Dog Food

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 36 dog food brands.

We also look at factory farming, palm oil, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Yarrah and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying dog food:

  • Is it vegan? Looking for vegan dog food is a way to help protect the environment as well as animal rights.

  • Is it organic? Looking for organic dog food is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty, artificial chemicals that so many agricultural products are grown with, and thereby also protect the environment.

  • Is it MSC certified? Fishing is often extremely unsustainable, damaging marine ecosystems, so look for MSC certified if choosing a brand that contains fish to avoid this environmental damage.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying dog food:

  • Is it tested on animals? Some dog food brands are still tested on animals, in particular, those which make 'health benefit' claims. Though the tests themselves may not be invasive, the animals are often kept in poor conditions.

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to massive deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably or avoid it completely.

  • Is it factory farmed? Much of the meat in dog food is factory farmed, cause animal suffering and helping fuel climate change. Looking for organic or free-range brands will guarantee minimum standards. 

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

The popularity of pets in the UK has often led us to be described (mainly by ourselves), as a nation of animal-lovers. Unfortunately, inviting cats and dogs into our homes has a negative impact on the welfare of other animals. 

Whether its related to factory farming, fishing or animal testing, we take a look at how we can use our purchasing power to ensure a better situation for all animals and not just the ones that we live with.

There is not much point in ensuring a happier life for animals if we end up destroying the environment they (and we) live in, so we also take a look at dog food packaging, palm oil and ways to reduce your dog’s ‘carbon pawprint’. This way we can purchase in a way that is good for dogs, people and planet. 

Image: Dog food

Dog Food and Animal Welfare 

As much of the widely available meat-based dog food is generally made from by-products from the human food industry, people may feel it doesn’t make any difference what standards we choose, because the meat would otherwise be discarded.

However, when you buy dog food with low-animal welfare standards it increases the value of farming in that way.

Factory farms can not only profit from the human-grade meat but from the byproducts as well. If dog-owners buy higher welfare animal products – organic for example – it helps to create more value for those farmers.

Organic dog food for higher welfare

The IAMS (US) website has a blog about natural, holistic and organic pet food where they question what value an organic diet has for your pet. But actually, (sorry Fido) this isn’t all about them. It has significant consequences for farm animal welfare, environmental impacts, and antibiotic use.

Organic certification ensures the highest standards of animal welfare.

According to the SOIL Association, not only are animals required to be free range but they:

  • Must have access to pasture (when weather and ground conditions permit) and be truly free range.
  • Must have plenty of space – which helps to reduce stress and disease.
  • Are fed a diet that is as natural as possible and free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Over a million tonnes of GM crops are imported each year to feed the majority of non-organic livestock which produce chicken, eggs, pork, bacon, milk, cheese, etc. This practice is banned under organic standards.
  • Graze and forage naturally on organic pasture (grasses and other crops) where only natural fertilisers are used and pesticides are severely restricted. 
  • Must not routinely be given antibiotics.
  • Farm animals now account for almost two-thirds of all antibiotics used in the EU. These are passed to us through the food chain.

The following brands offer an organic dog food: Yarrah, Benevo, Lily’s Kitchen, Burns and Simpsons Premium.

Yarrah is an entirely organic company apart from its fish, which is certified sustainable through the MSC. See below for more details.

Factory farmed rabbits in dog food

Our last pet food guides, in 2015, reported on the 2014 undercover investigation by animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) which revealed that rabbit meat, perhaps assumed to come from the wild, is actually from factory-farmed rabbits.

CIWF are still campaigning on this issue and released an End the Cage Age report in 2018. 

Almost all of the 120 million commercially farmed rabbits in the EU are kept in wire cages. They cannot lie stretched out or stand with their ears up. Some don’t even have enough space to perform a single hop.

The top three EU producers of rabbit meat are Spain, France and Italy, where at least 97% are caged. 

Barren cages (basic box cages with no modifications to improve quality of life or allow for natural behaviour) are banned in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. In France, there are about a dozen farms using organic standards, where rabbits are kept free-range in a large outdoor enclosure or in outdoor mobile runs.

