We always recommend that people spend a bit of time on an independent food analysis website, checking that the food they are giving to their dogs is as good as it can be. I went to look at the site that we used years ago when we started researching this, but found few local UK brands. I Googled and picked the top link- allaboutdogfood.co.uk. I used their site for reference and this post is not sponsored.
“Good food” can be defined as something biologically appropriate for the species, which is healthy and not detrimental. It does not mean well advertised and neither does it necessarily mean expensive.
I looked up the top 3 best selling dry complete dog foods on Tescos Direct, as well as some other well known brands.
What I learned:
* Price has got nothing to do with quality. In our examples the best quality food was mid range in price, some of the worst rated foods were highest in price.
* Reputation has nothing to do with quality. The foods that were well known for having a “good” reputation, were rated 3 and 4 out of five (James Wellbeloved, Lily’s Kitchen and Nature’s Menu) and interestingly, they were the most expensive.
* Names like “premium” have got nothing to do with quality. As Tesco’s “premium” was marginally worse in quality than their value range, it shows that what food is called has little to do with how good the ingredients are. It’s disappointing that a food labelled premium scored lower than 1/5
* Recommendations have got nothing to do with quality– the food sold at the vets is the worst value for the quality- there seems nothing special or beneficial about the food. I am dismayed that it is recommended by vets- it has a huge mark- up and has very poor ingredients.
* Popularity has got nothing to do with quality. When a food is very aggressively marketed and advertised, it’s paid for in both price and quality.
All of the packaging and marketing emphasised things like “nature” and “quality”, but not all of them delivered. It is indicative of the biggest problem with the whole thing- what the reviewers say is often poles apart from what it says in the ads and on the box. They are clever with words so it often sounds better than it is. It’s misleading and very unfair.
Harringtons Costs 64p per day for a 16kg dog. They scored an off-putting 2.9 / 5.
This was Tescos’ (and Amazon’s) top selling brand- review here.
Thought to be popular due to a high profile, very expensive advertising campaign.
Protein 21%, Fat Content 10%, Crude Fibre 3%, Crude Ash8.5%, Omega 6 1.6%, Omega 3 0.4%.
“The first ingredient in all three adult varieties is maize which many canine nutritionists class as little more than a filler. The named meat source accounts for just 14% of the food (although there is another unspecified amount of an unspecified meat meal further down the ingredients list) – both of which are distinct traits of a mid-range food.
To its credit, Harringtons is free from artificial additives, uses high quality meat meal and includes nutritious kelp and linseed. It is worth noting though that the ‘Turkey and Veg’ variety would be much better named ‘Turkey and Peas’ since it unfortunately doesn’t contain any other vegetables.”
Maize has recently found to negatively impact on serotonin levels (and mood) in dogs. I won’t be buying it, despite the price- I look for a high percent of meat from a named source, with no grains or cereals.
Tesco’s own Premium brand- cost 24p per day for a 16kg dog. It scored a shocking 0.1 / 5.
This was the second most popular on Tescos Direct: review here.
“ingredients list: Cereals Meat and Animal Derivatives (minimum 4% Beef in the Component with Beef and minimum 4% Fresh Meat), Derivatives of Vegetable Origin (minimum 1% Charcoal), Vegetable Protein Extracts, Oils and Fats, Various Sugars, Minerals, Vitamins, Yeasts, Colourants, Antioxidant, Preservatives
Protein 23.0%, Fat 10.0%, Fibre 3.0%, Ash 6.5%, Vitamin A 120000.0μg, Vitamin D 1200.0μg, Vitamin E 60.0mg, Copper 15.0mg,”
It is so bad they did not have any words to describe it, but every ingredient includes links to pages that explains why it is unwise and unhealthy to include it in dog feed. It’s horrific.
I could not work out what was so “premium” about it, so I looked up the budget version- Tescos value dog food. Surprisingly, it did slightly better (although it couldn’t score worse): at 16p per day for a 16Kg dog, it was given a prohibitive 0.7 out of 5.
