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Old 05-09-2007, 02:01 PM   #1
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Default Vagreys' Kibble Grading System

You will need your kibble’s list of ingredients, as found on the label (or sometimes reproduced on their website). This is intended to help you evaluate the ingredients, but the food has to be appropriate for your dog. If your dog is allergic to an ingredient, or doesn’t like the taste, then it doesn’t matter how good the kibble is – it isn’t appropriate for your dog. Whatever you pick must also be appropriate for your dog’s breed, life stage, and lifestyle, so check the guaranteed analysis, first.

You have a right to expect good ingredients, so start with a grade of 100.


Ingredients that detract from your kibble:

If there are no specific meats or meat meals, subtract 25 points.
Why: Meat protein is the most important part of a canine diet. A dog’s digestive tract is designed to process mostly meat and fat. You want to see a specified meat meal as the first ingredient, or a specified meat, first, followed by a specified meal (doesn’t have to be the same meat) among the main ingredients. If there are no specific meats or meat meals, the manufacturer either doesn’t know or doesn’t want the consumer to know what is in the food.

If there are specific meats or meat meals, but only as secondary ingredients, subtract 20 points.
Why: You want to see a specified meat meal as the first ingredient, or a specified meat, first, followed by a specified meal (doesn’t have to be the same meat) among the main ingredients. If specific meats or meat meals are only listed as secondary ingredients, after the first listed fat, then they are only present for flavor and marketing, not nutrition.

If there are specific meats or meat meals, but only as secondary ingredients, subtract 20 points.
Why: You want to see a specified meat meal as the first ingredient, or a specified meat, first, followed by a specified meal (doesn’t have to be the same meat) among the main ingredients. If specific meats or meat meals are only listed as secondary ingredients, after the first listed fat, then they are only present for flavor and marketing, not nutrition.

For every listing of "digest", subtract 15 points.
Why: Digest is a reduced broth of specified or unspecified parts of specified or unspecified animals broken down by chemical or enzymatic hydrolysis. The source is unknown and could include any kind of animal protein – 4-D, roadkill, euthanized animals, supermarket and restaurant refuse, and according to eyewitnesses sometimes includes leather collars. Not something you would probably freely choose to feed your dog.

For every generic meat or meal that does not indicate a species (meat, meat meal, meat byproducts, meat byproduct meal, meat and bone meal, fish, fish meal, poultry, poultry meal, poultry byproducts, poultry byproduct meal, liver, liver meal, glandular meal, blood meal, etc.), subtract 10 points.
Why: Generic products are an unknown quantity. You don’t know what they are made of, or where they came from. Further, the AAFCO definitions of some of the ingredients are not what the consumer would intuitively expect. For instance, “poultry” isn’t just chicken and turkey, but is any kind of fowl, including, potentially, euthanized pet exotic birds, or even roadkill. Not necessarily, but the problem is, you don’t know and have no way of telling, and the worst offenders do include the worst ingredients in their products. The AAFCO definitions are only available to the public by purchasing the AAFCO official document at over $50 per copy. That should also tell you something.

For every specific meat byproduct meal (beef/lamb/turkey/chicken byproduct meal, beef and bone meal, pork and bone meal, etc.), subtract 5 points.
Why: Although byproduct meals can include quality protein sources and nutrients, byproducts, by definition, are the things left over after everything useful has been removed – only if it can’t be sold at a higher price is it relegated to the byproduct bin. Specific byproduct meals are not as bad as generic byproduct meals, because, at least, you know what kind of animal was used, but a manufacturer that relies on byproducts as an ingredient is putting ingredients of marginal nutritional value into the food, and that is less than optimal. If you were feeding your dog whole animals, it would get some of this stuff, but you wouldn’t make a steady diet of just the dried and ground byproducts.

For every specific fresh meat byproduct (not meal, listed as beef/lamb/turkey/chicken byproduct, etc.) appearing as a main ingredient, before the first listed fat, subtract 5 points.
Why: Fresh meat byproducts lose 50-75% of their weight in processing, so they do not comprise as much of the product as they might appear. A little fresh meat byproduct included as something less than a main ingredient may add a little flavor and nutritional value, and is acceptable. Again, a product that relies on byproducts as a main ingredient is relying on an ingredient of marginal value.

