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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Low-Cost, Low-Carb Dog Food

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Low-Cost, Low-Carb Dog Food

[NOTE FROM DGS ON 12/3/17: Three days ago (nearly four years after this post first appeared) something happened that materially changes some of the content that follows:

KetoNatural Pet Foods finally began taking orders for Ketona, a truly low-carbohydrate kibble product. Ketona Chicken Recipe for Adult Dogs contains less than 8% carbohydrate, and that’s about 75% less than other leading “grain-free” brands. It is, in other words, a completely new addition to the pet food market — a product with the carb content of a raw food diet but the cost and convenience of a kibble.

I know all this because I’m the co-founder of the company. I’ve been working on it compulsively since I published Dogs, Dog Food, and Dogma in November 2016 and I’m insanely proud of it. You can learn much more about us here. I hope you’ll consider giving us your business.

None of this impacts the analytical framework that follows, which I believe is what makes this article by far the most popular thing I’ve ever written. So don’t stop reading.

But obviously the existence of Ketona changes my specific product recommendations a bit. At this point, my brand recommendation is simple: if you’re interested in minimizing your dog’s carbohydrate intake but can’t afford to spring for a commercial raw diet, Ketona‘s by far your best choice. It’s that simple.

Now, on with the (5,000+ word) show.]

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I’ve been banging the anti-carbohydrate drum a lot as of late.  Not without good reason, of course. The evidence shows that excessive carbohydrate consumption is one of the primary causes of obesity. And it shows that canine obesity is the single most-common deadly canine nutritional disorder in the United States.  It isn’t really hyperbole to say that carbs are killing our dogs.

Now, for those of you just tuning-in, here’s what we’ve already covered:

I’ve explained how starchy and sugary carbohydrates make dogs (and their humans) fat.

I’ve highlighted a promising new line of cancer research suggesting that very low-carbohydrate diets can be used to “starve” cancer cells of the metabolic fuel those cells need to grow and proliferate.

I had a great chat with Matt Koss, founder and CEO of Primal Pet Foods, a major producer of raw, low-carb dog food products.

And, less recently, I’ve written about why dogs have no nutritional need for carbs, why wolves don’t eat any carbs, and why, despite all this, Big Kibble continues to pack its food products with corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, and all kinds of other starchy carbohydrates.

Perhaps after reading all this you’ve considered switching your dog from a starchy kibble to a low-carb dog food.  And, if you have, then you already know that one of the toughest things about low-carb dog foods is that they tend to cost somewhat more than kibble does.

But for most of us that’s about as far as the analysis goes.  Because figuring out exactly how various products stack up against each other is hard — the bag sizes aren’t standardized, the serving sizes aren’t standardized, a cup of one kind of food might contain more than twice as many calories as a cup of another, there’s no meaningful calorie information on the bag to guide us, blah blah blah.

Here’s the bottom-line: Doing a true side-by-side comparison involves real, laborious calculator work.

So, in an effort to help you all understand how it will impact your budget if you switch your dog to a low-carb diet, I broke out my calculator.  Over the past month or so I’ve been gathering nutritional and pricing data on an assortment of different low-carb dog food options.  This post is a summary of my findings.

I focused my research exclusively on two factors — price and carbohydrate content.  In other words, this is not a complete nutritional analysis of these various foods.  That complex analysis would far exceed what this platform can accommodate.

What it is is a very thorough and accurate analysis of two very important issues.  So, all else being equal, it will show you which low-carb products cost least (on a per-serving basis) and which products deliver the lowest per-serving carbohydrate content.

In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll show you exactly how much low-carb bang you get for your buck with many of the most popular low-carb dog food options on the market today.  Want to know how to keep your dog lean without cutting calories or breaking the bank? Then this post is for you.

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Don’t forget, I wrote a whole book about this subject.

I want to be very clear and forthcoming about what this analysis shows, so six quick caveats before we get started:

(1) Let me repeat myself: this is not intended to be a complete and final analysis of what food is right for your dog. Deciding which food is right for your dog is not a simple process — beyond cost and total macronutrient content (how much carb, protein, and fat is in there), you’ve also got to consider stuff like your dog’s personal taste preferences, activity level, life stage, allergies, and other unique health problems, along with plenty of other things.  You need more than this post to decide what’s best for your dog.  Go talk to you vet before changing your dog’s food (in fact, I encourage you to print this article out and bring it to your vet for discussion).

