The 15 Dog Food Brands to Avoid in 2023

By Erin Shaffer / September 7, 2021

As any pet owner knows, not all dog food is created equal, and with so many brands to choose from, it can be tough to know which ones are best. Some companies go to great lengths to market their products as the top choice for our furry friends, but the truth is that not all dog food is created equal.

While many brands offer high-quality nutrition, others contain ingredients that can be harmful to our dogs’ health. From chocolate to certain fruits, some common ingredients in commercially-produced dog food can cause serious health problems. To help pet owners make informed decisions about their dogs’ nutrition, we conducted tests and research to compile a list of 15 dog food brands that should be avoided in 2023.

In this article, we’ll provide detailed reviews of each brand and explain why they’re not a good choice for your dog.

What Makes Dog Food Bad?

Questionable Meat Ingredients

Questionable meat ingredients in dog food can be a cause for concern among pet owners, particularly when it comes to meat by-products and slaughterhouse waste. These types of ingredients are often included in dog food due to their low cost and high availability, but they may not provide the same level of nutrition as higher-quality meat ingredients.

It’s important to understand the nutritional differences between meat by-products and actual meat. While meat by-products do provide some protein, they typically don’t contain the same quality or quantity of protein as actual meat. In fact, many meat by-products are used primarily as flavoring agents, rather than as a primary source of nutrition.

When it comes to selecting high-quality meat ingredients for dog food, there are several factors to consider. It’s important to choose lean cuts of meat that are low in fat and preservatives and to look for sources that are high in essential amino acids. Some excellent sources of protein for dogs include chicken, beef, lamb, and fish. Additionally, organ meats like liver and kidney can be a rich source of nutrients and can provide additional protein to the diet.

In addition to protein, dogs require a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. By understanding the nutritional needs of dogs and how different types of ingredients contribute to their overall health, pet owners can make more informed decisions about their dog’s diet.

Substandard Foods/4D meats

When it comes to substandard ingredients in dog food, 4D meats are perhaps the most concerning. The term “4D” stands for “dead, dying, diseased, or disabled,” and refers to any animal that has died of disease, been euthanized, or is unfit for human consumption.

While these types of meats may seem like a far cry from the wholesome ingredients we’d like to feed our dogs, the reality is that they are often used as a cost-cutting measure by many dog food brands. Unfortunately, this means that pet owners may unknowingly be feeding their dogs a diet that includes these questionable meats.

It’s important to understand the potential risks associated with feeding 4D meats to dogs. These meats can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can lead to illness or even death in dogs. Moreover, the use of 4D meats may be a contributing factor to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can pose a serious threat to both animal and human health.

Beyond the health risks, feeding 4D meats to dogs can be an unsatisfying and even unpleasant experience for pet owners. The thought of our beloved pets consuming dead or diseased animals is understandably disturbing and can lead to feelings of guilt or concern.

Despite the potential risks and discomfort associated with feeding 4D meats to dogs, it can be difficult for pet owners to avoid these types of ingredients. Dog food brands are not required to disclose the source of their ingredients, which means that meat by-products listed on the label may include anything from slaughterhouse leftovers to 4D meats.

The use of 4D meats in dog food is a concerning trend that pet owners should be aware of. By understanding the potential risks associated with these ingredients and the challenges of avoiding them, pet owners can make more informed decisions about their dog’s diet and help ensure that their furry friends stay healthy and happy.

Corn and Unnecessary Fillers

Manufacturers love saving every penny in production, so it’s no surprise some of them use fillers like corn, soy, wheat, and other grains.

What these fillers do is make the meal look better than it actually is. In addition, they can often increase the calorie count, tricking you into thinking your pet is getting a full meal when that’s not the case.

Grains are fillers and will make your dog feel full, but this is still not the type of food you want to feed your pet. In addition, these ingredients are difficult for your dog to digest and can cause a series of serious digestive issues.

Fillers are necessary, and your pet can get plenty of calories and protein from ingredients that are actually good and healthy. For this reason, it’s often best to avoid this and go for grain-free dog foods instead.

Synthetic Ingredients

If you though some soy and corn in your dog’s food are bad, wait until you learn what else you can find in there. Many manufacturers include artificial flavorings, dyes, and other synthetic ingredients when there’s no real need for that.

Your dog has an excellent sense of smell and taste, so think about this the next time they turn their nose up at a meal.

Some flavoring might not sound so bad, but think about why was there a need to add it in the first place. In most cases, it’s because the formula doesn’t contain any real meat and natural protein that the brands include synthetic stuff.

The real meat and natural protein sources would have added enough flavor, eliminating the need for artificial taste enhancers and colors.

Sadly, many brands take this route, so make sure to read the ingredients list.


Cheap dog food brands often include synthetic chemical ingredients. In most cases, this is meant to prolong the shelf life or make the formula more enticing.

