Acana Dog Food Review (Dry): Evidence-based Analysis

Acana Dog Food ReviewAcana dog food review has evaluated this brand for an excellent A+ rating. It scored 95/100 points on our scale.

Highly recommended brand.

The below NextGen Dog’s Acana dog food review analyzes product’s ingredients and nutrition, sourcing and manufacturing, any certifications and marketing claims used.

This dog food review was hand-written by a certified veterinarian and used an evidence-based evaluation approach for accuracy.

The ingredients are all sourced in North America and the majority of them are fresh.

The following Acana dry dog food recipes are available:

  • Acana Puppy Small Breed
  • Acana Puppy Large Breed
  • Acana Puppy and Junior
  • Acana Cobb Chicken and Greens
  • Acana Adult Small Breed
  • Acana Adult Large Breed
  • Acana Sport and Agility
  • Acana Light and Fit
  • Acana Senior Dog

This range of dog food recipes means that different life stages, breeds and levels of physical activity are catered for.

Acana Heritage range of dry dog foods comes in various dry varieties. The main protein sources used in the Acana Heritage range are chicken and turkey, with varying compositions aimed at distinctive life stages.

For this NGD Acana dog food review, company’s Acana Heritage Cobb Chicken and Greens Dog Food recipe has been chosen to represent their line of dry dog foods. This review does not include the Regionals and Singles ranges.

Ingredients

Acana dog food meets AAFCO nutrient profile requirements, which ensures adequate nutritional value for canines.

Ingredients: Fresh chicken meat (11%), chicken meal (10%), turkey meal (10%), red lentils, whole green peas (9%), field beans (8%), fresh chicken giblets (liver, heart, kidney)(6%), herring meal (5%), chicken fat (5%), green lentils (5%), whole yellow peas (4%), fresh whole eggs (4%), fresh whole flounder (4%), herring oil (3%), sun-cured alfalfa (3%), pea fiber, fresh chicken cartilage (2%), dried brown kelp, fresh whole pumpkin, fresh whole butternut squash, fresh whole parsnips, fresh kale, fresh spinach, fresh mustard greens, fresh turnip greens, fresh whole carrots, fresh red delicious apples, fresh Bartlett pears, freeze-dried chicken liver, freeze-dried turkey liver, fresh whole cranberries, fresh whole blueberries, chicory root, turmeric, milk thistle, burdock root, lavender, marshmallow root, rose hips, enterococcus faecium. 

Supplements: Zinc chelate, vitamin E (preservative)

Sources of ingredients used in Acana Heritage dog foods are given in detail. There are no generic terms such as “fish,” or “poultry.”

The exact percentage of each major ingredient is also listed, which is an indication of higher quality. All dry dog foods in Acana Heritage range are grain free and do not contain starch based carbohydrates.

Most Important Ingredients

Acana dog food ingredients are listed in order of weight, starting with the heaviest first.

Fresh chicken meat (11%): Chicken is a great source of protein, but fresh chicken contains a lot of water and therefore contributes less to the overall nutritional composition of a food than one would initially think.

Chicken meal (10%): This refers to chicken that has been ground or reduced in particle size.

Meat meal is a dried product made through rendering. It can be a highly nutritious and concentrated source of protein that improves the amino acid profile of dog food [1, 2, 3, 4].

Rendering is the process of separating the components that make up chicken, allowing the protein portion to be more concentrated. It’s considered a good source of protein [5, 6, 7].

Turkey meal (10%): Turkey meal is produced by the same process as chicken meal (above).

The meat product is cooked down to a dry concentrate in the process of rendering.

Meals contain much higher levels of protein than fresh meat.

Whole green peas (9%) and whole yellow peas (4%): Peas are a source of protein and carbohydrates.

Peas contain fiber and vitamins such as folic acid and vitamin C as well as minerals.

Peas have a low glycemic index and may improve insulin response in canines [8, 9, 10].

Field beans (8%): The term field bean can refer to three different types of bean. Theses are the hyacinth bean, the string bean and the broad bean.

They are a good source of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals [11].

Herring meal (5%): Herring meal is a good source of protein and is produced in a similar way to chicken meal (above) using “undecomposed whole fish and fish cuttings”.

Fish meal is defined as the clean, dried, ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings with or without the oil portion extracted.

