Posted by: UrbanGreenGirl | September 29, 2008

How to choose a healthy pet food

How to choose a healthy pet food

In this day and age of pet food recalls, salmonella poisoning, pet obesity and even death, how is one to know which pet food brand to choose?  Well, because I believe part of being “green” is being healthy, I have put together this informative article which clearly tells you which brands are safe and healthy for your cherished pets.

I used to work in the pet food industry and was specialised in holistic pet nutrition.  I was shocked, jaw dropping disgusted and angry when I learned what was actually considered “acceptable” by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the organisation responsible for monitoring pet food.  In 2005, I wrote  The Truth about the Pet Food industry (which has since been updated) which gives full descriptions of why certain ingredients are bad and which ones are necessary.  Here, I give you a black and white list of what I approve.   My goal, is that your pet doesn’t just survive, but can prevent a host of the diseases that plague companion animals these days such as obesity, excessive shedding, itching and scratching, paw licking, tumours etc. My opinion, which is shared by many, is that the majority of health issues faced by pets today are all directly linked to improper nutrition.


  1. If it’s advertised on TV, it’s probably crap (pardon my bluntness)! Generally, the lower the quality of pet food, the more advertising money is needed to promote it. Since they can’t promote it on the merits of their ingredients,  ads will often portray cute looking dogs while throwing the word healthy around which has absolutely no legal meaning whatsoever.
  2. If it’s sold in a grocery, corner or warehouse type store, it’s probably crap! The exception of course is for some holistic brands which might appear in the natural/organic food aisles.  These low quality pet foods are are able to offer the retailer high profit margins because so little is actually invested into the product.
  3. If it contains artificial colours or preservatives, it’s crap! Dogs are colour blind, so these pet food companies must really think we’re stupid if we believe that the kibble is really red, orange or green because of the vegetables.
  4. If they can’t specify the type of meat (meat-by-products, chicken by-products or meat meal), it’s crap! A brand that can’t specify the type of meat leaves the door wide open for what would be accepted from feathers, cow udders and tumourous parts to euthanised pets and expired grocery store meats (I’m not joking).
  5. Only buy human-grade (holistic) quality pet food.This means that every food ingredient is the same quality as what you would eat, and all the vitamins and preservatives are pharmaceutical grade. By doing this, you are sure that the food is made in a plant that has been inspected by a regulatory food board like the USDA for example.  It will also help you avoid foods from plants that try to save money by turning refrigeration off when inspectors aren’t there, use dubious quality ingredients and are not clean, increasing the risk of listeria or salmonella type poisoning. However, because of the lobbying power that some gigantic (low quality) pet foods companies have with AAFCO, it has become increasingly harder for the smaller, healthier pet food companies to label their food as human-grade or organic. Thus, the only sure way to know is to contact them. Through my work in the pet food industry, I was personally able to speak with most of the approved brands below.

So here it is, healthy pet foods that get my stamp of approval. None of the brands below will contain non-human-grade meat, (some might even be hormone or antibiotic free), meat by-products, rendered meats or fats, expired meats from grocery stores, euthanised dogs or cats, corn, wheat, soy, (major allergens) peanut shells, BHT & BHA, (suspected carcinogenic preservatives), Ethoxyquin (pesticide used to preserve fats and rubber in car tires), beet pulp (artificial stool hardener), feathers or meat from downer animals (those too sick to make it to slaughter). And, in keeping with the “green” theme, I have listed them by country of origin for those who prefer to buy locally, although they are all available across North America.


Canadian Pet Foods

Holistic Blend
Go!, Now, Summit (Petcurean Pet foods)
Amoré (raw food)
Pets4Life (raw food)

American Pet foods

Solid Gold
Natural Balance
California Natural
Nature’s Variety (Prairie)
Canidae (dogs), Felidae (cats)
Newman’s Own Organics

Eagle Pack Holistic Select (Although human grade, does contains corn meal, brewers rice and dried beet pulp, 3 ingredients I advise to stay away from. Avoid if your pet has a corn allergy.)