Either way, it’s an unnecessary addition you won’t find in the best dog foods. Although it’s understandable why they add preservatives, there’s no need to add artificial ones.

In other words, natural alternatives exist and are known to deliver the same results. However, these are often more expensive, making it difficult for companies to sell their products for a low price.

It’s for this reason that some of the high-quality dog foods are more expensive.

15 Dog Food Brands to Avoid

Cesar Filets

Cesar Filets is known as one of the worst dog foods due to the amount of salt. It also contains poultry by-product meal, animal liver, beef and meat by-products, ground wheat flour, wheat gluten, salt, cornstarch, pea fiber, calcium carbonate, sodium tripolyphosphate, choline chloride, added color, and magnesium.

Now, you might not know what some of these ingredients are, but here’s an example. Sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP or E451) is a preservative that helps wet foods retain moisture and appear fresher for a longer time.

Although the quality of ingredients is often unknown, the amount of meat included can tell a pretty clear story about the quality of the meal.

Cesar Filet has 44% of protein along with 25% of carbohydrates and 22% of fat. It doesn’t contain much meat, so think about where this stuff is coming from.

Sportmix Wholesomes Gourmet Biscuits

Sportmix biscuits are among the worst dog food brands due to the unwanted dry leftovers it contains. It also includes fats and preservatives that could potentially be harmful to your pup.

When you look at its meat content, you can see the formula contains about 24% protein. Now, this isn’t the worst number, but it’s clearly not the best.

In fact, it’s only a little over average when compared to high-quality dog food brands. For this reason, it’s a relatively poor choice, especially once you consider it also has 54% carbohydrates and 13% fat.

It’s not a full meal, but a treat, so a little bit may not be so harmful. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially given how many excellent treats exist on the market.

IAMS Proactive Health Adult Chunks (Dry Dog Food)

The main ingredient in IAMS dry dog food is chicken. Raw chicken comprises approximately 80% water, so it’s good to have, but this is where most companies like to take turns.

In other words, it loses much of that water when it’s cooked. As a result, the meat content is reduced to only a portion of its initial weight.

It also includes cornmeal – a coarse-ground flour made from corn. But, as we said, corn is quite a controversial ingredient often used as a filler since it doesn’t have any nutritional value that would help your dog’s health.

The third questionable ingredient in this dry dog food is sorghum, otherwise known as milo. This is a starchy cereal grain that’s quite similar to corn.

Apart from the abovementioned poultry, this dry dog food contains a chicken meal by-product. It’s actually the slaughterhouse waste we mentioned earlier. It also includes a controversial ingredient called beet pulp.

Kal Kan Complete Adult Dog Formula

We included this one for its questionable quality of ingredients that are possibly harmful to dogs. Its primary ingredient is corn, which is already a red flag since it doesn’t provide any nutrition to your pup.

The formula is meant for adult dog breeds, but it contains meat and bone meal, which is actually a dry product that includes bones. These have a lower digestibility than other meat meals, so your pet might experience stomach issues.

Many experts believe that it’s due to the lower essential amino acid level and higher levels of ash in the ingredient.

The actual meat can come from sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, or a bit of everything. This makes it impossible to classify allergens, which can be a problem.

Another questionable ingredient you want to avoid is soybean. Soybean is a by-product of soybean oil typically found in farm animal feed. It contains 48% of protein but has a lower biological value than most meats.

It also contains poultry by-product, chicken meal, wheat, and other plant-based ingredients meant to boost the protein level.

Twin Pet

Twin Pet is one of the worst dry dog foods because it uses unidentified meat as the primary protein source. This is as bad as it sounds, so it’s no surprise why this one is on our list of food brands to avoid.

The formula contains cheap ingredients that deliver no nutritional value to your pup and might even be harmful. The first questionable ingredient is corn, and we already mentioned why you should avoid it.

This dog food has wheat middlings, otherwise known as wheat mill run. It’s what remains after the cereal grain processing, so it’s quite a cheap by-product.

It’s such a weird ingredient to use because its nutrient content is close to zero. This makes it useless in dry dog food and livestock feeds.

If you have a hard time imagining what wheat middlings are, just think of floor-sweeping.

The last ingredient you want to stay away from is meat and bone meal. It comes from mammal tissues and has low digestibility.

Gravy Train

Another on our list of dog food brands to avoid is Gravy Train. We included it primarily due to its ingredients that lack the nutrition dogs need.

This is canned food, so it’s wet and has gravy dogs are meant to love. And while dogs do enjoy wet foods, this one won’t do much.

The brand uses a moderate amount of poultry and meat by-products. This is the primary source of animal protein they use, so you might want to think twice.

It also has salt and fat in unknown amounts, making it difficult to determine the nutritional value.

