Letters 04/02: Let’s Talk About Food!
WDJ editor answers questions about recent dry dog food reviews.
Thanks so much for all your calls and letters about our annual dry dog food review (“Choose the Best Dry Food,” WDJ February 2002). Most people – especially new readers, who are not yet accustomed to magazines that take a stand on products! – were happy to have access to that sort of material.
But no one can win all the time. Other readers still had questions after completing the article, and still others took exception to their favorite food’s lack of presence on our list of “Top Foods.” We’d like to take the opportunity to answer those concerns here.
We’ve also received a mountain of mail concerning the articles in our February and March issues concerning spot-on flea control products. We will publish a number of those letters and answer questions about the topic in the next issue.
Thanks for your interest in WDJ!
-Nancy Kerns, Editor
A reader writes:
I find your top dry dog foods list to be extremely useful. However, it concerns me that a consumer might stop using a food that has been on a previous list because they don’t see it mentioned in your article. People I talked to about the top dog foods list were alarmed that [one particular food] was not mentioned this year.
From now on, we promise, whenever we review foods, we will run a list of all the foods we’ve ever selected as “Top Dry Foods.” Such a list appears below. In our defense, we did mention in the text that all the foods we have listed as “approved” before still meet our criteria as good foods.
As we’ve stated many times, the foods that we highlight in our lists of “Top Dry Foods” have met our selection criteria, based on a review of the ingredients listed on the food labels. We describe the ingredients that we think should be in a food, the ingredients that ought to be present in a food in only limited amounts, and the ones that ought not be included in a food at all. Our criteria has not changed in any significant ways from year to year. If a food meets our stated criteria, it will always do so unless its ingredients have changed.
I was dismayed that [the food I use] did not make your list. Can you look at the enclosed label and tell me what you think of it?
Our lists of foods contain only some foods that meet our selection criteria; with thousands of foods on the market (some available only in one state or area of the country), we can’t list (or even look at) every good food.
However, if you apply the selection criteria we describe in the “Top Dry Foods” article, you can judge the food for yourself. Does it have lots of items described in our list of “hallmarks of a high quality food”? If so, that’s good! Does it have lots of ingredients that are included in our list of “hallmarks of a low-quality dry food”? That’s bad. Then there are the items we listed under, “High quality foods should contain a minimum of the following.” If your food has more than two or three of these ingredients, the quality of the food is lessened.
If you don’t inspect the plants that make the foods you have selected, or conduct lab tests, how seriously can I take your results?
As stated before, we simply read food labels and judge their ingredients against our stated criteria.
In past articles, we have spoken about the fact that so little regulation of this industry takes place, and how what the company says is in the bag might well differ from what is in the bag. We’ve even discussed how companies have six months from the time they change a recipe to actually change the list of ingredients on their bags!
There are state and federal regulations that would, conceivably, catch and punish a food maker if they were lying about what is in their foods. Every so often, food makers are caught. This seems to be enough to keep most of them honest.
I live in a rural area, so top quality dog foods are hard to find. I would have to travel quite a distance, probably over 50 miles one way, to look for one of the foods listed in your list. Plus, it would be cost prohibitive for me to order the foods you recommend because I have many dogs.
Many people have complained about the lack of local availability of some of the foods we highlighted. Again, you may be able to find a local food as good or better than the ones we list. Many of the makers of the foods we highlighted will sell directly to pet owners, sometimes splitting shipping costs. In other cases, we’ve heard of people approaching their local groomer, breeder, or pet supply store – not national chain stores, which generally carry only the foods that the national office allows them to – and asking the store owner to carry one of the foods they like best. If the buyer can tell the store owner that he or she will buy a certain amount of the food monthly, and convince X number of their friends to buy that food, too, the store owner may be able to expand his inventory to include that food.