Fish meal is a highly digestible protein containing significant amount of amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

Fish meal is a popular choice of a highly digestible protein containing significant amino acids, vitamins and minerals [12, 13].

The health benefits of supplementing dog diets with fatty acids is well documented and can help boost an immune system [14].

Knowing sources of fish used in fish meal is important [15].

Chicken fat (5%): The definition of poultry fat is fat obtained from poultry tissue during rendering. Only the fatty matter natural to the product should be present.

No added free fatty acids or other materials obtained from fat should be added. If an anti-oxidant is used, as it is in this case, the common name must be listed along with the term ‘preservative,’ or ‘preserved with.’

A balanced diet will contain fat, which is critical for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and chicken fat, while not appetizing, is a nutritious source.

Red lentils and green lentils (5%): Lentils are a pulse, which are especially rich in fiber and protein.

They also contain Vitamin C and B vitamins as well as iron, phosphorus and zinc.

Fresh whole eggs (4%): Fresh whole egg has a very high nutritional value.

Eggs are readily digested and area good source of protein in additional to providing omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin A, and B vitamins.

Fresh whole flounder (4%): Flounder is belongs to the flatfish species.

It is a good source of quality protein.

Herring oil (3%): Herring oil is a type of fish oil.

It is very rich in EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, which have a high bioavailability to dogs.

Omega 3 fatty acids have beneficial health effects for canines [16, 17, 18, 19, 61, 62].

Herring is also a good source of Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin which helps with absorption of minerals from the intestine. It is essential to have vitamin D in the diet as the dog’s body is rarely able to produce enough by itself [20].

Sun-cured alfalfa (3%): Alfalfa meal is produced from alfalfa, which is a member of the pea family.

It is high in fiber and is a source of plant protein but is a relatively unusual ingredient to find in dog food.

Alfalfa is more commonly fed to cows and horses where its calcium content is thought to be beneficial. In addition, it contains potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, B12, C, D, E and K [21, 22, 23, 24. 25].

Pea fiber: The type of pea fiber depends on the production process used. This is not stated.

Pea fiber is sometimes used as a replacement for other filler ingredients. Fiber has many known health benefits. It contributes to bowel health and satiety [26, 27, 28, 29].

Other Additives

Dried brown kelp: Kelps are large seaweeds which grow in shallow sea water. These seaweeds are edible and are a good source of fiber and protein [30].

Seaweeds are a source of iodine, a trace element which is needed in very small amounts as it is an important part of thyroid hormones. Kelp is also rich in calcium and magnesium [31].

Chicory root: Chicory is a member of the dandelion family. The root contains a substance called inulin, which has a similar structure to starch.

Inulin is a soluble fiber and improves calcium absorption in the intestine as well as having a low glycemic index [32].

It is also thought to have prebiotic properties with a beneficial effect on gut bacteria [33].

Turmeric: Turmeric is a member of the ginger family and originally comes from India. It contains compounds called curcuminoids.

It is thought to have many potential properties such as being anti-fungal and antibacterial.

In addition, it is thought to be beneficial in many different conditions such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis and cancer to name a few. There is currently a lot of research of its beneficial anti-inflammatory effects.

Zinc chelate: Zinc chelate is a chelated mineral. Zinc is essential for a dog to be healthy.

It is used in many processes in the body such as in the skin, for wound healing and in biological membranes [34].

Zinc is not always well absorbed in a dog’s digestive tract when it is in its simple form. However, when it is combined with other molecules (chelation) this improves its absorbability and is an indication of a better quality dog food as this process is expensive [35].

Vitamin E (preservative): Mixed tocopherols are a Vitamin E compound derived from sources like vegetable oils, fish and nuts and used for preserving foods. They are safe to use [36, 37].

Vitamin E itself has several health benefits for dogs as an antioxidant helping with absorption of free radicals and may be beneficial in cancer and cardiovascular disease [38, 39, 40, 41].

Suspicious Ingredients

Enterococcus faecium: This is a bacteria which is used as a probiotic in some foods.

Probiotics are meant to help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the digestive system [42, 43].

However, it’s possible to argue that it may be difficult to include enough probiotics in dog food and have them survive. Cooking and extruding will have a significant effect of bacteria’s survival.

Research is contradictory on this. Some studies evaluating commercial probiotic-rich pet foods show very low levels of organisms present [44, 45].