For every grain "mill run" (e.g., wheat mill run, or rice mill byproducts), grain middlings (e.g., wheat mids or wheat middlings), or generic grain source (cereal food fines, grain fermentation solubles, maltodextrines and fermentation solubles, etc.), subtract 10 points.
Why: Mill runs, middlings or mill byproducts are also referred to as “floor sweepings”, and whether or not they really are floor sweepings, they are of marginal value, and sold as a way for the mill to reduce its losses in processing. Generics are, again, unknowns, and often whatever is left after processing – after most of the nutritional value has been removed for other products.

(continued...)
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Last edited by vagreys; 06-29-2011 at 06:08 PM..

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Old 05-09-2007, 02:06 PM   #2
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Default Kibble grading system, continued (part 2)

If two or more fractions of the same grain (i.e., "ground brown rice", "rice hulls", "rice flour" are all fractions of the same grain, but "brown rice, white rice" would not be fractions) appear as main ingredients, before the first listed fat, subtract 5 points.
Why: Fractioning is an AAFCO-sanctioned practice of breaking a grain down into its constituent parts so that, when listed by weight, it doesn’t appear as high on the ingredient list. That is, fractioning is a practice designed to mislead the consumer under the guise of full disclosure. A manufacturer who does this is misleading its consumers for a reason – they don’t want the casual consumer to realize how much of the product is made up of that ingredient.

If ground corn or whole grain corn and one or more corn fraction (e.g., "corn germ meal", "corn gluten meal") appear as main ingredients, before the first listed fat, or if any grain in any form is listed as the first ingredient, subtract 5 points.
Why: Corn is a misunderstood product. Its carbohydrates are highly digestible. It’s proteins less so, and its cellulose least digestible. Less scrupulous manufacturers use corn and corn fractions as main ingredients to boost the crude protein of the product, but that protein is not particularly digestible for a dog. So, it passes through as waste. Avoid foods where corn is the first product by weight. Avoid foods where the protein is being boosted by less-digestible ingredients. A note on corn as an allergen: anything can be an allergen, potentially. It only becomes an issue if your dog is actually allergic to it. The fact that corn is sometimes an allergen is not a reason to avoid it, if your dog is not allergic to corn.

If the food contains brewer’s rice or feeding oat meal, subtract 3 points.
Why: While these are generally not floor sweepings, manufacturers who use these products are not being cleverly frugal – they are being cheap. These are lower-quality grains available at low cost, but the manufacturers try very hard to make them out to be quality ingredients. Better quality grains are available.

If the food contains corn gluten, corn gluten meal, wheat gluten, wheat gluten meal, soy or soybean meal as a main ingredient, subtract 2 points.
Why: these are less-digestible binders and sources of protein that pass through a dog’s system partially unused. Many dogs do not tolerate soy products well. Toxic and potentially lethal adulterants have been discovered in some sources of these gluten meals.

If the food contains potato protein, potato protein isolate, hydrolized potato protein, or other potato protein fraction as a main ingredient, subtract 2 points.
Why: potato protein is a high-protein supplement of coagulated protein from potato juice. While it has been tested for livestock feed in pigs, chickens, and fish, it has not been tested to any significant degree in dogs, except as a novel protein in specialty, clinical diets for treating specific ailments. Long-term feeding as a main ingredient in standard dog food has not been studied, and it is not actually known what its benefits or liabilities in canine nutrition may turn out to be.

For every generic fat (animal fat, poultry fat, fish oil, vegetable oil), beef tallow/fat or lard/pork fat, or mineral oil, subtract 10 points.
Why: Generic fats are unknown quantities. Beef and pork fat are tasty to a dog, but much lower in quality and nutritional value than chicken fat.

If the food contains corn bran, peanut hulls, rice hulls, soybean hulls, oat hulls, cellulose, or corn cellulose, subtract 5 points.
Why: This is undigestible fiber and sawdust. What you want to feed your dog is digestible fiber.

If the food contains carbohydrate fractions like "potato product", or grain flours, subtract 2 points.
Why: Potato peelings and grain dust may not be actively bad, but they aren’t good ingredients, either.

If the food contains any of the following preservatives (BHA - butylated hydroxyanisole, BHT - butylated hydroxytoluene, TBHQ - tertiary butylhydroquinone, ethoxyquin, or sodium metabisulfite), subtract 15 points.
Why: These products are known to accumulate and cause cancer and other illnesses. It doesn’t matter how much or little is required to do this. There are natural, beneficial, non-toxic alternatives available, like tocopherols and herbal extracts.

