Importance of High Quality, Nutritional Dog Food

Importance of High Quality, Nutritional Dog Food
June 5, 2019

 When browsing the pet food section at your local grocery store, you see countless brightly coloured, shiny packages of dog food. You only want the best for your pup! Problem is, they all look great; how in the world will you tell the difference?

Not only will you learn how to easily distinguish all the dog foods out there in the article below, but you’ll also learn why some ingredients are important than others.

 This article will cover:

  • Important terms & definitions
  • Animal protein vs. plant protein
  • Importance of high-quality animal meat
  • Poor nutrition health concerns
  • Example of low-quality dog food vs. high for easy comparison

Dog Food Manufacturing Terms Defined

AAFCO: Association of American Feed Control Officials. The AAFCO is a combination of local, state and federal agencies legally regulating the sale and distribution of animal food or animal drug products.

Animal Digest: Animal digest is a common, low-quality ingredient used in pet foods, produced by the hydrolysis of ‘clean’ animal tissues that haven’t yet decomposed. In short, it’s one which you will definitely want to avoid to keep your pup happy and healthy!

By-Product: Byproducts are considered clean, non-rendered, slaughtered animal ‘parts’ other than meat. Things like lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, blood, bone, fatty tissue, or/and stomachs fall into this category. Adding byproducts to dog food is just one of the many ways manufacturers cut corners when it comes to nutrition, causing their products to appear more than what they are. Just because the food fills a can, that doesn’t mean it will be good and nutritious for your dog.

Often, you’ll see things like ‘meat by-product’ or ‘chicken by-product meal’ among a list of ingredients. The fact that there is a source of meat in the name means nothing; these ingredients still have absolutely no animal meat in them at all.

Corn, & Other Filler Ingredients: Many dog food manufacturers like to use low-quality plant-based ingredients, offering very little nutrition, as a type of ‘filler’. By doing this, they are able to produce more food at a lower cost to them. Corn and corn-based ingredients is a popular and easily grown dog food filler.

Rendering: During the rendering process, various nameless ingredients are ground together and cooked at high temperatures in industrial-sized vats, until all moisture and fats are removed from the original product. The entire process is meant to completely dry the material while separating fat from bone and protein. 

Meal: The end product of the rendering process is fat along with a dried, concentrated protein meal. 

Meat and Bone Meal: Since ‘meals’ are concentrated sources of protein resulting from the dog food rendering process, most of the time specific sources like ‘Chicken meal’ or ‘Beef meal’ are considered a good thing and valuable ingredient for our dogs.

Generic ‘meat meals’, on the other hand, can come from absolutely any source at all. The fact that the manufacturer failed to specify the source speaks of its cheap quality. In fact, it’s believed by many that dog food manufacturers would render euthanized pet carcasses to create their meat meals. 

Bone meal is considered difficult for a dog to digest.

  • In fact, the CDC believes ‘Mad Cow Disease, a 100% fatal disorder transferable to humans, originated in the United Kingdom from infected meat and bone meal that was fed to livestock.

Nutritional Terms Defined

Protein: All dogs need to consume proteins for survival, preferably animal-based proteins. This is the most important nutrient (other than water) to consider when looking at a dog’s diet, and also the most controversial.

Carbohydrates: Dogs have little dietary need for carbs. Though humans derive most of their energy from carbohydrates (sugars, starches), dogs use carbs differently and really have very little nutritional need for them. They are able to meet their energy needs with proteins and fat.

Fat: Fats used in dog food are very digestible, and the first things to be used for energy. These also add to the taste of the food. In fact, wolves of old would go for days sometimes without eating, relying on fat stores for energy.

Are Dogs Meat Eaters?

To this day, dogs are still scientifically classified as meat eaters & carnivores. Their teeth are designed to chew and tear at animal meat. Dogs evolved a very specific and advanced set of hunting and tracking skills, honed over the centuries to track their animal prey. Dogs by-far prefer the taste of animal meat over plant products. Their bodies are even specifically designed to thrive off of essential amino acids, abundantly found in animal meat yet very difficult to find in the right quantities from plant sources.