We can’t address the high cost of good foods. Top quality foods are necessarily expensive because top quality ingredients are expensive. You can’t sell a 30-pound bag of fresh cuts of quality meats, fresh vegetables, and whole grains for less than the cost of those ingredients. Assiduous price comparisons and not overfeeding your dogs will help. People who keep a large number of dogs, or a few very large dogs do have a problem. If they choose to feed those dogs a lesser quality, lesser-cost food, that is their decision. However, many dogs can live and thrive on any food. If your dog maintains peak health on low cost, low quality food, we’re truly happy for you. You and your dog are lucky.
Look, I want to feed my dog the best food possible and money is no object. Which food is the BEST one?
As we’ve said many times before, we believe that the BEST food for a dog would be similar to what you eat yourself – maybe better! In our opinion, and that of the nutrition and veterinary experts we have consulted, well-researched home-prepared diets, containing human-quality, fresh foods are truly what’s best for dogs. We have published numerous articles about home-prepared diets and even commercial diets made of human-grade, fresh, frozen foods, and will run many more. (In just the next few months, you will see at least three more articles on these subjects.)
If what you are interested in is the best dry dog food for your dog, well, you are going to have to ask your dog. Selecting a food is an individual matter. The food our dog thrives on gives our neighbor’s dog diarrhea. The food she eats makes our dog itch. Both of the foods are what we would consider great foods.
Dogs, like people, are individuals. Some people (and dogs) can’t tolerate dairy products; some are allergic to wheat. That doesn’t make foods that contain dairy products or wheat bad foods.
All you can do is to select a good food, and try it on your dog. Watch her carefully: her coat, eyes, and ears should be clear. She shouldn’t itch or scratch. She shouldn’t develop digestive problems, or hair loss, or ear infections. If she does, it’s not proof that the food is “bad,” it just means it’s not the “best” food for that individual.
Also With This Article
Click here to view "WDJ’s Lists of Approved 'Top Dry Foods' 1998-2002."
Another food-related letter
I’m a recent subscriber to WDJ so I’m not sure if you’ve done any articles about the food called Balance Diet, made by a New Mexico company called Veterinary Nutrition Corporation, also known as NutriVet. Balance Diet is a grain-free, kibble-type food, but made by a fermentation process rather than baking or extrusion. I wonder if a steady diet of fermented food is safe for dogs? The company’s Web site (www.balancediet.com) contains a lot of information, but it’s a bit cloudy for my taste.
Also I’ve read on message boards about the company having poor customer service in the past. I’ve looked at the New Mexico Better Business Bureau site and see that complaints have been lodged against the company. But I’ve also gotten samples from them and my dogs really loved the stuff. Could or would WDJ be willing to turn their investigative eye on the situation presented?
-Name withheld by request
We did mention Balance Diet’s products several years ago (“What’s New in Food? November 1999). We agreed that the company’s product is interesting and unique, and that most people we knew who have fed it to their dogs report that the dogs love it. Many people wrote or called to say their dogs looked and felt great when fed Balance Diet.
However, we also received calls and letters from people who said their dogs experienced digestive problems on the food. We also mentioned that numerous readers had complained to us about the company’s business practices, including allegations that consumers were overcharged, paid for product that never arrived, never received promised refunds, and so on. We searched the database of the New Mexico Better Business Bureau (www.bbbnm. com/reports/reports.html), which included the following statement: “Based on BBB files, this company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to unanswered complaints.”
After we wrote to her office, we received a note from Joyce Lincoln, of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office:
“Thanks for your inquiry about Veterinary Nutrition Corporation. When you do your next story about them, please mention that the Attorney General’s Office would like to hear from consumers who have purchased products directly from the manufacturer. They can download complaint forms off our Web site at www.ago.state.nm.us. Go to the Consumer Protection link on the navigational bar. It must be mailed with any documentation that may be applicable. Or, they can call our consumer protection number at (800) 678-1508.”
Balance Diet’s ingredients look great. However, because of reports from readers who had problems with either the food or the company, we are uncertain about what to advise you about the food.
Readers: If you have had experiences with the company and its products – good or bad – could you drop us a line and let us know? – NK