(2) As we touched on during our interview with Matt from Primal Pet Foods, proponents of raw food diets often believe that there are nutritional benefits to raw foods that come specifically from their being raw.  In other words, that the same set of ingredients is more nutritious in a raw form than in a cooked form.  That may well be the case — I’m reserving the right to cast my personal judgment on that issue until I’ve done a more thorough review of the published literature on the subject — but it’s not built into this analysis.  This here is all about carb content and price.  For now, I’ll leave it to others to weigh-in on stuff like ingredient quality, manufacturer reputation, and the raw/cooked issue.  (In fact, there seem to be plenty of folks out there in the internet-ether that are doing all that already.)

(3) For the sake of consistency and clarity, this analysis is based on a dog that needs to consume 500 calories/day to maintain energy equilibrium.  I’ve used this assumption because it’s a round number and it allows us to compare products on a true per-serving basis, rather than a per-package basis.  It’s not helpful to simply compare sticker prices because packages contain different amounts of food.  Moreover, serving sizes also vary from product-to-product.  Manufacturers A and B may both tell you that their bags contain 10 servings, but there’s nothing to guarantee that they’re basing their calculations off of the same serving-size assumptions. Accordingly, the only way to do a meaningful side-by-side comparison of products is to pick a fixed number of calories (here 500) and compare the products on that basis.

(4) Total carbohydrate content is, admittedly, not the single best metric for gauging how likely a food is to make your dog fat.  As I explained recently, the literature shows that it’s a few specific kinds of carbs that are really doing the dirty work — the ones that cause blood sugar levels to rise most quickly (starches and sugars), to be exact.  And useful measurements have been devised that show just how much fattening carbohydrate is in a food product (they’re called the “Glycemic Index” [hereafter GI] and “Glycemic Load”).  Unfortunately, for dog food products, these values can’t be calculated without lab work.  Total carbohydrate content, on the other hand, can be calculated using the information contained on a food label (so long as you know what you’re doing and you’re willing to actually do the work).  So until Big Kibble decides to start publicizing the GI of its foods (don’t hold your breath), total carbohydrate content is about the best we can do on this front.

(5) All foods in my analysis are based around red-meat sources.  Where possible, I picked premium/exotic meats like venison or lamb.  But, where the manufacturer didn’t offer any exotic options, I just went with their red meat variety.

(6) My data comes from two places: products I bought myself from the wonderful folks at Paw Paws in Salt Lake City or from product information published by manufacturers themselves or by their popular online retailers (links provided for each food).

I think that’s it.  Now, let’s get on with the show…

Group 1: The Standard Kibbles

Let’s start things off by looking at a few garden-variety, carbed-out Big Kibble options from a few different price points and let’s see where they come in, both in terms of price/serving and in terms of total carbohydrate content:

Purina Pro Plan Savor Adult Shredded Blend Lamb & Rice Formula

ProPlan

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 12%

Minimum Crude Protein: 26%

Minimum Crude Fat: 16%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 3%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 43%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients: Brewer’s Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, Whole Grain Wheat, Oat Meal, Soy Flakes, Barley, Dried Beet Pulp, Soybean Meal

Food/500 Calories: 132.45 g

Food/Bag: 8,181g

Cost/Bag: $26.99

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500-Calorie Serving: $0.44

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 48.87%

Overall Comments:

Ah, good ol’ ProPlan.

Or, as the Purina website proudly proclaims, the “fuel” behind “eight straight Westminster Best in Show Winners.”  (Just take a look at that appalling list of primary non-animal ingredients — no veggies, all starches — and try to wrap your head around how ALL of the last eight Westminster Best in Show winners are on that food. That’s mind-boggling. But I digress.)

It doesn’t get any more “garden variety Big Kibble” than this.  So, in my mind, this is the perfect place to begin our analysis.

More specifically, at an approximate cost of $0.44/serving (again, assuming that our dog only needs 500 calories/day) and with approximately 48.87% of calories coming from non-fibrous carbs.

That’s a diet that’s approximately one-half carbohydrates, at a cost of around two quarters for every 500 calories worth of food.

Now, as we look at other foods, we can use the ProPlan data as something of a baseline. 