Purina Dog Chow

Purina began as the Ralston Purina Company back in 1893. It now includes many different products manufactured by the Nestle Purina PetCare Company.

And while the company has many excellent products, Purina Dog Chow is not one of them. It’s among the food brands to avoid due to low-quality ingredients.

It includes things like soy and corn meal, wheat, preservatives, artificial flavors, and colorings. Of course, you want none of this in your dog’s food, so it’s best to stay away.

The trick lies in the fact that Purina did an excellent job of promoting Purina Dog Chow. It’s an inexpensive option many dog owners still use.

Much like other low-quality wet food, it includes questionable amounts of salt.


Beneful is another dog food under the Purina line of products. It’s a whole dog food brand released in 2001 with boxes of various shapes, colors, and textures.

It stands out because it offers both dry dog foods and wet formulas that contain what they claim is real meat. The food brand claims they use salmon, beef, and poultry, but that’s questionable at best.

Its food does contain these meats, but it also has plant proteins, soybean meal, and whole-grain wheat. The plant-based proteins outweigh the natural meat included in this pet dog food.

If we take the Purina Beneful with real beef as an example, you’ll see that beef is listed as the main ingredient. But you’ll also see that this formula contains five other fillers and by-products.

It also has artificial colors, so there are just too many things you want to steer away from.

The Pedigree Brand

The Pedigree brand is well-known across the globe. It’s owned and manufactured by Mars PetCare, that’s actually a subordinate of Mars, Inc., responsible for a wide range of human and pet foods on the market.

Pedigree makes wet and dry dog food and is one of the most marketed foods. You can find many products for senior and adult dogs, puppies, large breeds, and those with special dietary needs.

Still, you should always check the ingredients list. If you were to compare the ingredients found in most of these foods, you’d notice they’re almost always completely the same.

In other words, it’s all pretty much the same formula packed in different bags. On top of that, you’ll notice most of these foods have whole grain corn listed among the first ingredients.

All dog food brands to avoid have corn, although it’s a common food allergen for dogs. It provides no nutritional value.

Pedigree dog food is packed with carbs, containing lots of artificial flavors, colors, and fillers. This allows the company to sell it for a cheap price.

Kibbles ‘n Bits

Kibbles n’ Bits is another pretty popular dog food brand out there. But, just by looking at the ingredients list, you can see it’s missing many high-quality ingredients the brand claims are included.

Supposedly, it’s made with flavorful roasted beef, poultry, and other meats. Sadly, that’s not true, and instead, it’s packed with corn wheat, soybean meal, and other carb-heavy stuff.

This means the dry food isn’t as good as it claims, so you’re better off avoiding it altogether.

Ol’ Roy

The Mars Group manufactures ol’ Roy to sell in Wal-Mart stores. It’s among the highest-selling brands in the USA, although it’s definitely one of the worst dog food brands.

The reason behind its popularity is probably the low price since ingredients aren’t very favorable. If you check out the list of ingredients, you’ll find the brand uses soy, wheat, corn, artificial flavors, and cheap meat products.

Now, we all have a budget, and it’s fine to look for affordable products, but this one is alarmingly cheap. Its low price tells nothing else but that it utilizes low-quality ingredients.


The Diamond company is owned and produced by Schell & Kampeter, featuring three product lines. Unfortunately, its original line of dog food is missing on nutritional content you should provide for your dog.

It doesn’t take much to understand why this one is on the list of worst dog food brands. It uses wheat, soybean meal, and corn, all of which provide nothing.

The meat-based ingredients usually come from unknown sources listed as meat by-products or fish meals. Unfortunately, these are of questionable quality at best.

Although Diamond doesn’t use artificial colors and flavors, it does use high amounts of corn, wheat, and soy, so it’s best to stay away.

Blackwood 1000 Dog Food

Blackwood 1000 has a long list of ingredients that not only provide no health benefits but can actually be harmful to dogs.

Many of its ingredients are comprised of GMOs that are not safe for human consumption. With that said, it’s probably not safe to feed dogs either.

It includes things like oat groats, chicken by-product meal, ground grain sorghum, brown rice, dried plain beet pulp, chicken fat, potassium chloride, lecithin, calcium carbonate, dried whey, and more.

Although some of these are good, the bad outweighs the good, especially when you consider it also includes ground grain sorghum.

Wegmans Bruiser Kibble Variety Mix

This is easily among the worst food brands to avoid due to the dangerous ingredients it contains. It has stuff like xantham gum, BHA, corn gluten meal, BHT, and food coloring.

It’s cheap stuff, so it’s no surprise people still buy it. However, it’s just too dangerous to feed your dog over a long period, especially if their immune system is already on the weaker side.

