Ever since I did 13 Pet Foods – Ranked From Great to Disastrous, many of you have been asking me to compile a detailed list of what I consider to be high quality commercially available pet foods. You’ve asked, ‘What’s the best food I can buy for my pet?'
My answer is there’s really not one best food. The more variety you feed your dog or cat, and the more species-appropriate the food is, the better you are nourishing your pet for a lifetime.
To give you an idea of the different types of higher quality pet foods available on the market today, I visited a Madison, Wisconsin upscale pet boutique called Bad Dog Frida. The store owners graciously opened their doors to me and allowed me to take viewers on a tour of the store to learn how to make good choices when buying pet food.
First Stop: The Freezer Section to Check Out Raw Diets
The best commercial food you can feed to your dog or cat will come from the freezer section of smaller or specialty pet stores and boutiques.
One of the reasons you won’t find freezers in most big box pet supply stores is because there’s considerable education involved in selling commercial raw food diets to the public. Some large chains like Petco and PetSmart may carry frozen or refrigerated foods, but they don’t have a staff knowledgeable in helping pet owners understand the ins and outs of feeding raw.
You’ll not only have more luck finding raw diets at pet boutiques, but the staff in smaller specialty stores will in most cases have the experience necessary to help you make good decisions on what food would be best for your pet.
When it comes to commercially prepared frozen raw food, you’ll find a wide variety of brands, flavors and protein sources. What type of raw food you decide to feed your dog or cat will depend on what he will eat.
For example, if you plan to transition your kitty from dry food to a raw diet, you’d first move her to canned food, and then introduce a chicken-based raw food that is somewhat similar in flavor to her chicken-based dry food.
When you look at the back of a bag of frozen raw pet food, one of the first things you want to see is that it is AAFCO compliant. This means it has been approved by the American Association of Feed Control Officials as nutritionally-balanced nourishment for all life stages (canine or feline).
I also recommend you feed only raw foods that are products of the U.S.A.
Another thing to check is the guaranteed analysis, specifically for fat content. Raw diets can be very low in fat, or very high in fat. If you have, for example, an otherwise healthy but underweight Boxer or Pointer, a higher fat raw food is the way to go.
But if your pet is obese or suffering from a medical condition like pancreatitis, you would want to select a raw diet low in fat content.
Next Best Option: Excellent Quality Canned Food
If for some reason you can’t or are unwilling to feed a biologically-appropriate raw diet, the next best option is canned food.
Raw food contains about 70 percent water, and the meat is in its natural state. Canned foods contain between 70 and 80 percent water, and the meats, while processed (cooked), are still a healthier choice than dry food.
When you look at the label on a canned pet food, you want to see protein as the first ingredient. If there are grains in the formula, they should be whole grains.
I don’t advocate feeding carbohydrates to dogs and cats, especially if they’re healthy. Now, if your cat has kidney problems or your dog is suffering from liver failure, you need to supply a small amount of grains in the diet to offset protein. Pets with kidney and liver failure can’t process canned protein efficiently.
But today I’m discussing healthy pets. They require a good amount of protein in the diet, and few if any carbs.
So you want the canned food label to show meat as the first two ingredients, followed by healthy sources of veggies and fruits. Remember, order of ingredients is important.
The label on the can of food I’m holding (in the video) lists ingredients as follows:
- Boneless, skinless, white meat chicken
- Water sufficient for processing (this will always be at the top of the list for canned foods)
- Sweet potato
- Sunflower seed oil
The whole vegetables mixed with meats in this formula make it biologically appropriate. This is a much, much better choice than a food containing split proteins, unidentified proteins, split fraction grains, or pieces and parts of vegetables and fruit. Whole foods are what you want to see on a label of canned food.
This canned food also reads, ‘Grain Free Greatness. Produced with the same ingredients used in products for humans.’
What this means is not only is the formula grain-free, but while the food itself is not approved for human consumption, the ingredients are. That’s what you want to see on a canned pet food label.
