MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We love our dogs. It’s estimated Americans spend billions each year on veterinary care, grooming and food — and the choice in that last category can be tough to pick.

There are 5,000 different types of dog food in the country, and Courtney Opdahl is on the lookout for what’s best for her constant companion – Chloe, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever.

“I read food labels. I care about what my dog eats, because she’s a part of my family,” Opdahl said. “The first thing I did was look at the ingredients list.”

But the ingredients list on the back of dog food bags isn’t the one a University of Minnesota clinical veterinary nutritionist looks at first. Dr. Julie Churchill eyes go straight for the letters: AAFCO.

The AAFCO – the Association of American Feed Control Officials – is a group run by those who regulate animal food. Minnesota follows the AAFCO’s guidelines, and each bag of dog food sold in the state must have a Nutritional Adequacy Statement.

But that statement can be hard to find, even for trained professionals.

“It’s often on the side of the bag, or the back of the bag,” Churchill said, adding that it’s often in small print.

(credit: CBS)

WCCO-TV’s Dog Food Findings

WCCO-TV bought dog food from five different stores across the metro, including a specialty pet store, drugs stores and grocery stores. WCCO then brought the food to the University of Minnesota for Churchill to examine.

“By law, all of these pet foods must have a pet food statement,” Churchill said.

WCCO-TV found a statement on each bag and each said the food was nutritionally balanced and fit to eat. But the statements on the bag were written in two ways.

On most of the statements, the food was said to be formulated. That word appeared on four out of five bags of dog food.

Formulated, as it appears on dog food nutrition labels, usually means the food is sent off to a lab for chemical analysis, which is not very expensive to have done.

“So, formulated tells me that the nutrients are probably in this bag, but they tell me nothing about the quality, the digestibility,” Churchill said, adding the questions: “Does it get in my pet? Does it do that job?”

The second statement that can be found on dog food is: animal feeding tests. This statement means that a group of dogs was studied while eating said food.

“This food then had to be fed to a colony of dogs,” Churchill explained. “They had a physical exam, blood work and body weights at the beginning and throughout this study. And they had to be fed for a minimum of 6 months.”

These tests can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars, because they usually do the formulation first and then commit to the feeding trial, Churchill said.

“When I’m counseling an owner to pick a food, I first say pick one that’s done an animal feeding test. Then I match it to the needs of the pet,” Churchill said.

Courtney And Her Lab, Chloe

When we took at a look at what Opdahl feeds Chloe, we found she picked up a formulated brand- the kind not tested on dogs.

“No one has talked to me about this,” Opdahl sad. “I was more interested in the makeup of the ingredients.”

But Churchill says that formulated brands are not bad by any means. They just don’t tell the pet owner if the dog food company invested to test the food on pets.

Having tried a few other dog food brands, Opdahl said she isn’t ready to switch just yet – even if it means keeping a closer eye on Chloe.

Your Dog And Its Food

If the dog food you buy is working for your dog, Churchill would advise you to ask questions during exams about how your pet is feeling, especially if you have any concerns about your pet’s behavior.

The AAFCO statement must be on dog food, but you will not find it on treats or biscuits.

Another tip from Churchill: Save your money on senior-labeled dog food. She says it’s just a marketing claim, and that it isn’t any better for your older dog.

Comments (33)
  1. annecorbett\ says:

    “Get Official Samples” is giving away free sample of dog food from the brand flint river ranch. Try it and treat your dog!

  2. Grrrr! says:

    Why is there such a fear of feeding a raw diet to your pets. We have been feeding raw for 10 years. Our dogs, a German Shepherd and a Jack Russel are fit and trim and always pass their physicals. Do the research people. Educate your self. We were doing the BARF brand for a while, but now use Nature’s Variety patties in 3 different formulas.

    They all contain fruits, vegetables and bone for a complete, healthy diet. Give it a shot

    1. Ron Gaskin says:

      Great! People should be aware that balanced ground raw dog food is being high pressure pasteurized. Nature’s Variety, Primal, and Stella and Chewies do this process. So your ground raw pet food from these companies is bacterially safer than any human ground meat in the our grocery stores. What is going on?? 🙂

      1. Terra says:

        Dogs have a totally different body chemistry than humans so with their pH and short digestive tract, they are not susceptible to bacterial issues. I feed my dogs a homemade dog food, all human grade ingredients including raw meat, eggs…and a couple of high quality supplements. Been doing this for years (9+ years) and have super healthy dogs. My oldest dog just passed away at age 18, quietly in her sleep from old age. Here’s a good recipe to get you started. http://www.dinovite.com/blog/2011/08/dinovites-homemade-raw-diet/ Why anyone would trust an industry that continues to recall it’s highly processed foods for known toxins contained in it, I just don’t understand.

  3. JT says:

    I feed my 2 year old purebred Lab the Purina for adult dogs in the bright green bag. Took him to the vet a couple weeks ago an the vet said he is in the best shape she has ever seen a lab his age. Dry dogfood is just fine for us!