Avoiding rabbit varieties of pet food is one solution, but choosing organic ensures that there are no factory-farmed animals in your pet food.

If you are an EU citizen you can add your signature to End the Cage Age.

Four Paws also has a petition to retailers to stop importing caged rabbit meat.

Image: rabbits in cages factory farming pet food dog food
Rabbits are factory farmed in wire cages for use in pet food.

Dog food and animal testing

The majority of dog food manufacturers no longer use invasive animal testing methods for their dog food, but they may still use captive animals in research centres for palatability tests. Companies that do this, or did not clearly say that they didn’t, received a mark in the Animal Testing column.

Best rated companies for animal testing

The following companies are on PETA's list of 'Non-Animal-Tested Companion Animal Food':

  • Ami
  • Barking Heads
  • Burns
  • Encore
  • V-Dog
  • Applaws
  • Benevo
  • The Co-operative Food
  • Lily's Kitchen
  • Yarrah

Yora stated that they do no animal testing in our questionnaire. They responded that "None of our products are tested on animals and none of our ingredients are tested on animals."

Middle rated companies for animal testing 

Hill's Science plan conducts palatability testing on animals in their own facilities.

The following companies have no animal testing policy or information made available:

  • Butchers
  • Hi-Life
  • Simpsons
  • Eukanuba

Worst rated companies for animal testing

The following companies use captive animals for palatability testing:

  • Acana
  • Orijen
  • Harringtons
  • Wagg

Global company which does use animal testing in some cases

  • Mars brands (Cesar, Chappies, James Wellbeloved, Pedrigree, Royal Canin, Nutro, Perfect Fit)
  • Nestle brands (Bakers, Bonio, Purina, Winalot, Gourmet, One Dry, Purina)

Supermarkets were all marked down under Animal Testing for selling other products from companies known to test on animals.

Dog Food Labelling

Pet food labels use anthropomorphised descriptions to appeal to pets’ human owners – broth, pâté, chicken and asparagus, roasted chicken and beef entrée...

The ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. They can be indicated using category names such as ‘meat and animal derivatives’, or under their own individual names. If particular attention is drawn to a specific ingredient (e.g. ‘With Chicken’), the percentage of that ingredient must also be listed. If the packaging says ‘chicken & rice’, the named meat minimum content must be 26%. 

But, if it says ‘rich in’ chicken the minimum must be just 14% and ‘flavoured with’ or simply ‘with’ will contain a bare 4% minimum.

More often than not, on most mainstream brands you’ll see ‘meat and animal derivatives’ listed as the main ingredient. ‘Animal derivatives’ are anything other than the muscle tissue or ‘meat’ and may mean internal organs, bones, poultry heads, feathers, hooves and feet.

Whilst it might seem to make sense to use up these by-products, it also may mean that your pet is not getting the nutrition that it needs.

 Cats and dogs need the right amount of protein, the percentage of protein shown as ‘Analytical Constituents’ on the label is, unfortunately, no help, as it includes low-quality indigestible protein.

Look at the ingredients label: if chicken or lamb or identified organs are listed first then they are a good source of protein, but if meat derivatives or byproducts are listed first, they may be a less-good source.

Grains and cereals are another one of those generic sources of proteins that may be high or low quality and are used by many manufacturers as a filler. Other ingredients in pet food may include sugar, salt and artificial colourings, even though dogs, for example, are largely colour blind.

Other words used by pet food companies to communicate to you that their product is ‘good’ in some way can be misleading:

'Natural'

One of the most common words we found on companies’ websites during our research was ‘natural’, which Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) have criticised as being meaningless. 

CIWF says, “Chicken labelled as ‘all natural’ can come from factory farms where the animals have been selectively bred to grow so rapidly that their legs become painfully crippled from the weight of their bodies.”

Sign the CIWF petition for honest labelling.

Free run or free range?

We also came across the term ‘free run’ for chicken, ducks and turkey, which sounds a lot like ‘free range’. Free run just means the birds are cage-free but are still indoors. Free range means they must have access to some outdoor space, and CIWF says, “Because they grow slower and have opportunities for exercise, free-range chickens have better leg and heart health.”