5 of the 6 ingredients were considered unwise and unhealthy. Ingredients included 8.5% Inorganic Matter- I’d really like to know what that is. When we noticed it as an ingredient in some treats, my friend Alex rang up Pedigree to ask them what inorganic matter is exactly. After about 2 hours of being transferred around, he did not get an answer.
Wagg, 23p per day for the 16Kg dog, scored 1.3 / 5
The third most popular dry dog food sold by Tescos Direct. Review here
“Although it is difficult to know how much meat the foods contain, or indeed what animal/animals the meat comes form (since the general term ‘meat meal’ is used), we do know that it is in the form of meat meal which is better than the ‘meat and animal derivatives’ found in most foods in this price bracket.
Apart from its meat source, Wagg Complete is a fairly typical budget dog food: It is heavily based on wheat (which unfortunately has a higher incidence of intolerance in dogs than most grains – note that Wagg do also have a wheat-free variety) and it contains several controversial ingredients.”
It seems that the best thing about Wag is the honest and clear descriptions of their bargain basement budget ingredients. It’s something to be applauded- but again, it’s another “no” from me.
Eukanuba’s puppy food for medium dogs is 86p per day for a 16kg dog and scored 2.7 / 5.
I looked this up as the owner of one of our stud dogs had once called it a derogatory but funny nickname (Euthanasia), when we were discussing the type of foods that were sponsoring Crufts. It turns out that Eukanuba is about the same as the Harringtons’ foods, but around 20p per day more expensive. Compared to Tescos’ 2 foods and Wagg, it seems that being in this price range makes quite a bit of difference for the better, but I’d still not feel happy about giving it to our dogs.
“Dried Chicken and Turkey (>28%), Maize, Wheat, Animal Fat(from Chicken and Pork, Rice, Dried Beet Pulp (>2.5%), Dried Whole Egg, Chicken Digest, Fish Oil, Brewer’s Dried Yeast, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, Fructooligosaccharides.(0.15%), Calcium Carbonate, Marigold Extract.”
Protein: 29.0%, Fat Content: 18.0%, Omega-6 Fatty Acids: 2.70%, Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 0.45%, Dha: 0.10%, Moisture: 8.00%, Crude Ash: 6.67%, Crude Fibre: 2.10%, Calcium: 1.20%, Phosphorus: 0.90%.
5 of the ingredients is of concern and should not be included in dog food. .
Hill’s Science Plan “Healthy Mobility Mini” variety. £1.42 per day for a 16Kg dog, it scored a concerning 1.5 / 5,
With that score it can’t be as “healthy” as they say. I looked it up as it’s recommended and sold by vets.
“Moisture 8%, Protein 19.3%, Oils and Fats 14.3%, Fibre 3.3%, Carbohydrate 50.8%, Calcium 0.66%, Phosphorus 0.51%, Sodium 0.17%, Potassium 0.77%, Magnesium 0.12%”.
8/22 ingredients were considered unwise and unhealthy. 9 of the ingredients were grains and cereals- including maize, which can badly effect mood and wheat, which is the ingredient most likely to cause skin and digestive reactions. 8% of it is “moisture”- presumably water.
I’m in shock, this is the food vets seem to recommend when dogs have health issues. This is quite the eye-opener. I heard that vets are trained by consultants and not nutritionists and this certainly seems to add weight to the rumour.
How do they justify the huge price? This is by far the most expensive of all the other low ranking foods that I’m looking at- and it’s pricier than those rating 5/5. It’s of similar ingredients and quality to Wagg, but costs about 5 times more- totalling £365 extra per year. I had to check the price several times at first because I thought my eyes were playing up. Disappointingly, it does not encourage trust in that aspect of the vet profession.
Bakers Complete- review here- 54p per day for a 16Kg sized dog, 0.1 / 5.
