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DogFoodSpy Dog Food Ranking Factors

When we embarked to develop the most objective rubric to rate and rank pet food, we thought we would be improving on different existing ranking systems. Having faced the frustration of getting an objective expert review on a dog or cat food, we set out to develop our pet food scoring system.

I was initially lucky to find some rudimentary ranking systems while searching the internet. Dog Food Advisor is among the most reliable out there but is significantly lacking in providing scoring details used in their rating.

I found a few others including this one by Frederick of English Cream Golden Retriever and soon realized that these ranking and rating systems were often developed by people with no nutritional expertise or by companies trying to sell a certain food. This lack of objectivity inspired us to create a more reliable system.

For a period of about 6 months now, I have been working with a team of 3 researchers and about a dozen experts who have been kind enough to respond to my queries on specific nutritional guidelines.

The DogFoodSpy Pet Food Rating is based on 6 core areas of nutrition that are essential to every pet’s diet: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. We researched the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines for each of these core areas.

The DogFoodSpy Pet Food Rating System is the result of our research and discussions with experts. The system is designed to be objective and transparent, so you can make the best decisions for your pet’s health.

Rating Factors & Their Weights on DogFoodSpy’s Pet Food Ratings:

  1. Proteins – 33%
  2. Fats – 17%
  3. Carbs – 15%
  4. Trace Minerals – 5%
  5. Vitamins: – 5%
  6. Fiber: – 5%
  7. Probiotics – 3%
  8. Veggies and fruits – 4%
  9. Brand score: – 3%
  10. Key ingredient ratios: 8%

Points impacting metrics:

  • Artificial preservatives
  • Problematic/controversial ingredients with links to health issues such as DCM
  • Organic vs inorganic ingredients

At DogFoodSpy, we have been working on robust pet food reviews and as we thought about how best we can relay information to pet owners. We have developed a ranking system that we believe can provide some useful insights.

Dogs and cats need about 40 ingredients to survive and thrive. Their nutritional requirements depend on their life stage, activity level, and health condition.

To meet these needs, dog and cat food contain different types of ingredients like proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, and minerals.

Proteins: 33%

Proteins are essential for muscle development, repair, and maintenance. Pets need a source of high-quality protein in their diet to meet their daily needs.

AAFCO recommends that adult dogs and cats consume a minimum of 18% and 22% protein, respectively.

Puppies and kittens need more protein to support their rapid growth and development. AAFCO recommends that puppies consume a minimum of 22% protein and kittens consume a minimum of 26% protein.

We rate proteins using 6 metrics;

  1. Protein quality – by-products or lean: We subtract 10 points for each by-product ingredient. Less than 1 point if the main protein source is beef and less 2 if the only source of protein is lamb.
  2. Non-specific protein source: We have subtracted 10 points if the source of protein is not specified.
  3. The protein source is not a meat meal: We subtract 5 points if the source of protein is not a meat meal. Meat meals are better than plant-based or other sources of protein because they are more concentrated and easier to digest.
  4. Protein source: If there are less than 2 meats in the top 3 ingredients, we subtract 5 points
  5. Hormone or antibiotic-free meat source: We add 2 points if the source of protein is hormone or antibiotic-free.
  6. Organic source of protein: We add 5 points if the source of protein is organic.
Protein Weight in our pet food rating:

On a scale of 0 to 100%, protein’s rating contributes 38% of the overall score which is significantly higher than any other ingredient we pay attention to in our reviews. Protein is the most important macronutrient in a pet’s diet.

Fats: 16%

Fats are an important source of energy for pets. They also help to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and support healthy skin and coat.

We rate fats in pet food using the following metrics:

  • Fat source: We subtract 5 points if the source of fat is not specified.
  • Fat source & quality – plant-based or animal-based: If the food contains any animal fat other than fish oil, subtract 2 points. Add 1 point if the source is sunflower oil and 2 points if it contains flaxseed oil. If the food contains plant-based oil such as soybean, corn and canola oil deduct 3. Animal-based fats are better because they are more easily digestible and provide essential fatty acids that pets need. If it contains soy or soybeans, subtract 2 points
  • Organic source of fat: We add 5 points if the source of fat is organic.
  • Antioxidants: We add 2 points if the food contains antioxidants such as vitamin E to help preserve the quality of the fats.
  • Hormone or antibiotic-free fat source: We add 2 points if the source of fat is hormone or antibiotic-free.
Fat Weight in our pet food rating:

On a scale of 0 to 100%, fat’s rating contributes 20% of the overall score.

