The Problem with Online Dog Food Reviews

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One of my ‘pet peeves’ when it comes to pet food is related to the online reviews. Over the years, I have stumbled upon these reviews while collecting data and doing my research on pet food ingredients, calories and macronutrients. To illustrate the problem with online reviews, I will use a recipe produced by a popular pet food brand.

 

The Online Dog Food Rating

First, let’s look at the overall rating and sample a few reviews from the Brand’s own site.

The overall rating is 4.5 out of 5 stars based on 75 reviews. As an added validation, 69 out of the 75 reviewers would recommend this product. Pretty convincing data from the masses. Digging further, here are 2 of the reviewer comments:

 

“Healthy Choice! My dog loves this dry food! It obviously has very good, tasty flavor!”

 

“Dogs LOVE IT! I have 3 Great Danes and they love this food. They are pretty picky eaters but I have no trouble getting them to eat this. It is also very good for them.”

 

Based on this (and most of the other reviews), this food must be a no-brainer, great choice for a dog.

 

Looking at the same food on Amazon, the results are similar, although there are a sprinkling of negative reviews. On Amazon, this food rates out at 4.2 out of 5 stars for 643 total reviews. Still a very high number.

Read the label

OK, I am almost sold on this. But unlike many people who would consider these reviews sufficient evidence to purchase this dog food, I would like to take one more step. Let’s look at the ingredients and macronutrients in this food and then I will order it. Based on the reviews, I am sure that it is high in protein, full of real meat and vegetables,

 

Dog Food Macronutrient Profile and Ingredients

This food’s guaranteed analysis is as follows:

Crude Protein: Min 23.0%

Crude Fat: Min 11.0%

Crude Fiber: Max 4.0%

Moisture: Max 12.0%

 

Uh oh! This food’s macronutrient profile is not appropriate for a dog. Using dry matter basis, it is about 26% protein and 54% carbohydrate, Too little protein and too many carbs for most normal dogs. How come this wasn’t mentioned in the reviews?

 

Ingredients.

Uh oh again! Look at these ingredients and ask yourself if this is really an appropriate choice for a dog.

Ground Whole Grain Corn, Poultry By- Product Meal (Source Of Glucosamine And Chondroitin Sulfate), Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, Ground Whole Grain Wheat, Animal Fat (Source Of Omega 6 Fatty Acids [Preserved With Bha And Citric Acid]), Soybean Meal, Chicken, Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Natural Flavor (Source Of Meatier Flavor), Fish Oil (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Salt, Monocalcium Phosphate, Meat And Bone Meal (Source Of Calcium), Potassium Chloride, Calcium Carbonate, Dried Peas, Vitamin E Supplement, Zinc Sulfate, Choline Chloride, Niacin [Vitamin B3], Biotin, Dried Carrots, Bha & Citric Acid (A Preservative), Blue 2, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, D-Calcium Pantothenate [Source Of Vitamin B5], Riboflavin Supplement [Vitamin B2], Red 40, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride [Vitamin B6], Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid

 

This food is full of cheap fillers. Corn, rice, and wheat dominate the list. Further, it uses “poultry by-product meal” (really?), “animal fat” (what kind of animal?), “meat and bone meal” (what kind of meat?) the artificial preservative BHA, and four different artificial colorings! Tell me, how could this possibly be a 4/5 out of 5 star dog food? Not by my analysis. This food is at best a 1 out of 5 star food and I would not serve it to my dogs unless it was the only food available. Even then, I would think twice about it.

 

One other point is worth making with respect to the specific comments in the review section. Many of the comments seem to focus on the fact that their dog “loves the food”. This is about as useless a piece of information as I can think of. Just because a dog “loves” the food does not mean it is a good product. To use a human analogy, if you gave your 8 year old a choice between broccoli and ice cream, which do you think they would choose? Same with many dogs, who will eat foods that are sweetened or contain added (and often unnatural) flavor enhancers.

 

The moral of this story is that you can’t trust the consumer reviews that are published on the web. Although at times, they can provide a good indication of a pet food’s quality, you need to look more closely than the ratings and comments.

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29 Comments

  1. I recently learned that people can write book reviews for money. They write their “honest opinion” but the pay for a favorable review is higher than for one that gives fewer stars. This has made me suspicious of online reviews,
    jan recently posted…The enemy of your enemy is your dogMy Profile

  2. Great post. I’m still astounded by how little I knew about dog food when I brought Rodrigo and Sydney home.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Worthwhile Webinar on Canine Nutrition, Hypothyroidism and VaccinationsMy Profile

    • We didn’t really become aware until we had to work with Jack – I fed Sally & Tino good food, not crap but didn’t think about reading the labels!
      mkob recently posted…The Problem with Online Dog Food ReviewsMy Profile

  3. I’m with you… I read the reviews of canine caviar and first I thought I found the perfect food. Then I found a review what said, that it has a weird smell, the dog disliked it and at last the dog became sick from this food, after the owner fed it to the dog for 1.5 years ( I wonder why they bought it again and again for 1.5 years after they noticed the bad smell, but anyway). And now I’m as “smart” as beforer and my search goes on… :o)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog BRAVO FOR SPECIAL MOMENTSMy Profile

  4. In truth, reading a dog food review (or any online content) is why those reading comprehension exercises in middle school were so important. But so many people have lost (or never had) good analytical skills.