Oh, but before we move on, here are a few common 500-calorie human foods, just so you can see how the amounts we budget to dog food compares to what we shell out every day for our own enjoyment:

McDonalds Quarter Pounder with Cheese [520 calories, $3.52/burger];

Chipotle salad with steak, romaine lettuce, cheese, black beans, salsa, and fajita vegetables [485 calories, $6.65/salad];

Applebee’s Roma Pepper Steak entree with sirloin steak, red potatoes, and Portobello mushroom cap stuffed with cheese [<550 calories, $12.49/meal];

7.5oz. filet mignon [510 calories, a lot of money].

So, calorie-for-calorie, switching all those Westminster champs from ProPlan over to an “all-Quarter Pounder” diet would increase the cost of feeding them by about 700%. In other words, this ProPlan stuff is cheap.

Blue Buffalo BLUE Wilderness Rocky Mountain Recipe with Red Meat

 Wilderness-Red-Meat-Adult

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 10%

Minimum Crude Protein: 30%

Minimum Crude Fat: 15%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 6.5%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 38.5%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients: Tapioca Starch, Peas, Tomato Pomace, Potatoes, Flaxseed, Alfalfa Meal, Potato Starch, Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Blueberries, Cranberries, Apples, Blackberries.

Food/500 Calories: 136.15 g

Food/Bag: 10,000 g

Price/Bag: $57.99

Bottom Line Information:

Price/500 Calorie Serving: $0.79

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 42.78%

Overall Comments:

With marketing materials that cry-out “down with those big dog food companies!” and “feed your dog like a wolf!” Blue Buffalo is doing a nice job of echoing some of VP’s rallying cries.

The only problem is they’re completely full of it:

For one, the Blue Buffalo Company is a private equity-owned, $2 billion business with plans of going public this year. Blue Buffalo isn’t anti-Big Kibble, Blue Buffalo is Big Kibble.  Don’t let the “aw, shucks” tone of their nationally-televised commercials fool you.

And as far as the whole “like a wolf” thing goes, I don’t need to remind you that wolves don’t eat things like tapioca starch, potatoes, and alfalfa meal (aka “hay”) — the primary non-animal ingredients in this product.

But here’s the bottom-line:

The per-serving cost of this product is about 80% more than our ProPlan baseline.  And the carbohydrate content is only marginally lower.  So if your goal is to cut your dog’s total carb intake without breaking the bank, switching from ProPlan to Blue Buffalo ain’t exactly the way to do it.

Sorry, lovers of Blue River — I mean Blue Buffalo — foods, don’t shoot the messenger.

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Canine Hypo Selected Protein Potato & Venison

 Royal Canin

Supporting Information (all from here):

Max. Moisture: 10%

Minimum Crude Protein: 19.5%

Minimum Crude Fat: 10.0%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 3.8%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 56.7%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients: Dried potato, potato protein, coconut oil, natural flavors, vegetable oil, fish oil, salt.

Food/500 Calories: 142.27 g

Food/Bag: 11,339.80 g

Price/Bag: $92.49

Bottom Line Information:

Price/500 Calorie Serving: $1.16

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 63.00%

Overall Comments:

First thing’s first: This is a prescription-only food and I am definitely not commenting on whether it’s a sound nutritional treatment for any disease.  I’m just crunching the hard numbers presented on the label and telling you what they say (more specifically, what they don’t explicitly say) about it’s price and carb content.

Moreover, it probably goes without saying, but surely the high price point here reflects, at least in part, its value as a form of supposed disease-treatment, something that the other products in this analysis do not claim to be.

That being said, you can see that the price-per-serving is nearly three times as high as ProPlan and that the total carbohydrate content is a whopping 63% (the highest per-serving carb content in our entire analysis).  Those are some big numbers.

And I’m not sure exactly what my legal obligations are when it comes to prescribed medical interventions.  So I think we should just move on.

So that’s it when it comes to “standard” kibbles. Obviously there are plenty of other products out there but I’m just one man and you’ve all got a limited attentional bandwidth anyways.  So hopefully that gave you a meaningful sense of what to expect from that category of products.

To summarize, with a standard kibble you’re going to pay about $0.50-$1.00 for every 500 calories of food.  And in return you’ll get a product that is somewhere around 50% carbohydrate.

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Enjoying this? Then you’ll love Dogs, Dog Food, and Dogma.

