While almost every dog food website is happy to walk you through the best dry dog food recipes or the perfect dog food for your dog’s allergies or tastes, very few are willing to point out dog foods that should be avoided.
There are a number of reasons that dog food could be considered one of the worst. The most prominent of these factors include a poor nutritional profile, low-quality ingredients, or consistent history or trend of being unsafe or dangerous.
We are going to walk you through some of these factors and then outline which dog food brands we think you should avoid at all costs.
The Worst Dog Food Ingredients
The question of which ingredients found in dog food are low quality or should be avoided is a contentious subject. Many within the industry will claim that certain ingredients are not to be feared and can offer dogs with appropriate nutrition.
But others will push the point that these ingredients are low-cost fillers or the poorest and least nutritious cuts of meat.
Unnamed Meat & Fish Ingredients
Meat and fish ingredients that are not clearly named or defined should be avoided as much as possible. The reasoning behind this isn’t that they can not provide nutrition to dogs but the fact that they are not accountable or transparent.
The manufacturer could alter or change what these ingredients consist of as they please, which could have a negative impact on your dog’s health.
Some common examples of unnamed meat or fish ingredients include Meat Meal, Meat By-Products, and Bone Meal.
Vegetable & Grain By-Products
Many of the lower-cost dog food brands utilize an extensive range of poor-quality vegetable and grain by-products. Examples of these could include Corn Gluten Meal, Wheat Middlings, or Wheat Flour.
Ingredients such as these are processed and are usually extremely dense sources of carbohydrates. While carbohydrates are an important component of a dog’s diet, the excessive proportions provided by these ingredients in some recipes is not well suited to dogs.
There are also vegetable by-products that are extremely dense sources of protein, such as Pea Protein and Potato Protein. These ingredients are used to boost the overall proportion of protein without spending money on meat or fish ingredients.
Sadly this plant-based protein is not as beneficial for dogs as animal-based protein.
You can learn more about Pea Protein in our article Peas, Pea Protein, Pea Flour, and Pea Fiber in Dog Food.
Poor Dog Food Nutrition
The ideal nutrition for dogs is a hotly debated topic, and there are many ways of thinking. Regardless of these, the AAFCO set out minimum levels of nutrients such as protein and fat that dog food must contain to be sold in the USA.
While these standards set out minimum levels, we and many others do not believe they are sufficient nutrition for most dogs, especially those that are more active.
While dogs can consume large proportions of carbohydrates, they are not an ideal component of their diet. Instead, most dogs would be better served with a balance between protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Most low-cost and poor quality dog food brands only just surpass the minimum standards set by the AAFCO and then fill the rest of their recipes with poor-quality carbohydrates ingredients.
Unsafe Dog Food
Unsafe dog food should be an even more significant concern than dog food that is poor in ingredient quality or nutrition. Unsafe dog food can lead to your dog feeling unwell, being sick, or even death in extreme cases.
There are a number of ways dog food can be unsafe. These include the inclusion of foreign material, contamination from pathogens, unsafe nutritional values, or spoilage from improper storage.
Issues like this are often distributed to consumers through recalls. These recalls aim to provide information and to strongly suggest or insist that consumers return/throw out the products described.
Consumers should be very cautious of dog food brands with a consistent history of recalls, especially if they relate to issues such as contamination. A consistent history of contamination or other serious lapses will suggest improper safety and quality procedures.
If you want to learn more about a brand’s recalls, including which recipes were recalled and why we recommend checking out our index of brand review, which you can find here.
The 11Worst Dog Foods
Pedigree is a regular feature on the shelves of many pet food and grocery stores like Walmart and Target. The brand is owned by Mars Petcare, which also owns some other pet food brands that you may be familiar with, like Royal Canin, Iams, and Eukanuba.
One of the reasons that Pedigree is considered one of the worst dog food brands is their use of a broad range of poor-quality ingredients such as Animal Fat, Bone Meal, Corn, Wheat, Soy, and Brewers Rice.
