Web Only Article August 23, 2016

Buying the Best Canned Dog Food: Behind WDJ's Approved Wet Dog Food List

What are those long ingredient lists on canned dog food labels really telling you? Are there ANY quality canned foods out there?

Can you identify with confidence every ingredient listed on the back of your dog's wet food can? We'd be surprised if you can. As a responsible pet food consumer, you want to focus more on whole, natural dog food ingredients rather than highly processed meats, grains and sugars. We have plenty of organic, raw, preservative-free options in stores for our own consumption, and thankfully we do see similar trends in the way dog food is made and marketed.

That being said, the pet food industry could always be more transparent to the public about their manufacturing policies. More importantly, commerical dog food could always be healthier for dogs to eat. We recently took an inside look into a small-batch canned dog food manufacturing facility, but that experience was perhaps an example of how things ought to be done, not as they always really are.

The following information and all of Whole Dog Journal's dog food evaluations are meant to prepare you with the tools to make educated choices when selecting a new food for your dog. Use these lists of quality dog foods for reference in choosing a food that's acceptable for your dog:

So, you're at the supermarket or pet store. Rover is all out of kibble, and you know from reading WDJ that it's good to switch up his dog food from time to time in order to provide a more balanced array of nutrients. You usually feed standard kibble, but this time you feel like trying a wet food. As you gaze down the colorful aisle, with maybe 30 different kinds of wet dog food cans, you might feel overwhelmed. You might jump to a conclusion that all canned dog food must be more or less of equal quality, and grab the one that's cheapest or has the nicest label. If only those assumptions were true! Despite the dubious manufacturing practices of many wet dog foods, there are plenty of benefits of canned food as well.

Whole Dog Journal Approved canned dog food

Since 1998, the Whole Dog Journal has worked to help owners take back control when it comes to choosing a pet food that's right for their dogs. You can find commercial dog foods that are great quality! All you need to do is know what to look for. 

Whole Dog Journal contacts the companies on each year's list to ask questions explicitly about nutritional facts, ingredient sourcing and manufacturing policies. And every year, we are astounded by the opacity with which companies shroud their information. For instance, a few companies stated they only release full nutrient analyses to veterinarians, for whatever reason. This is suspicious. Many companies will not disclose full nutritional details of their pet food to anyone. Thus the need arose for WDJ to dig a bit further into what's really going onto the pet food aisle, and into our puppies' bellies. 

Year by Year: Subscribers to Whole Dog Journal can access all of our annual canned dog food reviews online. We'd like to note that the brands included in our reviews are by no means the only acceptable wet dog food brands out there. A food that works perfectly for your dog may not be covered in our lists, and there may even be foods we approve that you could never feed your dog. For this reason, we encourage our readers to share their most successful commercial dog foods in the comment section below! Here are links to the past five lists of approved canned dog foods:

Whole Dog Journal rates wet dog food and publishes its findings annually in the "Approved" dog food lists according to the following criteria:

→ Must-Have Ingredients in Canned Dog Food

 Be sure your dog's canned food contains the following elements to ensure you're buying a quality product. No can of commercial dog food is going to be perfect for every dog, but to ensure your dog receives a proper balance of nutrients, the one you feed should meet the WDJ criteria. Your goal in selecting a food is to find the one with the most whole food ingredients, and the least artificial additives.

top quality canned dog food

This is a really good example of top-quality canned dog food.

PROTEIN:  The protein source should be #1 on the ingredient list, and it should always name a specific animal, such as chicken, lamb, beef, etc. 

GRAINS: Repeat after us: whole, and unprocessed. Although grains and starches are not necessary in canned dog food, you will almost always encounter them in some form. Go for brown rice or wild rice. Avoid wheat gluten, which is used as a binder and often one of the first ingredients in wet dog food, as well as corn starch. Avoid white rice if you can. 

VEGGIES: Potato and sweet potato are common thickeners in canned dog food. These are acceptable so long as they are listed as the sixth or seventh ingredient, versus the third or fourth. The same rule goes for other vegetable products, such as tomato paste and potato starch. If you happen to find a dog food with whole non-starch veggies like carrots, alfalfa, or apples, bravo! This is an excellent indication of a good pet food.

COMPLETE AND BALANCED: A "complete and balanced" dog food has either passed an AAFCO feeding trial, met its Nutrient Profiles criteria, or belongs to a line of products that has previously gained its AAFCO approval. For a full profile of the "complete and balanced" label, see "Complete and Balanced Dog Food," (WDJ, June 2016).

→ Avoid Canned Dog Food with These Ingredients  

BYPRODUCTS: As pet owners, we have a frustratingly little amount of control over the byproducts that are in our dogs' food. They come in every kind of food group - meat, grains, vegetables, and on top of that there are all those preservatives and god-knows-what unpronouncable chemicals, which we cover below. Lower-quality foods will flat out list "meat by-product" as one of the main ingredients of their foods, but these highly processed, low nutrient foodstuffs appear under many names. Beware of things like "modified beef". 

NON-SPECIFIC OR UNNAMED ANIMAL SOURCES: If a food lists unspecified organs as a primary meat source, we would not feed it. Common examples are "liver," "heart" and "tripe", with no indication of what animal those parts came from. The same goes for unidentified "poultry".

FOOD BINDERS: We mentioned these above. In foods that contain highly processed meat sources, binders are needed to hold the meat-stuff together so that it more closely resembles natural "chunks". Wheat gluten and various gums that you find in human foods (like guar and carrageenan) should be at the bottom of the ingredient list, if there at all.

SUGAR/SWEETENERS: There should be no artificial sweeteners in dog food, but lower quality foods will add them for the simple reason that it makes the food taste better. Sugar and molasses are common. Never buy a food with corn syrup in it.

ARTIFICIAL COLORING/EXCESS PRESERVATIVES: For the full scoop on preservatives, see "Problems With Artificial Preservatives in Dog Food," (WDJ, May 2010). Luckily, preservatives are not common in wet dog foods because the canning process prevents rancidity.

For a quick list of what to look for and what to avoid, see "Hallmarks of Quality Dog Food," (WDJ, February 2012).

WDJ editor Nancy Kerns' grandog, Cole, LOVES canned food.

YOUR DOG’S UNIQUE DIET AND NUTRITION NEEDS

Keep in mind that even the most highly regarded dog food on earth could never be right for every dog. Your dog's body is unique; it comes with quirks and sensitivities just like humans' bodies do. Whole Dog Journal seeks to provide you with the strongest foundation possible for finding the best wet dog food, but you know your dog best. Some factors to consider are:

- A dog who might be prone to urinary tract infections would be better off with a food lower in pH (less acidic).
- If your dog is lean and active, you might look for a higher-fat, higher-protein brand.
- If your dog is older and less active, you might want food with a higher percentage of lean protein.

You must also be realistic about availability. Online shopping eliminates this problem for the most part. Just don't rely on any old commercial pet store to carry artisan, independent pet food lines. Equally important are the price points for higher quality dog food. Buy the best dog food you can find, but choose one within your comfortable means. Our 2014 Canned Dog Food Review covers the pricing of pet food further in detail.

See these Whole Dog Journal articles for more in depth examples of some dogs' dietary needs: "Special Diets for Dogs With Cancer," (December 1998), "Managing Diabetes in Dogs," (May 2012), "Healthy Low-Fat Diets For Dogs With Special Dietary Needs," (December 2008).


To access Whole Dog Journal's canned dog food reviews online, click the links below or become a subscriber

 Happy dog food hunting!

Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this post using the section below.

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In