What You’re Really Feeding Your Dog – Getting to the Bottom of What is Really in Your Dog’s Food - Vittles Vault

What you're really feeding your dog {Part 2 of 4}

Getting to the Bottom of What is Really in Your Dog's Food

You get what you pay for...

This popular saying definitely rings true when it comes to your dog’s food. Dog food that is less expensive is usually filled with unhealthy additives, binders, synthetic supplements and other undesirable elements.

Dog food that is higher in price is generally more expensive because it is made with thoughtfully sourced, real-food ingredients, which is just what your dog needs!

To prove this point, let's start by examining a few different dog foods at varying price points.


Disclaimer: This information is not meant to either promote or denigrate any brands of dog food. Care has been taken to ensure that what I share is based solely on researched facts and what is clearly stated on food labels. Before making changes to your pet's feeding habits, please consult a nutritional expert.

1. Least Expensive - Purina Alpo

$30 for a 47 lb. bag , or $0.64 per pound

First 5 ingredients:

  1. Ground yellow corn
  2. Meat and bone meal
  3. Soybean meal
  4. Beef tallow preserved with mixed- tocopherols
  5. Corn gluten meal

Yikes! We can do better for our pets, right??

2. Low to Mid Price - Blue Buffalo

$48 for a 30 lb. bag, or $1.60 per pound

First 5 ingredients:

  1. Deboned chicken
  2. Chicken meal
  3. Brown rice
  4. Barley
  5. Oatmeal

Blue Buffalo says all the right things. Their tagline is: "Love them like family. Feed them like family." They have deep pockets for marketing, and their copywriting ninjas know exactly what to say to push your loving pet parent trigger buttons. 

However, please note that this formula is loaded with carbohydrates. Brown rice, barley and oatmeal may sound healthy, but these are all variations of grains, and they have no business being in your dog's food.

"But I thought grains were healthy!"

Consider this perspective from Dr. Karen Becker:

Dogs, as we know, have no biological requirement for grain. The only grain wild canines get in their natural diet comes predigested in the stomach contents of prey animals.

Dogs in the wild hunt, kill and eat prey animals. They don't graze on grass or other grains like cows and horses do. They aren't herbivores or omnivores. Dogs are carnivores.

Most grain-based pet foods contain loads of it because grain is plentiful and cheap. Grain-based pet foods are pro-inflammatory and generally detrimental to the health of dogs because as carnivores, they aren't designed to process food containing grain.


Dr. Becker
Healthy Pets

3. Mid Range - Science Diet

$30 for a 17.5 lb. bag, or $1.71 per pound

First 5 ingredients:

  1. Chicken
  2. Whole grain wheat
  3. Cracked pearled barley
  4. Whole grain sorghum
  5. Whole grain corn

The buzzword of "whole grain" has gotten quite popular in today's dog food marketing jargon. Yes, whole grains are healthier than refined grains because they contain more fiber, and other nutrients such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. However, please reference the quote from Dr. Karen Becker (above) and decide if your pup should really be consuming this many grains.

4. Medium/High Price - Castor & Pollux

$66 for a 22 lb. bag, or $3.00 per pound

First 5 ingredients:

  1. Lamb
  2. Chicken meal
  3. Organic peas
  4. Organic tapioca
  5. Garbanzo beans

If you did a double take when you saw that there is tapioca in your dog's food, you're not alone. I mean, isn't tapioca a pudding?

Well, it turns out, that tapioca is a starch, also known as cassava. It's a staple food source in many parts of the world.

Next question: why is tapioca in dog food?

This gets interesting...

According to Dog Food Advisor, in order to make kibble, there has to be some kind of a binding agent so that the kibble holds its shape. That binding agent will be a starch. In order to create a dog food that is grain-free and gluten-free, a lot of higher end companies are turning to tapioca as a healthier alternative.

The problem? There is no nutritional value in tapioca for cats and dogs, so when you see tapioca on your dog's food label, you need to be aware that it's a filler. AND, when it's this high on the list of ingredients, that's a lot of filler in your dog's food!

Source: http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2012/09/05/raw-kibble-pet-food.aspx

Source: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/forums/topic/tapioca/​

5. Highest Price Dog Food - Orijen

$83 for a 25 lb. bag, or $3.32 per pound

First 5 ingredients:

  1. Deboned chicken
  2. Deboned turkey
  3. Yellowtail flounder
  4. Whole eggs
  5. Whole Atlantic mackerel

This is a high protein formula, and there is some controversy about how much protein is too much protein for your dog's food. What's important to remember is that when an animal in nature consumes protein, there is a high level of moisture content. Since kibble contains approximately 10% moisture or less, its dryness can cause stress on your pet's digestive system.

Dog Food Advisor recommends adding water to your dog's kibble.

Learn more and view our source data here: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/forums/topic/dry-dog-food-add-water/

When looking for a biologically dog food, you want to make sure the first 2-4 (minimum) ingredients are some kind of meat. When the first ingredient in a dog's food is corn, that should be your number one clue that you need to steer clear.

The ingredient list on pet food labels can be overwhelming. There are meats, meat by-products, meat meal, meat and bone meal, animal by-product meal, and so much more. It’s important to know the differences between these proteins… Or lack there of.

According to AAFCO the official definitions to these ingredients are:

Meat: Primarily the muscle tissue of the animal, but may include the fat, gristle and other tissues that normally accompany the muscle. This can be similar to what you might see when you go to the store and buy a piece of raw meat for yourself. If the word “meat” is used, it can only be from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats.

Meat By-Products: Primarily the parts of the animal other than the muscle tissue, including the internal organs and bones. As with "meat," unless the by-products are derived from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats, the species must be identified.

Meat Meal: The rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure and stomach. The rendering process is used to destroy disease-causing bacteria. This ingredient may be from mammals other than cattle, pigs, sheep or goats without further description.

Meat and Bone Meal: Meat and bone meal is the same as meat meal, except it includes the rendered product from mammal tissues and bone.

Animal By-Product Meal: Animal by-product meal is the same as meat meal and meat and bone meal, except it may consist of whole carcasses.

Knowing what these ingredients actually mean is important. Some of these definitions of ingredients are a bit alarming. For example, in meat meal, it does not need to be specified what mammal the meat is coming from. Meaning, you can be feeding your dog chicken, pork, sheep, rodent, squirrel, opossum, skunk, road kill, or even other dogs and cats that were euthanized from a shelter or vet clinic.

That’s scary (and disgusting).

The ingredients you should be looking for in your dog’s food are:

  • Meat (Better if specified what kind of meat, i.e. chicken, beef, lamb)​
  • Deboned or bone in specified meat
  • Vegetables

Fillers are used in dog foods to make the food less expensive for the manufactures to produce, as well as stabilizing the food for shipment and storage. Most fillers add unhealthy carbohydrates to the food, and are not beneficial for your dog.

The most common fillers are:

  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Rice
  • Soy
  • Potatoes
  • Beet pulp​

Knowing what’s really in your dog’s food can be disturbing. Educating yourself on the ingredients and what they really mean just shows how much you love and care about your pup!

Please use this handy cheat sheet as a reference ​and reminder next time you shop at your local, independent pet store.

Dog Food Ingredients to avoid
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About the Author

Kassi Calton, a Marketing Specialist at GAMMA2, is a lover of all things pets, food, DIY and travel.

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