Many dog owners assume that the most expensive dog foods are also the highest quality dog foods. While it is often true that the better brands are more expensive, you can’t always use price as a measure of quality. For example, many 4-star dog foods are right up there with 5-star dog foods but they are often much less expensive. What you need to realize about 4-star dog foods is that they are a perfectly acceptable alternative to 5-star dog foods if price is your only concern. As you will learn in the discussion below, it may only be a few minor ingredients that separate a 5-star from a 4-star brand.
What Does It Take for a Dog Food Brand to Earn 4 Stars?
At first glance, a 4-star dog food looks very similar to a 5-star dog food and, in fact, the two are very much alike. It is important to note that 4-star dog foods are not bad – they just don’t offer the same degree of unmistakable quality as a 5-star brand. A 4-star dog food will always be rich in animal protein and fat and it will contain limited carbohydrate content as well. Compared to a 5-star product, a 4-star dog food might not go as high above and beyond when it comes to the guaranteed analysis for crude protein and fat. It must provide at least 18% protein for adult dogs and 22% protein for puppies as well as 5% fat for adult dogs and 8% for puppies, but it may only go a few percentage points higher. If the product hits these values on the nose, it may still qualify as a 4-star dog food but you’ll have to take a look at the ingredients list to be sure.
Similar to 5-star dog foods, a 4-star dog food will be rich in animal-based protein and it will list a high-quality source of meat, poultry, or fish as the first ingredient. Both fresh meats and meat meals are excellent ingredients to start with, as long as they come from a named source (chicken meal, not poultry meal). There may also be supplementary proteins listed, though that is not a strict requirement. After the primary proteins, carbohydrates are likely to come next. These should come from digestible sources like whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans, and legumes – no 4-star dog food will include any corn, wheat, or soy ingredients. The food may also list a plant protein, but never as the first ingredient or the primary source of protein – plant proteins should only be used in a supplemental way.
When it comes to fats, a 4-star protein will contain at least 8% fat for puppies and at least 5% for adult dogs, but these fats might come from both animal- and plant-based sources. There might also be a difference in the fiber content of the product. Whereas 5-star dog foods should not contain more than 5% crude fiber, a 4-star dog food might toe the line a little bit. You might find more supplementary sources of fiber in a 4-star dog food, things like dried beet pulp or brewer’s rice. These are not the highest quality ingredients out there, but they aren’t inherently dangerous. You’ll also want to check how many synthetic supplements are used and see whether any of them are chelated minerals – dried fermentation products are also beneficial but not necessarily a requirement of a 4-star dog food.
Top Recommended 4-Star Brands
If you don’t feel like you can consistently afford one of the top dog food brands on the market, a 4-star brand can offer the combination of good nutritional quality and a more affordable price point. Though they may not offer the same quality as a 5-star brand, most 4-star brands are still very good products. In fact, some of the brands on this list offer excellent quality but they make a concerted effort to ensure that their products are affordable for all pet parents. Here are some of the top-rated dog food brands on the market that get our 4-star rating:
- Black Gold
- Chicken Soup
- Eagle Pack
- Newman’s Own
- Under the Sun
- Whole Earth Farms
Quality dog food is expensive, but there are plenty of brands that offer decent quality and affordability – just look at the list above! If you can’t afford a 5-star brand, you can still feel good about feeding your dog one of the brands on this list.