New holistic brands are constantly being added to the market so it’s possible that there might be other great brands out there that I am not aware of.  None the less, these are the most well-known and available. In the unlikely event that one of the above mentioned brands changes its formula or doesn’t live up to holistic standards, I will not be held responsible! At the time of writing this article, they were all deemed holistic!


Grocery store/warehouse brands

Iams *
Alpo *
Pedigree *
Kibbles & Bits

Costco Diamond brand / Kirkland Signature Brands*
(PC) Presidents Choice Brands *
Sensible Choice
Old Roy (Walmart) *

Premium brands

Royal Canin *
Nutro *
Eukanuba *
J.E. Mondou *

Vet brands

Science Diet *
Medi-Cal *
Hills *

* Indicates companies that have had pet food recalls since March 2007 according to the FDA

Some of you might be shocked that I have listed vet brands and I can understand your confusion. After all, the vet should know what’s best, right? Well, it’s the same with doctors who focus on illness as opposed to prevention. Vets like doctors are not there to teach you about nutrition. If you have questions about your diet, your doctor will send you off to a nutritionist or better yet, a naturopath. Well, the vet is the same in the sense that yes, their vet foods have been studied for specific illnesses (weight management, diabetes, sensitive stomachs), but they contain very few ingredients that would actually prevent illnesses.  If you fed your pet great food in the first place, they shouldn’t have these problems in the first place, right?  Moreover, most are loaded with fillers, contain well-known allergenic ingredients like corn, wheat and soy and are not even human-grade.  Not to mention, 3 of the 4 above mentioned vet foods had issues with contaminated pet food since 2007.

Nowhere have I found a vet food that focuses on whole foods, non-allergenic grains like quinoa or brown rice, that use hormone and antibiotic free or free-range meats, that add in human-grade antioxidants, sufficient quantities of omega 3’s for healthy skin and coat, include probiotics (digestive enzymes & immune boosters) and use slow cooking methods so as to lessen the amount of minerals and vitamins that are killed off during the cooking process.  I want the food I feed my pets to include low-ash meat and cranberries to prevent urinary tract infections not cause them.  I want my pet food to include sufficient quantities of essential fatty acids so that they have glossy fur with no dandruff or itchy skin, not cause it.

Bailey eats Nature's Variety

I have been feeding my pets holistic pet food since 2004 and I have NEVER had a problem of UTI (urinary tract infection), itchy skin, bad breath, pet dandruff, obesity, diabetes, cancer or diarrhea. My 2 cats Simba and Beardie-Girl are in perfect shape, have glossy fur, big bright eyes and are extremely healthy.  My dog Bailey is the same. When I adopted my chihuahua Bailey in 2004, he was fed Nutro and did have chronic skin irritations and bad breath. I realised he had an allergy to chicken and when I switched him to a human-grade salmon based diet and gave him Seagreens, he stopped his scratching, chronic paw licking and excessive shedding within about 3 weeks.

Beardie-Girl loves Wellness!

When I managed a holistic pet food boutique in 2004, I had numerous clients who, once switched to holistic pet food, could notice a change in their pets fur in as fast as 2 weeks. Those who had overweight cats (from feeding Iams for example) didn’t even need to put their cats on a “diet” to lose weight. Simply switching to holistic did the trick because they are higher in pure meat protein and contain virtually no fillers.

In terms of price, holistic or human-grade pet food is about the same or even cheaper in some cases, than premium quality brands. The reason is that instead of investing into expensive advertising or kick-backs for pet food retailers, their money is invested into higher quality ingredients. Because the ingredients are higher quality, the pets usually fill up on smaller portions reducing the amount you feed, thus saving you money.  I could also argue that by preventing common illnesses, you could also save on expensive vet bills.

