Make Winning Choices – Helpful Tips to Understand Dog Food Quality

Are you looking to better understand the diet you are feeding your dog? A popular New Year’s resolution is to “eat right”, which should apply to your dog as well. We’re going to share outstanding expert resources on dog nutrition and what to look for in good food. Also, how to recognize when you are giving your money to companies making inferior dog food.

At Happy Pets Palace, we recommend that customers bring their own dog’s food while boarding with us so there is no change in diet. Our perspective on quality of dog food is unique because we see the effects of the dog food, we compare many different brands on hundreds of different dogs, and we see dogs who are not in their home environment. We hear from our clients about their dog’s health concerns. There is a connection between how a dog looks, acts, and feels, based on the type of food the dog eats. Good health and a strong immune system relies on a good balanced diet with proper nutrition.

How to Recognize Good and Bad Dog Foods

A new bag of Purina Pro Plan Chicken and Rice which contained worm webs

We see a variety of dog food brands brought in from our dog boarding clients. When we see dog food that resembles Fruity Pebbles™, with its colorful red and green kibble, we cringe because we know those colorful foods are absolutely the lowest quality of food out there. Many people just don’t know. In fall 2017 we opened a new bag of Purina Pro Plan, rated 2 stars, that a client brought for their boarding dogs. There were worm webs in the bag of food. We contacted the parents, tossed the full bag of food in the trash, and gave their dogs our house food brand Horizon Pulsar Turkey, rated 4.5 stars.

We have learned to recognize the good foods from the bad foods outside of the dog food packaging. The good foods help dogs look and feel better and the bad foods do the opposite.

Often, we see clients bring in dog food which is on the bad food list. The list we are talking about is from The Dog Food Advisor, an unbiased source. They measure the quality of many dog food brands.

Popular Dog Food Brand Ratings

Visit the Dog Food Advisor website to see all dog food brands. Search for your brand to see its star rating and compare the “Bottom Line” rating. To save time, only 3 popular brands out of hundreds of brands are shown below for each star rating.

5-Star Rating

Enthusiastically Recommended

4-Star Rating

Highly Recommended

  • Blue Buffalo Life Protection is ideal for those who prefer a dry kibble that’s made with grain. It’s Blue’s most popular product line and it contains no BHA or other high-risk preservatives.
  • Purina Pro Plan Dog Food is one of the dog food brands most frequently mentioned by breeders and veterinary professionals. Each recipe has been expertly formulated by a team of board certified veterinary nutritionists. And it’s easy on the budget, too.
  • Iams Naturals is a plant-based dry dog food using a modest amount of named meats as its main source of animal protein.

3-Star Rating


  • Hill’s Science Diet Grain Free is a plant-based dry dog food using a modest amount of chicken as its main source of animal protein.
  • Royal Canin Dog Food features various protein sources. Each dog food is designed with a shape, size and texture that’s optimized for a specific breed.
  • Hill’s Science Diet Adult Plus is a plant-based dry dog food using a limited amount of chicken meal as its main source of animal protein.
  • Purina Beneful is a plant-based dry dog food using a moderate amount of named by-product meal as its main source of animal protein.

2-Star Rating

Not Recommended

  • Cesar Savory Delights is a meat-based wet dog food using named and unnamed meats as its main source of animal protein.

1-Star Rating

Not Recommended

  • Purina Moist and Meaty is a plant-based semi-moist dog food using a modest amount of beef by-products as its main source of animal protein.
  • Pedigree is a plant-based dry dog food using a modest amount of poultry by-product or meat and bone meals as its main source of animal protein.
  • Purina Dog Chow is a plant-based dry dog food using a modest amount of meat and bone meal or chicken by-product meal as its main source of animal protein.

Bad dog foods are marketed to make them look popular, legitimate, and quite appealing. Clever words are often used in titles of bad foods. They trick us, even when we try to be careful. Some brands use the word “prescription” in the title. It’s confusing and it’s purposefully misleading because words like “Prescription” or “Science” in the title makes the food sound good, and seems like the food has passed some type of higher-level testing.

Our challenge as pet parents, who want to keep our babies healthy, is to stop being so gullible and stop believing companies who market gimmicks and “emotion words” to fool us. We need to understand the quality of the food we are feeding our pet. Pet food quality directly impacts every aspect of our dog including his or her teeth, eyes, gums, fur, ear (fungus or infections), and gassiness. If your pup doesn’t feel good because their diet is not what it needs to be, then it affects their overall personality too. What you feed your pet touches every area of life — mentally, physically, and emotionally.


