And not just from us. Don’t blindly trust anyone when it comes to something as important as your pet’s health.
These are questions you should always ask yourself about any entity or individual.
"Who are they to say what they are saying?"
"Can they be trusted?"
"Does what they say make sense?"
"Can they prove it?"
And most of all:
"Is it in their selfish best interest to tell me the truth?"
You should question everything we say, you should question everything anyone says on the internet, and you should question your vet too, especially when it comes to something as important as your pet's food.
So in this blog, we are going to answer some of the most common skepticisms, objections, or questions we get on a weekly basis.
We'll provide you with the explanations and the science behind them, and give you links to scientific studies so you can look those up yourself.
Let's get started.
"Are you trying to sell me your pet food?"
This is the standard question.
We get it, the moment someone is preaching against something is because they want to offer you an alternative — as long as you are willing to pay.
So this is a well-deserved question that anyone reasonable person would ask. And the answer is pretty simple:
We don't make any pet food. Not kibble, not premium meat roll, not anything. You'll never see a pet food product (or any kind of pet product, even if it's not pet food) with our brand on it.
But we have created access to a marketplace where consumers can find about 70% of all food brands (we are always adding more). The other 30% we provide links to other places you can buy. And it's true that every time someone buys through our platform, we make a margin.
But we get a commission whether the food rates high or low in our system and whether we recommend it or not.
So it's in our best interest to provide real, factual, and objective information to pet parents because if they buy from our website and are happy with their decision and our help, they are more likely to keep buying through our website and we get that commission.
But the real benefit we are looking for is to keep your pets healthy. Why? Because we are also offer insurance policies based on your pet being healthy and staying healthy. So our self interest is the same as every pet parent’s need.
And here’s the other thing to remember. If a pet parent feels they don't trust our nutrition rating, they can use our platform for the price comparison which is mathematical, factual and incredibly useful.
We are just trying to help pet parents make the best decisions they can for their pets and monthly bills.
If you want to know how everything is calculated through our algorithms, you can see it here:
HOW WE SCORE
"What are your credentials? Do you have a vet on staff?"
By far the most common question we get. Even more than the previous one.
It's true that we don't have a vet on staff. And the reason is pretty simple: We don't make pet food and we don’t treat pets for illness. And the majority of a vet’s training is not around food nutrition and food formulation.
We don’t have a pet nutritionist on staff either, because we don't need someone to develop our food formulations and run quality control on manufacturing, or for marketing purposes so we can say “vet approved”.
However, we have worked with multiple pet nutritionists, food processing scientists, recipe formulation experts and a few passionate vets on the creation of our tool to get their guidance on what's good for our pets and what's not. So all of our claims were extensively reviewed by experts.
In that process, we learned that there is not a consensus amongst experts. Some vets prescribe kibble to all their patients. Other vets are passionate advocates about the harm caused by kibble and advocate fresh and raw foods. Others warn of the dangers of raw foods.
Some nutritionists say that all ingredients are good, just depends in which combinations. Others say that some ingredients are very harmful and should be avoided at all costs. And some process experts hail the innovations in extruding food as a breakthrough in cost of production. Others warn of its implications to nutrient integrity.
The one thing no expert disagrees on is price, weight, number of calories and the amount of food that pet’s need per day. So our price comparison utility is factual and beyond disagreement. As for nutritional benefit, we’ve done the best we can and provide you the consumer with all the information so you can make up your own minds.
"Why does Kibble score so low?"
Kibble is the main food choice of pet parents. In fact, over 70% of pet parents across the US feed their pets kibble.
It's the food that we know the most and it's the food that's being the most advertised today, but also in the past decades.
There are all kinds of kibble: Premium, organic, natural, etc. One of the main problems with kibble is the processing and the impact it has on the nutrients. The ingredients are cooked at temperatures so high (around 400ºF) that it literally burns all the nutrients and turns them bad even if they are of the highest quality.
