These days there are so many dog foods on the market and it’s tricky to know if you’re picking the right food for your dog. You may be familiar with websites that review and rank dog foods to guide you. But hold on - before you take online websites as gospel, have you questioned how reliable they are? Remember, there are no specific regulations in place allowing expert nutritional organisations to police these sites. Let us talk you through why you can’t always entirely trust these sources.
1. Money making through advertising
Even though lots of these websites claim to give ‘impartial’ nutrition information, they often accept payment from the brands they promote in exchange for advertising rights.Look carefully at the banners on the website - you might notice that the foods being ratedhighest are also heavily advertised. This represents a commercial relationship between the, parties, making it hard to take a claim of impartiality seriously.
2. Computer algorithms lack accuracy
Lots of these websites rely solely on computer algorithms - these cannot, and should not replace the opinion of a suitably qualified professional such as a veterinary nutritionist. These are specialists who study pet nutrition for up to 5 years, often with decades of experience working with pets and nutrition related health problems.
3. Biased unregulated rating criteria
Many of the rating systems are based on the opinions of the website founders, who usually have few, if any, clinical credentials. They are of course not regulated by clinical bodies such as the RCVS. These sites will often promote brands that a founder personally perceives to be important – rather than being based on peer reviewed science or fact. You wouldn’t rely on an unqualified individual to guide you and your children’s advice on nutrition, so you should hold the same standards for your pet’s food too.
A common example demonstrating lack of accuracy
Some founders of these websites believe that feeding dogs raw meat diets is best, and in order to promote such brands, will allocate them ‘superior’ ratings. As such, they disproportionately reward products based on a high % meat content and penalise products that are not raw or meat based.
This approach is fundamentally flawed as it clearly doesn’t take into account the large body of scientific research demonstrating raw diets can be dangerous and pose unnecessary risks for both pet and human health due to high bacteria and parasites contamination (1).
In addition, using % meat content to measure the nutritional quality of a pet food is not a science based approach. Firstly, thanks to various credible studies, it has been proven that dogs can obtain all their necessary protein and amino acids from alternative sources like fish, insects or plants, not just meat (2). Protein is protein, no one source is superior to another. Secondly, there is only so much protein that is required per meal, regardless of your dog’s lifestyle. Any excesses will go to waste and not offer extra ‘benefit’ to your dog.
Stick to credible vet verified resources
Rather than relying on such websites for nutrition analysis advice we recommend following a reputable source like the WSAVA nutritional assessment guidelines instead - these are developed by the global veterinary community and exist to safeguard the health and well being of pets.
So what should you be looking for ?
In addition to the factors online nutrition rating platforms use, here are some other key factors that are often not considered that we advise you to take into account when assessing a commercial diet for your pet:
- Microbial safety - there have been numerous recalls of pet foods due to contamination with harmful bacteria like e- coli, salmonella and campylobacter. The possibility of contamination should be taken into account when rating the quality of pet food; generally speaking, raw food has a higher risk of contamination (3) (that’s why people are recommended to cook their food).
- Post production analyses - to guarantee your dog food is nutritionally complete. A recent study published in the scientific Journal ‘Nature’ showed that more than 80% of UK pet foods were not FEDIAF compliant when analysed post production (4). Despite being labelled as ‘nutritionally complete’, shockingly analysis demonstrated that they either lacked or had dangerously high levels of vital nutrients, posing toxic risks to dogs. When choosing a petfood, it’s best to choose one that carries out routine post production analysis.
- Clinical studies - lots of companies make various health claims about their food but it’s important to make sure these are corroborated by scientific studies to show that their claims are evidence based.
- Involvement of a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist in the development and formulations of products.
- Clear labelling - by law pet food products need to declare certain information so it’s easy for consumers to understand what they are purchasing. This includes a detailed ingredient list, composition and analytical constituents such as vitamin and mineral levels
- Palatability - this is so important for improving quality of life, training purposes and for strengthening guardian-dog bonds. Whilst some foods are very palatable others are less so. This brings so much joy into your dog’s life and should be an essential factor when rating the quality of pet food.
- Allergy safety – If your dog suffers from diet related allergies – forget the online ratings, the best diet for your dog is a specific hypoallergenic or alternative protein diet (5). Contrary to popular belief, food intolerances and allergies can’t be controlled by ‘better quality’ or more expensive food. Studies show that animal proteins such as beef, chicken and dairy are the most common trigger, less frequently plant-based ingredients (e.g. soya, potato). Your vet will usually recommend you avoid feeding common meat-based allergens.
- Ingredient sourcing - these days more and more pet guardians want to know where their food comes from, the quality of the ingredients used and planetary impact in terms of carbon footprint. This can therefore also be a factor to take into consideration when analysing how good a pet food is.
1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration (22/02/2018) Get the Facts! Raw Pet food diets can be Dangerous to you and your pet Available at https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/get-facts-raw-pet-food-diets-can-be-dangerous-you-and-your-pet (Accessed: 26/03/2023
2. Ingenpaß, L et al. (2021) ‘Nitrogen output in the urban environment using a vegetarian canine diet’ PLoS ONE 16(9) Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0257364
3. Groat, E.F. (2022) ‘UK dogs eating raw meat diets have higher risk of Salmonella and anti-microbial resistant Escherichia-coli faecal carriage’ JSAP 63(6) pp435-441
4. Davies,M. (2017) ‘Mineral analysis of complete dog and cat foods in the UK and compliance with European Guidelines’ Nature
5. Datz,C. (2011) Food Allergies: Diagnostics & Therapeutic Food Options. Available at: https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/04/T1111F02.pdf (Accessed:26/03/2023).