10 Worst Dog Food Brands to Avoid

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dos smelling kibble

We all want to feed our dogs the best food possible. But some commercial dog food brands are made better than others — and some should be bypassed altogether. 

It can be tempting to go with the most affordable and best-sounding brand. But, is low-quality dog food what’s best for your dog’s health? You may be surprised to learn these top 10 worst dog food brands to avoid. 

Luckily, we’ve included some great brands to switch to if you are currently using one on our no-list. That way, you can get a decent alternative that provides more nutrition for your furry friend. 

10 Worst Dog Food Brands To Avoid

  1. Alpo Dog Food (Worst Brand Overall
  2. Pedigree Dog Food (Worst for Puppies
  3. Ol’ Roy Dog Food (Worst for Seniors
  4. Cesar Filets Dog Food (Worst Wet Food
  5. Kal Kan Complete Dog Food (Worst for Large Breeds
  6. Kibbles ‘n Bits Dog Food (Worst for Small Breeds
  7. Gravy Train Dog Food (Worst for Dogs With Allergies
  8. Purina Dog Chow Dog Food (Worst for Dogs With Special Needs
  9. Iams Proactive Health Dog Food (Worst for Weight Loss
  10. Great Choice Complete Nutrition Dog Food (Worst for Vitamins/Minerals)

10 Worst Dog Food Brands to Avoid Reviewed 

The dog food brands listed below may meet the AAFCO nutrient profile guidelines, but we do not recommend them. If you’re feeding your dog these brands, we have listed alternatives that are better options.  

Alpo Dog Food

ALPO Prime Cuts Savory Beef

Alpo has many formulas and recipes, but their most popular version — Prime Cuts Savory Beef dry dog food — is the worst overall dog food to avoid. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • Uses unnamed meat by-products and meat meals  
  • Lacks the appropriate amount of animal proteins 
  • Includes filler ingredients with no nutritional value 

While Alpo does meet the requirements of AAFCO’s easy to reach nutrition guidelines, I wouldn’t feed this brand to my dog. 

First, each formula includes unnamed by-products, as well as meat and bone meal. Alpo is not transparent about where they get their protein sources, so you can’t confirm if your dog is eating high-quality meats.

And, most of their recipes are low in protein and fat, which isn’t ideal for growing pups or active adult dogs. 

It’s also packed with carbohydrates and unhealthy grain fillers, including: ground yellow corn, soybean meal, and corn gluten meal. After that, salt, dyes, and artificial preservatives round out the list for some of the worst ingredients that anyone could add to dog food. 

Instead, one of our favorite dog food brands for adult dogs is American Journey. It’s comparative in value, but it’s higher in quality and nutrition. 

Pedigree Dog Food

Pedigree Puppy Growth & Protection Chicken

Your puppy needs vitamins, minerals, and higher protein and fat to grow steady and healthy. Unfortunately, Pedigree dry dog food doesn’t offer many of those perks. It’s probably the worst puppy food that you can buy. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • Contains BHA (a toxic preservative) 
  • Low-fat content 
  • Low nutritional value 
  • Vitamins aren’t chelated for maximum absorption 

The brand has been around since 1957 and hasn’t made many changes to its ingredient lists. Even with more research on ingredients and what’s best for your dog, Pedigree still uses harmful additives and fillers. 

Their recipes start with corn or wheat — two ingredients that are hard for many dogs to digest. Dog foods should begin with real animal proteins or meat meals instead of carbohydrates, especially when puppies are involved.

This is because their growth requires more protein and fat to protect their joints and provide nutrients to their muscles to grow. 

Pedigree also includes meat by-products and bone meals that don’t have a specified source. That means it could be the scraps from meats you don’t even want to know about. 

Their vitamins also aren’t chelated, which means they’re used in their raw form — making absorption harder.

For young dogs, they need higher doses of DHA, potassium, vitamin D, and calcium to keep up with their brain and bone development. With Pedigree, there’s no guarantee that your youngster is getting those vitamins. 

Last but not least, Pedigree has been recalled quite a few times over the previous 10 years. Their most recent recall in 2014 happened because of possible metal fragments in bags sold at Dollar General and Sam’s Club stores in the US. 

Try Taste of the Wild if you’re looking for a great dog food brand with puppy options. They have multiple formulas that start with real animal proteins, so your pup will get the best-tasting protein and vitamins that they need to thrive. 