    1. Ron Gaskin says:

      Please wait 4-5 years then post your dog’s health status. Watch for ear infections, oily smelly coat and anal sac problems. We call it the trinity.

    2. JC says:

      Please be aware that Purina dog chow contains Menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of vitamin k activity) this is linked to liver toxicity and abnormal break-down of red blood cells. http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-reviews/purina-dog-chow/

    3. GCR says:

      You need a new vet. Purina is awful. Read the ingredient label. What do you see? Corn. Are dogs vegetarians? No. How much does your dog eat? Probably 4-6 cups per day? That’s ridiculous.

      I feed my dog a high quality dry dog food. When I first got her, I made the mistake of feeding Purina. She was eating two cups, per day. With her current food, she eats 1/2 cup. Per day. My friend got a dog at the same time and is feeding Purina. The health difference between our two dogs is staggering. She thinks she is spending less by feeding Purina. I have proven her wrong, many times, yet she refuses to admit it. I’m not buying $70.00 bags of dog food. My dog’s food costs less than $40.00 for a 30 lb bag. My dog is satisfied after she eats. My dog is healthy.

      The best part about feeding a high quality food? I can carry a bag of poop around on our walk and I’m not dying from the smell…and neither is anyone else. Yep, I’m talking about poop. She poops less. It doesn’t smell nearly as much as it did while she was on Purina. Her stool is firm.

      1. Sam says:

        GSR – what is the brand of dogfood you feed your dogs?

      2. mary says:

        what kind of dog do you have and how much does it weigh? My 85 pound lab would chew my leg off if I only fed it an 1/2 cup of food per day!

        1. GCR says:

          I feed Taste of the Wild and my dog weighs 11 pounds.

  4. Dogue Spot says:

    I didn’t watch much of this last night because I figure the message would be the same that you should listen to your vet about what food to feed. That’s often not the case. I’ve also been feeding raw for 15 years and promoting it to clients. If you want to find out the real facts about dog nutrition do your research. We actually have a seminar coming up on dog nutrition. Lew Olson, a PhD in canine nutrition is coming here in March. She has a book too. Read it. Educate yourself. Your dog will thank you for it!

    1. Just Wondering says:

      Where is the seminar at and is it open to the public? I have been considering moving to a raw diet for my dogs, but wasn’t sure how to go about doing it while maintaining a balanced diet.

      1. Dogue Spot says:

        IT sure is!!!! I know Katie K-9 does seminars about nutrition on occasion too. ours is March 3rd and you can find it on our Dogue Spot website. No matter how you go about it there’s so much information out there. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn. That’s how I started 15 years ago feeding raw. I was curious. I was on great dog food but supplemented with raw. Then I made the switch and have never looked back! = )

  5. PJ says:

    Regular tapeworm medication isn’t any easier on your dogs’ systems than food preservatives or additives. And very expensive to continually retreat 5 large dogs for tapeworms from raw meat/bones. Tried the raw diet/raw bones, and never again. Will stick with premium ingredient dry and canned dog foods tested in feeding trials.

    1. Erin says:

      Normally tapeworms come from fleas not raw food

    2. JC says:

      Please go to dogfoodadvisor.com you can check all brands of dry,can,and raw dog food. this site rates dog foods from one to five stars.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Thanks so much for the great information. I always love to read more about how to keep my dog healthy.
    Thank you.

  7. Tim E says:

    I found the story to be very disappointing. Basically it did point out that dog foods are either formulated or tested. However the story content did nothing to help make a choice as a good (or bad) dog food could be either formulated or tested. Making good dog food choices is a topic lots of people have an interest in. Maybe your next story can be more useful.

    1. Safiq says:

      , training is not going to work with the dog ulness your parents enforce it at home. Corgis can be wonderful little dogs, but they do take a lot of work. They are not naturally shy dogs from what I have seen of them. I still will not allow mine to be around small children as I am not willing to take that kind of chance, even though he does well at listening to me now. It only takes one lapse in judgment or one mistake and it is too late for regrets. And I think that is what I would tell your parents.It is obvious you see the truth with the dog and they are blinded by the love they have for her. She is their pet and that is what they should accept. (And from what you have said, continues to need more training to be pet quality.)Obviously, since this dog has already bitten you in the face once you are not going to want to even attempt to train the dog and I would just point blank say NO WAY on that one. If they insist on going through with it, they would have to get someone else to assist.I know how you must feel because I got mad as heck reading about her taking Oliver’s bone. And I have no vested interest here. But it always irritates me to see a dog act that way. And I see that behavior more and more with both children and dogs. Why do people always think it is so cute when their dog (or their child for that matter) acts like a darn bully? Oliver is obviously well-trained or he may have taken the little bully’s face off.I do know the type though because as I said: Benji was very much like this in the early days. He still thinks he is ten feet tall and bullet proof, but at least he is listening now and the only time I have seen him get aggressive in the last year is when the neighbor’s dogs try and invade and are looking for a fight (and they are always looking for a fight!)But even that bothers me and is a huge NO NO because I am fully aware that if it came down to it, the neighbor’s dogs would have no trouble killing Benji with his ten feet tall self.As for your parents dog: Maybe you should try telling them if the dog is there among all those other dogs and gets aggressive, they could be facing more problems than her just being kicked out of the show ring. I would mention the fact that she might do serious damage to one of the other dogs, or might bite a person. Thee are certain expectations people have when they take their dogs to show and and one of those expectations is that their dogs will not be mauled by another animal and they will not be bitten.If common sense does not win them over, maybe the thought of a law suit will.