While some in the industry may defend the use of grain ingredients like Corn and Wheat, there is widespread condemnation of ingredients like Animal Fat and Bone Meal. These vague and misleading ingredients are not accountable or transparent, which means we can not have confidence in their nutritional value and quality.
In addition, the nutrition offered by most Pedigree recipes is below average when compared to other dog food brands. This below-average nutrition is loaded up with extremely high proportions of carbohydrates and only the bare minimum protein and fat content.
Sadly, Pedigree has a consistent history of recalls for a number of reasons. Some examples of these recalls include one in 2014 for the presence of foreign objects and another in 2012 for the same reason.
Pedigree has also had recalls in the past due to Salmonella contamination. A consistent history of recalls puts serious doubts on Pedigree’s safety and quality processes.
If you would like to read more about Pedigree, such as some of the specifics of their recalls or ingredients, head on over to our review of the brand which you can find here.
Kibbles ‘N Bits
Kibbles ‘N Bits is a dog food brand that has been available since the mid-1980s, and its unique selling point is its mixture between soft, chewy bits and traditional kibble.
The brand is well known in the industry for using low-quality and low-cost ingredients in its recipes at the expense of dogs’ health and wellbeing.
Examples of some of these low-quality ingredients include Corn, Soybean Meal, Bone Meal, Wheat, and Animal Fat.
As we discussed earlier, ingredients such as these are poor additions to a dog’s diet and either act as extremely dense sources of carbohydrates or are unaccountable.
To add to this, the meat ingredients in Kibbles ‘N Bits recipes usually feature as low down as 4th or 5th on the ingredient list. This is a major red flag and shows that the majority of the formula is made from plant-based ingredients, and there is little meat or fish content.
It is also important to point out that Kibbles ‘N Bits has undergone several recalls in the past, and one of these recalls should draw particular attention.
In 2018, Kibbles ‘N Bits was recalled due to low levels of a chemical, called Pentobarbital, that can be used to euthanize dogs. The discovery of Pentobarbital in a dog food recipe is extremely concerning and suggests a lack of oversight and quality control during the production and testing of Kibble ‘N Bits recipes.
This recall was so concerning that it got widespread news coverage from sites like CNN and CBS.
Ol’ Roy is a brand of dog food owned by the retail behemoth Walmart. As a result of this, it is only found on the shelves of Walmart stores and can’t be purchased from the other large retail sellers of pet food.
The ingredients found in Ol’ Roy dry dog food recipes are not a welcome sight. They heavily utilize processed grain ingredients like Corn, Soybean, Wheat Middlings, Corn Gluten Meal, and Wheat.
These ingredients load up their recipes with carbohydrates and plant-based protein, which is not a suitable diet for an active dog. Instead, active dogs need a diet with a suitable proportion of animal or fish-based protein and fat.
Sadly, Ol’ Roy has a significant list of recalls during its lifetime, including issues related to fungal toxins, melamine contamination, and salmonella contamination. All of the above recall justifications harmed dogs or put them at serious risk.
This persistent history of recalls shows that, at least in the past, Ol’Roy did not take the safety and quality of its production process seriously enough.
There are many other dog food brands that have operated for similar lengths of times with perfect or near-perfect records and who you should trust to feed your dogs.
Purina Alpo is the first brand owned by the pet food giant Purina to feature in this list. Many dog owners will be more familiar with Purina brands such as Purina Pro Plan or others that we will mention later.
It is also worth pointing out that the Purina brand is owned by Nestle, which is far from popular among consumers.
The Alpo sub-brand is aimed at the low-cost end of the dog food market, and it shows in their ingredients and nutrition.
One of Alpo’s dry dog food recipes contains just over 21% protein, with the vast majority of this protein coming from plant-based sources such as Corn and Soybean.
Protein from plant-based sources such as these should not be in the majority and should act as a supplement to a base of animal or fish-based protein.
Alpo’s only saving grace is that it does have a relatively clean recall record. Based on our research, the brand has only been recalled once in the last 2 decades.