Grains& Carbohydrates: 15%

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for pets. They also help to maintain a healthy digestive system.

We rate carbohydrates in pet food using the following metrics;

  1. Grain source naming: We subtract 5 points if the source of carbohydrates is not specified.
  2. Processing: For every grain that is ‘mill run’ deduct 5 points. Mill run means the bran, germ, and endosperm are all present in the flour. This results in a less digestible carbohydrate for pets.
  3. Organic grains: We add 5 points if the source of carbohydrates is organic.
  4. Refined carbs: We subtract 5 points if the food contains any refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white potato or tapioca. Refined carbs are less nutritious than unrefined carbs.
  5. Allergenic grains: If a recipe contains grains that are known to be allergenic such as wheat or rye, we subtract 5 points. Add 3 points if they contain oats or barley.
  6. Grain-free with DCM link: We subtract 3 points if the food is grain-free and has been linked to DCM.
  7. Corn in top 5 ingredients: If corn is listed in the top 5 ingredients, subtract 2 more points.

Grain Weight in our pet food rating: 15%

On a scale of 0 to 100%, the grains & carbohydrates contribute 16% of the overall score.

Fiber:

Fiber is important for a pet’s digestive health. It helps to keep them regular and can also help to control weight.

We rate fiber in pet food using the following metrics;

  • Soluble vs. insoluble fiber: We prefer foods that contain a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber because they are both important for digestive health. If a food only contains one or the other, we deduct 3 points.

DogFoodSpy Ingredients Score:

Based on the ingredients list and the number of ingredients, we use a proprietary tool to come up with a score.

Our ingredient score ranges from 0% to 100% with most commercial dog food scoring an average of 78%. We have evaluated 823 dog food brands and have relied on our ingredient score to form a basis for our reviews and recommendations.

Factors we take into consideration are:

  • The quality of the ingredients: We use a proprietary database to check the quality of each ingredient and come up with a score.
  • The number of ingredients: We believe that the fewer ingredients in a food, the better. This is because it is easier for your pet to digest and process fewer ingredients. For this reason, we subtract points for every ingredient over 10.
  • First 3 ingredients on the ingredients list: The first 3 ingredients on the list make up the majority of the food, so we believe they are the most important. For this reason, we give more weight to these ingredients.
  • The source of the ingredients: We believe that the sources of the ingredients here in the US are of higher quality. We also give more weight to ingredients that come from USDA-certified organic farms.
  • Processing of the ingredients: We believe that less processing is better. For this reason, we give more weight to ingredients that are minimally processed, such as whole grains.
  • The digestibility of the ingredients: We believe that ingredients that are more easily digested are better for your pet. For this reason, we give more weight to ingredients that have been pre-digested or hydrolyzed.
  • Ingredients Quality: We use a 7-point scale to rate the quality of ingredients, 1 being the worst and 7 being the best.
  • Inclusion of controversial ingredients: We deduct points if the food contains any ingredients that have been linked to health problems in pets.

Proteins: How we evaluate proteins in dog food:

A study found most commercial dog food brands have protein content ranging from 18.5 to 28.0%. AAFCO recommends minimum protein content to be 22.5% for puppies and 18% for adult dogs.

Puppies need more protein than adult dogs because they are growing and their bodies are going through a lot of changes. Protein is also essential for pregnant or nursing dogs, who need it for the development of their puppies.

The quality of the protein is also important. Animal proteins are generally better than plant proteins because they are more bioavailable, meaning your pet can digest and use them more easily.

That being said, there are some plant proteins that are of high quality, such as quinoa and chickpeas.

