There are several dog food grading systems out there with their own nuances.
We use the AKC’s own grading system, but feel free to use another if you’d like.
Without getting lost in the details, the main goal of any food grading system is to ensure that your dog is getting a balanced, nutritious diet from food sources that actually benefit your pooch, rather than the cheapest and most readily available ingredients.
Whether you own a Labradoodle, a Goldendoodle or one of our other Doodle breeds, dogs deserve great, safe, healthy food—just like people. Whenever you’re weighing the pros and cons of a particular brand, use this grading system to see which one has the edge. Your Doodle will thank you later! =)
The Dog Food Grading System
First of all, start with a score of 100. After that, you’re going to subtract points for the following:
- 10 points for every “by-product”
- 10 points for every non-specific animal meat source (things like “poultry,” “meat,” “meal” or “fat”)
- 10 points if your food contains BHT, BHA, or ethoxyquin
- 5 points for every “mill run” grain or non-specific source of grain
- 5 points if the same ingredient is used multiple times in the first five listed ingredients—such as rice flour, brown rice and brewer’s rice. These are all rice!
- 3 points if the food’s protein source is not meat meal, and there are fewer than 2 meats in the first three ingredients
- 3 points if the food contains any artificial coloring agents
- 3 points for whole grain corn or ground corn
- 2 additional points if any type of corn is listed in the first 5 ingredients
- 2 points for any type of animal fat, excluding fish oil
- 2 points if lamb is the food’s only source of animal protein (unless your dog cannot eat any other types of meat)
- 2 points for soy/soybeans
- 2 points for wheat (unless you’re absolutely sure your dog isn’t allergic to wheat)
- 1 point for beef (again, unless you’re totally sure your pooch isn’t allergic to beef)
- 1 point for salt
Now that we’ve gotten the bad stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the good stuff. Add points for the following:
- 5 points if any of the food’s meat sources are organic
- 5 points if the food is endorsed by a nutritionist or major breed group/organization
- 5 points for baked (not extruded) food
- 3 points if the food contains probiotics
- 3 points if the food contains fruit
- 3 points if the food contains vegetables (NOT grains or corn)
- 2 points for hormone-free and antibiotic-free meat sources
- 2 points for barley
- 2 points for flax seed oil, not just the seeds
- 1 point for oats or oatmeal
- 1 point for sunflower oil
- 1 point for every different source of animal protein besides the first one—such as chicken, pork, lamb, etc. Chicken meal and chicken, for example, don’t count. Food that contains one source of animal protein gets no extra points, while 2 sources gets 1 point, 3 gets 2, etc.
- 1 point if your food contains chondroitin and glucosamine
- 1 point if the vegetables in your food are pesticide free
The scale for grading dog food is a little different than what you might expect, since some of the best brands will score well over 100. As a general rule of thumb:
>93 = A
86–93 = B
78–85 = C
70–77 = D
<70 = F
Dog Food Scores for Reference
This isn’t an exhaustive list of dog food, but 3 of the top-rated dog food brands according to the AKC’s grading system are:
- Merrick Grain Free Wilderness Blend Canned Dog Food: 127 points
- Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Free Range Recipe with Raw Bites Dry Dog Food: 125 points
- Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Ultra Premium: 122 points
Dog Food Grading Systems Are Not Flawless
There are a few things to consider when using this grading system that you should be aware of.
For starters, some dogs have unique dietary restrictions and needs that this system simply cannot account for. If your pup is one of those dogs, adjust accordingly—this list should not be treated as law.
Second, dog food companies are changing their recipes all the time. Some of these changes are for the better (see below), some are for the worse. Be sure to check the ingredients yourself before you buy!
Third, nutrition science is hardly set in stone for humans, and it’s certainly not set in stone for our four-legged friends, either. Just think of how many times scientists have recommended eating eggs over the past few decades, only to backpedal and say that eggs should be eaten in moderation.
Do your best with the information you currently have available, and don’t sweat the small details. Your dog is not a frail little thing that will collapse because he gets a few grams of protein too many or eats chicken instead of lamb (barring dietary restrictions, of course).
Using this guide will already put you miles ahead of your standard pet store brands. After all, if you’ve found your pup through our puppy finder, he or she is backed by a health guarantee, too!