Website rates dog foods based on nutrients, ingredients

Woof Whiskers uses calculations to compare and rank dog foods.

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Premium pet food and the US pet specialty retail channel combined forces at seemingly the perfect moment in time, leading to continuing success for both. l Andrea Gantz
Premium pet food and the US pet specialty retail channel combined forces at seemingly the perfect moment in time, leading to continuing success for both. l Andrea Gantz

Like many of the pet food companies they evaluate, Woof Whiskers, a dog food and products review website, began with concerned animal lovers looking for dietary solutions to their dogs’ health problems. Derek Gaughan and Kyle Holgate founded Woof Whiskers to share what they learned from helping their dogs Kartoffel, Pidgy and Sasha.

A little more than two years ago, Gaughan and Holgate created Woof Whiskers as a general dog blog, but found themselves pushed toward reviewing dog food by their own pets’ needs.

“We're both dog lovers and owners, and food allergies in our dogs caused us both to take a closer look at what's in a dog food as we spent a lot of time jumping from brand to brand, formula to formula,” Gaughan said. “Just this year we decided to focus a lot more of our time on dog food specifically, as I believe there could be a better way to deliver the information people need to know about their dog food.”

Gaughan and Holgate have reviewed 119 dog food brands on the website. They continue to review more as new dog foods come on the market, such as Amazon’s private label dog food Wag.

“We tried to find the most popular and readily available dog foods on the market, brands and varieties that the majority of Americans can find in super markets, boutique pet stores, online retailers like Chewy, etc,” Gaughan said.

Dog food nutrient estimated on a dry matter basis

The Woof Whiskers team also estimated the nutrient content of 1,386 dog food formulas on a dry matter basis, following US Food and Drug Administration and Association of Animal Feed Control Officials guidelines.

“This is basically taking the listed guaranteed analysis given from the dog food manufacturer and calculating for moisture and fiber contents,” Gaughan said. “We have not done any sort of independent laboratory analysis at this time to spot check the calculations, though that would be something we are interested in doing in the future.”

Comparing pet foods on a dry matter basis allows meaningful assessments between wet and dry products, according to the FDA pet food labels webpage. For example, a dry dog food with 27 percent crude protein and 10 percent moisture actually contains a lower proportion of protein than a wet food with eight percent crude protein and 75 percent moisture. In general, the amount of dry matter in kibble is approximately four times the amount in a canned product.

How Woof Whiskers rates pet food

After getting an estimate of the protein, fat and other components in a dog food, Gaughan uses an algorithm to rate the products based on nutrient content and ingredients.

“It all starts with the nutritional analysis, and that's weighted most heavily,” he said.

For example, if a dog food doesn’t contain AAFCO’s minimum requirement of 22.5 percent protein content, that dog food is heavily penalized.

“Other factors include analyzing the first three, five and ten ingredients,” he said. “If the algorithm sees cheap fillers like corn used as a primary ingredient, the dog food will also be heavily penalized. This also correlates strongly with low protein percentage as well.”

Dog foods with ingredients deemed questionable or controversial resulted in removal from the list of top ranked dog foods.

“One common ingredient we don't like to see is ‘natural flavors’ because there's no regulation around what that constitutes, so it could effectively be anything,” he said. “Another example of a controversial ingredient is some food dyes. For example, Alpo's "Come n Get It" uses Blue #2 which may cause cancer in rats, hyperactivity in children, and hasn't been studied in dogs.”

Gaughan referred to a paper by the Center for Science in the Public Interest on possible health risks from some dyes used in human and pet food.

“Anything we deem controversial has some scientific study behind it,” he said.

Finally, they interviewed veterinarians to confirm the top ten dog foods in their rating, which appear on the website.

No financial connections with pet food industry

While Woof Whiskers receives revenue from Amazon Services’ Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that reimburses the website for linking to products sold on Amazon. However, they are not financially connected to any specific pet food company or paid for their reviews.

“We have no financial incentives associated with our reviews/ratings, no money has ever been exchanged from a dog food manufacturer nor are we in such talks,” Gaughan said.

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