This also eliminates all the moisture from the food which may not seem like a big deal, but dogs and cats are both carnivores and they have evolved to eat a high-moisture diet (60-75% moisture.)
Kibble, on the other hand, only has about 5-10% moisture.
Eating such low moisture foods puts our pets in a constant state of dehydration because their bodies have to soften the food with water before digestion can begin and this water comes from other body areas, like the kidneys, liver, and skin.
As you can imagine, this doesn't come without negative consequences like dry nose and gums, loss of skin elasticity, and lethargy.
One compound worth mentioning is starch.
No kibble can be made without starch. Yes, even "grain-free" kibble. They may be grain-free, but starch is used as the “binding agent” that makes the lovely shapes possible. Without it, the kibble would just crumble and become powder by the time you bought the bag from the store.
.And it requires a lot of starch - in fact 30% of the entire food composition. The issue is that when very high temperatures are used at high pressure, the starch gets burned.
Can you imagine eating a burned, black toast every morning? We That's what happens to the starch found in kibble.
Another nutrient worth mentioning is fat.
The fats and oils found in kibble are very susceptible to a process called “oxidation” (see study outlining impact on pet foods) and every time someone opens the bag, the fat particles break down into smaller compounds such as malondialdehyde, and the fat becomes rancid.
Obviously, rancid fats have been associated with all kinds of health problems like:
Malnutrition, hair loss, diarrhea, kidney and liver disease, reproductive problems and even cancer and death — https://academic.oup.com/jn/article-abstract/50/4/421/4726390?redirectedFrom=fulltext
If you want to know more about kibble, how it's made, and why is better to avoid it, you can read this extensive article here:
When pet parents find out the truth about kibble, they feel a bit tricked sometimes and they are hesitant to accept it.
They've been feeding kibble to their pets for years, maybe all their lives.
And now all of the sudden it's the worst thing for pets?
Of course they feel a bit tricked and hesitant, it's only natural.
What they need to understand is that it's not their fault. In every medium, kibble has been advertised as the optimal food for dogs and cats for decades.
Pet parents didn't know any better, the information wasn't there.
But now that it is, we owe our pets to do our own diligence and question if the things we've been doing are really the best for them and if we should keep doing them.
What's the whole "price per calorie" deal about?
In a nutshell, the price per weight is not accurate to know how much pet food really costs.
It doesn't matter if it is price per lbs, or kg, or even price per bag.
What matters is the price per calorie because pets (and all animals including humans) have a daily calorie requirement they need to meet in order to be healthy.
The industry standard for feeding quantities is calorie amount. It’s not perfect as some calories are much better than others, but it's what the entire industry uses and for that reason it's the one we are using.
The formula is pretty simple:
Number of calories your pet needs times the calorie density of a pet food by weight.
This tells us how much of any food recipe your pet needs each day and we can calculate how much that food actually costs you per day and how much your food is going to last.
The calorie density is basically how many calories per gram a given food has.
For example, oil is much more calorie-dense than spinach, for that reason, 10 grams of oil can have more calories than 100 grams of spinach.
In the same way, some pet foods can have 500 calories per kg while others have 1500.
Clearly, the quality of that calorie in terms of nutrients matters too, that has to do more with nutritional quality than price.
What "marketing tactics" are brands using according to you?
Some pet food brands use everything in their arsenal to make people believe that their foods are of superior quality when in reality they are not.
It’s very easy to see ads in social media or TV where dogs and cats are happy and surrounded by fresh meat and vegetables, when in reality their foods have next to none of that.
In fact, one of the major marketing tactics are food labels:
Pet food companies are not legally required to disclose what percentage of the total pet food is chicken or rice or any ingredient. That information is considered a ‘recipe’ and it's proprietary information.
Instead, ingredients of pet food are listed in order of pre-cooking weight, the main ingredient by weight before cooking goes at the top and the ingredient with less quantity in terms of weight, will appear at the bottom.