Available everywhere, the humongous advertising campaign makes Bakers one of the most well known dog foods available. The review says it’s “Britain’s second most popular dog food” (presumably after Harringtons). The packaging says encouraging things like “healthy digestion” The review states:
“Unfortunately, the adverts and packaging don’t tell the whole story.
The ingredients list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of terms we recommend avoiding. Not a single ingredient (apart from ‘4% beef in the brown and natural kernels’) is named on the label. Instead, broad terms like ‘meat and animal derivatives’ and ‘derivatives of vegetable origin’ are used making it completely impossible to know what you are giving your dog”
“As mentioned above, a big part of Bakers’ popularity boils down to it looking good. With bright red ‘meat chunks’ and fluorescent green ‘vegetable kernels’, it does indeed look very appetising (for a dog food!), but these colours come form artificial additives which have been consistently linked with behavioural problems amongst other health issues. It is also worth mentioning that most studies indicate that dogs are largely colour-blind so the colours are only added to appeal to the owner and not the dog.”
For those with an interest in dog food, Bakers is almost as infamous for being so full of additives that the box has more nutritional value. I’ve seen the effect that Bakers has on dogs- they’re additive high and permanently hungry (as nutritional their needs are not met).
But not everyone is as cynical as I am, not everyone spends ages researching these things- if a first time owner picked up a pack of Bakers, with such an effective and aggressive advertising campaign, nobody would blame them. Well meaning and loving owners are duped by the advertising and then wonder what has gone so wrong when their dog gains weight, scavenges and becomes scatty. It’s such a shame, the dog food industry and those regulating labelling, packaging and advertising should be doing an awful lot more.
Foods with a good reputation
James Wellbeloved, puppy food £1.30 per day for the 16Kg dog, scoring best yet- 3.3 / 5
This is a working dog food that’s mentioned quite often by our owners in class. Working dog food does not have VAT added, hence the popularity.
“Protein 30.0%, Crude Fibre 2.7%, Fat Content 15%, Crude Ash 8.3%, Vitamin E 180mg/kg, Omega-3 Fatty Acids 1.1%, Omega-6 Fatty Acids 1.5%”
It’s protein from a named animal (lamb in this variety), so we are getting better, but the price is high for the quality so it’s not worth buying (in my opinion).
Lily’s Kitchen scores 3.9/ 5 and £1.57 per day and Nature’s menu is 4.4/5 and at £1.44 per day for the same 16Kg dog. The quality is reasonable, but the price is on the higher side. .
We had been using Taste of the Wild as a cheaper alternative and it turned out to be 4.2/5. 86p per day for 16Kg dog. For the price, it seems reasonable with fairly good quality.
It’s a huge improvement, but call me fussy, I’d prefer to promote a widely available 5/5 food where the price is reasonable- say under a pound a day. Going through the highest rated foods, local availability is the sticking point. Seemingly there are only 2 foods in that category that are available in Northampton shops:
Nutriment– it’s 91p per day for the 16Kg dog and rated 5/5
I’m not sure if it’s a dry food. It says it’s available from Kennel Gate, near Western Favell.
“Each of the Nutriment adult varieties contains a whopping 85% high grade, British meat. Where the whole carcass isn’t being used, Nutriment even state exactly which parts of the animal are being incorporated removing any room for doubt. Organ meats and raw green tripe are excellent, highly nutritious meat choices. Of course, so much meat inevitably means a high protein level which may ring alarm bells with some dog owners but it’s important to remember that when it comes to protein, quality is much more important than quantity and as long as it is from good meat sources, high protein should not be a cause for concern for healthy dogs.”
Interesting things to note from the ingredient list: the protein has a named source (eg duck). There are no grains or cereals at all in the better ranking foods. Fruit, veg and herbs feature more, chemicals with unpronounceable names feature much less.
The original holy grail of dog food: Orijen. 92p per day 16Kg dog, 5/5
Available locally. Every good pet shop has heard of Orijen, but sometimes it’s so expensive to buy trade, that independent local shops can’t always compete.