  8. MistyA says:

    I have a very healthy 2.5 year old German Shepherd Dog. I spend around 40 dollars for a 30 pound bag of food. She has a very healthy coat, her breath does not smell bad and no problems with loose stools, or any other problems for that matter. The first and main ingredient in her food is Bison and it’s a grain-free pet food. Here is the link, if anyone is interested: http://www.tasteofthewildpetfood.com/products/ingredients/

  9. Liza says:

    Any dry kibble is the worst food choice for your dog or cat, especially if you feed them the same food day after day. It was all designed for the convenience of humans, not for the health of our pets.

    Truths about the pet food industry are exposed on sites like wysong.net (click on the Learn link at the top of their site to read about pet health and nutrition) and woodyspetdeli.com (click on the pet food myths link found on lefthand side of page). Shop at Woody’s to get the best, freshest food for your pets; they offer both raw and cooked meals (for those
    who don’t want to go raw or have a pet with a suppressed immune system).

  10. C. J. says:

    I think anyone can make a claim for any kind of dog food whether raw or not. I have a hunch, based on how some of these read, that they are from people with a vested interest in whatever it is they want you to do. There are dogs who eat raw, good dog food, bad dog food, etc. that are just fine people. My grandpuppy eats Blue Buffalo Duck and is just fine. She also gets some “people” food too but hello people – these animals aren’t just a few months evolved from wild animals. They can eat whatever is given to them. And to the person who says their dog only gets 1/2 cup or whatever? BS My grandpuppy gets 3 cups twice a day of her food and isn’t fat AT all. She’s a very lean pit bull and pretty darn healthy.

    1. GCR says:

      My dog weighs 11 lbs – 1/2 cup a day is all she needs. No one called your dog fat. Sorry, “grandpuppy”.

    2. Rocio says:

      Thank you for a really good read. I’m a ltilte floored by the idea that dogs should not only view loyalty the way humans do, but be better at it than 99.9% of humans in most situations. I don’t show up at work every day because my boss is a rock star, I do it because I get paid. Heck, even with family members and spouses, where there’s a huge level of personal loyalty, there still has to be give and take. You don’t see marital counselors argue that I’m destroying my relationship with my husband if I say, Hey, I’ll make breakfast if you feed the dog and cats. There are actually plenty of things my dog will do without food rewards. She will follow me or my husband pretty much wherever, and we’ve never offered her treats for getting into the car on command. But I’m pretty sure she’s not doing this because either of us has a haughty, I’m so awesome personality. If she likes to be around us, it’s largely because she sees us as safe and as a source of good things food being one of them. And the car thing has nothing to do with us car rides are fun and often lead to Petco or the dog park. My dog does seem to see praise as rewarding, but who knows if that’s because she’s eager to please, because she finds being around happy people pleasant, or because she associates praise with treats and scritches. I don’t know, or really care, if she’s responding out of a sense of loyalty to me or if she’s hoping there’s chicken in it for her.I think part of the reason that the cult of personality thing is so attractive is that people often get dogs to feel loved, and they want to know that their dog actually likes them. There’s a lot of ego and emotional security wrapped up in that. But even in human relationships, we like people who are nice to us, and who we have fun with. If you’re nice to the dog and give them the chance to have fun with you, odds are pretty good that they’ll like you. Real rock stars have to back up all that ego and cult of personality with actual talent (or at least looks, in the case of some pop stars). If you want to be a rock star to your dog, you have to back it up with something they want, and food is great for that.

  11. sw says:

    Also, another issue to think about is food tested on dogs. Are these the dogs that live their life in cages? I don’t like that, so I choose to buy food not tested on animals.

  12. J J says:

    The AAFCO feeding trials are inhumane. Dogs are kept cooped up for months and fed one thing. At the end of the test, if they survive, it’s AAFCO approved. You could feed a dog cardboard for a month and they’d probably survive. The feeding trials are designed for companies with deep pockets to market inexpensive junk and make a profit off of something that they’d normally throw away.

  13. Puspa says:

    So much is so true! I hear the food is dogrenaus to your relationship stuff all the time, and dogs trained with food end up being put to sleep because they are out of control a lot, too. One comment about praise- I do think that with the collar crowd, it is a huge motivator, not as positive reinforcement, but as a signal that the dog is SAFE from being electrocuted, having their airway cut off, whatever, and safety is a huge motivator, trumping positive reinforcement (not that I want my dog to feel he has to work to be safe from ME!)