It’s not uncommon to see the “main ingredient” they market appear towards the end of the list.
But the “pre-cooking” terminology hides something.
You see, some ingredients have more water than others and once you cook them they lose their water content and lose most of their weight. For that reason, you can have more chicken quantity than grains pre-cooking, but once you've cooked them, you'll actually have more grains than meat, still on the label, the meat will appear higher than the rice.
But that's not everything, there's also "ingredient splitting."
This tactic is pretty simple: Sometimes, the pre-cooking weight of unhealthy foods is bigger than the weight of the pre-cooking weight healthy foods. But brands don't want those unhealthy foods to appear high on their labels, so what do they do?
They broke down their unhealthy ingredients into smaller ingredients.
For example, instead of saying just "peas", they can say pea flour, pea fiber, and pea protein. Now you technically have 3 different ingredients that can rank lower than let's say chicken, even though all ingredients are made from the same thing (i.e. pea flour, fiber, and protein all come from peas.)
The terminology of pet foods can also be rather confusing:
Pet foods brands can advertise their foods as having certain ingredients when in reality the quantity of that ingredient is very low or non-existent.
Labels with the word “with” can have as little as 3% — For example, kibble with lamb, only needs 3% lamb.
And “dinner” “nugget” or “formula” can have as little as 25%.
And foods advertised as "flavor" don't need to have any meat at all.
You can check the FDA guidelines here:
Another thing brands do is painting their food. They use dyes to give certain colors to their kibble and make it more appealing to the human eye. Like the kibble is of these color because of its ingredients:
Red for the meat, green for veggies, orange for carrots.
The problem with these dyes is that they have been linked to multiple health problems including cancer and hypersensitivity reactions.
Again, not all brands are like this, some of them are truly of superior quality. But that has nothing to do with their logo, packaging or name, it has everything to do with the quality of their products.
That’s why we emphasize so much not to judge a food for its name, logo, or packaging but instead from the ingredients and processing of the food.
What about premium or prescription foods?
"Premium foods" are just another marketing gimmick. There's no special requirement a food labeled as "premium" has to meet (see FDA Pet Food Label Requirements) was
And the same is true for prescription foods. "Prescription food" it's just a brand registration by Hills. The FDA recognizes that there is no such thing as a food that requires a prescription:
All of this is made with the objective of fooling people so they pay unreasonably high prices for pet food. Prescription foods, for example, can be as much as 8x times the price of comparable foods with the same ingredients, processing and quality...
In fact, there's an ongoing class-action fraud lawsuit against a number of major food brand companies for this reason. Interestingly, their defense is that it isn’t illegal to price gouge the consumer’s has
You can’t rate foods by their public information like ingredients list because pets need nutrients, not ingredients. You need to talk to experts.
Even experts have trouble comparing pet food.
The truth is that the experts only have access to the same public information everyone else has, so they can only tell how good or bad a food is by that information.
Experts (or anyone) don't know the exact quantity of the ingredients that were used, let alone their quality or from where and how they were sourced.
Or how the recipe was developed or even the quality standards like storage or shipping that the manufacturer followed (or didn't follow) when creating the food.
Only the manufacturer has this knowledge.
So expert or not, everyone has to make their estimates based on the public information, including ingredients. It's true that ingredients and nutrients are not the same thing, but we can make a very accurate analysis of the quality of the food we just need a 3 of things:
Knowing the main ingredients and the processing — which we can know by the label and the type of food.
The labeling and marketing tricks pet food brands can use to make their foods more appealing — so we don't make decisions with the wrong data. We can know this by reading all the regulations that the FDA has in place.
What’s the ideal diet for dogs and cats and what's actually harmful for them — we can know this by reading all the independent, peer-reviewed research available.
Once we have that, we just have to compare one food to how close they are to this ideal diet to see how good or bad they are.