Group 2: The “Low-Carb” Kibbles

Now let’s go to our second category, the “low-carb” kibbles.  These are kibble-ized food products that have cultivated a reputation for being relatively low-carbohydrate.  Who lives up to their reputation and who falls short? Let’s take a look:

Orijen Regional Red (Kibble-Style)

 Orijen Kibble

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 10%

Minimum Crude Protein: 38%

Minimum Crude Fat: 18%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 5%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 29%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients: Red Lentils, Chickpeas, Green Peas, Yellow Peas, Green Lentils, Pea Fibre, Yams, Alfalfa, Butternut Squash, Spinach Greens, Carrots, Apples, Pears, Cranberries, Blueberries, Kelp, Licorice Root

Food/500 Calories: 129.03 g

Food/Bag: 13,000 g

Cost/Bag: $92.99

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $0.92

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 32.22%

Overall Comments:

Okay, two key things to note here:

1) You can see that the price per serving is pretty similar to the Blue Buffalo product but that the total carbohydrate content is significantly lower (32% vs 42%, or about 25% less).  There’s only about half as much carbohydrate in here as there is in the Royal Canin product.

2) The primary non-animal ingredients here (notably, lentils and chickpeas) score very low on the GI scale, and that’s a good thing.  There are several popular online databases (here’s a link to one from the University of Sidney) that can tell you the GIs for lots of popular whole food products if you’d like to see for yourself.  But, to give you an example, the GI for red lentils (the top non-animal ingredient here) is 21 — a very low score for a carby ingredient.  The GIs for tapioca-based products (such as “tapioca starch,” the primary non-animal ingredient in the Blue Buffalo product) are in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  These are very high scores — pure glucose, for example, scores 100.

Evo Red Meat Formula Large-Bite Dog Food

 Evo

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 10.0%

Minimum Crude Protein: 42%

Minimum Crude Fat: 22%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 2.5%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 23.5%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients:  Tapioca Starch, Peas, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Menhaden Oil, Apples, Carrots, Potassium Chloride, Pumpkin, Tomatoes

Food/500 Calories: 120.12 g

Food/Bag: 6000 g

Cost/Bag: $32.29

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $0.65

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 26.11%

Overall Comments:

First off, props to Evo for the studly Rottie on the bag. That’s one handsome animal.

High-GI tapioca starch again makes an appearance at the top of the non-animal ingredient list.  And that should ring some alarm bells.  If there’s far more tapioca than, say, peas in here (and the only information we know from the nutrition label is that there is more tapioca than peas, not how much more), then the GI for the product as a whole is still going to be very high.

However, you can see that the total carbohydrate content is quite low.  Lower than any of the other kibble products we’ve looked at and approaching half of what we found in ProPlan and Blue Buffalo.

And the price point is also quite low.  Considerably lower than either Orijen or Blue Buffalo.

Be wary of the tapioca for the reason noted above, but if your goal is simply to pick a kibble product that delivers low carb content on a reasonable budget, then this product is probably the best in our analysis.

So that’s it for the “low-carb” kibbles.  Alas, because the extrusion process (the primary way that kibble is manufactured) requires the use of carby ingredients as binders, there just aren’t that many low-carb kibbles on the market.

But you can see that the the low-carb reputations of these two products are moderately well-deserved, at least in the sense that they are somewhat lower in total carbohydrate content than the standard kibbles in our analysis.  And that, at least in the case of Orijen, the carby ingredients are also low-GI ones.

The prices are  somewhat higher, as you would probably expect.  I found no true “entry-level” product that delivers a low-carb kibble without a premium price point.

But, taken as a whole, the differences are pretty modest, reflecting the plain realities of the extrusion process.  Neither of these products is what I’d call “very low-carb” or even remotely close in macronutrient balance to what a wild wolf would consume.

In contrast, when we make the jump to our next category of products — the freeze-dried raw foods — you’ll start to see some really eye-opening differences.

Group 3: Freeze-Dried Raw Foods

Unlike kibble-ized products, which are produced through the extrusion process, freeze-dried foods can be produced without using starchy carbohydrates as binders.  And so they generally wind up as much lower in total carbohydrate content.  How low? Let’s take a look:

Orijen Regional Red (Freeze-Dried)

 Orijen Freeze Dried

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 4%

Minimum Crude Protein: 36%

Minimum Crude Fat: 35%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 5%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 20%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients:  Spinach Greens, Pea Fiber, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin, Butternut Squash, Carrots, Cranberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Apples, Pears, Plums, Apricots, Kelp.

