Not all commercially produced dog foods are made equal. That’s hardly a secret, yet with every product on the market doing their best to convince just how good they are for your beloved companion, recognizing exactly which are the worst dog food brands to avoid isn’t always so easy.
After all, while we all know that there are certain human foods (such as chocolate and certain types of fruit), dog food manufacturers go to great lengths to promote every ingredient in their recipes as being beneficial for your pooch even though – as you’re about to find out- that simply isn’t always the case.
In this guide, we’ll explain which dog food ingredients are harmful for your pet, reveal which dog food brands to avoid due to them using those ingredients, and -because we’re all about presenting you with solutions rather than problems here at Canine Weekly- offer our recommendations on the brands that genuinely are good for Fido.
What Makes a Dog Food Brand Worth Avoiding?
What makes the brands on this list worth avoiding is simply that they fail to provide many -if any- of those nutrients your dog needs to stay healthy, instead using a variety of low-quality ingredients and various types of filler.
At best, all these ingredients do is fill up your pup with empty calories devoid of any nutritional value. At worst, they could actually make them sick.
Here are the main ingredients used in cheap, low-quality dog food that make them a poor choice for your pooch.
Meat By-products and 4-D Meats
Unfortunately, dog food isn’t held to the same high standards that human food is, allowing some brands to fill their dog foods full of questionable ingredients like meat by-products.
This could include slaughterhouse waste such as bones, organs, and basically anything left over once a slaughtered animal has been stripped of everything that can be packaged and sold for human consumption.
Although some people insist that such by-products are a good protein source, they’re still no match for the high level of protein that dogs get from actual meat.
As we discussed in our guide to the best homemade dog food recipes, protein should always be the central ingredient in your pup’s meals, so feeding them foods with actual real meat is always a better idea.
That said, poor quality dog food can contain far worse “by-products” than just leftovers, it can also contain controversial 4-D meats. 4-D stands for “dead, dying, diseased, or disabled.”
Yes, that really is what it sounds like. 4-D meats can include euthanized pets, dead zoo animals, and even roadkill, and you can imagine how harmful that could be.
If an animal died from a disease and was then chopped up and thrown into your dog’s breakfast, there’s every chance that the same disease could be passed on to them.
The worst part is that dog food manufacturers don’t have to say where they source their ingredients from. They can just call it “meat by-product” without telling you whether that by-product is a leftover lung from a slaughterhouse or a dead animal scraped from the side of the road.
Corn and Other Fillers
One of the ways that dog food manufacturers keep their costs down is using ingredients like corn, wheat, soy, and various grains as a filler. They make the food look as if there’s more there than what there really is, and can increase the calorie count so that, on the surface, it looks as if your dog is getting a full meal.
Sure, such ingredients may make your furry friend feel full, but they’re also well-known for causing health issues. Though there are some human foods that dogs can eat, corn, soya and the like are all difficult for your pet to consume and can cause digestive issues and other problems.
Some manufacturers are not beyond adding a bunch of food dyes, flavorings, and preservatives into their food when there’s really no need for it.
Let’s be honest:
When was the last time your dog turned their nose up at a meal because it looked unappealing?
Sure, there might be a case for adding flavorings, but if a dog food contains real animal meat and good sources of natural protein, there should already be plenty of flavor in the first place.
With all that in mind, let’s look at the ten worst dog food brands that contain some -or in certain cases all- of these ingredients.
10 Worst Dog Food Brands to Avoid
1. Kal Kan Complete Adult
The primary ingredient in Kal Kan Complete Adult is corn, which is an obvious and immediate red flag.
Corn isn’t exactly well known for its high nutritional content. There’s also the risk that any chemicals used to treat the corn before harvesting can make their way into the food.
Bone meal is another major ingredient in Kal Kan dog food. This is basically ground-up animal bones and cartilage and although it may provide some protein content, it’s still no match for dog foods that have actual real meats as their primary ingredient.
Soybean meal and wheat are also included as fillers, and present all the same problems as corn, and there’s a good dose of chicken by-product to boost.
2. Purina Dog Chow
Purina Dog Chow may be one of the cheapest brands around, but there’s a good reason why it didn’t make our list of the best affordable dog food brands:
At best, it has low nutritional value. At worst, it could actually be harmful to your dog.
Like Kal Kan, its main ingredient is corn, with a noticeable amount of soybean meal and whole grain thrown in.
Speaking of which, while there is some amount of actual chicken in here, most of the meat-based ingredients come in the form of meat and bone meal, as well as poultry by-product.
The long list of nutritional no-nos continues with a raft of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, none of which do much good for your dog and all of which are completely unnecessary.
3. IAMS Dog Food
At first glance, IAMS dog food doesn’t seem so bad. It proudly boasts that its primary ingredient is chicken, which we all know is a good source of protein.
However, it also contains a large amount of cornmeal and sorghum used as fillers and provides limited nutritional value.
IAMS also throws in some chicken by-product along with the actual chicken, though they don’t actually say what that by-product is.
Finally, IAMS Dog Food also contains beet pulp, which is high in sugar content and can lead to weight gain.
4. Twin Pet Dog Food
With corn as its number-one ingredient, Twin Pet Dog Food typically appeals to advocates of a plant-based diet, though it contains meat by-products that are even worse for dogs than actual meat.
It’s also made up of a large amount of wheat middlings, which are essentially a low-cost, low-quality by-product of processing cereal grains.
5. Kibbles ‘n Bits
As we mentioned in our guide to raw vs kibble dog food, kibble food is rarely ideal if you want the best possible nutrition for your dog, and Kibble ‘n Bits is a great example of why.