If the food contains added sweeteners like cane molasses (not blackstrap molasses), corn syrup in any form, sugar, glucose, fructose, sucrose, sorbitol, ammoniated glycyrrhizin, propylene glycol, subtract 10 points.
Why: Dogs, like humans, like the taste of sugar. Processed sugar is as bad for dogs as it is for humans. Aside from damaging the teeth, most sugars are empty calories with little or no nutritional value.

(continued...)
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Last edited by vagreys; 06-29-2011 at 06:10 PM..

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Old 05-09-2007, 02:08 PM   #3
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Default Kibble grading system, continued (part 3)

If the food contains any form of menadione (menadione sodium bisulfate, menadione sodium bisulfate complex, menadione sodium bisulfite, menadione sodium bisulfite complex, menadione dimethyl-pyrimidinol bisulfate, menadione dimethyl-pyrimidinol bisulfite, artifical vitamin K3, vitamin K supplement), subtract 12 points.
Why: Menadione (vitamin K3) is a synthetic precursor to vitamin K2. Natural vitamin K2 is normally produced in a dog’s intestinal tract. A supplement isn’t needed if a dog is getting a complete, nutritionally-balanced diet, because the dog makes its own. Menadione interferes with the natural production of vitamin K2, and has been proven to be toxic to the liver and kidneys, and has been banned from use in human-grade food since 1963. While the FDA permits the short-term use of menadione complexes in poultry and swine feeds, its long-term use in canine feeds is not addressed even though there appear to be cumulative effects from long-term, low-level consumption. However, testing of this ingredient in animal feed diets remains incomplete, and until a final determination is made, manufacturers are allowed to continue using it. Why they would, given what is known or suspected about the ingredient, should be a cause for concern.

If the food contains Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, or other numbered dyes, subtract 5 points.
Why: Dyes are unnecessary, sometimes toxic, sometimes carcinogenic, and the colors aren’t there for the dogs, but to make the food more appealing to the people who buy it, so they will feel better about serving that food to their dogs.

If the food contains onion, subtract 5 points.
Why: Onions cause Heinz body anemia, a hemolytic anemia. Even if they like the taste, this isn’t good for dogs.

If the food contains any of the following additives (propyl gallate, gallic acid, propyl ester, glyceryl monostearate), subtract 5 points.
Why: Anti-oxidants, emulsifiers, and anti-caking agents, known to be toxic when ingested in quantity. Natural, non-toxic alternatives are available.

If the food contains salt, sea salt, or sodium chloride as more than a trace ingredient, subtract 3 points.
Why: Excess sodium is as bad for dogs as it is for humans. Salt enhances the flavor of foods for dogs, just as it does for humans. Reducing added sodium in the diet is better for your dog.

If the food contains apple pomace, grape pomace, or citrus pulp, subtract 2 points.
Why: Pomace is the pulp left after squeezing everything useful out of apples, grapes or citrus. It is mostly undigestible cellulose and of little nutritional value.

If the food contains generic flavorings (artifical flavoring, natural flavoring), or flavoring ingredients of unknown origin (like "meat broth" or “poultry flavor”), subtract 1 point.
Why: Manufacturers list generic ingredients when they don’t know, or don’t want to say, what the ingredient contains or where it came from. The word “natural” has no definition in labeling terms, and so does not necessarily mean what the average reader thinks it means. It is better to know where the flavors come from.

If the food contains poorly-utilized sulfate- or oxide-based mineral supplements (e.g., zinc oxide, iron oxide, magnesium sulfate), subtract 1 point.
Why: Although mineral oxides and sulfates are commonly used, minerals in sequestered form, chelates, proteinates and polysaccharide complexes are better utilized by a dog. Chelates and proteinates are only fractionally more expensive than oxides and sulfates in quantity, so using the less expensive, less useful ingredients is a point against the product.

If the food contains artificial vitamin E (di-alpha tocopherol acetate), subtract 1 point.
Why: Artifical vitamin E is not readily used by the body, and about half as effective as natural vitamin E. Better utilized natural sources are readily available.

If the food contains glucosamine sulfate 2KCl or glucosamine sulfate NaCl, subtract 1 point.
Why: These two less expensive forms of glucosamine are of little or no value to your dog, and are present so the manufacturer can advertise that the food contains glucosamine (it doesn't have to actually be useful to the dog).

