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Choosing a Dog Food: Ten Things to Avoid

Guard dog

1. Meat or Meat Meal: Hey, if they can’t get any more specific than that, I’m going to assume only my hairdresser knows for sure. Mystery meat, 4-D, whatever you want to call it – just don’t call it dinner.

2. Brewer’s Rice: Alcohol industry waste product which if not bought by pet food companies, would otherwise end up in the trash bin. AAFCO allows this ingredient to contain “spent hops in an amount not to exceed 3 percent.” Spent hops, when ingested by dogs, can be fatal.

3. Corn Gluten Meal: Waste product from facilities manufacturing corn syrup, used in the extrusion process to bind kibble. Corn gluten is one of many known contaminated pet food ingredients to have poisoned pets in the past. Wheat gluten and rice gluten fall into this same category.

4. By-Products: Not that dogs couldn’t or shouldn’t occasionally eat the animal bits that humans don’t (such as spleens, stomachs and feet), but they should not be the main or sole source of animal protein in the food. Unless the bag of food specifically states the country of origin for the meat by-products and the manufacturer tells you they use only USDA inspected meat by-products, you really don’t know what you’re getting. And it may be terrible-awful. If you really want to feed occasional meat by-products, get some from your trusted local butcher.

5. Junk: Ingredients such as animal digest, sugar, sorbitol, corn syrup, artificial colors, ethoxyquin, BHA, etc. These unhealthy ingredients should not be part of a dog’s daily diet. If you want to give your dog a “junk food” treat on occasion, take him out for an ice cream cone!

6. First Listed Ingredient Not a Meat Source: AAFCO requires ingredients to be listed in order by weight. Dogs need meat and although most kibbles are grain based, a specific meat source (such as chicken or chicken meal) should still be the primary ingredient by weight.

7. Foods Not Tested in Feed Trials: Sure AAFCO says it’s OK to test foods in a lab – which happens to be way cheaper than conducting feeding trials – but how does chemical analysis reveal the bio-availability or digestibility of the food’s ingredients? It doesn’t. Manufacturers can choose to conduct feed trials if they want. And if I made a food, I’d sure want to know how it performed long term, when eaten by actual pets.

8. Expired Foods: You’d think it would be a simple enough task for stores to check and rotate their stock to avoid having expired foods on the shelves. You’d think. I find expired pet (and human) foods on the shelves regularly. So, since some retailers aren’t doing their jobs, you’ll have to look out for yourself by checking the expiry dates on foods before you buy. If you don’t discover the food is expired until after you get home, bring it back to the store. If the manufacturer doesn’t put a date on the food – no sale.

9. Companies Who Still Do Business with Menu Foods: Menu Foods had 9 feed trial cats die from their foods poisoned with melamine and cyanuric acid in 2007. They waited to issue a recall until Iams, who discovered the problem independently, forced the issue. During the lag time, Menu’s CFO dumped half his company stock. O yeah and also during this lag time, untold numbers of pets became ill and died. Menu hasn’t cleaned up its act, or its ethics. Any company who still uses Menu to make their canned foods has, at best, a questionable sense of judgment.

10. Companies Who Won’t Answer Reasonable Questions: Pet food companies can and should provide honest answers to consumers regarding the following: What is the country of origin for your ingredients? What is the name and address of the manufacturer of your foods? Do you test your ingredients and/or finished product prior to shipment? If so, are these test results available to the public? (And while I’m dreaming, how about just putting all that info right on the label? Make it tiny print, I don’t mind.) Some companies won’t answer these questions. They like to say it’s “proprietary information”. I like to not buy their products.

Additional reading:’s “The Truth About Cat and Dog Food

API’s “Get the Facts: What’s Really in Pet Food

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