Nowadays, you can find it almost everywhere and we are finding more and more pet boutiques specialised entirely in holistic food. Otherwise, most pet stores have seen the increased demand in healthier pet foods so generally carry a few of the above mentioned approved foods. Some health food stores are even starting to carry it. As for pet warehouses like Petco or Petcetera, up until recently they were not carrying it, although I believe Petco has started carrying holistic brands like Natural Balance and Solid Gold. This only makes perfect business sense as sales have gone though the roof in human-grade foods as people become more and more concerned about what they feed their pets.  Of course, if your neighbourhood pet retailer doesn’t carry it, just ask them to bring it in. Most of the distributors they deal with carry them anyways, so they might be able to specially order a  bag for you, or better yet, the entire line if there is enough demand.  If you are still having a hard time finding it, then I suggest using the store locator on the websites of holistic brands. I’d also like to mention that if you have a choice, choose a pet retailer that doesn’t sell pets as they are generally buying them from puppy mills. Support those that have adoption centres or hold adoption day events!

Thus, my experience, coupled with experiences shared by my clients and friends is more than enough to convince me that I would NEVER switch back to conventional pet food, especially considering that most have been recalled since 2007 for various kinds of contamination. The point after all is that pets don’t just live, but can prevent common pet illnesses through eating healthy food.

BTW- Beware of brands that claim their pet foods are “healthy” and “natural“.  These words are unregulated and have no legal meaning yet they are often used to describe poor quality brands. Scrutinize the ingredients before you decide if they are or not.


Simba's been eating Holistic Blend since 2004


  1. I’ve been a strong believer in feeding my cat hollistic food since I got him. I had been feeding him Natural Balance since he was a kitten. He was a very picky eater and this was the only brand he liked. We recently moved to Victoria and I haven’t been able to find Natural Balance in any of the local markets. We switched him to another hollistic brand called “Happy Paws,” which he seems to really enjoy and I can get it from our local organic market. Have you heard of this brand before? Also, what are your thoughts on feeding your pets the same food? Should you switch their food up all the time or is better to keep them on the same kind of food?
    Thanks for this eye opening article! I’ve learned a lot and will share the news with all of my pet owner friends.

  2. Thanks for another great article! I would be curious to know more about the benefits of switching food from time to time too.


  3. I am so utterly shocked by this supposedly ‘informative’ article that I found (from another site of course), that I had to post a link here it that’s alright:

    I find it utterly appalling that this so-called ‘expert’ would sanction corn gluten meal as a healthy part of a pet’s diet!!!


    Thanks for your great article.

  4. Hi Tammy,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I read this article and although it’s true that vegetable proteins can be superior to animal’s, Purina is using this as a guise to cover up the “real” reason that they use corn gluten meal. It’s inexpensive! Purina is an extremely low quality food, and the proof is in the pudding. How many times have purina pet food products been recalled in 2008 alone????

  5. Yes, that’s exactly the problem. I am not even sure about how many times they have been recalled, I would like to find that out. It’s just a shame, because many people will read that article and accept it as what it appears to be.

  6. This was a really informative post Carmen. Tell me, Montreal Green Girl, do you know where any of these brands are sold in this city or surrounding area? I’ve been wanting to switch from my Vet Grade food to something Holistic for a while but can’t seem to find any, even in the smallest neighbourhood pet supply stores.

    Also, do you have any tips or leads for food that would be specifically good for epileptic-garborator dogs like my Maya?

    • Hey Melissa,
      Yes, in Nun’s Island there is a really sweet French couple that own a dog salon in a strip mall that sell some holistic brands like Nature’s Variety. The other way is to simple go on the websites of the holistic brands and use their store locator. If you want something in the West Island, let me know, I’ll call a friend who lives out there and knows which ones sell holistic. Otherwise for your lab, you can always try Holistic Blend which is sold in the natural aisles at Loblaws. It’s local and the meat ingredients are free range and hormone free. It’s the most cost effective product for a lab that eats and eats. 🙂

    • Sorry I forgot to answer the epilepsy part. Call Diana at Natural Animal in Westmount at 514-488-4729. She would be able to help you 🙂

  7. Hi Carmen,

    Just wanted to give you an update. I went to the store on Nun’s Island (I live there and I never saw that store!) and found they carried Holistic Blends. I picked up a bag and I have to say, I haven’t seen my Maya lick her bowl as much, after everything was eaten. She LOVED it! It was less expensive than the vet-grade food I used to get her and she appears to love it more!