This recall was due to melamine contamination, which was a widespread recall across the industry and affected many brands, including brands that are trustworthy and credible.
If you’d like more information on Purina Alpo, we’d recommend you check out our Purina Alpo Brand Review.
Gravy Train is a longstanding dog food brand that first launched in the late 1950s. It was the first brand to experiment with adding water to their recipes to create their own gravy and is still one a select number of brands to do this.
Once again, Gravy Train makes poor choices in its selection of ingredients, including examples like Soybean Meal, Corn, Meat and Bone Meal, Wheat Middlings, and Animal Digest.
Some of these are the lowest of low when it comes to dog food ingredients, such as Wheat Middlings, which is the leftover by-products of grain processing that has no other purpose.
While manufacturers will try to claim these ingredients can provide valuable nutrition, they are selected only because of their low-cost.
Sadly, in 2018, Gravy Train was part of the same recall as Ol’ Roy in relation to low levels of a chemical, called Pentobarbital, that can be used to euthanize dogs.
It is important to repeat that the presence of Pentobarbital in a dog food recipe is extremely concerning and suggests a critical lack of quality and safety control during the production.
This lack of quality control seriously put thousands of dogs across the United States at serious risk.
We recently finished up an overall review of Gravy Train, which discussed their ingredients, recalls, and more. You can find this review here.
Purina Dog Chow is another Purina brand that is aimed at the low-cost side of the dog food market. Dog Chow has been available since 1965, making it one of the longest-serving Purina brands.
Dog Chow is another regular of grocery stores like Walmart or Target and also has a puppy equivalent known as Puppy Chow or a cat equivalent known as Cat Chow.
Beyond the cheerful packaging, Dog Chow’s kibble is stuffed with grain ingredients like Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, and Soybean Meal. These grains make up the bulk of almost all Dog Chow recipes and act as dense sources of carbohydrates.
Most Dog Chow recipes have a very limited amount of named meat ingredients. In one recipe, the bulk of the meat content is made up of meat and bone meal and poultry by-product meal.
While these ingredients may provide some nutrition, it is extremely difficult to know if they are reliable and consistent. Consumers would trust Dog Chow much more if they used named meat ingredients like Chicken or Beef as their primary ingredients.
Purina has a long list of recalls like many other brands mentioned here. Some examples of these recalls include one in 2013 for Salmonella contamination and another in 2012 for low thiamine levels.
This is disappointing from Purina, who claim that they take their safety and quality processes extremely seriously.
Purina Beneful is one of Purina’s relatively younger brands, having been introduced to consumers in 2001. The brand has expanded significantly since then and has undergone many revisions and changes.
Many Purina Beneful recipes do not use ingredients that are as low-quality as other brands mentioned here, but this does not exempt them from criticism.
Many Beneful recipes have a meat ingredient listed first, which is a positive trait, but then following this meat ingredient, the recipes have a huge number of plant-based ingredients listed following. Examples of some of these plant-based ingredients include Corn, Rice, Wheat, Corn Gluten Meal, and Soybean.
These ingredients are the reason that many Beneful recipes have a poor nutritional profile, with some recipes including as much as 50% of their calories from carbohydrates.
Thankfully, Purina Beneful has a relatively short recall record, which is likely thanks to being part of the larger Purina brand.
In 2016, Purina Beneful issued a voluntary recall for some wet dog food tubs. This recall was due to the recipes not containing the recommended levels of select vitamins and minerals.
While recalls like this are not as terrifying as those for contamination, they are still important as an inappropriate balance of vitamins and minerals can lead to health problems.
Grreat Choice is not a well-known brand, but shoppers of PetSmart stores will be familiar with it. It is a PetSmart exclusive brand and can not be found in other pet food stores. Like all the brands listed here, Grreat Choice is aimed at the low-cost dog food segment, and it shows.
Some examples of ingredients used in Grreat Choice dog food include Corn, Meat and Bone Meal, Wheat Middlings, Ground Wheat, Poultry Fat, and Corn Gluten Meal.
