Before we got Papu, I thought that dog food is a simple thing. That you would just go to the store and pick what ever appeals to you, and that's fine. And you could even buy dog food from the vet to make sure that the dog food is high quality food. Obviously, it's not that simple. The quality of the dog food varies a lot, and the price of the food rarely tells anything about the quality of the food. Sometimes cheap dog food can be ten times better than the very expensive one.
Most dog foods are made for the humans, and by that I don't mean that humans can eat them too. I mean that they are trying to make the food appealing to us so we would buy them. They seem to try so hard that they spend all their budget to market the dog food instead of actually making the quality dog food that they promise in the fancy package.
I think it's hard for an unexperienced dog owner to know what to believe when they read the labels of the dog foods. They all promise to be the best dog food for your dog, and each dog food sounds better than the previous one. I myself found this out when I was picking the dog food for Papu for the first time. I was driven to make the best choice for her, yet I had no idea how to make the decision.
What to look in ingredient lists?
The decision should be based on the ingredient list of the dog food. They are easy to read once you know what to look for. The order in the ingredient list is based of weight. The more something weights, the higher it goes in the list. And since dogs are carnivores, the first ingredient in the ingredient list should always be meat. If it's something else, like grains or plant material, it's a low quality dog food. The line between low quality and medium quality is that easy to draw, and it can be done with just one quick look!
However, you should be aware of "splitting". Ingredient list with split ingredients might look like this "meat, corn, another part of corn, yet another part of corn". It looks like there's plenty of meat, because meat is the first ingredient. But if you could count all those corn parts together, they might actually outweigh the meat. They do this to make the dog food sound better, but if you train yourself look for this, you won't be fooled. You should also be vary if there are too many different grains in the list, since they might outweigh the meat too.
The third thing to pay attention to is the form of the meat. If the meat is in "meat" form, it has been weighted before it has been dried, which obviously makes it heavier and therefore higher in the ingredient list. When the water is removed, it probably drops further down the list. If the meat is in "meat meal" form, then you don't have to count the water factor. The meat should also be identified: chicken instead of poultry etc.
I have chosen some examples of real ingredient lists so I could demonstrate how easy it is to make the basic analyze of the dog food quality:
Corn Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Chicken, Dried Beet Pulp, Chicken Fat...
The first ingredient is "corn meal", so this automatically falls into "low quality" category.
Lamb, Brewers Rice, Corn Meal, Fish Meal (source of fish oil), Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Dried Egg Product, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Chicken Fat...
This look good at first, since the first ingredient is meat. However the meat is in "meat" form so in reality it should be lower in the list. Then the real first ingredient is most likely to be grain... I don't now have to analyze it any further because based on this information I know that it's a low quality dog food.
Cereals, meat and animal derivatives (min. 4% chicken in chicken kibble), vegetables (min. 4% vegetable in vegetable kibble) oils and fats, minerals, vegetable protein extracts...
What's in this?! I rate this lower than low quality.
Fresh boneless chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, russet potato, fresh pacific salmon, herring meal, sweet potato, peas, fresh lake whitefish, fresh northern walleye, chicken fat...
There are many meat products in this ingredient list, and they are all identified as well. Some of the meat is in "meat" form, but since there are meat in "meat meal" form too, it's quite safety to assume that the meat content in this dog food is high and therefore I place this in the high quality category.
It's relatively easy to detect if the food is low quality. Detecting whether the food is "medium quality" or "high quality" is harder. The quality is the higher the more meat it contains, simplified... But since the dog food manufacturers aren't always keen to share the exact percentages of the ingredients, it's sometimes hard to know for sure. Luckily the high quality dog food brands usually share this information openly.
There are also plenty of good dog food review websites on the Internet. They can help you to determine the quality of the dog food you're thinking about. My favorite website is Dog Food Analysis. They have reviewed dog foods solemnly by their ingredient lists and rated the food with stars from one to six They also have many interesting articles listed in their FAQ.
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