The Whole Dog Journal (WDJ) has long been the holy grail of dog food reviews, for very good reason: their research is painstaking and detailed, with onsite visits and extremely strict criteria. But their annual lists of recommended foods are only available to subscribers (the subscription fee is reasonable, and worth it, in my opinion), so their recommendations don’t get as much attention as they should in the internet age of instant-and-free information. Importantly, though, in addition to their thorough methodology, you always know that the Whole Dog Journal reviews are up to date and fresh each year, while it can often be difficult or impossible to find out how old a review is from another source — and it’s important! Sometimes companies are bought out or change management and quality plummets… but they coast along on their old reputation for a few years, effectively (but legally!)  defrauding owners who are trying to provide their pet with the healthiest possible option.

Speaking of the WDJ list, I’m going to steal Yvonne’s comments about the list from the Groovy Cats & Dogs Facebook pages here because she makes some great points:


Yvonne’s Observations of Whole Dog Journal Approved Dry Dog Food List

  1. LOVE the Worst List. This is a list of foods that are aiming towards the holistic market, but don’t make the cut. Three of the foods on this list are made by Purina. Go figure. Some of the things I find myself repeating over and over are documented right there for easy reference. I think I will blow this up X100 and post it on our Groovy wall. The brick one.
  2. Happy to say that all the dry foods that we carry are on the list, except for two we have added in the last year: Party Animal, a certified organic food, and Great Life (a relatively new food on the market);  I’m not sure why these did not make the list, ingredients are superior; will contact WDJ and ask about them. Foods we carry that ARE on the list include: Acana (just arrived this week!!); Canidae; Natura brands –  Innova, EVO, California Natural; Lotus; Orijen; Fromm Four Star formulas; Natural Balance Limited Ingredients Diets;
  3. Notable on the Worst list: 1) Rachel Ray (award winner at Global Pet Expo 2010 in best new product category) Nutrish tied for 3rd on the WORST list; once again a prime example of how fancy marketing does not mean good stuff is in the bag!; 2) Whole Foods 365 Performance is the 2nd WORST food listed; not a surprise to me, but refreshing to see this called out: #1 ingredient is chicken by-product meal; shame on Whole Foods for marketing this as their own; charging the price they do; shame on anyone who buys this product and thinks it is good just because it has the Whole Foods name on it; 3) Nature’s Best (by Science Diet); shame to see anything by Science Diet on this list, but noteworthy that this is the ONLY Science Diet product listed ANYWHERE on the list!!
  4. About the approved list…they do not rank the foods listed; the foods that make the WDJ approved list have met criteria to be considered a “good quality” pet food. WDJ suggests looking for foods that include: 1) lots of quality animal protein at the top of the ingredient list; 2) named animal protein source; 3) animal protein MEAL as a supporting ingredient to fresh meat; 4) whole vegetables, fruits and grains; 5) “Best by” date at least six months out
  5. WDJ says the things to avoid in your dog’s food are: 1) meat by-products or poultry by-products; 2) added sweeteners…they even explain that sweeteners “persuade” dogs to eat foods that are otherwise inferior because dogs, like humans, enjoy the taste of sweet foods (Yay! I say this quite often); 3) artificial preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin; 4) artificial colors
  6. What’s noticeably missing from the approved list? Hmmmm, let’s see…nope, nothing by Hill’s Science Diet made the list; and nothing by Royal Canin; and can you BELIEVE it? Nothing by Purina made the approved list, yet I talk to soooo many people who think they are feeding their dog the BEST food and they say they feed Purina ONE. Oh, my aking heart!

Eep! Adding sweeteners so your dog will become addicted to poor quality food! I hadn’t even heard about that trick before… and why am I surprised? Awful. So, even without the WDJ list, you can see some of the things to beware of, and what to look for. All the top rated review sources also explain their methodology, and you can learn a lot that way. Use any or all of them to guide your choices and learn more.