    Thanks for the recos!

  8. I’m so glad to visit your blog. I’ve been feeding my dog caesar canned food. I didn’t think it was that bad until reading about it online recently. For now, I decided to cook some organic chicken (mixed with dry food (royal canine)). I think royal canine may not be that bad? Since it was recommended by some vet on some news?

    And yeah, I think I will give it a try changing to the brands you listed. Holistic blend seems quite natural (judging from its website content, really that’s all I can see). I will try getting from places in Vancouver (yes I also live in Vancouver, but now I’m working in Redmond, Washington)

    All I can get now is from Petco or Safeway. I am going to visit Petco to check out if they have the food that you listed. Unfortunately, Petco here in US do not carry Holistic blend. Which brand out of the safe dog food list would you recommend for my almost 6 year-old chihuahua cross yorkie?

    I could find Wellness and Natural Balance food easily from nearby Petco. Which would you prefer to feed your chihuahua? Thanks

    I really appreciate how you partcipate in dog rescue, and I hope somebody I can adopt one too… I would also like to partcipate in volunteering for animal, where can I go for such volunteering work?

    • Hi Stanley, thank you so much for your comment. Thanks for researching your pet’s food and for not feeding Caesar anymore! Good job with the organic chicken and dry food. Royal Canin is not the worst food out there, but it doesn’t have any redeeming ingredients either. You want your pet’s food to have superfoods in it that will prevent illness and common pet problems like shedding. Safeway for sure will not carry anything holistic. Both Wellness and Natural Balance are good. In terms of quality, I would say Wellness is a tad bit better, more superfoods inside. However, the shape of the kibble might be a bit too big for your chihuahua. I fed my chihuahua this for a long time (sweet potato and white fish) and he loved it, but if you have a smaller chihuahua, the kibble might be too big. Another holistic brand that is EXCELLENT is Nature’s Variety. It’s full of probiotics (digestion), amazing minerals like Montmorillonite (rids body of toxins), hormone free meats, lots of veggies, supplements to prevent urinary tract infections etc. It’s from Nebraska so you will for sure be able to find it in Redmond. Visit their website, and use their address locator to find stores near you. As for pet rescue, check out the local shelter, they are always looking for volunteers. Keep me updated about your pets results. You will see a difference in their coat and breath!

      • I support Local rescue programs as well. Glad to know your fighting to help rescue dogs and animals alike just launched a new site called – and their donating a portion of there revenue to Petfinder and the ASPCA.

        Great that theres a way we can help dog adoption programs at no cost.

        Love the site – keep it up!!!

  9. Wow! Thank you for your fast reply!

    It’s hard to believe that these little guys can only live for so long. To me, he’s just like my son, and all he does is stare at me with his cute big eyes on every movement I make, and I just love it the way he look at me curiously for things he doesn’t get. 🙂

    I’ve been feeding him Caesar for almost 6 years since he was born. Will that have some impact on his health? (He’s six now) Is it too late to give him healthy dog food? I’ve been feeling so bad the whole yesterday night, thinking that he’s been eating McDonald’s for the past 6 years, and researching all night online for pet food. 😦

    I guess you are feeding your chihuahua the Wellness canned food? (see below)
    Is it alright for dog to eat fish? (pardon my lack of knowledge for pet food)

    • Hi Stanley – Don’t feel bad. I didn’t know about this either when I first adopted my cats – I used to feed them Nutrience thinking it was good until I learned otherwise. The important part is that you are switching now. As for whether or not it will impact his life, it’s hard to say because genetics also play a factor. My guess, however, is that he might be a bit overweight as commercial pet food uses low quality ingredients and carbs as a source of filler, which usually pacts the weight on pets. As for fish, I prefer that my pets eat lower on the food chain as it has a lesser environmental impact. I also feel that in the wild, my cats or dog would not be able to kill a cow, so why feed them beef? Chickens and fish are more probable.