Ingredients that distract from your kibble:

If the food contains sugar beet pulp, subtract no points.
Why: Contrary to common opinion, sugar beet pulp is not a significant source of digestible sugar, being what remains after most of the usable sugar has been removed. It turns out to be a high-quality source of digestible fiber that is important to beneficial bacteria in a dog’s intestinal tract. The presence of sugar beet pulp should not count against a dog food.

For every occurrence of the word "natural", add no points.
Why: In terms of labeling, the word “natural” has no defined meaning on a pet food label. Its use is purely to influence the consumer’s perception of quality, without actually meaning anything.

For every occurrence of the word “holistic”, add no points.
Why: See “natural”. The word “holistic” has no defined meaning on a pet food label. Its use is purely to influence the consumer’s perception of quality, without actually meaning anything.

If the food contains fruit or vegetables, add no points.
Why: Fruits and vegetables are ok, as ingredients in a dry dog food, but not necessary for a dog’s nutritional needs. Their presence in a dry dog food doesn’t hurt anything, but they don’t add much, either.

If the food contains glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and/or methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) at unspecified or less-than-therapeutic levels, add no points.
Why: If the levels are unspecified, then these are little more than marketing terms, because you have no idea if your dog is receiving levels that would do any good. If the levels are less-than-therapeutic, then you would have to supplement them, anyway, so their inclusion in the food doesn't hurt or help.

If the label lists probiotics (e.g., bacillus lichenformis, bacillus subtilis, bifidobacterium bifidum, bifidobacterium longum, enterococcus faecium, lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus lactis, lactobacillus plantarum, lactobacillus salivarius, streptococcus faecium, and streptococcus lactis), or the package mentions probiotics, add no points.
Why: The effective doses of probiotics for dogs have not been determined. Some dog food labels are misleading about the probiotic content. Some mention organisms that have no known probiotic properties in dogs. We don't actually know how much of a dose of viable probiotic organisms a dog actually receives from kibble. While probiotics in the kibble don't hurt, they may not actually help, either.

(continued...)
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Old 05-09-2007, 02:11 PM   #4
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Default Kibble grading system, continued (part 4)

Ingredients that improve your kibble:

If the food contains one or more specifically named fresh meats (chicken, lamb, pork, beef, turkey, duck, salmon, etc.), in combination with one or more specifically named dry meat meals (chicken meal, lamb meal, pork meal, beef meal, turkey meal, duck meal, salmon meal, etc.) as main ingredients (appearing before the first listed fat); OR, if a specific meat meal is the first ingredient, in combination with one or more additional specific meat meals as main ingredients, add 1 point.
Why: a food that has as main ingredients this combination of specified meat and meat meal, or multiple specified meat meals with one as the first ingredient, is likely to have higher-quality, highly digestible meat protein as the principal source of protein in the food, and that is better and more useful for your dog.

If the animal sources are hormone-free and antibiotic-free, add 1 point.
Why: Meats free of added hormones and antibiotics are better for your dog.

If the animal sources are certified organic, add 1 point.
Why: While “natural” has no meaning “certified organic” does. A manufacturer that uses certified organic ingredients is actively taking steps to use ingredients that are healthier for your dog.

If the food contains whole ground grains, starches and legumes (rice, oats, barley, millet, potato, sweet potato, peas, etc.), add 1 point.
Why: Whole grains, starches and legumes contain more useful nutrition than fractions and flours.

If the grains are certified organic, add 1 point.
Why: While “natural” has no meaning “certified organic” does. A manufacturer that uses certified organic ingredients is actively taking steps to use ingredients that are healthier for your dog.

If the fats and oils are specifically named (chicken fat, canola oil, flax oil, herring oil, etc.), add 1 point.
Why: It is better to know what kind of fat is being used.

If the food contains high percentages of Omega6 (at least 2.2%) and Omega3 (at least 0.3%) fatty acids, and a low ratio between the two (5:1 to 7:1 or lower), add 1 point.
Why: Omega Fatty Acids (OFA’s) are important anti-oxidants for the body, and help combat the effects of aging. Studies indicate that they are best utilized when they are in a specific proportion of 5-7 times as much Omega6 as there is Omega3.

If the vegetables have been tested for pesticides and are pesticide-free, add 1 point.
Why: Pesticide-free vegetables are better for your dog.

If the vegetables are certified organic, add 1 point.
Why: While “natural” has no meaning “certified organic” does. A manufacturer that uses certified organic ingredients is actively taking steps to use ingredients that are healthier for your dog.

