Why You Should Never Trust Dog Food Advisor
What Is Dog Food Advisor?
Anyone who has ever done a dog food-related Google search has likely stumbled on this pervasive and SEO-friendly website. To a layperson, at face value, the site appears to be an informative resource that dog owners can refer to and trust. Dog Food Advisor (DFA) evaluates over 950 dog food brands based on their ingredients, guaranteed analyses, and ranks them with a star rating (5 stars being the best).
The Truth About Dog Food Advisor: It Was Created by a Dentist
Mike Sagman, creator, writer and editor of DogFoodAdvisor.com, is a retired dental surgeon, as he states on the “About Dog Food Advisor” page. He also loves dogs, he says, and his undergraduate studies included a major in chemistry and a minor in biology. This is stated in such a way as to indicate that a background in any science gives someone more authority in the area of veterinary medicine and nutrition, but it doesn't.
What is missing from Dr. Sagman’s bio are any degrees in nutrition, human or animal. He vaguely states that he has done “professional studies in human nutrition” and that he is also interested in canine nutrition. These statements simply amount to Dr. Sagman being a former restorative and cosmetic dentist who has learned about pet nutrition at his leisure instead of undergoing the rigorous training of licensed professionals. Would Dr. Sagman condone a pet nutrition expert fitting a human for a tooth crown?
However, even with no credentials of any form in animal science, he would be fine to create a website citing credible academic sources and peer-reviewed research to back up his ratings and reviews. The problem is that he does the complete opposite.
Dog Food Advisor Defies Veterinary Nutritionists
One common claim you will frequently hear—especially among those who promote "alternative" information like that on Dog Food Advisor—is that vets have little or no training in animal nutrition. People who make this claim will then go on to trust various websites and blogs that they find on Google, including Dog Food Advisor, despite the writers having little or no veterinary training and certainly nothing in animal nutrition.
Even more concerning is that DFA defies the consensus recommendations of board-certified veterinary nutritionists who are the most qualified experts in animal nutrition, when you would think that critics of those with little nutrition education would be inclined to favor their input. Instead, their contributions are often degraded, often claimed to be lies or manipulations controlled by a “Big Pharma” or "Big Pet Food" entity, and the opinions of vocal people with zero training are hypocritically favored instead. In fact, very few, if any, board-certified veterinary nutritionists recommend or don’t vehemently disagree with the claims that Dog Food Advisor confidently promotes.
Dog Food Advisor Beliefs
- While DFA claims to be science and fact-based, the site actively promotes non-evidence based claims such as the myth that corn is a suspect ingredient in dog food. This apprehensiveness is partly based on anecdotes (unreliable testimonials) of pets allegedly contracting allergies despite the site's admission that studies suggest corn allergies are the least common allergy.
- Also "debunked" is the claim the site says has been made by the pet food industry that corn has a low glycemic index (GI), but this hasn't been claimed, rather, individual ingredients do not have baring on the GI of the developed food, and whether or not GI is important to assess in dogs is also questionable. DFA is fixated on ingredients rather than the finished product that has shown to be, through feeding trials and other research, safe and healthy for pets.
- Also focused on is the notion that dogs should be fed some form of "ancestral diet". Not only are dogs not wolves, they do not live a wild wolf lifestyle. In addition, wild wolves do not have ideal diets in the wild.
It should also be noted that general veterinarians who promote non-evidence based claims exist. They often describe themselves as "holistic" or "wellness" veterinarians and they will often embrace therapies for pets that have little or no evidence. Dr. Karen Becker is a well-known advocate of non-evidence based medicine for pets and her website is an offshoot of Dr. Mercola’s, considered to be a "quack" by medical professionals for reasons such as promoting his products as cancer cures (which resulted in warnings from the FDA).
It is notable that DFA has dramatically changed its rating of Hill’s Science Diet Adult Dog Food, from one star in 2010 (not recommended), to 2.5 stars, and as of 2019, the diet is rated 3 stars (recommended) , even though little has changed with the formula in the ingredients list and guaranteed analysis. Why? I speculate that a few years ago, myths about pet food were more rampant and veterinarians were not speaking out against it so overtly online, and DFA follows trends, not science. The 2010 DFA page contains easily debunked claims such as:
- The ingredient "animal fat" in the recipe could possibly include "restaurant grease, slaughterhouse waste, diseased cattle… even euthanized pets."