  10. As for wellness dry food
    For its ingredient, it also have chicken meal listed which is one of the bad things you said they could put in. Is this alright?

    Some interesting pet food rating I came across yesterday’s research
    It does list Wellness as the 5 stars dry food 🙂 However it list Wellness canned food as 4 star ( but that’s still quite good)
    And guess what? Ceasar is listed as 1 star, peer to Pedigree and IAMS(that is what scares me the most)

    Those commericals with that cute little maltese should be banned. 😦 I always thought Caesar was better than those two.)

    Oh YES! as of just now, I just found out pet store nearby called

    • Wonderful! The store you found seems to carry only healthy, holistic brands. Bravo!

      Chicken meal just means the water has been extracted from the chicken. It’s not necessarily bad so long as it comes from a good source of chicken. They do this to get a more accurate weight of the protein whereas if they listed just “chicken”, it might seem heavier but it’s because it contains water.

      The Pedigree and Caesar commercials bother me too…but as I said, generally the pet food brands that advertise, are usually the lowest in quality. The have to use cute puppies to extend emotion as there is nothing redeeming about the actual food. The higher pet foods come from smaller companies with lesser marketing budgets so they can’t afford TV ads.

  11. They carry Nature’s Variety too!
    Now that I have more choices, what would you recommend Nature’s Variety for both dry food and canned food?

    (Actually, I need good recommendation for dry food since they comes in bigger packages) For canned food, I decided to pick up some Wellness and Nature’s Variety, and see what he likes the most and settle with that brand.

    I can also get Evanger here which is listed 6-star in the rating website.
    Here a short video of the company

    Seems quite promising, might pick up one or two of their cans. Just look at how they put the whole chicken into the cans.
    Their dry food seems also quite nice too…

    Anyways, I guess the list now comes to:

    Nature’s Variety

    PS: Sorry to post in 3 separate post, but it won’t allow me to post if I submit all at once

    Thank you for your post and hard work to enlighten pet owner like us

    • Don’t worry about picking “one” brand for the rest of his life. It’s actually good to switch up brands once in a while to keep the digestive enzymes active in his stomach. Us humans eat different food everyday. Dogs can as well. Just make sure that you always buy healthy, holistic brands.

      Wet food is good for the moisture content, although it is lesser in protein. Feel free to mix dry with wet. Mine for example won’t touch wet food so I can only feed dry. You can also give wet as a treat.

      Although I have never heard of it, Evanger seems good. From the sounds of it, your pet food store might have more details for you about it. I think you can trust their expertise as they seem to only carry holistic brands.

      Let us know how your dog likes the new foods.

      BTW- Holistic brands tend to have a 100% money back guarantee so if your pet doesn’t like the taste, you can bring it back. You can also get samples of the food to try as well.

  12. Hi there, I just drove up to the store, and Wow! no Pedigree, no Caesar, and no IAMS …its just amazing, Hope we get that kind of store in Canada too.

    Anyways, I picked up a bag a of Nature’s Variety Instinct Chicken Meal Formula. I see you have a
    Prairie pack there. Is there particular reason why you pick Prairie instead of Instinct? I picked Instinct because the lady told me grain-free is a good choice. I see the Prairie pack have the brown rice (which is not grain-free). Is that alright for my dog too? (I might alternate or the two pack instinct and prairie (different favors) together sometimes).

    As for canned, I picked 2 Wellness Chicken&Sweet Potato and Turkey&Sweet Potato cans, and 4 Evangers.
    I’m thinking that whether if it’s okay if we mixed two brands of wet food together along with a brand of dry food
    Right now, I’m thinking about mixing only one wet food (Wellness or Evanger’s) and dry food (Nature Variety Instinct) together along with some leftover Royal Canine for this transitional stage.

    PS: It’s also possible to get Evanger’s in Canada too!

    Maybe you should give it a try as it’s rated 6 stars in that website!

  13. Oh yeah by BTW,

    Can you please tell what exactly do you feed your chihuahua?