Dolphin friendly

On the MPM Products website (owner of the Applaws and Encore brands) the company used the word ‘ethical’ several times without any explanation. On its Ethical Policy page, it said that “All of the fish in our recipes is sea caught using dolphin friendly methods and we only use species from sustainable resources.” Again, it did not explain what it meant. It did state “The tuna that we fish is further accredited by the Earth Island Institute.”

According to EII, ‘dolphin friendly’ is a term used in Europe and is usually interchangeable with ‘Dolphin Safe’, which was defined in US law in 1990, as tuna caught without deliberately encircling any dolphins with tuna nets during the entire trip of the tuna vessel.

EII states that “Dolphin deaths in tuna nets have declined by 99% since 1990”, but Greenpeace has pointed out, “Dolphin safe does not mean ocean safe. It means that one fishing method that targets tuna that swim with dolphins is not used to catch the tuna. What about the rays and turtles?!"

Palm Oil

As we wrote in our last pet food guide, it was reported, in 2011, that a tenth of all the world’s palm kernel meal – a byproduct of palm oil production – is fed to British animals. No certified palm kernel meal was imported to Britain at the time of the report. However, most pet food brands on our table did not appear to use palm oil or its derivatives.

Hi-Life, and Harringtons and Wagg (the latter two are from the same company) listed ingredients which could be derived from palm oil, including vegetable glycerine, vegetable oil and “oils and fats”. We contacted the companies to ask what these ingredients were but did not receive an answer. 

As Wagg had previously declared to Ethical Consumer that it used no palm derivatives this was assumed to still stand, but HiLife was marked down for lack of transparency.

The biggest companies on our table, Nestlé, Mars and Colgate, and the supermarkets use palm oil in other products they make.

Even if palm is not an ingredient in most pet food, as most pet food is meat-based, palm kernel meal may have been part of the animal feed used in its production.

GMOs in animal feed

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are another controversial ingredient. While they may not be in the final product, unless the meat is organic they are highly likely to have been used in the animal feed.

  • The UK government website stated at the time of writing that: “According to the European Feed Manufacturers’ Association (FEFAC), at least 85% of the EU’s compound feed production is labelled to indicate that it contains GM or GM-derived material.”
  • Yarrah only makes organic (and therefore GM-free) products.
  • Lily’s Kitchen, Benevo, Burns and Simpsons Premium have some organic (and therefore GM-free) lines.
  • Yora told us, in January 2019, that its products are made from larvae that have been fed with organic food byproducts.
  • Beco told us in March 2019 that its meat sources were not fed GMOs.
  • All varieties from Benevo and V-Dog, (and some sizes of the vegetarian dog food by Burns) are listed as approved by the Vegetarian Society so are required to be GM free.
  • Ami is no longer approved by the Vegetarian Society, but it is a plant-based food and one of its products was marked GM-free. It did not have a publicly available. 
  • GM policy and could not be reached for comment, but was not assumed to contain GMOs as it was based in Italy and GMOs must be labelled in the EU.
  • None of the other companies stated that the meat in their pet food was not from GM-fed animals.
  • Interestingly, although Mars had previously lobbied against the labelling of products containing GMOs in the USA, in December 2018, it was reported to have chosen voluntarily to disclose all GMOs in its foods.

Fish sustainability

On our score table we have awarded an extra positive mark for product sustainability to products that carry the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, unless it is an insignificant amount of an otherwise uncertified product.

In our previous guide, several mainstream brands got this accolade, but now none do (the one Mars brand that still has the logo turned out to also only contain 4% fish, and a lot of other uncertified ingredients, so we didn’t give it a positive mark). However, one of our Best Buys, Yarrah, only uses fish if it is MSC certified and its other ingredients are certified organic. Beco’s MSC dog food contains 40% MSC fish.

See our Supermarkets Guide for more on MSC certification.

As well as the effect on habitats, fishing also has human rights implications. For more information on this see our Guide to Cat Food.