- In 2010, by-products are lambasted: "we tend to dislike dog foods made with low-quality plant or animal by-products" even though the site favors meat and by-products are meat, just perhaps the parts of the animal that some human cultures find unappealing (organs). DFA no longer lists by-products as a controversial ingredient.
- It is plainly stated that the site studies the ingredient list, which certified nutritionists know and understand to be a near useless and amateurish method of judging dog food.
DFA has significantly changed its language as well as its take on some ingredients it previously labeled as bad, perhaps to try and maintain some credibility. The foundation of its claims have, however, remained the same and defy those who have nutritional expertise. Consider reading a board-certified nutritionist's take on ingredient analysis.
Dog Food Advisor Statement (2010)
Potentially Harmful Foods Given "5 Star" Ratings
While Dog Food Advisor's methodology involves pointing out "controversial" ingredients of which the controversy often stems from myths and non-evidence based claims, the website also downplays the very serious implication of DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy) and its association with "BEG" dog foods  (Boutique, Exotic, Grain-free) that do not meet the established criteria of WSAVA  (World Small Animal Veterinary Association, this organization outlines high-quality standards for pet food companies such as employment of a certified nutritionist, quality control measures, and others), even going as far as to grant one of the brands (Orijen) that have been specifically indicated in the FDA's report.
While Dog Food Advisor has posted an "Important FDA Alert"  on the site, the page it links to seems to downplay the issues. Written in bold letters is the statement "Link to grain-free dog food still not conclusive—no recalls". While this is technically true, it is misleading. Some dogs without a genetic disposition for DCM have reversed their heart disease when they were switched to the diets that adhere to WSAVA guidelines (which DFA gives lower ratings).
- Taurine DCM FAQ and answers
Why we know that DCM is associated with specific diets.
- Questions You Should Be Asking About Your Pet
More about WSAVA criteria and how to choose a dog food, according to the experts
- The 16 Dog Food Brands Named by the FDA
Sixteen brands of dog food may be associated with a heightened risk of heart failure in dogs, according to the FDA.
Some DFA Ratings (2019)
- Orijen Dry Dog Food: 5 Stars. Made the "Best Dry Dog Foods"  list due to "above average meat content", moderate carbs, "no high risk preservatives," "no anonymous meat," "safe fat to protein ratio," and supposedly "superior safety practices." Yet this brand does not meet WSAVA guidelines, and in addition, it was listed by the FDA in the DCM warning. Blue Buffalo also made the site's 'best' list, and was listed by the FDA.
- Purina Pro Plan Focus: 3.5 Stars. Controversial ingredients cited include whole grain wheat and whole grain corn which it says is an "inexpensive and controversial cereal grain of only modest nutritional value to a dog". This brand meets WSAVA guidelines which means it was formulated in consult with board-certified veterinary nutritionists,
- Hill's Science Diet Adult Dog Food: 3 Stars. Controversial ingredients cited include brewer's rice (claims modest nutritional value), wheat, corn gluten meal (claims lower "biological value" than meat), and dried beet pulp. While the brand is designated a "recommended" label, its score is lowered for "below average protein" and "above average carbs." The manufacturers meet WSAVA guidelines.
As can be seen in this post by Mike Sagman, he claims the ratings and selections on his site have been chosen with verifiable facts, not "unproven claims." The fact is, this is false, and that is verifiable.
The foundation of DFA's information idealizes a so-called "ancestral diet" for dogs, and the reference for this diet is a book entitled See Spot Live Longer by Steve Brown and Beth Taylor, a book that was not only written by two people who are not veterinary nutritionists, they are not even vets or appear to have any credentials in nutrition, animal or otherwise.
"Written by Steve Brown, developer of best selling training treats and natural dog foods, and Beth Taylor, who has taught thousands of veterinarians and dog lovers how to properly feed dogs."