    And what brands, if any, do you switch from time to time? (also please tell me if its canned or dry, thanks)

    Lots of thanks and thanks


  14. Hi again,

    Hmm… I’m running into another problem where the can is actually too much for my chihuahua to consume.

    I mean for Caesar, it’s okay for me to put into the fridge because he will be able to finish that in 2 days (I give 1/3 of it everytime).

    But for the big can like Wellness, I estimate it’s going to take maybe 10 days to actually finish a whole can.

    Therefore, I’m dividing it up into 3 portion in separate container, and put one in the fridge and other two into the freezer. When the first one is almost done, I will get another portion from the freezer and put it into the fridge and unfroze it.

    Now the problem is: Is it okay for the canned food to stay in the freezer for 7 days? (The last portion will be staying in freezer for 7 days)

    I think I have no problem with it, since I even eat stuff in the freezer that’s been there for months.

    Not sure about dogs, I think it’s alright, but just want to double check with you, what do you do in your case?


    BTW – just wanted to get a taste of what human-grade dog food are like, I ate some and it tasted great 🙂 (except for the bones in it which is crushed into millions pieces :-/ )


    • Hi Stanley – Wellness has smaller size wet food portions that should be good for 2 servings. I wouldn’t freeze anything that could be consumed within a week. It might decrease the palatability of the food. I feed my dog everything on the list above, but generally Nature’s Variety or anything fish related as he digests it well. As for the difference between Prairie and Instinct, try them both. The importance is that you change foods often. When you change foods start mixing the new food into the old a few days before you completely switch over to help with digestion. Thanks again for your comments!

  15. I just a really good forum for discussing pet food! It is really active, meaning that a lot of people are currently on it.

    For those who happened to visit this blog and are interested in how other people are adjusting to new brand or just want to discussing feeding related issues.

    You can go here: 🙂

    It’s the same website as the rating website I posted in the previous post. I think the rating might actually have some creditability since it is a really active site 🙂

    Enjoy everyone 🙂

  16. Hi again UrbanGreenGirl,

    After eating the new food, I notice immediately his stool isn’t as smelly as before. 🙂

    I was just giving my boy a treat, greenie, is that a good treat for him? And what treat do you usually give to your chihuahua?


    • Oh yes, my dog loves greenies, although I find it hard to believe that they will actually clean their teeth. I don’t think there is anything in it that will hurt your dog, but it does contain wheat which is an allergen. If you give it once in a while, I’m sure you’ll be fine. I give my dog dried chicken meat and naturally dried rawhide, never the chemically dried kind though. Glad to hear the stool is better. That’s fast!

  17. Umm.. greenies, I came across some articles saying that their dogs die because of blockage in the intestine due to the fact that sometimes dog are not able to digest greenie.

    You can find such articles here:

    and here

    Therefore, I was asking if you were giving your chihuahua this treat. Especially if it were a small dog, there’s a higher chance it happens.

    I’ve been giving him it for quite a long time, haven’t found a problem yet. But prevention is always better than cure, right?

    so…geez.. .I dont know what to give him heh…

  18. and this too

    I’m feel so sorry for their mommies…

  19. He vomitted today, there were some small chunks of chicken and yellowish liquid. He did not vomit again so far, but he seems want vomit some more (by coughing).

    I think it might because I might be switching to fast, yesterday dinner was complete switched over to new food.

    Or it because of I gave him too much food yesterday.

    Or it’s because he ate some ferro rocher aluminum foil.

    In any case, do you think I should keep feeding the new food once he gets better?

    • When a dog switches for the first time to a new food, after eating the same food for years, it is normal that they could have some upset stomach due to lacking enzymes. However, gradually change his food and make sure he has plenty of water. Make sure the kibble isn’t too big to eat. Definitely, never give chocolate to a dog, it could kill them. As for eating the foil….dogs could eat worse, he’ll expel it eventually. I just hope it’s not lodged in his throat. Please keep feeding him the new food. You can also sprinkle on probiotics to help with the switch. Your pet food store should sell this. Good luck!

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