We can also hire experts to compare a food to another to see which one is better.
The problem is that this can take months because there are more than 15.000 pet food products in the US alone. No human brain can compare 15.000 things at the same time. That's why computers and algorithms are so useful. Not just when comparing pet food, but when comparing most things.
That's what we've done for you.
We've gathered all the publicly available information like ingredients and processing and nutritional percentages, taking into account all the marketing and labeling tricks pet food companies can use by reading the FDA regulations.
Then we compare them to the ideal diet for cats and dogs based on science.
And lastly, compare them to each other.
Is it perfect?
No. But it's the closest anyone can get and you have access to it for free. You are free to use it and trust it or ignore it completely.
If you wish to know with all the details how our tool works, you can always check it here:
Rating websites can't be trusted, it's all fake reviews and businesses recommending things to get a cut.
Recommendation and review sites can certainly be problematic.
It's true that there can be a conflict of interest when another company or website recommends products and they get a cut and businesses or individuals can buy fake reviews to make a company look good or bad in the eyes of the people.
Reviews can present extra problems, especially for pet food because pet parents can't know how good a given food is just because their pets like them.
Someone can like junk food, that doesn't make it healthy.
And as we said in the previous question, comparing foods is even difficult for experts.
That's why anyone should compare based on facts and science rather than recommendations or reviews.
Which is exactly why we are giving you all the information so you can decide on your own. Also, our site doesn't have customer reviews because we focus on the data, on the facts that's how our algorithms run.
You already know that for each food someone buys from us, we get a commission, but we get that commission whether that food is rating high or low in our system, so our best interest it's still to give people objective information.
If you want more info on how we process all the data and how our algorithm works, you can know everything here:
"Why are so many common foods bad according to your rating?"
That depends on what you mean by "common."
It's true that kibble (for reasons that you now understand) rates usually very low in our system when it comes to nutrition and that it's the main food most pet parents choose.
However, when people talk about common foods, they really mean brands.
It's completely normal, some really big brands have been around for decades:
A lot of people who as kids grew up with pets, were feeding these brands to their pets.
And now as adults, they continue to do so because it's familiar, it's what they grew up with, and they have some level of emotions attached to that brand that result in loyalty.
Anyone in those circumstances would feed their pets these "common" pet food brands.
Even beyond that, these big brands also have big marketing budgets:
They can achieve a level of familiarity through advertising that makes us feel like they've always been there and they are the leading and best brands to feed our pets.
But as an impartial and objective source of information, we don't focus on the brand, no matter how old, big, or well-known the company is.
Because that's not what matters.
What matters is how good the food is, not how famous the logo is.
Our algorithm analyzes the data of all the brands the same way no matter who they are. It always follows the same processes.
If you want to know what those processes are, you can always check this article here:
We pull back the curtain and go into excruciating detail about how our algorithm works so you can understand perfectly where our ratings come from.
That said, there are certain products from some brands that score high in our system. Like The Honest Kitchen, etc
"Are you against WSAVA? Why do you recommend brands that don't meet WSAVA guidelines?"
We are not against WSAVA guidelines, in fact, some of them are really good.
At the same time, they are not as extensive as they could be.
“What is your typical third-party analysis for all your foods?”
“Do you provide digestibility results for all your products on your website?”
WSAVA does not have these questions as a part of its guidelines, even though all pet food companies should be able to answer this question.
Some WSAVA guidelines (like employing a full-time qualified nutritionist) are very difficult to follow for smaller brands.
But that doesn't affect the quality of their products. Smaller brands can create products that are as good (often better) than the ones made for bigger brands that have bigger budgets.
It's important to realize that big brands can have a full-time qualified nutritionist that doesn't work on formulating the foods but instead on marketing or the educational department making brochures and presentations for the company.
So instead of asking a brand:
"Do you have a full-time qualified pet food nutritionist?"
A better question to ask would be:
"Who formulated your current food? What are their credentials."