One of the reviews: "If you love your dog, please read this book!"...is by Dr. Mercola. As for Beth Taylor, she has a publication with the aforementioned Dr. Karen Becker...Dr. Mercola's website's non-nutritionist veterinarian.
"Beth Taylor, formerly the Director of Veterinary Programs for Steve's Real Food, has spent the last 15 years teaching dog trainers, owners, and veterinarians how to train, exercise and feed their dogs."
Why is Beth, a non-vet, teaching vets about nutrition? She and Steve developed a non-WSAVA compliant brand of dog food (which has received 5 stars on DFA, of course).
In this article Beth and Steve outline their beliefs about pet food. There are zero references, which suggests the entirety of it is made up, assumed, or perhaps based on their intuition. This article is also hosted on a page that hosts other pseudo-scientific topics such as mobile phones causing brain damage and vaccines causing autism.
Suspiciously, as of July 2020, I have noticed there are references on the page which I did not see before (and it is the only page on the site that has them that I can find, now). All of the references, which again, suspiciously, come from valid (although older) sources that I criticized the site for lacking previously do not support their ultimate conclusion that:
"A highly processed, grain-based diet fed to an animal designed to thrive on a meat-based, fresh food diet is very likely to produce symptoms of ill-health over time."
The references listed only show that carbohydrates are not essential nutrients in dogs (some people don't even technically consider them essential for humans), however they are still proven to be highly digestible and beneficial for dogs. No references are given for the article's claim that grains are harmful to dogs.
There is a pattern here. It is notable that the sources that make claims that go against the information provided by credible researchers, scientists, and medical professionals are often those severely lacking credentials. This flies in the face of their claim that vets have little training in nutrition when they themselves promote information from unqualified individuals. This reveals a special kind of hypocrisy.
Such unsubstantiated claims get a boost from outlier vets like Dr. Becker who are not specialists, and the information further spreads by pet owners and their anecdotal evidence. These claims influence the decisions of pet owners and are more than likely directly responsible for the rise in nutritional DCM, a terrible disease that has caused pets and their owners suffering and grief.
The Bottom Line
Dog Food Advisor is a website that is owned and operated by an individual who does not fully understand pet nutrition or the development of pet food because he is not trained in animal nutrition. His website sprung forth during a time when myths were rampant and resistance to misinformation among vets online was nil. While the founder continues to update his site with increasingly accurate information, it is still thoroughly grounded in a layperson's perception of how to feed dogs. Dog Food Advisor's rating system is based on a non-scientific publication written by two unqualified individuals. The misinformation it promotes is inaccurate, potentially harmful, and has likely contributed to poor health in some dogs.
- Adolphe, Jennifer. "Is Glycemic Index a Relevant Tool for Evaluating Pet Food?". Petcurean.
- Barret, Stephen. "Dr. Joseph Mercola Ordered to Stop Illegal Claims". Quackwatch.
- Brown, Steve and Taylor, Beth. "Do Dogs and Cats Need Grains"?. Facts are Facts.
- Dog Food Advisor. "FDA Investigating Potential Link Between Diet and Heart Disease in Dogs".
- Dog Food Advisor. "Best Dry Dog Foods".
- Dog Food Advisor. "Steve’s Real Food Dog Food Review (Raw Frozen)"
- Freeman, Lisa. "It’s Not Just Grain-Free: An Update on Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy". Cummings Veterinary Medical Center.
- Freeman, Lisa. "Questions You Should Be Asking About Your Pet’s Food". Cummings Veterinary Medical Center.
- McKenzie, Brennen. "One More Time: Dogs are not Wolves!". Skepvet.
- McKenzie, Brennen. "What do Veterinarians Know About Nutrition?". Skepvet.
- Sagman, Mike. "Hill’s Science Diet Adult Dog Food (Dry)". Dog Food Advisor (2009).
- Sagman, Mike. "Hill’s Science Diet Adult Dog Food Review (Dry) ". Dog Food Advisor.
- Taurine DCM. "Frequently Asked Questions".
- Welton, Roger. "Why Is Corn So Bad As An Ingredient In Pet Food?". Web DMV
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2019 Melissa A Smith