Food/500 Calories: 101.32 g

Food/Bag: 454 g

Cost/Bag: $32.99

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $7.36

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 20.83%

Overall Comments:

Okay, let’s start with the good:

Total carbohydrate content is getting close to the 20% mark.  Still way more calories from carbs than any wild wolf has ever eaten, but considerably better than anything from either of the kibble categories.

It’s also great that the primary non-animal ingredient is spinach greens.  Obviously that’s a nutrient-dense, ultra-low-GI food.  In terms of micronutrient density and overall impact on blood sugar levels, it is worlds away from something like “tapioca starch.”

In other words, if you accept the evidence that low-carb diets prevent obesity in dogs then there can be little doubt that this is a pretty good product, nutritionally-speaking.

But now the bad:

On a per-serving basis, this food costs about seventeen times as much as ProPlan. And more than seven times as much as Orijen’s kibble-ized version of their “Regional Red” formula.

Those are not misprints.  You’re talking about a month’s worth of ProPlan every two days.  The jump from ProPlan to here is roughly analagous to the price difference between a fast-food hamburger and a dry-aged, USDA Prime ribeye at Peter Luger.

In the end, I can only come up with one way to justify choosing this food: You trust the Orijen brand and you believe in the value of low-carb diets and you put a tremendous amount of stock in the “raw vs. cooked” point covered above in caveat (2) and a frozen raw food is just too much trouble for you.  If you take away any one of those elements, then one of the other products in our analysis seems to become a better choice.

Primal Pet Foods — Canine Lamb Formula (Freeze-Dried)

 Primal Freeze Dried

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 3%

Minimum Crude Protein: 39%

Minimum Crude Fat: 38%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 1%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 19%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients:  Kale, Carrots, Yams, Broccoli, Apples, Cranberries, Blueberries, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds

Food/500 Calories: 105.91 g

Food/Bag: 397 g

Cost/Bag: $21.28

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $5.67

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 19.59%

Overall Comments:

Well, in terms of ingredients and macro-nutritional makeup, it looks pretty similar to the freeze-dried Orijen product.  About 20% of calories coming from carbs, a leafy green vegetable as the primary non-animal ingredient, and, in all likelihood, an ultra-low GI score.

But the per-serving price comes in a good bit lower than the Orijen — about 25% lower.  It’s still way more than you’re going to pay for any kind of kibble (let’s not mince words, it’s a totally different pricing planet).  But, on a per-serving basis, it’s considerably less expensive than at least one of its major competitors.

Stella & Chewy’s Dandy Lamb (Freeze-Dried)

SC Freeze Dried

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 5.0%

Minimum Crude Protein: 37%

Minimum Crude Fat: 35%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 4%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 19%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients:  Pumpkin Seed, Potassium Chloride, Cranberries, Spinach, Broccoli, Beets, Sodium Phosphate Monobasic, Carrots, Squash, Apples, Blueberries.

Food/500 Calories: 101.32 g

Food/Bag: 453 g

Cost/Bag: $26.19

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $5.86

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 20.0%

Overall Comments:

As you can see, the per-serving cost of feeding your dog this S&C freeze-dried formula is closer to the Primal option than the Orijen one.  Quantitatively, the carbohydrate content is just about the same — about one out of every five digestible calories comes from carbohydrate.  One notable difference is that, unlike the other two freeze-dried formulas in our analysis, the primary non-animal ingredients here aren’t leafy greens.  Whereas Orijen goes with spinach and Primal uses kale, S&C’s three primary non-animal ingredients are pumpkin seed, potassium chloride (a salt), and cranberries.  Pumpkin seeds are very low-GI and cranberries score more moderately (45-50), so make of that what you will.

And we’ll leave it at that when it comes to our third category of products — freeze-dried raw foods.

Lots of good things to say about the makeup of these foods. Relatively low-carb, relatively low-GI, diverse ingredient sources, organ meats, etc.

But, I must say, these per-serving prices blew my mind.  I was most definitely not expecting them to be this high on a per-serving basis.

When you stack them up against the other categories of food in our analysis, the per-serving prices are in fact so high that they really only represent a viable option if (1) you’ve only got one or two little dogs and you go through food very slowly; or (2) you’ve got a budget that can easily accommodate monthly dog food outlays that dwarf those that the average kibble-feeder spends on dog food; or (3) your budget isn’t infinite but you think that one or more of these foods is, qualitatively, miles ahead of those found in the other categories.  (This post isn’t about telling you what to choose or anything but — cough, cough — category (3).)

