How We Analyze and Rate Dog Foods

NextGen Dog dog food reviews aim to provide 100% objective and thorough analysis of popular dog food brands. It is important for us that pet owners understand how the analysis of dog foods is performed and what classification system we use to come up with a final rating.

Our dog food analysis

The biggest problem with canine nutrition today is the fact that there are too many “experts” and an exhausting amount of information, whether accurate or not, to plow through. This eventually leads to confusion among pet owners.

Science in dog health and nutrition is a rapidly developing field with more research coming out all the time. Unfortunately, there are very few sources online that prioritize scientific evidence over subjective opinions or anecdotes.

Our unbiased dog food analysis and reviews are written by educated and certified experts who prioritize science over unfounded opinions.

We believe these reviews are perfect for pet owners interested in providing the best dog food and nutrition for their pets, and improving their canines’ overall health using evidence-based methods.

Dog food ratings: How it’s done

Each canine diet is rated based on 100 potential points, which would give it a perfect ‘A’ rating.

Presently, AAFCO’s professional evaluations and statements are one of the most important factors anybody can use to determine dog food quality.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has three levels of pet food ratings:

  • 50 points are awarded for the most rigorous testing;
  • 45 points for the second most stringent;
  • 40 points for the least meticulous type.

The three AAFCO statements in order of most to least stringent include:

  1. Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that this diet provides complete and balanced nutrition for [gestation and lactation/growth/maintenance/all life stages].
  2. The diet provides complete and balanced nutrition for [gestation and lactation/growth/maintenance/all life stages] and is comparable in nutritional adequacy to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests.
  3. The diet is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles for [gestation and lactation/growth/maintenance/all life stages].

The above comprises half of all points given to a brand by NextGen Dog.

The rest of our dog food brands’ ratings are affected by the following aspects:

  • Manufacturer’s reputation, location and outsourcing: up to 15 points;
  • The safety and quality testing the diet undergoes: up to 15 points;
  • Bioavailability and quality of ingredients: up to 10 points;
  • The presence of a ‘use by date’ on the label: up to 10 points.

Please note that since very little information regarding bioavailability and quality of the ingredients used in commercial dog food can be inferred from the brand’s ingredient list, this can only be awarded up to 10 possible points.

Diets scoring 90 to 100 points are given an ‘A’ rating, and the rest is broken down into 10-point levels. Diets scoring 80-89 points are considered ‘B’ rated dog foods, 70 to 79 points get the brand a ‘C’ evaluation, 60-69 points are for a ‘D’ and 50-59 points are for an ‘E’. Any dog food assessed below the 50 point mark receives an ‘F’ rating.

A+ Perfect dog food: Does it exist?

If the perfect dog food existed, all pet owners would be scrambling to purchase this for their dogs. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a diet that will satisfy all the individual needs of such a diverse species as the dog.

Using our dog food rating system, a brand that would reach a rating that’s close to perfection would be from a company with genuine commitment and dedication to canine nutrition.

‘A’ rated dog food brand would be manufactured on site, have an excellent and nutritious ingredient list, have passed long-term food trials with evaluation of health of real dogs eating that diet, and undergo rigorous and regular safety testing to ensure quality.

There may be dog food brands that are able to fulfill all of these criteria, but ultimately, how your dog’s health reacts to a specific dog food brand and their formula will always be the most important indicator of the right food to feed.

FAQs about dog food reviews

Below are some of the most common questions you may feel like asking. If you don’t see an answer to your question on this page, please send us an email.

1. Why don’t you put more emphasis on the ingredients?

Canine nutrition is complicated.

It’s important to understand that when it comes to science of animal nutrition, evaluation of these pet food products isn’t as black and white.

This can become a complex process where every aspect needs to be considered on its own merit specific to each pet food brand and their formula. And this is where many other dog food reviews websites go wrong.

We absolutely do consider the ingredients list in our evaluations. However, this alone is far from a quintessential component of the final quality assessment, and interpretations of ingredient lists are usually limited.

Issues with ingredient lists.

All dog food manufacturers are required by law to display an ingredient list on the label with ingredients listed in descending order by weight. Ingredients are listed on an “as is” basis.

This makes interpretation of ingredient lists difficult since many key ingredients are added with different moisture contents which affects their overall weight, and thus the spot they hold in the ingredient list.

Meats contain more moisture and therefore weigh more. While they may be listed first on the ingredient list, this doesn’t ensure the meat is the primary contributor to overall protein content.

For example, a diet that lists beef as its first ingredient by weight may still primarily be composed of a mixture of grains. This is often misleading to pet owners.

The ingredient statement also does not provide information about the quality of specific ingredients and their sources, both of which are important factors to consider [1].

Bioavailability, nutrient concentration and digestibility of dog foods must also be taken into consideration [2, 3], and labels do not disclosure any information related to these elements.

Understanding terminology.

In addition, some of the terminology of dog food ingredients may be confusing.

Many pet owners are under the impression that absolutely all by-products are inferior or even unhealthy sources of protein for animals or humans. This is a myth operated under a false assumption that any by-product is generally waste not fit for consumption [4].

It’s always important to understand what a specific by-product listed on the label is. A by-product is one made in addition to whatever the principal product was. For example, butter can be defined as a by-product of milk.

While it is true that the nutritional value of meat by-products can vary widely, there are by-products that can be safe, excellent sources of nutrition and may even be more nutrient dense than meat derived from muscle, as demonstrated by a growing body of research [5, 6, 7, 8].

2. Why don’t you focus mostly on the meat content?

Again, remember that ingredients are listed by weight, not by nutrient contribution.

Meat is heavier than corn but contains up to 80% water. A pet food with the first two ingredients as “chicken, corn” may contain more nutrients from corn than chicken, because of the water weight.

Some dogs will do better with the majority of their proteins derived from animal sources, but others may do just as well with a mixture of plant based proteins in addition to animal proteins.

If a meat source being listed near the top of the ingredient list could be guaranteed to be an excellent, easily digestible and highly bioavailable source of protein, it would be much more pertinent to overall dog food quality.

Unfortunately, dog food labels cannot provide any information about the meat’s quality.

3. What third parties play a role in your assessments?

Guidelines and regulations put forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, a government agency) directly affect pet food manufacturers. Primarily, the FDA takes the responsibility to ensure that animal foods are safe and properly labelled.

The Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM, a subsidiary of FDA) is responsible for enforcing the regulation of food additives, ingredients and labeling to ensure safety and effectiveness. The CVM also serves as a scientific resource for State regulatory officials.

The FDA works directly with the The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO, a private non-profit organization) by serving on the AAFCO’s Pet Food Committee and as investigators. Since the FDA’s resources are focused mostly on human food safety, their partnership with the AAFCO is important.

Our assessments are not influenced by any external dog food reviews. Many other dog food review websites out there focus either on the ingredient lists or AAFCO’s evaluations alone while also negating a number of scientific evidence.

Even though AAFCO and CVM are currently the best governing bodies for pet food label evaluations as well as pet food health and safety testing, their protocols are limited and their assessment alone cannot be taken as the ultimate say for a specific dog food brand’s quality [9].

We’re not sponsored by any industry or company and operate as an independent entity in order to provide the most objective reviews of most popular dog foods.