Other studies indicate that probiotics can be effectively incorporated in dog foods and successfully infest canine’s gut with healthy bacteria [46, 47].

Ultimately, an owner really wanting to use probiotics for dogs is better off giving a supplement directly rather than relying on diet.

What’s the controversy? There is some inconclusive evidence that it may be linked to antibiotic resistance [48].

Enterococcus faecium may also be the cause of infection from harmful bacteria [49, 50, 51].

The Bottom Line on Ingredients

Overall, the ingredients in Acana dog food are above average.

Acana dog food contains no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

All ingredients used are appropriate to form part of a balanced diet for dogs.

The only controversial ingredient is the bacteria Enterococcus faecium which is often used as a probiotic in dog foods. However, the science behind whether it is actually beneficial or harmful is not conclusive, and further research is required.

One important limitation of dog food labels is its inability to provide information on the quality of ingredients.

While the quality of the ingredients can’t be determined by the label, the ingredients themselves are all wholesome, nutritious, healthy and appear to be well-balanced.

Nutrient Analysis

Below is a guaranteed nutrient analysis of Acana Heritage Cobb Chicken and Greens Dog Food recipe.

  • Crude protein (min): 29%
  • Crude fat (min): 17%
  • Crude ash (max.): 7%
  • Crude fiber (max): 5%
  • Carbohydrate (NFE): 30%
  • Moisture (max): 12%
  • Calcium (min): 1.3%
  • Phosphorus (min): 1%
  • Omega 6 Fatty Acids (min): 2.6%
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids (min): 1%
  • DHA (min.): 0.3%
  • EPA (min.): 0.3%
  • Glucosamine (min): 1200 mg/kg
  • Chondroitin sulfate (min): 900 mg/kg
  • Linoleic acid (min.): 2.4%

Further detailed analysis of vitamins and minerals can be found on the company’s website.

Calories: 3,510 kcal ME/kg (421 kcal ME/120g cup).

When looking at caloric density of Acana dog food, for some of their varieties this is lower than the revised levels now recommended by the AAFCO.

Previous recommendations were 3,500 kcal metabolizable energy (ME) per kg dry matter (DM) and the Acana Heritage range energy densities are around this level with the exception of their Sport and Agility Dog Food recipe, which has higher energy levels at 3,725 kcal ME/kg.

However, the most recent 2014 revised guidelines have increased the recommended caloric density to 4000 kcal ME per kg of DM, so foods in this range now fall somewhat below this level.

Although for adult dogs this is probably not of great significance as for average activity levels differences in total energy intake can be made up by feeding larger quantities if necessary.

This should, however, be considered in growing puppies and reproducing females who have higher energy needs.

Protein Sources

Protein is an essential part of a healthy dog’s diet [52] as it forms the building blocks of the body, such as muscle.

In growing puppies it is especially important that there are sufficient amounts to allow for proper development.

Acana dog food has the majority of protein coming from meat and fish sources such as chicken, turkey and flounder as well as eggs which are an animal source of protein. There are also plant protein sources mainly from pulses.

However, if you are trying to limit the protein source in your dog’s diet to specific individual proteins, for example in the case of an allergy, you will need to read the ingredients for each recipe closely as most of the recipes contain multiple protein sources.

Despite this, the protein sources of Acana dog food are less varied than in many other dog foods.

When Acana Heritage is compared closely with the AAFCO nutrient profiles the protein levels are well above the required minimum amounts, and the food contains quality protein sources, derived from both meat and plant matter.

Minimum amounts of protein recommended by the AAFCO are 22.5% for growing or reproducing dogs and 18% for adult maintenance levels.

These higher than average levels of protein (29%) in Acana Heritage Cobb Chicken and Greens Dog Food recipe are an indication of multiple quality protein sources. Although high protein diets were thought to be unhealthy in the past, this has since been proven to be untrue [53, 54, 55].

Fat Sources

Fat levels are an estimated 17% in Acana Heritage Cobb Chicken and Greens Dog Food recipe which when compared to AAFCO nutrient profiles (8.5% for growth and reproduction and 5.5% for adult maintenance) is higher than average.

Despite the fact that levels are higher than in the nutrient profiles, these are not levels that could be harmful to dogs.

Although often perceived to be unhealthy, fats are important for lots of different things, such as hair condition, skin, the immune system, cell membrane function and as an energy source [5657, 58, 59].