Household names include Alpo, Kibbles ‘n Bits, Gravy Train, Pedigree, Moist n’ Meaty, and Purina brands. There is a brand-to-consumer “feel-good” connection with these popular brands. Their companies spend millions making sure you know these brands. Admittedly, they do have adorable dogs in their commercials and packaging. In our culture, we like popular. We follow popular. When something looks familiar we are more comfortable accepting and receiving it. And if something is popular, then it must be good, right? Wrong! If these brands would spend less on their marketing and more on the quality of ingredients it would be a beautiful thing. That would be the right thing to do.

Top dog food brands rated 5 stars include Acana, Brother’s Complete, Earthborn Holistic, Nulo, and Wysong. These are brands you may have never heard of because they are not on the shelves at big box retailers. It stands to reason that these companies do not spend as much on advertising and marketing as the popular brands do. But these top-rated, 5-star dog food manufacturers do spend money on quality ingredients. And for that, we are thankful! They are doing the right thing for you and for your pets. Please seek out the higher quality dog foods. We endorse small independent retail stores, like Pet Planet, who focus on premium quality foods. Those stores offer you and your dog the best options for optimal pet nutrition.


Sometimes a customer’s main concern is, “how much does it cost?” And if you compare a 1-star rated bag of dog food to a 5-star rated bag of dog food, the 5-star bag will cost more and it should. What people forget to factor in are the extras they don’t see such as an overall healthier and happier dog, less trips to the vet, less poop to pick up in the yard, and the overlooked fact that you feed your dog less amounts when the ingredients are higher quality. You should pay more for the quality ingredients in premium dog foods.

Some of the differences you can see from feeding quality food include a healthier coat, better weight management, increased energy and happiness, and fewer trips to the vet because you think your dog has “allergies” or something isn’t right.

Also, because high-quality food has fewer fillers and more quality ingredients which are used by the dog’s body, there are less feces to pick up in the yard. There’s less waste. Usually higher quality dog foods require you to feed less amounts because it takes less for the body to get the nutrients it needs.


Once a bag of dry food is opened you have about two weeks before it starts going bad from exposure to oxygen, heat, light, or humidity — according to Steve Brown, author and world-renowned pioneer in the development of pet food formulas. The “use-by” or “sell-by” date on the bag is only valid if the bag is unopened. And canned dog food is good only 3-days, once opened and refrigerated. It is best to store dry food in the original bag, inside an air-tight container. Choose an area of your home that offers a dry and cool location, away from sun exposure. Putting kibble in ziplock baggies and storing in your freezer is another option for longer preservation.


Whole Dog Journal published an excellent article by Steve Brown discussing fat rancidity in dog food and what meat source to buy if you want a longer shelf life. He also talks about the most important fat for the brain and eyes is DHA, Docosahexaenoic acid, found in cold water fish and their oil. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), has not included DHA, in its nutrient requirements for dogs. He mentions DHA is too fragile for production, handling, and storage in commercial dog food and rancid DHA is worse for dogs than no DHA at all.  He has great recommendations to help balance your dog’s diet by adding your own fatty acids. His top recommendation is canned sardines in spring water with no salt added but avoid excessive amounts without antioxidant protection. Read more here.

Sometimes dogs will tell us that they aren’t crazy about the food choices we make for them. We hear customers say their dog doesn’t seem interested in eating like they used to. If that is the case for you, ask yourself if it has anything to do with the food choices in front of them. And keep in mind when you opened their bag of food. Don’t buy a huge bag for one dog because it is cheaper and will last a long time. It will spoil, your dog will know it, and it won’t smell right. Dogs have 50 times more olfactory receptors than humans and the size of their brain that detects and analyzes smells has 40-times more dedicated space than ours. So, trust your dog when they turn their nose up at their food that something doesn’t smell right.


There are times dogs will know contamination issues with their food before we know. They sense it and they smell it.

Subscribe to receive direct notification about dog food recalls and add your name to the Dog Food Advisory list to be alerted every time there is a pet food recall. Even if you don’t use that brand of dog food, you may have family members, neighbors, co-workers who do. The Dog Food Advisor website reveals dog food recalls and the severity of issues and what the recall is for whether contamination from mold, bugs, Salmonella. This site also lets you provide your information to be emailed updates. Historical recalls are also shown.

We want to help keep pet parents informed. Therefore, when we see headlines titled “FDA Warning: Store-Bought ‘Bone Treats’ Could Kill Your Dog” we share the information with our clients who bring bone treats into Happy Pets for their dogs. We also post it on social media and hope the message is shared to help others. Read about the bone treats recall here.


We care about your dog and what food they eat and pay attention to nutritionists who have studied health effects on dogs from the food they consume. We respect the studies of Dr. Karen Becker  — a vet going against the norm to speak out for animals’ health from poor quality foods because she cares and does what is right.