To summarize, when it comes to freeze-dried raw foods, you’re going to pay north of 10x as much as you’d pay for ProPlan.  But the extra money gets you a product with fewer than half the carbs of a typical kibble and, in all likelihood, a very low GI score to boot.

It’s very important to remember that these prices are not objectively high — after all, at the end of the day, they’re just a little more than our all-Quarter-Pounder diet would cost — it’s just that they are very high in comparison to our baseline, standard kibble.  If you feel any “sticker shock” from this analysis, the conceptual take-home should be that most kibbles are ridiculously cheap, not that the other foods are ridiculously expensive.

But enough about all that.  Let’s move on to our fourth and final tier, the frozen raw foods.

Group 4: Frozen Raw Foods

Primal Pet Foods — Canine Lamb Formula (Raw Frozen Nuggets)

 Primal Frozen

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 68%

Minimum Crude Protein: 13%

Minimum Crude Fat: 12%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 3%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 4%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients:  Kale, Carrots, Yams, Broccoli, Apples, Cranberries, Blueberries, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds

Food/500 Calories: 326.58 g

Food/Bag: 1361 g

Cost/Bag: $20.49

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $4.91

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 12.5%

Overall Comments:

Per-serving carbohydrate content continues to drop with the first frozen product in our analysis.  Now carbohydrate is only providing one out of every eight calories that your dog consumes.  Pretty good, right? Now we’re getting somewhere.

Furthermore, as with Primal’s freeze-dried lamb product, we see low-GI kale as the primary non-animal ingredient in the mix.  So that also earns a gold-star.

And, to top it off, the cost per serving is actually considerably lower than with their freeze-dried option (and a full $3.00/serving lower than Orijen’s freeze-dried product).

The downside is that, as with all frozen dog food products, storage and preparation are going to be more cumbersome than with either kibble or freeze-dried products.  But if you can live with the inconvenience that frozen dog food entails then this product beats Primal’s freeze-dried option hands-down, at least in terms of our limited analysis.

K9 Natural — Venison Feast

K9Natural

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 66%

Minimum Crude Protein: 15.1%

Minimum Crude Fat: 10.5%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 0.5%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 7.9%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients:  Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrot, Spinach, Cabbage, Apple, Pear, Garlic.

Food/500 Calories: 294.55 g

Food/Bag: 1000 g

Cost/Bag: $11.99

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $3.53

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 23.2%

Overall Comments:

K9 Natural is made in New Zealand and it’s a brand that generally isn’t as recognizable to American consumers as some of the leading American raw producers.

You can see that the total carbohydrate content is almost twice as high as Primal’s frozen offering (23.2% vs 12.5%) but still relatively low compared to the stuff we see on the other end of the spectrum.

Just about all of the non-animal ingredients used here are very low on the GI scale.  And, despite the costs of international shipping and importation (it looks like they distribute from a US-based distributor) it can be yours for less than 3/4 the cost of the Primal product.  So those are all good things.

Love Your Pet — Chopped Wild Venison with Vegetables

 LoveYourPet

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 70%

Minimum Crude Protein: 19%

Minimum Crude Fat: 6%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 5%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 0%*

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients:  Carrots, Broccoli, Coconut Oil, Dried Alfalfa Leaf, Dried Kelp.

Food/500 Calories: 425.53 g

Food/Bag: 453.6 g

Cost/Bag: $4.99

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $4.67

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 0.0%*

Overall Comments:

This product is made by a local Utah producer.  I added it to the analysis just to give you an idea of how a product produced by a very small operation would stack up against some of the bigger boys.

And, on the face of things, it looks to have compared quite favorably.  A true no-carbohydrate option at a price point that’s lower than any of the freeze-dried raw options as well as Primal’s competing frozen product, it represents a great choice if you’re looking to minimize carbohydrate intake.

However, I’ve added an asterisk next to the carbohydrate numbers for this one because something’s not passing the smell test.  Specifically,  the label indicates that there are numerous vegetable ingredients and that, consequently, the resulting product is composed of at least 5% fibrous carbohydrate.  But the label still suggests 0% non-fibrous carbs.  This doesn’t make sense to me because even high-fiber veggies like the ones used in this product contain a measurable quantity of non-fibrous carbs.

