Dog Food Brands to Avoid! Plus 4 Recommended by Vets

Reading nutrition labels has become second nature for many of us. We know to pay attention to calories, sugar, salt, and artificial flavoring because we understand the negative effects these ingredients can have on our health. Did you know it’s equally important to do the same for our pets?

To be honest, I only kind of did.

My husband and I recently rescued a puppy, Cassidy. Before bringing her home we stocked up on puppy chow, training treats, puppy greenies and all the chew toys a little Supermutt could desire. Supermutt? Yep, that’s her! We also did a DNA test on our little rescue and discovered this little dog has some big dog paws to fill.

What is a supermutt? According to Embark Vet there “may be small amounts of DNA distant relatives” that include: Collie, German Shepard, Bohemian Shepard, and/or Keeshound.

Results from Embark Vet DNA test the rescue dog

Curious about your pup’s DNA? I strongly recommend Emark Vet. It only took 2 weeks from ordering the kit to get her results, and it’s fascinating.

Why Ingredients Matter

Society’s obsession with gluten and grain-free has made its way to our pet’s food. Grain-free dog and cat food is practically dominating pet food sales. In 2017 grain-free pet foods reached $3.4 billion in the US alone, representing a 43 percent market share. (1)

That’s an impressive number, but also potentially alarming. Just as I was beginning research for this article, the FDA announced they are investing 16 brands of grain-free dog food for a possible “link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and dogs eating certain grain-free dog foods,”(2) No product recalls have happened yet, but there is a current investigation underway by the FDA.

Here are the 16 grain-free brands currently under investigation: Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, Nutrisource, Nutro and Racheal Ray Nutrition. You can find the report in detail here (3).

On a personal note, my kitty is allergic Chicken. When consumed, her poor little lips swell. Although Chicken is one of the most common ingredients found in pet food, it is also one of the most common allergies in both dogs and cats. Other symptoms include itching/scratching, skin infections and diarrhea.

Echo also happens to be a big cat and was recently put on a diet by our vet. I had been concerned about her weight, so before our appointment I had purchased Blue Buffalo diet food. Blue Buffalo has a good reputation for being a quality brand. However, my vet informed me that Blue Buffalo tends to be very high in calories. It turns out the so-called diet food I bought her had a more calories per serving than her regular food.

Wait! Now we have to count calories for out pets too!

Actually, yes. Depending on age, breed, and size of your pet calories matter a lot. Obesity in pets is also on the rise. With smaller frames than their humans, a weight gain of even a pound can add significant strain on their overall health. Fortunately, with a little research and potentially some trial and error, identifying a brand that suits your dog’s needs is fairly easy.

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5 Dog Food Brands to Avoid

This list was harder to compile than I originally thought. There is a lot of contradicting information out there, but through my research, I feel confident in this list. I am not a veterinarian, and not YOUR pet’s owner, so I recommend using this list as a starting point for your own research. You must find what works best for your furry baby.

  • Purina
    • Beware of Purina and the brands under them: Alpo, Beneful, Mighty Dog, Purina Dog Chow, T-Bonz, and Waggin’ Train
    • Made with low quality ingredients such as, fillers, meat by-products, and artificial flavoring & colors.
    • Also have been subject to numerous recalls over the last decade across many of their brands.
  • Grreat Choice
    • Low quality ingredients and fillers: including: soy, corn, bone meal and poultry fat. This is an actual list of Grreat Choice ingredients. Notice all the controversial ingredients in red.
  • Pedigree
    • Pedigree recipes are abundant in low quality ingredients, such as ground corn, gluten corn meal, brewers rice, and full of dangerous artificial coloring: blue 2, yellow 5, yellow 6 and red 40.
    • Subject to numerous recalls. The most recent recall in August 2014 reports finding metal fragments in food. (4)
  • Cesar – Dry & Wet Dog food
    • This one is a little iffy. Though not ranked super low by Dog Food Advisor, I’m not comfortable with this brand. Their first 12 ingredients in their recipes are harmful or controversial, including BHA and Salt.
    • They have been subject to a few recalls.
  • Kibbles ‘n Bits
    • Another example of a brand stocked full of filler ingredients, artificial coloring and BHA. It’s also very low in protein compared to other brands.

4 Vet Recommended Brands

Follows WSAVA – World Small Animal Veterinary Association Guidelines.

Ingredients to Avoid

Best practices – read the nutrition labels. Avoid the list of controversial ingredients below, especially when they rank within the first dozen ingredients. Also, watch out for food and treats made in China. Finally, similar to us, limit overly processed treats with added sugars and high salt content.

  1. BHA/BTA – Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene used as a preservative in many cases
  2. Meat by-products – i.e. rendered fat like bone meal or poultry fat
  3. Vegetable oil
  4. Artificial coloring and flavors – blue 2, yellow 5, yellow 6 and red 40.
  5. Xylitol and other sugars alcoholsNOTE: Xylitol is lethal for dogs!
  6. Fillers – yellow corn, gluten corn meal and soybean meal


In conclusion, regulations and guidelines for pet food are not as strict as they are for human food. Admittedly, there have been times I wonder if the quality of food even matters at all. Like when my old dog used to break into the kitty litter box and eat cat turds, or when I’m not quick enough to retrieve a lava rock from my puppies mouth.

But it matters a great deal. Their unconditional love, companionship and pure joy should be met with quality food designed to help them live long, happy and healthy lives. If you are interested to find out where your dog food ranks, or if you are looking for more information, I recommend

I am not affiliated with any of the brands or sites mentioned in this article. Also, any change in your pet’s diet should be first consulted and approved by your veterinarian.

In loving memory of Bo

2005 – 2019


  2. American Kennel Club
  3. FDA


  1. Thanks for sharing this! I’ve had my pup for 14 years and he eats Puppy Chow, he’s getting older and his teeth aren’t as good so puppy chow is easier for him to chew. I tried other kinds but he didn’t like them. Maybe I’ll try another brand on your list from the good ones πŸŒžπŸ¦‹πŸŒ»

    • It is confusing. Just like human food. I recommend you look at the studies and make the best choice for your pets. Sometimes different flavors or types (wet be dry) can be beefy different

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