A raw diet of meat, organs, bones, and whole food supplements is what our dogs and cats should be eating. But, it doesn’t always fit into the budget and it’s not exactly a convenient diet to feed. We all have to do the best with what we have. I will never judge you for what you feed your pet. I want to arm you with information, so you can make the best decision for you and your pets.
There are countless varieties of dog and cat food, each with varied professional opinions on which is best. It quickly gets overwhelming and confusing! So, I’ve done some research to arm you with facts on how dry foods are crafted and how to choose the best one for you and your pet. So, let’s get going!
NOTE: When you see **, reference the key at the bottom of the section for further information.
The first step in choosing a kibble brand is knowing what the ingredients are, what exactly they mean, and how the kibble is made.
Rendering is a process that converts waste animal tissue into stable, usable materials. Rendering can refer to any processing of animal products into more useful materials, or, more narrowly, to the rendering of whole animal fatty tissue into purified fats like lard or tallow. Rendering is the beginning process of heating or “cooking” of the raw animal material (whether it is truly organic, free-range chicken or rendering plant carcasses, they are all rendered or cooked) to remove the moisture and fat, and this is how most kibble is made.
What is a meat product? Meat products are regulated products. A “regulated product” is defined in the Regulations as “a food that contains one of the following as an ingredient (whether or not the food also contains any other ingredient): (a) meat; (b) mechanically separated meat; (c) the heart, the tongue, the muscles of the head (other than the masseters [cheeks, which are considered to be meat]), the carpus [lower forelimb], the tarsus [lower hindlimb], or the tail of any mammalian or bird species recognized as fit for human consumption.” The following are not meat products:
- raw meat with no added ingredients (except proteolytic enzymes**)
- uncooked poultry with no added ingredients except additives, water, self-basting preparations or seasonings
- fat with no meat
“Meat” is the skeletal muscle of mammalian or bird species recognized as fit for human consumption with naturally included fat and connective tissue. Mechanically separated meat and heart, tongue, etc. are not meat. A certain amount of fat and connective tissue, up to set limits, will be considered to be meat. Any fat and connective tissue over the set limits will not be meat and, if the permitted levels are exceeded, you will have to declare added fat and/or connective tissue in the ingredient list of the product.
Meat should be THE FIRST ingredient(s).
What is meat by-product? Meat by-product is the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low-temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, and hooves. It shall be suitable for use in animal food.
MEAT MEAL or MEAT BY-PRODUCT MEAL
What is meat meal or meat by-product meal? Meat meal is the same thing as meat by-product, except it is the dry rendered product derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, and hooves. It shall be suitable for use in animal food.
SO, THE BIG QUESTION IS:
IS MEAT MEAL AND/OR BY-PRODUCT BAD?!
That depends entirely on the quality of the animal being used! Animals in the wild don’t just eat meat. They eat meat by-products as well, such as liver, lungs, eyes, stomach, bone, etc. But when foods in a recipe are labeled “meal or by-product,” you don’t know what parts of the animal are being used. It is important to source a kibble that uses ethically and naturally-reared animals in their dog food. This ensures that no 4D meat** is being used.
Ingredient lists are required to be listed by weight, from the highest to lowest. You want meat to be the FIRST ingredient, as this should be the main ingredient in the formula. Meat meal, then meat by-product, should be listed next, followed by other whole-food ingredients. The higher up on the list something is, means there’s more of it in the food.
**Proteolytic enzyme, also called protease, proteinase, or peptidase, any of a group of enzymes that break the long chainlike molecules of proteins into shorter fragments (peptides) and eventually into their components, amino acids. Proteolytic enzymes are present in bacteria, archaea, certain types of algae, some viruses, and plants; they are most abundant, however, in animals.
**4D meat is meat that is (1) dead (as in found out in pasture with no idea of timeframe of death and could be decaying), (2) dying, (3), diseased, and (4)disabled. Could also add in (5) drugged.
CARBOHYDRATES IN KIBBLE
Our dogs and cats DO NOT need carbohydrates in their diet! BUT……………. (read this next part carefully, and then read it again!
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE CARBOHYDRATES IN KIBBLE.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE CARBOHYDRATES IN KIBBLE.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE CARBOHYDRATES IN KIBBLE.
Did you read that again?!
Carbohydrates make kibble stick together. It would just be a crumbly mess without them. While you cannot get away from them, you can certainly learn which ones are better than others, and it will help you better choose which food to get.
What are carbohydrates? In nutrition, “carbs” refers to one of the three macronutrients. The other two are protein and fat. The main types of dietary carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fiber. Not all carbs are created equal.
There are many different types of carbohydrate-containing foods, and they vary greatly in their health effects. I like to separate them between “Whole” vs “Refined.
Whole carbs are unprocessed and contain the fiber found naturally in the food, while refined carbs have been processed and had the natural fiber stripped out. Examples of whole carbs include: vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, potatoes and whole grains. These foods are generally healthy. On the other hand, refined carbs include sugar-sweetened white rice and wheat.
Here are some “good” carb options:
- Beans and Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans, soy beans, pinto beans, navy beans
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashew
- Seeds: Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, quinoa, sprouted seeds, etc.
- Whole grains: whole oats, whole wheat, buckwheat, bulgar, millet, barley, spelt, brown rice
- Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, ginger, beets, fennel, carrots, celery root, turmeric, rutabaga
Now, here’s where it gets tricky!
Not all “good” carbs are a great option when it comes to our pet’s food. All foods have what’s called a glycemic index (GI). The aim of the glycemic index is to provide us with a tool for estimating how much impact a food will have on blood glucose levels. A food with a GI of 55 or less is considered to be “low GI,” anything from 55 to 69 is considered “moderate”, and a GI of 70 or greater is considered “high.” To complicate matters even more, produce items don’t always test at the same GI level. Some varieties of a given fruit or vegetable may have more starches or sugars, and other factors such as the ripeness of the test food and the length of time it’s been in storage can also affect the end result.