Ol’ Roy Dog Food 

Ol' Roy Complete Nutrition Dry Food

As your dog ages, they’ll need healthier fats, fewer calories for their slower metabolism, and extra vitamins and minerals. If you’re looking for senior dog food, it’s vital to avoid Ol’ Roy. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • The first ingredients are allergens like corn and wheat
  • Meat and bone meal from unknown sources
  • Preserved with BHA 
  • High salt content 

Ol’ Roy doesn’t have the best list of ingredients, and it’s not made with aging senior dogs in mind. Instead, their complete nutrition dog food is supposed to be for “adult and senior dogs”, leaving out extra nutrients and fats that older dogs need.  

Plus, their recipes usually start with corn or wheat and even have soybean meal in the top 5 ingredients. While these ingredients aren’t bad for all dogs, they can cause allergies and sensitivities in many. 

And they should never be listed as the first ingredient option. 

Your dog, especially as a senior, needs real animal proteins and fats first. The rest are just additives. 

The protein included in Ol’ Roy’s foods is from meat by-products and meals that aren’t listed from a specific source. While meals aren’t always bad, by-products should be avoided. But you can’t do that with these formulas, as those are the only protein sources. 

If you’re looking for a better option for your senior dog, give Blue Buffalo a try. They have great choices for seniors with real animal proteins and extra vitamins — like glucosamine — for joints. 

Cesar Filets Wet Dog Food 

Cesar Gourmet Filets

Got a picky pup on your hands? If your pooch prefers wet dog food or needs it for medical reasons, you may be looking for a high-value option. If that’s the case, avoid Cesar Filets at all costs. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • Contains artificial preservatives 
  • Had multiple recalls on wet food 
  • Flavored and colored with artificial ingredients
  • Low in vitamins and minerals 

Let’s start with the good — Cesar Filets does start with real animal sources like beef, chicken, and fish. It’s also high in protein and is already packaged, so mealtime is easy and convenient. 

But that’s where the positives stop. Besides real meat as the first ingredient, Cesar Filets formulas are filled with additives — like corn, wheat, and soy. These fillers can cause allergic reactions and should be avoided by most dogs. 

Each of the recipes use artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives as well. These include carrageenan and BHA. While these ingredients have been studied as bad for humans, some studies show they should be avoided by dogs as well. 

While Cesar Filets food isn’t the worst option on this list, the recalls should also give you pause. Their most recent recall was in 2016, with the Classics Filet Mignon Flavor canned dog food being pulled after the complaints about plastic and metal in the cans. 

If you need wet food to feed your dog, try Merrick. There are many canned options, and many are gluten-free to reduce allergen concerns. 

Kal Kan Complete Dog Food

Kal Kan Complete Adult

Large breed dogs need plenty of protein, healthy fats, and vitamins to keep up with their sturdy bodies and active lifestyles. Because of this, large breed-specific dog food is essential to provide what they need. 

While Kal Kan has dog food targeted towards these bigger dogs, it’s not the best option for a few reasons. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • Preserved with BHA 
  • Contains meat by-products as primary protein sources
  • Vitamins aren’t chelated 

The biggest problem with this dog food brand is that none of its formulas include adequate protein and fat percentages. While they do meet the AAFCO requirements of at least 18% Crude Protein, they don’t provide enough for bigger dogs that are also active. 

Large Breeds need 25% or more to keep up with their muscle mass, and Kal Kan doesn’t provide that. So even if they eat it, it’s not providing them with enough nutrition to sustain them. 

They also make their dog foods with meat meals and by-products — not real animal proteins. Plus, these ingredients aren’t at the first or top ingredients. Instead, corn, gluten, and soybean meals are usually the first few. 

This makes the dog food high in carbohydrates, which can cause weight gain and allergic reactions. 

Kal Kan formulas also include artificial preservatives, including BHA, which can cause cancer and kidney disease. There is no reason to contain these preservatives except to cut costs, so that’s important to keep in mind. 

Luckily for Kal Kan, they are a recall-free brand and have never recalled any of their products. However, this doesn’t mean they are the best option for your large breed. 

Instead, buy a brand that focuses on bigger dogs — like Wellness dog food. They have a few large breed options, including multiple flavors, so that you can find the best fit for your pup. 

Kibbles ‘n Bits Dog Food

Kibbles 'n Bits Small Breed Mini Bits Savory Beef

Small breed dogs still need the proteins and fats that their bigger counterparts get. But, they also need smaller kibble that can scrape tartar off their teeth since they’re prone to tooth decay. 

Kibbles ‘n Bits isn’t the worst dog food brand for small pups, but it should be avoided for a few critical reasons. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • Preserved with BHA 
  • Includes artificial flavoring
  • Has additives like corn, wheat, and soy
  • Low-fat content

There are a few positives to this dog food. For one, it has adequate protein for smaller dogs, and the vitamins are chelated so your dog can absorb them better. The mini kibble size is also perfect for dogs with smaller jaws. 