Packaging & recycling

Tins and foil can be recycled. Dry food has the advantage that it may be stored in plastic-free paper-based packaging. It also keeps better so you can buy it in bulk to further cut down on packaging needs. 

Make your own

One way to make sure you know exactly what’s in your pet food, and to be able to choose organic and free-range ingredients, is to make your own.

If you’re going for a veggie or vegan diet, make sure your recipe contains enough protein-based ingredients (for example beans, peas and pulses). Make sure you do your research on the quantity of protein your four-legged friend needs each day.

You also need to ensure that your recipe contains all the right nutrients. You can do this by adding supplements. VegeDog is a powdered vegan food supplement that can be added to the food that you prepare. You can find out more here.

While making your own pet food does ensure that it is free from artificial additives and colours, make sure you are clued up on what ingredients are not good for your animal, as some things that we can eat can make cats or dogs sick.

If you are planning on making your own pet food then, as well as making sure you do your research, it is highly recommended that you speak to your vet about the specific needs of your pet and the impacts of diet and diet changes.

Can a dog be vegetarian?

As people become more aware of poor animal welfare standards and high environmental impacts in the meat industry, many are starting to look into veggie and vegan options for their pets.

Many vegan and vegetarian brands provide tasters, so you can see how your animal reacts to a more plant-based diet. You can purchase taster packs of Ami, Benevo and V-dog for 80p-£1 from www.veggiepets.com. You can also speak to your vet about your animal’s specific dietary requirements and how a vegetarian or vegan diet might impact them.

We understand that this is a contentious issue, and so we reached out to two experts to give their views on whether it is safe for pets to become vegan – Daniella Dos Santos and Andrew Knight. You can see their debate unfold in our shopping guide for cat food.

image: dog with carrot ethical consumer
Do you think that it's okay for a dog to be veggie?

Tips for reducing your dog's 'carbon pawprint'

While the name might be cute, the ‘carbon pawprints’ of our pets presents a serious problem for our planet. Here are some tops tips for reducing the impact of our furry friends. The good news is that the options for better animal welfare will also often be better for the environment too.

  • Consider plant-based options: Either reduce the amount of meat or dairy your dog or cat consumes or get an animal that is a natural herbivore in the first place. Rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters can uncontroversially be vegan.

  • Less processed: Generally, the more processing food has gone through, the more energy has been used. You can reduce food waste along with your pet’s carbon pawprint by feeding your animals scraps – visit your local butcher or fishmonger for cuts that would otherwise be thrown away.

  • Dry vs wet: Wet food is heavier because of the higher water content – this means higher emissions when it comes to transporting.

Rescue an animal in need:

We can reduce the overall carbon impact of pets by avoiding making more of them. Try to avoid buying from breeders or letting your own pets breed. There are plenty of animals of all kinds already in shelters and in need of care. You can also rescue animals that would normally be farm animals – so instead of feeding chicken to your pet, you could have a pet chicken!

Company Profile

Yarrah sells one of the only two products on our table that is vegan and organic. 

The company is entirely organic apart from its fish. It has opted for MSC-certified fish rather than organic because it has better sustainability standards (organic fish has to be farmed and will be fed on non-organic fish). 

The company also doesn’t test on animals and received the maximum 3-star Better Life Quality Mark from The Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals. However, it does still lose a mark under Animal Rights because it is selling meat.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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Other ethical concerns

Tax Avoidance

The following companies received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies:

Walmart Inc. (Asda); Tesco; Nestlé SA; Wm Morrisons Supermarkets; Schwarz Beteiligungs-KG (Lidl); Colgate-Palmolive Co; Spectrum Brands; Marks and Spencer Group; John Lewis Partnership Trust; J Sainsbury’s.

Only Siepmann Stiftung (Aldi Sud) received a middle rating. The rest of the companies on the table received a best rating.

Controversial Technologies

Where companies have lost a half mark under Controversial Technologies it is related to the use of GMOs, widely used in animal feed, unless it is organic.

We cover GMOs in more detail below. Tesco lost a full mark because it was also involved with nanotechnology.

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