I bought kibble yesterday.
I never buy it, but for various reasons we needed some and I wanted a conventional kibble, not a grain-free one (when I am buying grain-free I get Orijen). I wanted the conventional kibble with the most meat.
Here are the first few ingredients of the three brands we looked at:
1) Brand A: Duck, Chicken Meal, Chicken, Brown Rice, Pearled Barley, Oatmeal, Menhaden Fish Meal
2) Brand B: Deboned Chicken, Deboned Whitefish, Chicken Meal, Oatmeal, Ground Peas, Ground Barley
3) Brand C: Chicken meal, brown rice, white rice, rice bran, cracked pearled barley, peas
OK, so which one did I buy?
If I say C, does that surprise you? Because that’s what I bought.
Here’s why: The protein levels in the three kibbles were 24%, 24%, and 26%, respectively. Meat all by itself, in a dried form, is about 40%-50% protein, depending on the species. Brown rice is 7.5% protein. So the further you get away from that 40-50 amount, the lower the meat content.
The 26% protein kibble, which is the one with the fewest named meat ingredients, is actually the one with the most meat.
The trick is to know the names. The AAFCO, which is the body that governs how dog food ingredients can be listed, distinguishes between the meat and the meat’s “meal.” When a company includes a meat with no word after it, that means they weighed it raw and wet, right off the animal. When the word “meal” is used, it means the meat has been cooked, dried, and ground.
The raw product is always going to weigh more than the cooked and dried product, but they’re weighing water. Make no mistake, they’re going to have to make that raw stuff into its “meal” before they can extrude it into kibble – it’s not like the dog isn’t getting the mealed form of it, and there’s no advantage to not buying something labeled meal. Leaving off the word meal just lets them put the meat higher on the ingredient list.
All three of these kibbles, by the way, are good ones. I’m not knocking A and B. I have, however, had several people tell me that brand C wasn’t a good kibble, because there were so few meat ingredients. But comparing the protein levels shows that it’s not true.
There are a ton of reasons to pick different kibbles, and I don’t want anybody to go rush out and buy brand C all of a sudden. What I want to point out is that you can’t stop after you read the list of ingredients. You need to compare them with the analysis of the protein (and, for some brands, the fat, though in this case that was not nearly as helpful because it didn’t follow the same progression as the protein – brand A was 16% fat, B was 11% fat, and C was 15% fat) to know what you’re actually looking at. If your kibble has a ton of fancy ingredients but a low protein level (21 or 22% is common), it’s pretty much guaranteed that in fact the greater proportion of the kibble is the grain ingredients.