If the food contains specifically-named broths or stocks (chicken broth, beef stock, etc.), or liver of specified animals (chicken liver, beef liver, etc.), add 1 point.
Why: Knowing where these ingredients come from is better than not knowing, and they are almost always of higher quality than their generic counterparts.

If the vitamin and mineral sources are "sequestered", chelated, proteinates, or polysaccharide complexes, add 1 point.
Why: Chelates, proteinates, polysaccharide complexes and sequestered minerals are better-utilized mineral forms and indicate an effort to provide a food with greater nutritional value.

If the food is preserved with mixed tocopherols, rosemary-, sage- or clove extracts, ascorbic acid, ascorbyl palmitate, vitamin C, add 1 point.
Why: Natural preservatives are non-toxic and nutritionally useful.

If the food contains non-acidic, time released versions of Vitamin C (such as Ester C, Calcium Ascorbate, Stabilized Vitamin C or L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate), natural Vitamin E (Tocopherol, Natural Tocopherol), natural sources of Vitamin K (egg yolk, liver, oats, kelp, alfalfa), add 1 point.
Why: These are better utilized forms of these nutrients, and indicate an effort to provide a food with greater nutritional value.

If the food contains glucosamine hydrochloride (glucosasmine HCl) or glucosamine sulfate at therapeutic levels (33mg/kg of bodyweight per day), chondroitin sulfate at therapeutic levels (26mg/kg of bodyweight per day), or methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) at therapeutic levels (56mg/kg of bodyweight per day), add 1 point.
Why: Many foods now include glucosamine and chondroitin, but their presence is not meaningful if the amounts are insufficient to have the desired effect. Their presence doesn’t hurt anything, but they need to be present in therapeutic levels in order to be a plus. Consult a veterinary nutritionist or veterinarian to determine the therapeutic dose for your dog.

If the food contains prebiotics (e.g., sugar beet pulp in moderate amounts, chickory root extract, inulin), add 1 point.
Why: Prebiotics serve as the nutritional media for probiotics, and contain complex sugars not broken down by the regular digestive process. Prebiotics are key to maintaining healthy levels of probiotics in the gut.

(grading scale follows...)
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Old 05-09-2007, 02:35 PM   #5
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Default Kibble grading system, scoring

I hesitated to add a scoring scale. I think most people try to do the best they can for their dogs. Still, kibbles that are made with questionable ingredients are not recommended for any dog. What the kibble grading system helps identify is a path to improving the kibble your dog receives. I have abandoned grades A through F, in favor of a range from Well Above Average to Unacceptable:

Grading Scale

>92 = Well Above Average
86-92 = Above Average
78-85 = Average
70-77 = Below Average
30-69 = Well Below Average
<30 = Unacceptable
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Last edited by vagreys; 05-26-2011 at 03:04 PM..

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Old 06-27-2007, 11:41 AM   #6
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In the discussions of minerals, I've added references to proteinates along with the chelates, because mineral proteinates are appearing on labels. Whether you see chelates (as on Canidae) or proteinates (as in Orijen), it means the food manufacturer is using minerals that are more easily utilized than the common oxides and sulfates.
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Old 07-28-2008, 12:51 AM   #7
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I have modified the scoring system, slightly, to expand on the inclusion of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and MSM in kibble. I have also added more information about probiotics and prebiotics, breaking out prebiotics in the process.

After someone accused me of personally recommending a dogfood that their dog did not tolerate, I have altered the scoring terms. Just because a food is made with higher-quality ingredients does not guarantee that every dog will tolerate it or like it. I built this grading system using the best information available to help YOU evaluate the food YOU are choosing to feed your dog. Neither I, nor DogForum.org are endorsing or recommending a particular brand of food for your dog. What you feed your dog is your decision.
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Old 08-30-2009, 04:52 PM   #8
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Updated to move probiotics from the list of ingredients that improve a kibble, to the list of ingredients that distract from a kibble.
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Old 04-12-2011, 12:38 PM   #9
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Updated to revise the penalty for the use of menadione to reflect long-term low-level effects. Updated grades to replace "Not Recommended" with "Well Below Average" and added a new, lower grade for truly unacceptable foods.
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Old 04-20-2011, 05:02 PM   #10
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Added a 2-point deduction for potato protein as a main ingredient.
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