    On Amazon, I really like the “most helpful negative review” feature. The clues in those reviews often provide great information that others don’t cover.
    Pamela recently posted…6 Tips To Get Your Dog Ready For AdventureMy Profile

    • Agree – sometimes they are a little over the top and you have to discount them, but the truth is somewhere in the middle of the high praise and the slams.
      mkob recently posted…The Problem with Online Dog Food ReviewsMy Profile

  5. I’ve always taken online reviews of anything with a grain of salt. Especially on the manufacturer’s own site. For a while, I was checking out the dog food advisor dot com site and comparing their reviews to your SlimDoggy database. Somewhere along the line, though, I got fed up with their statement “for more detail join our [list]“. That list (or club or whatever they call it) cost about $120 or more per year, presumably for more in-depth analysis of the data. Being the cheapskate skeptic that I am at times, I declined. So, now I read the ingredients lists and review the nutrient data, and then check out the SlimDoggy database for what I know will be an honest assessment.
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky’s Mom recently posted…So My House Is A MessMy Profile

  6. Agree with Pamela – I head for the negative reviews on Amazon. However, reading the ingredients is more important to me than any of the reviews for a product.

  7. Yep Mom reads all the contents in our food before making a purchase because of my allergies!!

    xoxo, Ginger, Matt & Matilda
    Bell Fur Zoo recently posted…Bravo For Special MomentsMy Profile

  8. I don’t think reviews of food by consumers are really helpful at all. We rely on reading the bag ourselves and maybe a dog food rater online, but not the opinion of people we don’t even know.
    Emma recently posted…How About Some Healthy Snacks {Giveaway} #MultiPetManiaMy Profile

  9. I read the ingredients on the package; and then follow up with her vet to make sure the choice is a good one. I look at the reviews, but just to see if there is something going on that I haven’t considered or haven’t seen before. 99% of the time the reviews don’t enter into my decision.

  10. I’ve come a long way from being a naive first-time dog owner who trusted her vet’s advice and fed Science Diet, to doing research on how to read the labels of the bags of kibble (I spent several hours in a dog food aisle once, reading bag after bag after bag…), to feeding a home cooked and now raw diet! Phew! It’s been quite the journey, but one worth the effort!
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Find of the Week: Fresh & Organic Whole Chicken For Our Pups!My Profile

  11. I look at everything and if it doesn’t list the protein as the first ingredient, odds are I am not buying it. So many people just go into this blindly and who is suffering for it? The dogs are.
    Jodi recently posted…You Make Me Smile – June 14, 2015My Profile

  12. Yup, i’m the crazy nut in the dog food isle who is looking at all of the ingredients for every treat, or any food item. I also want to know where the horns, hooves, etc come from.
    No corn, no wheat, no soy, no artificial colors or flavors… I want my pups to be healthy athletes! 🙂

  13. I don’t think I would ever judge food by those online reviews. I’d go by ingredients first, and I don’t have to look any further than corn as the first ingredient to say “no” to that food. I think you have to take reviews with a grain of salt for anything…after all, anyone can write one. It doesn’t mean they know anything (obviously from this example!).
    Jan K recently posted…An Imaginary Visit to Grandmother’s House #MultiPetMania (& Giveaway!)My Profile

  14. That’s why when I review foods on my blog (and I’m picky about what I will feature anyway) I always make the ingredients just as important as how much my dogs liked it. I will even point out that even if you don’t try THIS food, these are things you should look for. Hopefully it makes a difference.
    Andrea recently posted…Pug Reviews: Grain Free GreeniesMy Profile

  15. The reviews have no bearing on what I buy for my pet’s food. But sadly other people are reading them and being influenced by them. I think the commercials on TV and other ads have a greater influence, though. People see Purina, Pedigree, Beneful and how much shelf real estate they take up at the grocery store. Which is where most people buy their pet food (the average consumer, not the ones reading all these pet blogs).
    Anne recently posted…What Happens To That Ear SwabMy Profile

  16. Wow, this was a great post. reading the ingredients is SO important!!!!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…I Went Out To #Rescue A Dog That Day…My Profile

  17. Great post. I agree that pet parents can’t simply rely on how other individuals rate a particular food. We need to read the labels ourselves and buy the highest quality food that suits our dog’s needs.
    Sharon Seltzer recently posted…Father’s Day Gifts For Rugged Pet DadsMy Profile

  18. It’s so important to look further than the number of stars or recommendations. I go through this with my own parents who seem to think that whether or not their dog “likes” or eats a particular food has something to do with the quality.
    Elaine recently posted…Dog Vision – How Dogs See the WorldMy Profile

  19. Hard for me to believe an online review about how yummy dog food tastes unless someone can convince me the review was either (1). written by the dog himself (2). the pet parent ate the food himself. LOL

  20. I am kind of from the school of thought that if the food works for the dog then it is the right food. I do consider online reviews. If the food is something I’d like to try then I will know pretty quick if it is going to work or not.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…A Trip To OhioMy Profile

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