Whole Dog Journal’s 1999 Dry Dog Food Review

What separates great from merely good foods? WDJ explains . . .


There are countless pet food manufacturers calling their foods “premium” these days, but were you aware that the word doesn’t actually mean anything? That is, there are no official requirements that a manufacturer has to meet in order to call its food “premium.”

And, unfortunately, there are also countless dog owners being taken in by this appellation – people who want “the best” for their dogs, and trust that a high price tag and the word “premium” on the label means they are buying the best food their Buddys could ever want.

In WDJ’s estimation, in order to earn the title “premium,” to make it onto our top 10 list, a food must be something really special. It’s not enough to be simply un-awful; only foods that are formulated with the most wholesome, pure, and beneficial ingredients are “premium” in our book.

We’ve spent months examining the labels of all the best dry dog foods we could find, looking for truly healthy, top quality foods. Our 10 favorites are identified and described on the next three pages.

Our purpose in making these selections is twofold. First, we would like to give you a list of foods that you could buy today to improve the health of your dog.

But we’re not going to pretend that we’ve seen every dog food on the market. New foods pop up all the time. Some manufacturers market their products in restricted areas only. So, along with our selections, we present the reasons why we picked each food, so you can compare any foods you might know of (but that do not appear here) and see for yourself what makes one better than the other. We want to give you a fish, in other words, but we want to teach you to fish for yourself, too!

The following is the criteria we used to make our selections. We chose foods that are made with:

• Only the best sources of protein (whole, fresh meats or single-source meat i.e. chicken meal rather than poultry meal, which may contain several types of fowl. Also, the use of any generic protein i.e. “animal fat,” disqualifies a food from our list).

• No meat by-products (by-products in and of themselves are not necessarily evil. But these “second-class” products are not handled as carefully as whole meat. And the sources tend to be far more dubious than whole meat).

• A whole-meat source as one of the first two ingredients (chicken or chicken meal, for instance, as opposed to chicken fat).

• No artificial preservatives (including BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin).

• No artificial colors.

• No sugars and sweeteners like corn syrup, sucrose, and ammoniated glycyrrhizin (added to attract dogs to otherwise unappealing food).

• No propylene glycol (added to some foods to keep them moist).

Embattled ingredients
Longtime readers may notice one difference between our criteria for our 1999 selections and our 1998 selections. Last year, we disregarded any food made with corn, one of the least expensive grains available to dog food makers. This year, we’ve relaxed on the corn issue, as long as the corn is presented in its whole, healthy form. Corn fragments (corn gluten meal, corn syrup, corn oil) do not qualify, especially if they appear high up in the ingredients list. (Remember, the ingredients are listed by weight. The more of something there is in the food, the higher it will appear on the list.)

Why the switch? Well, we could say we were finally convinced to take another side in the great corn controversy. Controversial corn? Oh yes; many foods are quite controversial in this highly competitive market, with manufacturers doing their very best to fan the flames in the direction of their rivals’ ingredients. Take a look at how several different dog food makers have described corn:

Beowulf’s All Natural: “Called the ‘King of Carbohydrates,’ corn readily metabolizes into usable energy and is a rich source of linoleic acid, and has a high level of digestibility.”

Flint River Ranch: “Ordinary dog foods are made with corn. Rice and wheat are easier to digest than corn, and therefore easier on your dog’s system.”

Canidae: “No corn. No wheat. No soy.”

We most respect the opinion of Natura Pet Products, who tells what appears to be – pardon us– the whole story:

“Ground corn is a good source of carbohydrates. And because it contains the entire kernel, it contributes additional protein, corn oil, corn bran, and vitamins and minerals to the diet. This is in contrast to corn fractions, which are leeched of many of these natural nutrients. The downside of corn is that it is a common allergen.”

Manufacturers also argue about beet pulp (“cheap filler” vs. “good source of fiber”) wheat (“the most common allergen” vs. “one of the most nutritionally balanced cereal grains”), oven-baking vs. extrusion (“oven-baking results in better nutrition” vs. “dry, wet, and steam-injected extrusion of ingredients maximizes nutritional value”), and even which type of natural preservative to use (“tocopherol works just fine as a preservative for up to 12 months” and “wholesome vitamins C and E offers all the properties of a chemical preservative without the associated health risks” vs. “vitamin E lasts only about a month as a preservative; vitamin C lasts only about 12 hours after the consumer opens the bag.”

When caught in the crossfire, we’ve tried not to simply mouth the platitudes we’ve heard from one or two manufacturers; instead, we’ve used our own judgement to determine the validity of one opinion or another. We ask you to do the same. Check out our selections. Scrutinize the lists of ingredients (see below). And by all means, analyze our arguments for our favorite foods.

-By Nancy Kerns