But there’s a thing called Glycemic Load (GL) as well.
Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load
Simply put, glycemic load is an estimate of how much a certain food will raise someone’s blood glucose level. Just because a food has a high GI doesn’t mean it will spike blood glucose levels. It takes into account the number of carbohydrates consumed when estimating the impact of certain foods. For example, watermelon is high on the glycemic index scale, but very low for glycemic load. This is because it doesn’t contain many carbohydrates, so you’d have to consume a great deal to spike your blood sugar level.
Here is a list of Low Glycemic Load (GL) foods: (some of these foods you will not find in kibble, but are listed just for reference) Look for these in the ingredients list.
If you choose to feed grain:
Preservatives and Supplements in Kibble
Now, onto the even more tricky terminology: vitamins, minerals, additives, and preservatives.
Since there is fat in kibble, there needs to be a preservative to help keep it from going rancid, and keep a long shelf life. What’s synthetic and what’s natural?
SYNTHETIC PRESERVATIVES: Commonly-used artificial preservatives in dry dog foods include ethoxyquin, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). They are very effective at preventing fats from becoming rancid (the primary problem in preserving dry dog food) and can greatly extend the product’s shelf life (a year is typical).
NATURAL PRESERVATIVES: Adding natural substances such as such as vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and plant extracts (e.g., rosemary) to a dry dog food can also prevent fats from becoming rancid. Natural preservatives are typically made from vitamins C or E. You’ll usually find them on a dog food ingredients list using some form of the words “tocopherol” or “ascorbate.”
Unfortunately, natural preservatives are effective for shorter periods of time than are artificial preservatives, which means naturally-preserved foods tend to have a shorter shelf life. As long as you purchase bags well before the “best by” date printed on the label, and don’t buy excessively large amounts of food at one time, this shouldn’t be a big concern.
As most of the nutrients are cooked out of the food during processing, they have to be added back in. Here is a list of vitamins and minerals that you might see on the ingredient labels:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Calcium & Phosphorus
- Potassium, Sodium & Chloride
You may also see amino acids labeled:
Now, which dry dog food do you choose?!
Choosing a dog food is so overwhelming. There are hundreds to choose from, as well as so many places to buy them from. To make things a bit easier, I have done the research for you. I have picked my top four dry kibble, why I chose them, and where you can find them. I based the ranking on the quality of ingredients, grams of protein per serving, and the calorie breakdown by protein, fat, and carbs, as well as cost to feed the average 50lb minimally active dog.
ALL ROUND TOP PICK #1: RAWZ
Both of their main formulas are formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for All Life Stages including the growth of large size dogs (70 lbs. or more as an adult) This makes it easy to feed more than one dog, even when they’re at different life stages.
- It’s high protein, moderate fat, and low-moderate carbs…for a kibble
- No rendered meats (no meat meal or by-products), no potato, or grains
- They are 100% transparent about quality of ingredients and where they source them
- The foods are dehydrated at much lower temperatures, which helps retain protein and amino acids
- Naturally preserved product
- They offer limited ingredient formulas as well
Cost starting at $2.41 /day for 50lb minimally active pet dog
Price: $91.99 for a 20lb bag
Cons: Not much variety and chicken is used in both main formulas.
Where to buy: heartypet.com / free shipping
#2 ZIWI PEAK
There are no rendered meats or meals in any of their products. There’s no grains, corn, soy, wheat, or rice. No GMOs, antibiotics, or growth promoters. Meets or exceeds AAFCO requirements. All life stages.
- Moderate-high protein, high fat, with exceptionally low carbs
- 96% fresh meat, organs, bone and seafood. Remaining 4% consists of essential vitamins and minerals, natural kelp, parsley, chicory inulin & lecithin for a complete & balanced diet.
- Sources from humane, ethical and sustainably managed local farms that exceed the strict New Zealand government regulatory standards.
- Slow, gentle air-drying process crafts a food that is nutrient dense and digestible
Cost starting at $5.72 /day for 50lb minimally active pet dog
Price: $144.99 for a 8.8lb bag
Cons: Extremely expensive. At this price point, I would recommend buying a high-quality premade grind.
Where to buy: chewy.com / free shipping
CARNA4 is made entirely from real food ingredients. No meat meal, rendered fats, preservatives or other synthetics. Meets or exceeds AAFCO standards. For all life stages.
- Low/Moderate protein (lower then I prefer), moderate fat, with moderate carbs, for a kibble
- No meat meals, meat by-products, or grains
- Organic, high quality, whole food ingredients
- Quick baked to preserve nutrients
- Naturally-preserved product
Cost starting at $3.55 /day for 50lb minimally active pet dog
Price: $132.00 for a 22lb bag
Cons: Expensive. At this price point, a better option would be to find a high-quality premade raw grind.
Where to buy: there are distributors across the nation. The one closest to me is fordogsake.com / $22.56 shipping for a total of $154.56
#4 NATURE’S LOGIC
Vitamins and minerals in Nature’s Logic foods are obtained from whole-food sources and not a synthetic premix. It’s the only food on this list that uses “meal” in their ingredients, and as their main ingredient at that. I consider “meals” to be of lesser quality compared to “meats” because there’s just no way of knowing exactly what’s in it or the quality of it, unless it’s human grade. Meets AAFCO requirements. All life stages.
- Moderate-high protein, moderate fat, and moderate carbs…
- Uses whole foods, and no synthetics
- Transparent about where food sources come from
Cost $3.74/day for a 50lb minimally active pet dog
Price: $65.99 for 26.4lb bag
Cons: Protein quality is questionable. Contains grain.