We’ve already discussed many of these above, but it is important to reinforce that these ingredients are either not accountable or are extremely dense sources of carbohydrates and plant-based protein.
All dogs would be better suited to a diet that contains high-quality meat and fish ingredients and a suitable proportion of plant-based ingredients.
Grreat Choice has a recent recall against it from February 2017, which related to possible metal contamination.
Recalls for metal contamination often come due to lapses in quality control or when ingredients are sourced from lower-quality sources.
Kal Kan is an established pet food brand that has been in operation since 1936. They were acquired by Mars Petcare like many other brands and have been under the conglomerate for many years now.
Kal Kan makes use of a similar list of ingredients in its recipes as other brands mentioned here. Some examples include Corn, Meat and Bone Meal, Soybean Meal, Wheat, Animal Fat, and Wheat Middlings.
This consistent mix of low-quality or vague meat ingredients and extremely dense grains will result in a poor nutritional profile. This will not be the ideal diet for any dog, especially those who are more active or younger.
The only positive trait from Kal Kan that we could find is that they are, in-fact, recall-free.
With most of the other brands mentioned here having one or many recalls in their recent past, Kal Kan may deserve some credit for their safety and quality control.
However, a good safety record does not excuse or justify poor nutrition or ingredient quality.
Sportmix is a longstanding dog food brand that has been in operation since the 1920s. They are owned by Midwestern Pet Foods, which also owns brands like Earthborn Holistic, which we regularly discuss and think of as a high-quality brand.
Sportmix was originally designed for sporting and working dogs, but sadly the nutrition their recipes provide are not aligned with sporting dogs like these. Sporting and working dogs require a diet high in protein and fat to fuel their high levels of activity and maintenance.
One Sportmix recipe that we analyzed contained as little as 8% fat and 21% protein, which is far from ideal and is just above the bare minimum requirements.
Sadly, Sportmix has a very recent recall issued against it, which is one of the primary reasons we chose to include the brand in this list of the worst dog food.
In late 2020 and early 2021, up to 110 dogs are reported to have died due to consuming Sportmix dog food, with over 200 more getting sick but surviving.
This recall was due to the presence of Aflatoxin, which is a poison. Aflatoxin is a mold that grows on corn and other grain ingredients that are used in Sportmix recipes.
Due to the scale of this recall and its seriousness, it was featured on news sites like the BBC, NBC, and the NY Times.
Luvsome is a pet food brand owned and sold by the grocery store Kroger. Kroger is a huge brand that has thousands of locations across the United States. We couldn’t find any definitive information on when Kroger started selling Luvsome, but it has been quite some time now.
Luvsome is one of the few brands mentioned here to use whole meat and ingredients, including examples like Chicken and Beef.
Sadly, Luvsome is let down by its plant-based ingredients, which include Corn, Wheat, Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, and Soybean Meal.
These ingredients are not an ideal component of dogs diet and contribute to high proportions of carbohydrates and plant-based protein.
Based on our research, we do not believe that Luvsome dog food recipes have ever been recalled, which is worth pointing out.
If you’d like to learn more about Luvsome, including information on its ingredients, nutrition, and product range, check out our Luvsome Brand Review Page.
Our Dog Food Recommendations
Now that you’ve learned about some of the worst dog food brands and recipes available, we’d like to introduce you to some of the best.
First, if you are interested in learning more about dog food and canine nutrition, we highly recommend checking out our Dog Food Guide. Here we break down the different types of dog food available, what nutrition dogs need and why, and what ingredients are commonly found in dog food.
Secondly, if you are interested in discovering some of the best dry dog food recipes available, we’d recommend reading the below article on dry dog food.
Lastly, if you are interested in researching and understanding more about specific dog food brands that aren’t mentioned here or in our best dry dog food guide, head on over to our brand review page, which you can find here.
To date, we have reviewed hundreds of pet food brands and are slowly building up and improving our index of information.