The first thing I did was read the Dog Food Reviews written by Mike Sagman. He's a dentist who decided to get into dog food reviews about 6 years ago. He has a standard methodology and a templated format that makes it pretty easy to figure out how he rates various foods on a scale from 1 star to 5 stars. The only objection I have is that he will sometimes use one type of food to represent all the lines of food of a particular dog food brand. If he selects a Large Breed formula to review, it is not necessarily going to jive with the info I need for evaluating a puppy food or an adult food from the same manufacturer for the Welshies. Nevertheless, it gave me the information I needed to determine why some foods were rated higher than others, and why my current food was downgraded by his methodology.
First, I decided to evaluate all the brands of dog food marketed by my current manufacturer-they have several lines, including a basic and a premium line. I'm not unhappy with the manufacturer, and I'm pretty sure that with all their foods there's one that would meet my needs without having to go outside to a strange new brand. They have grain-free and breed specific foods, and activity and life-stage specific foods also. The biggest issue I had was that it appears the marketing is in flux-some products are available on the product web site but not sold in any stores that I could find. Some labels have changed their looks, or some foods been moved from one line into another rebranded product line. It was all very confusing, so I had to set up a spreadsheet to tabulate all the variables and try to link them to the reviews. I started documenting a bunch of details that I thought would help me decide whether I really needed to (or could AFFORD to) change my dog food. Here's what I started listing:
-brand of food
-category of food (i.e. activity, life stage, breed specific)
-first three ingredients on the label
-nutrient analysis of Protein/Fat
-rating given by the review site, if available, from 1 to 5 stars
-largest available bag size
-cost per bag of the largest size
-cost per pound
One of the main requirements that we have for a dog food is that it is available readily-that means it has to be sold at big name pet stores like PetSmart or Petco. I don't do deliveries and I don't want to pay a gas premium to drive around finding the food. Nothing like going to feed the dogs after dinner, when you realize you emptied the last bag of food into the bin a week ago and there's no more left in the storage closet. At least PetSmart is open until 9 PM and you can run over for a quick bag.
The next thing I started looking at was ingredients-I figured if I was going to make any change at all to the dog's diet, it was going to be to reduce or remove cheap corn meal from the food, or go grain-free. I reviewed the first three ingredients in all the foods, and discovered only some of the more premium and natural ones had products that didn't use cornmeal or corn at all. Some of the 'better' foods dropped cornmeal to the third ingredient, some even had it as the 4th to 6th ingredient-but it was still there. Only the grain-free ones didn't list corn at all as part of the ingredients.
Then I started looking at cost per pound, and that's where I nearly fell off my chair. The cost of being better to my dogs was going to run me about 35% to 155% more than I was already paying. And with 9 dogs to feed, we go through a bag of food every week. So any increase in the costs were going to be pure profit for the dog food company and probably not really reflect any change to me OR the dogs.
I did also calculate what it would cost to go from my perfectly well tolerated 'economy' food to the Petsmart house brand of Authority Grain-free Chicken and Potato. It is a well-regarded diet and it would move the mealtime feeding program from a 2.5 star to a 4-star event for the dogs. It would cost me about 28% more to go to that level, or roughly an additional 36 bucks per 100 pounds of dog food. I'll allow that this is a very reasonable alternative, and I'm fine with making it if there was a big reason to move to grain-free. I evaluated their standard adult dog food product and found it contained corn products at the 4th and 6th spots on the ingredient list, and the price was comparable to what I was paying now with m. But, I just don't know that making the change to a new brand is justified for the same cost and not really getting rid of the corn. I'm still feeling that we're in 'It ain't broke so don't fix it' mode, and after all the research, maybe we'll just wait a bit and see if a real need to change presents itself...
I almost wish dog food selection was like pulling up to the pump with your car-you get Regular, Plus and Premium, and that's it. And as long as your engine is running fine on the 87-octane, there's no point in putting the High-Test gasoline in the tank.