The number one ingredient is corn, which is bad news itself, but then the rest of this dry dog food mix is made up of soybean meal, wheat flour, and a sizable amount of meat by-product like bone meal.
In other words, there’s no natural meat to be found anywhere. Add in a concoction of synthetic food colorings and preservatives, and what you’ve got here is definitely one dog food brand worth avoiding.
6. Ol’ Roy
Walmart’s own-brand Ol’ Roy dog god promises complete nutrition yet ultimately fails to deliver.
The primary ingredient is corn, followed by substantial amounts of soybean meal, meat by-product, and ground wheat. There’s also a noticeable level of citric acid used as a food preservative. This has been known to cause both dental and digestive issues, making this a pretty poor pet owner choice.
Beneful is another dog food brand owned by Purina. To give credit where credit’s due, Prunina does promote this one as being all about the “real meats,” and they live up to their word to that end.
Depending on the flavor, Beneful will contain beef, chicken, or salmon as its number one ingredient, but it will also contain lots of different fillers and meat by-products which, when combined, far outweigh any actual real meat content.
What’s more, this particular brand of dog food is well known for its colorful appearance. These colors are created by adding artificial food dyes, including Red 40, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, and Blue 2, all of which have been linked to a host of health problems in dogs.
8. Gravy Train
Like some of the other brands on this list, Gravy Train do add some real meat to their dog food, but the amount is very small compared to the level of meat or poultry by-products found in the recipe.
There’s also a noticeable amount of soy, cornstarch and artificial colorings and preservatives.
If you’re looking for real-meat dog food, you can certainly do much better than this one.
9. Cesar Filets
Unlike other products on this list, Cesar Fillets’ biggest problem is the exceptionally high salt content. This alone can cause all kinds of problems for your pet, especially those of advanced years.
There’s also a not-insubstantial level of meat by-product that outweighs the natural meat content.
Pedigree may be one of the best-selling dog food brands in the world, but many of their products are hardly ideal for your dog’s health.
Mos contain whole grain corn as the primary ingredient. This is a common cause of allergies in dogs and can also prove difficult to digest. Meat by-products and artificial flavors are also commonplace in Pedigree products, making them a brand to be wary of.
Top 5 Dog Food Brands We Recommend
OK, so you know which brands to avoid, but which ones should you be buying instead? Here are our recommendations on the best five dog food brands around:
1. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free
As the name implies, Taste of the Wild’s High Prairie Grain Free dry dog food contains no grain, corn, wheat or other fillers. Nor does it include any artificial colors, preservatives or flavors.
Instead, it’s packed with real venison meat to give it a high amount of good proteins, as well as fruits and vegetables to provide your pup with all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
2. Wellness Complete Health
Ranking highly in our guide to the best dog foods for large breeds, Wellness Complete Health make a range of both wet and dry dog foods with a very high nutritional value.
They don’t use any meat by-products, low-quality fillers, or artificial preservatives, but rather use a high-quality, boneless chicken to ensure an excellent level of protein.
Vegetables are used to provide appropriate nutrients, as is flaxseed, which is a tremendous source of much-needed Omega-3.
3. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula
Created with adult dogs in mind, Blue Buffalo pride themselves on always ensuring real-meat is the first ingredient in their product.
In the case of their Life Protection Formula Natural Adult Dry Dog Food, that real meat is quality boneless chicken for optimum protein deliver.
Although Blue Buffalo does contain healthy grains, it doesn’t contain wheat or corn fillers, and there are no meat by-products either.
It also includes large amounts of omega-3 and omega-6, so if your dog’s coat is looking worse for wear or their suffering with a skin condition, this might be the best brand to go for.
4. Merrick Grain Free Wet Dog Food
If you’re looking for an affordable, high-quality wet dog food, Merrick’s Grain-Free range should definitely be on your radar.
Depending on the flavor you buy, either deboned beef, chicken, or turkey will be the primary ingredient, ensuring it’s tasty enough to require no artificial flavors.
The best part, however, is the protein content. The Cowboy Cookout flavor contains an impressive 47% of good quality protein, which is just about the highest we’ve seen.
5. Rachael Ray Nutrish PEAK Dry Dog Food
Another great choice for a dry dog food that contains all of the good stuff and none of the bad stuff, Rachael Ray Nutrish PEAK Dry Dog Food contains 30% high-quality protein, most of which comes from open range, USA beef, with some venison and lamb included.
Gluten-free, grain-free, and free of artificial flavors or colors, this stuff is a healthy, premium brand dog food packed full of vitamins and minerals.
Unfortunately, it’s also on the higher end of the pricing scale, which is why it ranks lower down on our list.
The Final Word on the Worst Dog Food Brands to Avoid
What it all comes down to is this:
If a dog contains lots of meat by-products, fillers, and synthetic colorings and flavors, then it’s not a great choice for your cherished companion.
Even if the low-quality dog foods we’ve listed in this guide don’t directly harm them, they’re certainly not going to provide an adequate amount of protein, not to mention all of the other nutrients dogs need.
Protein really is the main thing dogs need to stay healthy, and the best source of this is from real meat, so if you are thinking of switching brands, this is the one thing you should be looking out for more than anything else.
We hope you learned which dog food brands to avoid. Thank you for reading!
Forrest is a lover of dogs, the wild outdoors, deep mysterious conversations… and coffee. He is the owner of several websites, including Canine Weekly. He resides in Austin, Texas.