And it’s not possible that the veggie quantities are so low that the non-fibrous carbohydrate content is just “effectively zero.” Because then you’d see the total fiber content show up as much lower than 5.0%.

Ultimately, I’m not sure exactly what’s going on here.

In the end, this is definitely a very low-carbohydrate product and one that can be acquired without breaking open your piggy bank.  But things get a little fuzzy beyond that.  Caveat emptor.

OC Raw Dog — Lamb & Produce (Raw Frozen Patties)

OCRawDog

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 58%

Minimum Crude Protein: 22%

Minimum Crude Fat: 18%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 1%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 1%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients:  Carrots, Apples, Broccoli, Spinach, Acorn Squash, Beets, Parsley, Blueberries, Basil Powder, Kelp Powder, Alfalfa Powder, Calcium Carbonate

Food/500 Calories: 214.13 g

Food/Bag: 2950 g

Cost/Bag: $30.99

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $2.25

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 3.13%

Overall Comments:

Well, helloooo.

What we have here is a truly very low-carb dog food, whose non-animal ingredients are whole foods with low-GI ratings, at a price point that’s way lower than some of the bigger brands (lower, even, than our all-Quarter-Pounder diet).

As you would expect, the brand cache clearly isn’t there like it is with some of the bigger and deeper-pocketed brands.  When I look at this product it doesn’t fill me with feelings confidence and security like some of the heavily-marketed products with beautiful packaging do.  And, at the risk of beating this dead horse into the ground, this isn’t meant to be a complete and final analysis.  But when it comes to minimizing fattening carbohydrate content without breaking the bank, it looks like this is our winner.

More specifically, for a cost of only $2.25 for every 500 calories you can put your dog on OC Raw Dog and effectively eliminate carbohydrates from her diet.  Not bad at all.

Stella & Chewy’s Dandy Lamb (Raw Frozen Dinner)

SCFrozen

Supporting Information:

Max. Moisture: 70%

Minimum Crude Protein: 13.0%

Minimum Crude Fat: 11.0%

Minimum Crude Fiber: 2%

Approximate Non-Fiber Carbohydrate Content (Calculated): 4%

Primary Non-Animal Ingredients:  Pumpkin Seed, Potassium Chloride, Cranberries, Spinach, Broccoli, Beets, Sodium Phosphate Monobasic, Carrots, Squash, Apples, Blueberries.

Food/500 Calories: 326.8 g

Food/Bag: 1360 g

Cost/Bag: $22.50

Bottom-Line Information:

Cost/500 Calories: $5.41

Approximate Percentage of Total Calories From Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates (on Dry Matter Basis): 13.33%

Overall Comments:

As with their freeze-dried options, the data from S&C’s frozen product matches-up pretty closely to Primal’s frozen option.  A true very low-carb dog food and a price point of around $5 per 500 calories (which is, incidentally, more than twice the cost of OC Raw Dog’s frozen product).

Again, the primary difference is the use of pumpkin seeds and cranberries as the primary non-animal ingredients (as opposed to green veggies).  But otherwise there’s not a lot of room between this product and Primal.

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]

This post took me a month to research and write. And I gave it to you for free. My book took more than four YEARS to write. Go on, get yourself a copy.

Phew.

That’s just about it.

I wonder how many of you are still with us? Hopefully someone hung around to the end. Stay with me for just a few more sentences and I’ll wrap it all up with some concluding remarks:

1) On a per-calorie basis, the difference in cost between raw food and kibble is, in almost all cases, massive.  OC Raw Dog just about stays within five multiples of ProPlan, but almost all of the other options are way more than that.  And frozen raw products are somewhat less expensive on a per-calorie basis than are freeze-dried ones.

2) When it comes to “low-carb kibbles,” it might be more accurate to call them “low-er carb.”  Their carbohydrate contents are meaningfully lower than the standard kibbles, but they are still way, way higher (25% or more) than any food that a wild grey wolf would ever consume on even a semi-regular basis.  For the moment, if you want to put your dog on a true low-carb diet, you either need to pick one of the raw food products or prepare her foods yourself.

3) I made this point above but I’m going to wrap up by making it again: In my opinion, the massive differences between the standard kibbles and the raw products (both in terms of price and carbohydrate content) should not be read as an indictment of the higher-cost products Don’t see the pricing data and say “oh, how could I ever feed my dog something so expensive!?”  Why? Because those products aren’t objectively expensive — they cost about the same as fast-food does.  It would literally be a significant challenge to feed yourself a diet that costs less than they do on a per-calorie basis.