However, the formulas still contain meat meals as their primary protein sources — not real animal content. And, corn is usually the first ingredient, which can trigger allergic reactions and sensitivities with dogs. 

Another big negative with Kibbles ‘n Bits is that these recipes include both corn syrup and salt. These can be dangerous ingredients for dogs, especially those that have weight problems or issues like diabetes. 

Kibble ‘n Bits had their food recalled in 2018. This was because 4 of their dog food formulas included high levels of pentobarbital — a drug that euthanizes dogs. While the foods were pulled and haven’t been recalled since, you may not want to take the chance. 

Need dog food for your small breed? Nutro has some great options. And, they meet AAFCO’s requirements, as well as provide plenty of natural and nutritious ingredients. 

Gravy Train Dog Food 

Gravy Train Meaty Classic

Dog owners know that their pups can have allergies and sensitivities just like humans can. But luckily, many dog food brands have noticed this and have created allergen-friendly formulas

However, Gravy Train is not one of those companies in the pet food industry. All of their recipes include ingredients that can cause reactions in dogs with food sensitivities. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • Includes artificial food coloring 
  • It doesn’t have any real animal proteins 
  • It contains allergen ingredients like wheat, corn, soy, and beef

Dogs with allergies typically need to avoid wheat flour, corn meal, soybean meal, and bone meal. Unfortunately, Gravy Train includes almost all of these dog food ingredients — making them a dangerous choice for dogs who can’t have them. 

Not only are the foods packed with corn and wheat, but they also don’t include any real animal proteins. Instead, they add meat and bone meal from unknown sources. How these ingredients are processed could cause symptoms like digestive problems and itchy skin. 

Gravy Train was also recalled in 2018 for the same reason as Kibble n’ Bits — their wet foods had high levels of pentobarbital and needed to be pulled from shelves. 

Instead of dog food that can trigger symptoms and cause reactions in your sensitive pup, try Acana. They have many grain-free dog food options, as well as foods that don’t include chicken or beef. Your dog’s health and wellness matters, and Acana takes those needs seriously.  

Purina Dog Chow Dog Food

Dog Chow Complete Adult Chicken

Does your dog need extra joint support? Do they have a sensitive stomach or need food that can help them get more moisture? These special needs may seem complicated to shop for, but dog food brands can meet them. However, Purina isn’t typically one of them. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • Low in nutritional value and protein 
  • It doesn’t include any probiotics for sensitive dogs
  • Doesn’t have any real meat proteins

Depending on your dog’s specific needs, you’ll know what you need to look for when it comes to a decent fit. Purina Dog Chow isn’t a great option, no matter what. 

First, these formulas don’t include any real meats. Instead, they use meat and bone meals, which offer lower sources of protein. And, they’re also lower in fats and proteins, which isn’t great for dogs that need muscle, joint, or brain support. 

Purina has also had two recalls in the last 8 years. The first was in 2013 when their Purina One formula had salmonella contamination. Then, in 2016, their wet dog food was recalled because of inadequate vitamin and mineral levels.

Instead, try Purina’s Pro Plan dog food line if you want a dog food that works best for your special pooch. It’s still budget-friendly but includes real animal proteins and plenty of vitamins and nutrients. 

Iams Proactive Health Dog Food

Iams ProActive Health Adult Healthy Weight Chicken

It’s very important to keep your dog at a healthy weight, as obesity can cause other health issues — like diabetes — and make problems like hip dysplasia worse. Obesity can also shorten your pup’s lifespan, which is the worst outcome of all. 

If you want to help your dog maintain their weight, choose a weight-loss-friendly dog food. While Iams has formulas for weight management, they aren’t what I would recommend. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • High in carbohydrates and low in protein 
  • Vitamins aren’t chelated 
  • Includes meat by-products

While Iams dog food has plenty of lower-calorie choices, that doesn’t mean that they’re great options for weight loss. Their formulas start with corn or wheat, which takes away from the healthy proteins and fats that dogs need to stay satiated. And, these fillers don’t give your dog any additional vitamins or minerals.   

Iams dog food also includes meat by-products. And, while they use real beef and chicken in some of their recipes, almost all have them. 

These discarded meats, bones, and cartilage aren’t the best source of protein for your dog and should be avoided. 

While it hasn’t happened in the last 8 years, there was a recall in 2013 due to potential salmonella contamination. 