“The quality and range of ingredients is very impressive. With 7 meat sources, all of which are of outstanding quality, a fantastic range of natural fruits, vegetables and nutritional supplements, nothing that could be described as a filler or a bulking agent and nothing remotely artificial, Orijen is about as good as it gets.
Although the price tag of a bag of Orijen can be eye watering, this really doesn’t tell the whole story. Due to the abundance of high quality nutrients in the the food, you don’t have to feed that much – in fact the recommended feeding amounts for most dogs are amongst the lowest around. This makes a bag last much longer and gives a surprisingly reasonable price per day.
Conclusion: A remarkable dog food and not nearly as expensive to feed as you might think.”
I started looking things up after watching “Pet Fooled” on Netflix
It’s a documentary on pet food. An American made show, it talked about how the pet food industry there designs packages and labels food so that a shopper is “fooled” into buying less than adequate food for their pets, how the food is not appropriate for the biological make up of dogs and how vets are getting concerned with the amount of health problems that they’re seeing in their practises. Loving owners are not given the full information, advertising is misleading and pets are getting sick.
They talked about the legal definitions of words in labelling- for example what is exactly does it mean to call something “flavour”, does it have to have the ingredient? What percent? In the US, flavour means that the food tastes of the ingredient, and not necessarily has that ingredient in it. It’s like jelly beans taste of anything- coke, pineapples even earwax, but aren’t made of those things- it’s purely chemical. Beef flavoured dog food does not necessarily have to have been near a cow.
Strangely, it was Jamie Oliver who first started me thinking. Do you remember when he put everyone off eating chicken nuggets by explaining that the pink stuff was basically what was sieved from a jet washed skeleton? I watched Jamie and wondered more about pet food than human food:”How awful is the stuff in the dog food, when human (children’s) food is made from that horrible stuff?”- I had thought, naively, that it would be made into stock, or possibly some kind of fertilizer- used as a minor ingredient and in itself, as it’s not nutritious enough to be the main supply of food for, well, anything. Sadly, I was wrong.
Many pet foods state the main source of their protein is “animal derivatives”- an ingredient which we see in many food labels. Other things the US classifies as animal derivatives are euthanised animals (sick livestock or pets) or sick farm animals that have been found dead. It can also be human grade meat, but the parts like the head, the stuff people don’t usually like to eat. There are rumours that US animals are needing more chemicals when being put down as they are getting used to the poison as it is in their food. Scaremongering fake news or fact? It’s hard to tell sometimes.
Preferring fact to rumour, I went to look at what UK law says about animal derivatives. I looked at the Food Standards Agency’s (governmental regulatory body) website and although I could see that laws were in place, they did not say (nor provided a link to) what the laws said. While it may be a case of me not being able to see the wood for the trees, (please say if you managed to find it and I overlooked or missed it), it’s very much harder than it should be to find what the law actually says. I found it impossible to find a definition of labelling rules- and it’s also very difficult to find out what exactly it means to advertise something “complete”, “nutritious” and “healthy”.
If the laws regarding labelling and advertising are so hidden from the general public, then it adds weight to the argument that such laws are there to help the manufacturers, rather than us, the consumers.
“Animal derivatives” were described by the pet food industry standards, an organisation of pet food manufacturers. They said that it is the parts of human meat that wouldn’t normally be eaten- like the lungs.
We feed dour dogs by the “BARF” method- biologically appropriate real food- meat from the butchers’ counter, veg and fruit. More here on how we feed. The dog food industry is so ingrained into our way of thinking that some people get concerned when I tell them. We are deemed capable enough to choose a diet for ourselves, but the average owner is not considered knowledgeable enough to work out appropriate and nutritious food for our dogs. It’s both funny peculiar and funny ha ha.
We should be letting each other know that things aren’t as we’d hope or expect and how we can improve our dogs diet- but it’s hard to compete with the advertising budgets of big business. As we have seen by the reviews of the most popular brands, the dog food and advertising industries are really letting us down.