  • Each and every sense a dog possesses evolved over thousands of years to augment his hunting and tracking skills. It is even possible for dogs to sniff out and source fruits and vegetables.

A Dog’s Eyesight: Evolved to adaptly pick out rapid movements of small animal prey (ex. Rabbit), able to see better in low/dim light, detects color in blue and yellow, black/white hues.

A Dog’s Hearing: Able to detect lower frequency sounds than humans, such as the soft patter of an animal moving in the brush. 

A Dog’s Sense of Smell: One of the most powerful senses of smell in the animal kingdom, allowing any dog to easily detect and follow a prey animal’s trail, as well as communicate with other dogs about things like territory via scent.

Yet the vast majority of dog food manufacturers today pack their foods with plant ‘filler’, adding much less actual meat to the mix. The reasoning has absolutely nothing to do with the animal’s nutrition; this strategy is cost effective for the producer and helps maximize profits. You see, it is far less expensive to grow and harvest ingredients than process slaughterhouse materials (meat) on a massive scale.

Essential Amino Acids: The Right Kind of Protein

Ever since elementary school, we’ve been told proteins are the building blocks of life and every living animal needs them for survival. For both dogs and humans, much of our bodies are built and operate off of proteins. Simply said, we can’t get along without them.

Many dog food manufacturers will boast a high percentage of protein on their packaging, in the hopes that whoever purchases that food will assume it is better because of the high protein content. Unfortunately, not all types of protein are the same, and these foods are all too often chalked full of the wrong types of protein.

Essential Amino Acids

All protein is in turn built from a combination of amino acids, which affect the protein’s shape and function. Our bodies break down these proteins into their basic amino acids, and get nourishment from them.

A dog’s body is able to naturally create most of them, but they need to find the rest from their diets. These dietary amino acids are called ‘Essential Amino Acids’, and the dog will become deficient if they aren’t able to get enough.

Since dogs biologically evolved to thrive off of a diet rich in animal meat, they are easily able to find enough essential amino acids from that animal meat. On the flip side, the right amount of essential amino acids is hard to find fruits and vegetables. 

Many dog food manufacturers, like the example below, chalk their foods full of plant products and thus don’t offer nearly enough essential amino acids. The dog, in turn, has to eat more of these low-quality foods to get the correct amount of nutrition, and often suffers for it.

Risks of Poor Nutrition to Our Dogs

Diseases/Conditions Due to Poor Nutrition

Believe it or not, a dog’s physiology (the way their bodies work internally) is a lot like a human's. Because of this, they can suffer many of the same types of malnutrition-related conditions we do. Unfortunately, unlike we humans, dogs can’t tell owners when they aren’t feeling well, and many owners tend to miss the telltale signs our dogs give off. Just a few of the health-related issues due to poor nutrition are listed below:

  • Obesity
  • Kidney disease
  • Dull coat
  • Hair loss
  • Increased allergies
  • Skin disorders
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Growth/bone disorders

Weight Gain

Millions of dogs are considered overweight usually due to two leading factors: Poor nutrition and lack of exercise. Not only can poor nutrition lead to weight gain, but in turn increase the chances of several different types of health problems.

A few of the health problems overweight dogs might suffer:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart and respiratory disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer

Most older dogs are going to develop some type of arthritis eventually; it’s a fact of life. Not only does weight gain put added pressure on the joints, increasing this chance, but it also makes arthritic joints more painful. 

  • In APOP's 2017 clinical survey, 56% of dogs and 60% of cats were classified as clinically overweight. That equals an estimated 50.2 million dogs and 56.5 million cats are too heavy (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention).

Eating Feces

According to the American Kennel Club, about one out of 4 dogs has been seen eating their own droppings at least once. Many dogs do this all of the time. Although it may seem like an absolutely disgusting habit to human owners, eating faeces often comes naturally to dogs. 