You don’t want this if you’re looking for nutritious, stable, and rich meals. Both BHT and BHA are preservatives meant to prolong the shelf life of the kibble mix, but the rest of its ingredients isn’t promising either.

IAMS ProActive Health Smart Puppy Original Formula

This is a puppy formula, and puppies need the best ingredients you can get in order to grow strong and healthy. However, IAMS ProActive formula might not be what you’re looking for.

It doesn’t seem so bad at first glance. It’s very loud in promoting chicken as its primary ingredient, which is understandable since it’s a good source of protein.

However, don’t forget to look at other stuff it has. The list shows substantial amounts of sorghum and cornmeal used as fillers. As we said, these provide little to no nutritional value.

And, while it does contain chicken, it also throws in an unknown chicken by-product. Another shady ingredient on the list is beet pulp that has lots of sugar and can easily lead to inexplicable weight gain.

How to Choose the Right Dog Food

At this point, you’re probably freaking out because this seems somewhat confusing. There are many ingredients you should avoid, and the whole ordeal makes it difficult to choose the right food.

That’s true, but once you get the hang of it, you won’t have any issues steering away from these things. But, first, you should try and remember the dog food brands to avoid.

This way, you won’t waste any time reading these labels since we have already gone through them. Once you remember that, you can go ahead and look at other brands.

Choosing the right product isn’t as difficult as it seems. The most important is to ensure you’re not feeding your dog any allergens, especially if you know they’re allergic to some of this stuff.

You can do a few things when picking between the many packages available at supermarkets and pet stores.

Understanding the Label

Take some time to read the back of the package where all the ingredients are listed. It’s typically a long list of all kinds of things you may or may not understand.

We all know what chicken, beef, and corn are, so you won’t have any issues with that. But, you might not know how preservatives and artificial colorings are listed.

There are two things you can do in this case. You can research the internet in advance (or on the spot) for some of the ingredients you’re not familiar with, or you can just move on to the next brand.

Some people find it easier to buy only when they can understand the ingredients. This is a good rule of thumb, but don’t expect to find any affordable ones.

Understanding the label is a crucial step to ensure your dog is eating only the best quality meals.


As we said, protein is always important, but make sure to understand where it comes from. Most packaging has a stated protein content chart that provides info about the formula’s protein level.

Dogs need high levels of protein to develop, so this is something you want to pay special attention to. The chart included breaks down the percentage of ingredient groups compared to weight.

This allows you to see how much fiber, fat, and protein your dog gets from 3 to 4 ounces of formula. However, as we said, you should always know the protein sources, which you won’t learn from the chart.

Instead, learn as much as you can about all the ingredients and protein sources. For example, you want animal protein that comes from actual meat and not from the chicken by-product meal.

Whole-grain corn is also a source of protein but not a good one.

Vegetable-Based Proteins

You may think that any protein is better than none, but things aren’t as simple. For example, some vegetables and grains have protein, but it’s much less usable than what you find in meat protein.

Still, vegetable-based proteins are often found in these foods. They’re typically used instead of meat proteins, and although they can provide some nutrients, they’re just not worth it.

Many of these vegetables are high in carbohydrates, which can cause your dog to gain weight rapidly. But, not all vegetable-based proteins are bad.

Things like sweet potatoes and peas are actually good for your pup and easy to digest. On the other hand, things like soybean meal, whole wheat, and corn.


Dog food formulas are processed to allow a longer shelf life. This is typically done with additives that help with taste, preservation, and more.

Now, you should first learn to make a difference between additives and natural alternatives. Synthetic chemicals are additives you want to avoid.

Artificial flavoring is another additive usually meant to enhance the flavor of foods that have high protein levels. It’s the same with dyes.

When it comes to preservation, you’ll find that brands use many additives in dog food formulas. Natural alternatives do exist, though, so look for ascorbic acid with vitamin C.

No natural alternative will help the preservation so much as the artificial one. But, it’s healthier and presents no risk to your dog’s health.

Final Thoughts

You want to choose the best formula to feed your pup, whether it’s wet or dry. Dry dog foods are often more recommended, but wet formulas have a few benefits to offer as well.

Either way, you should always read the ingredients to ensure what you’re buying is of good quality. This is especially the case with more affordable foods because these are known to contain fillers, additives, preservatives, and other stuff you don’t want your pet to consume.

An occasional treat that’s not so healthy probably won’t do any harm, but try to be as mindful as possible. Go for quality ingredients, and you’ll notice a massive change in how your pooch behaves.

About the author

    Erin Shaffer

    Growing up without dogs was one of the most regrettable circumstances in my life. When I got my very first puppy my whole world turned upside down. She bettered my life, so every day I do my best to better hers. Dogs are truly little angels and deserve nothing but the best. Our dogs dedicate themselves to us, so lets give back and be the best pet owners we can be in every way possible.

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