They’re just much more expensive than the kibbles are.

In other words, in my humble opinion, the proper reaction when you see all the foregoing pricing and carbohydrate data shouldn’t be outrage over how expensive the raw foods are.  It should be outrage over how cheap most of the kibbles are.  Take away all their pretty labels and disingenuous advertising slogans and what you get is a food product that costs about 90% less than the trashiest fast-food you can find anywhere.  Think about that for a second.  Just imagine what it suggests about the nutritional content of those products.

It’s no wonder that half the dogs in America are overweight, is it?

Have a great weekend everyone.  Thanks so much for reading.

Cheers,

– Coach Dan

[Like this post? Want to learn more about how to keep your dog healthy and happy? Check out Dogs, Dog Food, and Dogma, my book from Present Tense Press. Kirkus Reviews calls it “remarkable,” “eye-opening,” “scandalous,” and “impressive.”]

11 Comments

  1. Elaine Havens says:

    Very thorough and interesting analysis! I never feed kibble or freeze dried, only raw meaty bones and prepared raw frozen food. I agree that your winner of OC Raw is priced less and have been using it sometimes. However, I am concerned about the alfalfa powder, possibly GMO as well as the squash, also maybe GMO. Also not sure why Calcium Carbonate is added. Otherwise excellent! My very favorite raw food is K9 Natural but very hard to get and expensive. Take a look at the Lamb Feast sometime as it’s quite different from the Venison. Great ingredients! I also feed K9 Natural frozen lamb green tripe. Another good frozen food is Small Batch. Also like Nature’s Variety lamb.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Very interesting article. Thanks for posting. I as well, like Elaine, only feed raw meaty bones, raw meat (venison, green tripe, with and without bones grinded in, salmon, and organs. I use Blue Ridge Beef for most of his meats and bones. I’m curious of your opinion on it.

  3. josh says:

    Great analysis and article. I am currently feeding my boys Taste of The Wild High Prairie – Roasted Bison & Venison. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that food. It is made up of 32% (minimum) Protein. My boys are in very good shape and a perfect weight/build for their size.

    Thanks

    • Hi Josh. Just thought I’d let you know that I helped to create a brand new dog food concept that you might be interested in. It’s called Ketona and it’s a dry kibble with the carbohydrate content of a raw diet (less than 8% carbs on a dry matter basis). Switching from TotW High Prairie to Ketona would remove about 70% of the carbohydrate from your boys’ diets. Just some food for thought — we hope you’ll consider giving us a shot!

  4. Hello Everyone,

    Many dogs do very well on a low carb diet. Sometimes the high protein diets are a little rich for some, but most do quite well on a formula like the Orijen 6 Fish Dog Food. It’s 85% made from animal ingredient, but also has 15% content from fruits and vegetables. Those fruits and vegetables have the antioxidants that boost health and slow down aging so you have as much time as possible with your pet. You can find it on our website at http://www.naturalpetfoods.ca

  5. Anita says:

    What’s the best dog for to feed my 5 month old mastiff puppy. He has a yeast infection, and I read that I need to change his dog food. Any suggestions?

  6. L says:

    Thank you for this! I have a diabetic dog that needs something lower in carbs so her blood sugar will stop spiking, and this article will really help me find a better dog food. Her diabetic food has 51% which is extremely high and it’s no wonder we have to keep increasing her insulin. Again, thank you!

    • You’re welcome! I’m so glad you found it useful. It’s shocking and appalling to me that anyone would sell a “diabetic food” that contains 51% carbohydrate. Frankly, I view that as unconscionable and I’m glad to hear that you’re taking control of the issue.

      If you’re looking for something specific that’s very low in carbohydrate content but won’t break the bank, I have to urge you to check out Ketona. It’s priced competitively with leading “grain-free” kibbles but contains less than 8% carbohydrate. (Disclaimer: I co-founded the company that makes it, in order to address the exact issue you’ve raised here.)

      Thanks again for your kind words.

  7. Francine Galuppo says:

    Was wondering if you could suggest an affordable dry dog food for a 9 yr old pit that has chronic ear problems that produce a lot of yeast in his ear

    Thank you in advance
    Francine Galuppo

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