  1. Protein positioning in the ingredient list: We give more weight to proteins that are closer to the beginning of the ingredient list because they make up a larger proportion of the food. Dog food with quality protein appearing in the first 3 ingredients will be given a higher score.
  2. Protein type: We believe that animal-based proteins are of higher quality than plant-based proteins. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with animal-based proteins in the first 3 ingredients.
  3. Protein digestibility: We believe that pre-digested or hydrolyzed proteins are easier for your pet to digest and absorb. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with these proteins in the first 3 ingredients.
  4. Protein source: We are biased to poultry and fish as the main sources of protein and brands with these protein sources get more points. We also believe that proteins from USDA-certified organic farms are of higher quality. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with these proteins in the first 3 ingredients.

How we evaluate fats in dog food:

AAFCO recommends a minimum of 5.5% fat in adult dog food and a minimum of 8.5% fat in puppy food.

Fats are an important source of energy for dogs and help with the absorption of certain vitamins.

Fats also play a role in the health of your dog’s skin and coat.

We believe that animal-based fats are of higher quality than plant-based fats. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with animal-based fats in the first 5 ingredients.

We also believe that fats from USDA-certified organic farms are of higher quality. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with these fats in the first 5 ingredients.

How we evaluate carbohydrates in dog food:

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for dogs.

We believe that complex carbohydrates are of higher quality than simple carbohydrates. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with complex carbohydrates in the first 5 ingredients.

Complex carbs are usually found in whole grains, such as brown rice or oats.

We also believe that carbohydrates from USDA-certified organic farms are of higher quality. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with these carbohydrates in the first 5 ingredients.

Simple carbs are usually found in processed foods and can include things like sugar or corn syrup.

How we evaluate fiber in dog food:

Dogs need a certain amount of fiber in their diet to maintain gastrointestinal health.

The recommended amount of fiber for dogs is 2-4% for dry food and 0.5-2% for canned food.

We believe that soluble fibers are easier for dogs to digest than insoluble fibers. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with soluble fibers in the first 5 ingredients.

Soluble fiber can be found in things like oats, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

Insoluble fiber can be found in things like wheat bran or corn bran.

How we evaluate moisture in dog food:

Moisture is an important part of a dog’s diet and helps keep them hydrated.

The recommended amount of moisture for dogs is 10-12% for dry food and 78-80% for canned food.

We believe that foods with higher moisture content are better for dogs. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with higher moisture content.

How we evaluate calories in dog food:

Dogs need a certain amount of calories to maintain their energy levels.

The recommended amount of calories for dogs is 30-35 calories per pound of body weight.

We believe that foods with more calories are better for dogs. For this reason, we give more weight to foods with more calories.

Other ranking factors:

Company/brand ethics and reputation:

We also rank dog food companies and brands based on their ethics and reputation.

We believe that companies and brands that are committed to sustainable, humane, and organic farming practices are of higher quality. For this reason, we give more weight to these companies and brands.

We believe that companies and brands that have had multiple recalls are of lower quality. For this reason, we give less weight to these companies and brands.

US-sourced ingredients:

Dog food manufacturers are at liberty to disclose where they source the ingredients although they are not mandated to do so. We rank US-sourced ingredients in dog food higher than others since we believe that these ingredients are of higher quality.

Organic ingredients:

We also rank organic ingredients in dog food higher than others. This is because we believe that these ingredients are of higher quality.

Specialty ingredients:

Some manufacturers add specialty ingredients to their dog food to provide additional nutrients or health benefits. We rank these ingredients higher than others.

Ranking factors that are not as important:

Price:

We believe that price is not as important as other factors when ranking dog food. This is because we believe that the quality of the ingredients is more important than the price.

Size/shape of kibble:

We believe that the size and shape of kibble is not as important as other factors when ranking dog food. This is because we believe that the quality of the ingredients is more important than the size and shape of kibble.

Flavor:

We believe that flavor is not as important as other factors when ranking dog food. This is because we believe that the quality of the ingredients is more important than the flavor.

Manufacturing location:

We believe that the manufacturing location is not as important as other factors when ranking dog food. This is because we believe that the quality of the ingredients is more important than the manufacturing location.

Reference:

  • Waltham