There are several different reasons why your dog might decide to eat his own droppings, but nutrition is the largest! Simply said, your dog is probably trying to find the extra nutrients he isn’t able to get in his diet. If you’ve observed your dog eating his droppings, it may be time to consider a new dog food.

Low-Quality Dog Food Example

The manufacturer who produces this dog food listed below is outrageously popular, the most popular pet food manufacturer in the entire United States. The multi-billion dollar entity sells to tens of millions of pet owners worldwide; millions of people who have never even considered owning a pet have heard of them. 

Unfortunately, they also produce some of the lowest quality, cheapest pet foods you’ll find anywhere. Very few pet owners know this, however, because this entity spends almost as many resources on their image and marketing campaigns as the food itself.

  • Dog food ingredients are listed in descending order of quantity. 

Top 10 Ingredients: Whole grain corn, meat and bone meal, corn gluten meal, beef fat naturally preserved with mixed-tocopherols, soybean meal, poultry by-product meal, chicken, egg and chicken flavour, whole grain wheat, animal digest

Whole Grain Corn: Any corn-based ingredient is considered low quality, cheap dog food ingredient. The fact that whole grain corn is listed as the very first ingredient means this dog food is made mostly of corn.

Meat and Bone Meal: Though it is a source of animal meat, a generic meat and bone meal can come from absolutely anything. Bone meal is also difficult on your dog’s digestion.

Corn Gluten Meal: Gluten is the rubbery residue remaining once most of the starchy carbohydrate in corn has been removed.

In fact, there aren’t any ‘good’ ingredients throughout the entire 10 listed there, and only one source of animal meat- a low quality, ‘mystery’ source it may be. There is a perfectly good reason why this food is as inexpensive as it is.

High-Quality Food Example

To give you be the best contrast in comparison to the lowest above, we’ve listed one of the absolute highest quality manufactured dog foods out on the market today. Though this dog food is priced much higher than the cheap example above, you wouldn’t be able to offer better nutrition if your pet fed from whole animals on a farm.

Try to compare the ingredients used here and in the example above ask yourself why would the higher quality food use certain ingredients and leave others out? Do you remember when we said dogs are meant to thrive off of animal meat, and their natural diets included very few plant sources? Notice how this second example offers absolutely no vegetables, but only focuses on animal/fish sources. 

Many dog food brands claim various vegetables are great sources of nutrients. If that is the case, why wouldn’t the best of the best use them? In fact, we could move down the top 15 ingredients, and not find anything that isn’t fantastic.

Top 10 Ingredients: Deboned chicken, deboned turkey, yellowtail flounder, whole eggs, whole Atlantic mackerel, chicken liver, turkey liver, chicken heart, turkey heart, whole Atlantic herring

Deboned Chicken & Deboned Turkey: The first two and highest quantity ingredients, chicken and turkey, are both high-quality animal meats and offer the correct proteins for any dog. These are ‘deboned’ for easier digestion.

3 Types of Fish: There are three types of high-quality fish already included among the top ten ingredients here, a fourth if we kept going. Not only does fish offer the proteins a dog needs, as well as several carbohydrates, but fish are also unique in their offering of fish oils and omega fatty acids.

Organ Meats: Though they may not seem appetizing to humans, organ meats (liver, heart) are considered very valuable ingredients to dogs and dog food.

Some High-Quality Dog Food Brands

There are countless dog food brands out there; it's often hard to distinguish one from the other. To further complicate things, most of these brands offer multiple different lines of dog food. In general, some brands are considered higher quality than the others. To make this process simpler, we've listed a few of the quality brands out there. These are only some of the many great dog food brands, so feel free to research them for yourselves!

  • Orijen (Premium)
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Taste of the Wild
  • Earthborn Holistic
  • Nature's Select
  • Nature's Variety Instinct
  • Only Natural
  • Wellness Core


Most people spend around $200 on food monthly for themselves, and much more for those who have children and families. You could invest in high-quality dog food for even a fourth of that. Why skimp out on something as important as your dog’s health?