Higher than average levels of both fat and protein mean that the food has not just been bulked out with excessive carbohydrates or fillers. The fat to protein ratio is around 59%.

Fiber Sources

Fiber is an important component necessary for dogs to maintain a healthy digestive system.

Acana dog food contains various different beneficial fiber sources such as red and green lentils, whole green and yellow peas, field beans, pea fiber, dried brown kelp.

However, total fiber content in this dog food is relatively low at 5%.

It should be taken into account that crude fiber is not that an accurate estimation of the total fiber content [60].

Certifications and Claims

Dog food manufacturers can have their foods tested and certified to meet specific regulations.

Some companies often use obscure or undefined statements. Below, we analyze all certifications and claims made by the company for accuracy and definitions.

Certifications

Human-grade ingredients: All ingredients used in Acana dog food are fit for human consumption, meaning they are sourced from farms where animals have been assessed as fit for human consumption by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Non-GMO ingredients: Acana dog foods only use GMO-free ingredients. They are regulated to meet stricter European Union GMO regulations than those in the USA and Canada.

Acana dog foods are certified to be free of antibiotics and artificial growth hormones.

Nutrition Claims

Acana dog food claims to be “biologically appropriate.”

This claim is explained as dog food being rich in meat and protein, high in fresh meat inclusions, using whole prey meat ratios with a limited carbohydrate and glycaemic index. According to the ingredient list, Acana dog food fulfill all of these claims.

The company also claims to use fresh regional ingredients. The fresh ingredients meet the AAFCO standard of refrigeration as the sole method of preservation.

Finally, Acana dog food claims to be free from grains and other starch based carbohydrate sources such as rice, potato and tapioca. According to their ingredient list, this claim is true.

AAFCO Requirements

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) have set nutrient profiles which pet food manufacturers must comply with and/or undergo feeding trials on real life dogs in order to be branded “complete and balanced” [63].

Ingredient Requirements: Acana dog food (all varieties) meet “complete and balanced” minimum requirements in accordance with nutrient profiles.

Feeding Trials: Acana dog food have not undergone any food trials with dogs.

Although diet trials are the gold standard of pet food testing, there are in fact very few dog foods which have undergone official feeding trials.

These AAFCO standards are important to ensure that your dog is receiving all the essential nutrients he requires to lead a healthy life for the stage he is at, without developing any diseases or conditions related to malnutrition or at the other end of the spectrum, obesity [6465, 66, 67, 68, 69].

Other Evaluations

Other factors are taken into consideration for the final assessment of this dog food brand.

“Best Use By” Date on the Label

Best Use By” date is a useful quality control for dog food, and it can help to ensure a proper shelf life and is an indication of quality.

Acana dog food includes a “Best Use By” date and an expiry date of around 15 months after packaging.

Brand and Manufacturer

Acana dog food range is produced by Champion Petfoods.

Champion Petfoods also produces the follow dog food brands:

  • Acana Regionals
  • Acana Singles
  • Orijen

Acana dog foods are manufactured in Canada at the brand’s own kitchens in Morinville, Alberta. Only Acana and Orijen pet foods are produced, which means there is no risk of contamination from any ingredients of inferior quality.

All ingredients are sourced in North America.

Testing, Safety and Quality Control

The quality assurance measures used to ensure Acana dog food is up to standard include Current Good Manufacturing Principals (CGMP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Analysis (HACCP), both international programs to ensure high quality and food safety.

Fish used in Acana dog foods are tested for heavy metal and mercury by suppliers and foods are then retested before distribution.

Recalls

At the time of writing there have not been any recalls of Acana dog food.

Summary of Acana Dog Food Review

This brand has scored 95 points out of possible 100 points for an excellent A+ rating, according to our Dog Food Rating System.

In conclusion, Acana dog food is produced with superior ingredients and contains above average levels of protein and fats, with minimal ‘filler’ ingredients to bulk the food out.

It also contains some ingredients with additional health benefits such as turmeric, brown kelp and varied protein sources.

Acana is one of the more expensive dog food brands and contains a good selection of ingredients and provides appropriate nutrient levels.

All ingredients used are sourced from farms producing products fit for human consumption and are GMO free.

Acana dog food meets AAFCO nutritional requirements, and includes a “Best Use By” date.

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