In the video, Dr. Becker Shares Her Updated List of Best and Worst Pet Foods, Dr. Becker shares, “A biologically correct diet for a carnivore is a high moisture, high protein, moderate fat, and low carbohydrates. The vast majority of pet foods on the market today are the exact opposite. They are low moisture, low to moderate poor-quality protein and fat, and high in starch or carbs.’’

Dr. Karen Becker cautions, “Carbs also break down into sugar, which fuels degenerative conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.” When you’re looking for a good quality food, also consider the carb percentage. Nutritional deficiencies over time will cause health problems.


At Happy Pets Palace we see the output of all the dog foods. There is a distinct difference looking at the formation, coloration, and solidity of dog poop between that of superior quality food and low-quality food. Yes, strange as that may sound, superior dog food makes good looking poop that is easy to pick up. It’s dark and solid. You can see that the colon is functioning properly with segmentation. On the flipside, you can spot dogs who consume a heavy corn diet because their poop looks yellowish in color. Dogs who have poor nutrition have soft stools or have unique colored feces. It is clearly obvious; the proof is in the pooing.


The long-kept secret is coming out that vet schools and major events are heavily endorsed, sponsored, or provided kick-back monies to recommend Royal Canin and Hill’s Science Diet dog foods brands. Companies who make and sell these brands offer companies perks to keep their brands in the public eye. Some of these companies have trusted names like the Arizona Humane Society (AHS) and the American Kennel Club (AKC), as well as your own trusted vet.

When you trust these companies and they refer you to a brand of dog food, it is easy to believe the food is good, without question. But it is not the best choice or the best quality for your dog. The Arizona Humane Society is a wonderful organization, and it has a partnership and MUST promote Hill’s Science Diet. When going through the foster application process, AHS is upfront and says, “In order to remain in good standing with these partners and to continue to receive their life-saving donations, we are required to promote their brand products to our adopters. You will be given free samples and coupons from these partners to send home with your foster pet, so be sure to mention them during the adoption process!”


Word of mouth referral is very convincing. Recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends have generally been considered one of the most trusted sources of information when it comes to products and services.

Because of forced pushes like these, people are easily swayed to purchase poor quality dog food. They think the research is done if the vet recommends it. The word-of-mouth referrals are coming from a genuine and authentic place, someone we trust. This forced push is all around us. Your trusted vet probably has both Science Diet and Royal Canin in their lobby. They are both rated as 3-stars on The Dog Food Advisory rankings. Three stars are better than 1-star, but still, there is room for improvement in quality.

We love our vets, and we are happy they have chosen to care for animals because it is their passion. But if they are selling dog food loaded with carbs and starches that break down into sugar, and contain animal by-products, and depositing kick-back checks for endorsing those products, then that is not right. And it is a disservice to all of us.


Top four most common pet diseases are cancer, diabetes, obesity, and allergies. These diseases thrive in pets who have high sugars in their diet. Manufacturers will not come right out and say sugar on the label. Instead, the sugars are broken down from carbs and starches, such as lentils, oats, peas, chickpeas, potatoes, corn, and rice, which all convert to sugar. This video shows several brands of dog food which contain up to 50% and more ingredients that break down into sugar.

Grain-free food options also contain high carbs and starches, which break down into sugars. Sugars create immunes system imbalances and foster great environments for cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other diseases to flourish.

For your pet’s health, look at the side of your dog food bag, for the ingredient information. Here’s how you figure out the carbs and starches to know how much sugar your dog is getting. The formula is (protein + fat + moisture + ash) – 100. If the number value for ash is not provided, a common value is between 6 – 8.  Find more information here.


We are hoping the next generation of vets will start challenging the big money companies, questioning the validity of their brands, and demanding healthier ingredients. Hopefully, the next generation of vets gives recognition to the connection between ingredients, nutrition, and a pet’s overall health. The focus should be on improving the root causes instead of treating symptoms again and again. We hope that future vets will work more with the fundamentals and the root of the health issues — diet and proper nutrition. Hopefully, vets will take more classes which discuss nutrition from unbiased, educated sources which show facts and studies (and are not endorsed by any dog food manufacturers). We hope to see a greater emphasis on dog food nutrition education before advising customers of which dog food to buy.

And lastly, we hope pet parents see their role as being the end-all supreme decision to speak up and take a stand supporting healthier dog food options. We don’t want pet parents to be easily swayed by clever marketing campaigns, and to open their eyes that many illnesses could have been avoided with better nutrition. Information about dog food nutrition is accessible to everyone. Check the quality by visiting unbiased research information from Dog Food Advisor. Take a stand for your dog. Make a winning choice the next time you decide which dog food to feed your baby.