As a side note, some of these big pet food brands like Hills or Purina are "WSAVA Gold partners" and they have links to their websites.
Hills, by the way, is being sued for selling prescription dog food that's no different from regular pet food but costs 8x times more:
We have nothing against WSAVA, but their guidelines are not our scoring criteria to decide if a food is good or not.
We focus on the objective quality of the food, its nutritional value for our pets. That's our criteria, biology and math, not any particular guidelines as helpful as they are.
And it's important to note that they are guidelines, not scientific principles or rules.
That's why you may find some foods ranking high in our system that don't meet all WSAVA guidelines.
"Why do you say organ meat and bones are unhealthy?"
Some organ "prime" meat like liver, heart, and kidneys, are extremely nutritious and can be very beneficial for our pets.
However, some pet food manufacturers are using "organ meat" as an umbrella term to include less nutritionally dense and worse quality organ meat.
These less nutritionally dense visceral and skeletal organ meats (like intestines, lungs, pancreas, stomach, brain, and neck meat) are often lumped together with by-products like beaks, feathers, feet, hooves, and hair in mass production.
Look for the specific names of those prime organ meats listed individually if you want to know the quality of "organ meat" in your pet's food.
"What do you mean by 4-D meats? I've never eaten an animal who was alive..."
"4D meats" stands for: Dead, Dying, Disabled, and Diseased.
This type of meat comes from animals who died because of some disease or other causes rather than being healthy at the moment they were slaughtered. And some of them were dead days before their meat was processed.
These 4-D carcasses may have cancerous tumors, worm-infested organs, and the like—basically, anything and everything goes in the pot.
It's true that 4D meats used to be more of a problem. The FDA has passed some regulations that make this practice less frequent today:
But even today there is a massive industry for recycling “waste” meat products from the human food industry that would be thrown away and sent to be “rendered” and used for pet foods.
Rendering plants happily accept roadkill, dead zoo animals, and, most appallingly, euthanized pets from animal shelters and veterinary clinics.
We can explain the rendering process here:
Is raw food the best diet? There are lots of opinions about raw food being harmful
Raw food is definitely a topic of controversy.
Some people, including vets and experts, swear by it as by far the best food for pets. Others assure that it is dangerous and irresponsible.
As a food comparison site, we just present the facts, information, and science to people so they can make their own informed decisions and we prefer to avoid debates such as "raw food good or bad."
We currently don’t include raw unprocessed food in our listings, but we will soon be adding all the fresh food providers, including the raw food providers. And according to our algorithms and data, we will rate raw food highly.
The main problem some people have with raw food, is the pathogens that raw food can contain and can cause multiple infections and diseases for our pets.
(Although some experts say that dogs and cats have evolved to resist those infections since as predators they got used to eating meat that wasn't always in optimal conditions.)
The truth is that as bad as some food processing methods are, they eliminate the pathogenic bacteria protecting (in a small way) our pets.
That said, certain methods of preparing raw food also eliminate pathogens without affecting the nutritional quality of the food.
For example, HPP (High-pressure processing) that 100% sterilizes the food without using temperatures that would cook the meat.
Commercial raw food manufacturers put in place safety measures and are much more open about their processes than most pet food manufacturers.
And when we look at the recall lists, raw food companies are rarely on the list.
Is cooking for my dog the best idea? What should I cook my pet?
If we want optimal health for our pets to give them a nutritionally balanced diet.
Most pet parents, however, don't have the knowledge as to what a nutritionally balanced diet actually looks like. In fact, some of the top pet food experts and vets put this at the top of the harmful things for pets.
Ann Eliopulos, a veterinarian and adviser for Wag, said in an interview with Insider.com that giving bones to dogs is actually a health risk and that home-cooked diets are nutritionally inadequate:
"Cooked bones should never, ever, under any circumstances, be given to a dog. They can splinter and perforate any part of the dog's gastrointestinal tract, or wedge there and need to be surgically removed."