For healthy weight loss and a balanced diet, try Hill’s. They have dog breed-specific dog foods, as well as options to help your dog with their weight goals. 

Great Choice Complete Nutrition Dog Food

Great Choice Complete Nutrition Adult

Just like you, your dog needs vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. For dogs, the most important nutrients include calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, and vitamin D. Plus, additional supplements like fiber, glucosamine, and omega fatty acids are crucial as well. 

Great Choice dog food doesn’t provide much in the way of nutrients — making it a wrong choice for dogs that need them. 

Why you should avoid this brand:

  • Vitamins aren’t chelated 
  • It contains BHA and artificial colors 
  • Includes meat by-products

First, Great Choice formulas are made with corn, soy, and wheat flour as the first few ingredients. This lowers quality protein and fat content — as well as lowers glucosamine and fatty acids for muscle mass and joint health. 

Instead of real animal proteins, the foods also use meat and bone meals, as well as by-products. These aren’t as chocked full of nutrients like ingredients from real meats — such as deboned chicken, beef, or lamb. 

Last but not least, the vitamins that are added to each formula aren’t chelated, meaning that they aren’t full potency — bringing the nutritional value down. So your dog will have to eat twice as much just to get half of the nutrients that higher-quality foods have. 

If you’re looking for a dog food brand with plenty of vitamins and minerals, you’ll want to try Blue Buffalo. They include probiotics and a proprietary blend of nutrients for all dogs — making them a fantastic holistic choice. 


What Makes a Dog Food Brand Bad? 

What exactly makes a dog food brand bad? While many dog food manufacturers have mostly decent products with a few duds, some should be avoided at all costs. 

Here’s what you should look for in a dog food brand before purchasing one of their formulas to feed your canine.

Meat By-Products & 4-D Meats

Protein and animal fat are essential nutrients for your dog. They provide energy, protect joints, and help your dog build and maintain muscle mass. 

The quality of the proteins that they eat is also crucial. Animal protein sources offer amino acids and other vitamins that will keep your pup healthy. And healthy fats like beef fat, chicken fat, and even coconut oil help keep up your dog’s joints, heart, and cognitive function. 

The Association of American Feed Control Officials requires that adult dog food have at least 18% Crude Protein. But, depending on your dog’s size and activity level, they may need much more. 

Certain dog food brands include meat fillers like by-products and even bone meal. These are harder to digest and don’t contain the same amount of amino acids as other brands. Avoid dog foods like that and focus on those with real meat. 

You can even look at formulas with meat meal, like lamb meal, fish meal, and chicken meal. These are mostly just ground up meats, which is far better than by-products and bones. 

Fillers

One of the most significant issues with budget-friendly dog foods is that they use fillers like corn gluten meal, wheat, and soybean meal. While these ingredients aren’t harmful in moderation (or when at the bottom of the ingredient list), they are known to cause health issues. 

These ingredients cut costs for the manufacturer and give you more food for your money. But, due to lack of nutrition, you’d actually need to spend more to feed your dog properly. 

They won’t keep your dog full, and they’re empty calories. They also take away from the protein and fat content, which can be detrimental to dogs that need them. Plus, they’re cheap to source, so you won’t get high-quality options like whole-grain barley or brown rice. 

Synthetic Ingredients 

Synthetic ingredients are additives that you should be worried about. Artificial colors and flavors can be avoided and don’t belong in dog food. They’re just additives that “entice” dogs to eat, but they can be toxic and harmful

Instead, focus on brands that provide natural flavor with healthy fats, raw meats, and high-quality fruits and vegetables. 

Preservatives

Preservatives are used in dog food to preserve the shelf life. And while they do need preservatives, they don’t need artificial options. Instead, mixed tocopherols and rosemary oil can be used to protect food naturally.

So avoid synthetic additives like BHA, BHT, and ethylene glycol in dog food as much as you can. These cause a wide range of health issues, and some dogs are sensitive or allergic to them.

Final Thoughts on the Worst Dog Foods

Not all dog foods are created equally. While some of these dog food brands have great formulas, many need to be avoided as much as possible. If you want to focus on your dog’s health and keep them happy, steer clear of these brands. 

Instead, try some of the alternatives that we’ve mentioned! They are comparable to our listed worst dog food brands that your dog may be used to, but they offer better sources of nutrients and focus on your dog’s overall health — not just your wallet. 

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AUTHOR
Kim Studdard is a freelance writer for many websites in the pet universe. When she isn't spending time with her family and pets, or saying "Look a dog" everytime she sees one, you'll find her reading a book or traveling the U.S.

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