Another Good Option: Dehydrated Raw Food
If you can’t or don’t want to feed whole raw or canned food, a good middle-of-the-road choice is dehydrated raw food. Dehydrated means it’s dry, but only until you add warm water. Then it becomes a biologically appropriate food with about 70 percent water (or more, if you want to add more).
Dehydrated raw means the food hasn’t been processed at high temperatures and in many cases the nutrient value has been retained. Dehydrated raw isn’t true raw. Truly raw food will decompose if you leave it out on a counter at room temperature. Dehydrated raw won’t.
Dehydrated raw is a good go-between diet for pets that are being transitioned from dry food to raw, or for pet owners who don’t want to feed true raw or canned diets.
I also like this type of food for its digestibility and also for the different protein sources available, for example, turkey, beef, chicken and fish. When you add water to the powder, it turns into the consistency of gruel. It’s a great choice for animals with gastrointestinal sensitivities or that are recovering from GI surgery.
I recommend it for pet owners who want to feed a grain free diet but aren’t comfortable with raw. I also recommend it as a transitional food for pets that are coming off a bland diet for a GI problem or pancreatitis, for example.
As regular readers of my newsletter know, I’m a firm believer in feeding a wide variety of foods to pets. I love the idea of mixing things up by serving a combination of different varieties of raw, canned and dehydrated raw.
Make sure the brand you select is AAFCO approved for all life stages to insure it’s a nutritionally complete diet for your dog or cat.
Remember to check the ingredient label on every bag, box or can of food you feed your dog or cat. The box of dehydrated raw I’m holding (in the video) has the following ingredients, in the following order:
- Dehydrated turkey
- Organic flaxseed
- Organic coconut
- Organic kelp
All the above are excellent raw foods in their natural form. You can’t get much better quality than this when it comes to prepared food ingredients. This brand is also AAFCO approved, which means it’s safe and nutritionally balanced for all life stages. It’s also made in the U.S.
Last on the List: Dry Food
So to review what we’ve covered so far, a raw diet is the most biologically and species-appropriate option for your pet.
Next is a high quality canned food and/or dehydrated raw, both of which should be moisture rich and grain free.
Down the list from those is dry food.
In Bad Dog Frida and other specialty pet food stores with a passion for pet nutrition, the focus is on species-appropriate foods, including dry foods. But dry food is lowest on my list because it lacks moisture content.
Dry pet foods, on average, contain about 12 percent moisture. That’s down from the 70 to 80 percent contained in raw, canned and dehydrated raw with water added. Cats and dogs fed a diet of dry food all their lives often experience significant organ stress, specifically the kidneys.
Many pet owners mistakenly believe dry food cleans their dog’s or cat’s teeth. That’s a myth. Dry, crunchy kibble doesn’t clean your pet’s teeth any better than granola or crackers clean yours.
The only way your pet’s teeth will get clean is if there is shearing action from bone-dense food, or if he’s grinding on raw bones, or when you brush his teeth. Dry foods have no shearing or grinding action, and most of them are carbohydrate based. They contain grains your pet doesn’t need nutritionally, and these grains also promote plaque and tartar.
At Bad Dog Frida, there are varieties of foods that contain very few carbs. And they have entirely grain free varieties as well.
Keep in mind all dry, crunchy, kibble-based pet food formulas contain some form of starch – it could be tapioca, it could be potato flour, it might be pea flour. But there has to be some type of starch or gluten to make the food sticky enough to form the pieces of kibble. So even if a dry food is grain free, don’t be tricked into thinking it’s carbohydrate free.
The label of this particular bag of dry food (being held in the video) lists the following ingredients, in this order:
- Salmon meal (Meat ‘meal’ is meat that has had the moisture removed. Salmon meal is salmon that has been dehydrated and ground up.)
- Herring meal
- Russet potato
- Deboned whitefish
- Sweet potato
- Salmon oil
The first six ingredients are fish and potatoes – whole foods. All the fish is whole, and the sweet potato and peas are also in whole form. This is as healthy a dry food as you’ll find.
The second half of this video will run next week. I've purchased some pet food from a big box pet store and also a supermarket and brought them to the back room of Bad Dog Frida. We'll take a look at the quality of those foods compared to what we've seen here today.