"My No. 1 pet peeve is home-cooked pet diets. In most cases, these diets are simply not nutritionally adequate."
She explained that each stage in a pet's life comes with different nutritional requirements and that most home-cooked meals do not contain all the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that pets need.
There are services and resources (like hiring a nutrition pet advisor or some home-cooked recipes book from vets) that can help you create a balanced home-cooked diet and if you want to go this route.
This will give you greater control over your pet's diet and you'll know for sure what ingredients went into the food, where they came from, and how they were processed.
Can bad food really cause cancer (or other illnesses) to my dog/cat? What’s a nutritionally balanced food anyway?
Think about it this way:
How healthy would you be if you smoked a full pack of cigarettes and ate doughnuts, ice cream, and McDonald's every day?
What would happen to you?
Probably nothing. At least not a first.
See, even if you smoke a full pack of cigarettes every day for a full year that would probably not cause you lung cancer.
The same way that eating only ice cream, doughnuts, and McDonald's for a full year would probably not "destroy" your health or cause you colon cancer.
But if instead of a year you did that for 20 or 30 consecutive years, every day... your chances of having cancer, insulin resistance, metabolic disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis (and a long etc) would be surprisingly high.
Now, even then you still may not suffer from cancer or any other diseases. But clearly your health would be poor.
Would you like people you love to have that lifestyle? Your mom, sister, friend?
It's the same with our pets.
Feeding them bad food is not going to cause any health problems in the short term but feeding your pets something that's not optimal for them, will clearly have a negative impact on their health over the long run, causing different disease including cancer:
A very interesting article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry titled “Biomonitoring the Cooked Meat Carcinogen 2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazol[4,5-b]pyridine in Canine Fur.”
One other journal article related to pet foods and potential carcinogens. The study is titled “Mutagenic Activity and Heterocyclic Amine Carcinogens in Commercial Pet Foods.”
What this study showed was that out of 25 commercial pet foods analyzed for mutagenic activity (the ability to induce mutations in cells), 24 had the ability to mutate cells (which can lead to tumors.)
And 14 of the 25 foods were analyzed for heterocyclic amine mutagens or carcinogens, and 13 of the 14 foods analyzes contained a carcinogen.
Another article collects data on the most common diseases among dogs and cats and points to the fact that obesity was on the rise for 8th consecutive year in 2019:
Every species has evolved to eat a certain kind of diet and food.
Snakes, for example, evolved to eat animals, they are carnivores at their core — if you feed them a salad every day, they will literally die.
It's like poison to them.
While a great, daily salad can only do wonders for you.
Dogs and cats are primarily carnivores.
A biologically correct diet for a carnivore is high in moisture, high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates (and the carbohydrates being low glycemic like veggies). The vast majority of pet foods on the market today are the opposite — low in moisture content, with low to moderate amounts of poor quality protein and fat, and high in starches or carbs.
Dogs are a bit more flexible than cats because they've been domesticated and living with humans for around 40.000 years so they can eat some veggies even though their primary food should be high-quality meat.
Cats have been with us for much less time (7000-5000 years) and they are closer to felines (the same family as lions, tigers, cheetahs, etc) and they have a very small need for any food aside from high-quality meat.
That's the "diet" dogs and cats evolved to eat (given his genetic makeup) and the further away we move from that, the worse it will be for their health.
They may not die or grow sick immediately, but their health suffers silently every day.
And this is true no matter how good the ingredients are: A cat eating the highest quality potato is like a person eating the highest quality doughnut, it can be the best in the world, but it's still bad.
That was a lot of information!
Hopefully, we've solved all your questions and concerns in this blog, if not, you can always read the other blogs listed here or reach us with any questions you have at:
EMAIL US: firstname.lastname@example.org
And remember to question what you feed your pets because they can't do it themselves.