When I recommend premium food to dog owners, they often ask, “Is it really worth the price?” Or, “How could it possibly be that much better than the grocery store brands?” The answer is: Yes, absolutely. There is an enormous difference between premium and basic dog food. Nowhere is that difference better highlighted than the ingredient list on each bag. Although I feed a whole prey model raw diet to my dogs, that’s not a realistic option for every pet owner; it takes time, effort, and study. A good alternative is a premium dry or canned food, with fresh meats and vegetables added as occasional supplements.
So what’s in your dog food? If you’ve never taken the time to check the ingredient list, you might be surprised. Let’s look at some popular basic nutrition brands, and compare the labels with a few premium brands.
Basic Nutrition Dog Food Ingredients
Let’s start with one of the most common brands of dog food, one which I happen to feel is also among the least nutritious choices available: Pedigree.
I’ll post the ingredient list for their basic adult formula, and bold the ingredients that should be part of a dog’s ideal diet:
Ground Whole Corn, Meat And Bone Meal, Ground Wheat, Corn Gluten Meal, Animal Fat (Preserved With Bha/Bht), Wheat Mill Run, Wheat Flour, Natural Flavor, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Caramel Color, Chicken By-Product Meal, Rice, Vegetable Oil (Source Of Linoleic Acid), Vitamins (Choline Chloride, Dl-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate [Source Of Vitamin E], L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate [Source Of Vitamin C*], Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Biotin, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement [Vitamin B2], Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Minerals (Zinc Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Potassium Iodide), Added FD&C And Lake Colors (Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 2, Red 40).
Next, let’s do the same with one other popular but not terribly nutritious brand, Purina Dog Chow:
Whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), corn gluten meal, meat and bone meal, brewers rice, soybean meal, barley, whole grain wheat, animal digest, calcium carbonate, salt, calcium phosphate, potassium chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, choline chloride, zinc sulfate, Vitamin E supplement, zinc proteinate, ferrous sulfate, added color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 2, Yellow 6), DL-Methionine, manganese sulfate, manganese proteinate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, copper sulfate, calcium pantothenate, copper proteinate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin B-12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin D-3 supplement, riboflavin supplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.
Noticing a pattern here? Each of these basic nutrition brands has only three suitable ingredients, and they’re the same ones. Notice that neither brand contains any fresh muscle meat, and both contain ingredients labeled as “meat” or “animal” products– not from any particular species. Now, let’s contrast this with some premium brands.
Premium Dog Food Ingredients
For this category, I’ve selected two brands I’ve personally used. The first is simply a premium dog food; the second is a super-premium, grain free brand, which is the best choice aside from raw for most dogs.
The first dog food we’ll look at is Blue Buffalo Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe for Adult Dogs. As before, I’ve bolded the ingredients that should be part of a dog’s ideal diet:
Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Whole Ground Brown Rice, Whole Ground Barley, Oatmeal, Rye, Whole Potatoes, Tomato Pomace (natural source of Lycopene), Chicken Fat (preserved with Natural Mixed Tocopherols), Natural Chicken Flavor, Whole Carrots, Whole Sweet Potatoes, Blueberries, Cranberries, Flaxseed, Barley Grass, Dried Parsley, Alfalfa Meal, Kelp Meal, Taurine, L-Carnitine, L-Lysine, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Yucca Shidigera Extract, Green Tea Extract, Turmeric, Garlic, Sunflower Oil (natural source of Omega 6 Fatty Acids), Herring Oil (natural source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids), Dried Chicory Root, Black Malted Barley, Oil of Rosemary, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin C, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Beta Carotene, Calcium Ascorbate (source of Vitamin C), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Niacin (Vitamin B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Folic Acid, Biotin, Choline Chloride, Dicalcium Phosphate, Zinc Amino Acid Complex (source of Chelated Zinc), Iron Amino Acid Complex (source of Chelated Iron), Copper Amino Acid Complex (source of Chelated Copper), Manganese Amino Acid Complex (source of Chelated Manganese), Potassium Amino Acid Complex (source of Chelated Potassium), Cobalt Proteinate (source of Chelated Cobalt), Potassium Chloride, Sodium Selenite, Salt, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bacillus subtilis, Bifidobacterium thermophilum, Bifidobacterium longum, Enterococcus faecium.
As you can see, it’s a big improvement, but there are still a lot of unnecessary carbohydrates and grains; in addition, vitamin supplements are unnecessary with a balanced raw diet, so I haven’t bolded those in any selected food. For our second premium food, let’s look at Innova Evo Red Meat:
Beef, Lamb Meal, Potatoes, Egg, Sunflower Oil, Buffalo, Lamb, Venison, Beef Cartilage, Herring Oil, Natural Flavors, Apples, Carrots, Tomatoes, Alfalfa Sprouts, Garlic, Cottage Cheese, Potassium Chloride, Vitamins/Minerals, Ascorbic Acid, Dried Chicory Root, Direct-Fed Microbials, Vitamin E Supplement, Lecithin, Rosemary Extract.
Even with a very short ingredient list, Evo Red Meat is mostly made of bolded ingredients. The potatoes are necessary because dog food does not hold a kibble shape without starch; nonetheless, they’re not nutritionally necessary, so no bold text for them. If I have to feed kibble for a short period of time for any reason, this is the food I use.
As you can see, there’s a big difference between grocery and premium foods. Please read the ingredient label before buying any pet food!