How We Rate Pet Food

With the guidance of a clinical veterinarian, Pet Food Sherpa has developed a unique pet food rating system that evaluates foods using key metrics like ingredient quality, recall history, price, and more. 

By applying this system to our extensive pet food database, we’ve analyzed over 5,000 ingredients and thousands of recipes. 

Let’s take a closer look at the factors we evaluate and how the system works. 

  1. Nutrient Value

This rating is determined by comparing the food’s nutritional content to AAFCO standards and other foods in our database. If, compared to AAFCO standards and other foods in the database, a food is higher in protein and other beneficial nutrients, it will receive a higher nutrient value score. 

  1. Ingredient Quality

After consultation with a veterinary nutrition expert, we’ve developed a 4-point ingredient rating system that classifies ingredients into several categories. 

Ingredients are classified as follows: 

Neutral 

We consider these ingredients to have no effect on the nutritional quality of the food. Ingredients that fall into this category include most synthetic additives, natural preservatives, and water. 

0 points (does not affect rating)

Harmful 

While no commercial food can legally contain toxic ingredients, there are a few ingredients that our system flags as harmful. These include artificial colors, sweeteners like beet molasses and cane syrup, and artificial preservatives like BHA and BHT. 

1 point

Low-quality

Ingredients flagged as low-quality include animal and plant by-products as well as certain artificial ingredients, like artificial cheese flavor and other flavor additives. 

2 points

Harmless  

Similar to the neutral categorization, harmless ingredients may have negligible health benefits and don’t present any known health risks. These ingredients include ascorbic acid, barley grass, and animal-derived flavor additives. 

3 points

Healthy

Ingredients ranked in this category are highly nutritious for pets. They include animal proteins like chicken breast, turkey legs, and venison, along with nourishing additives like salmon oil and probiotics.  

4 points

After scoring all of its ingredients, our system adds up these values to generate a score for the food as a whole. Greater concentrations of high-value ingredients produce a higher overall score. 

  1. Recall History

While having been recalled once or twice doesn’t mean that a brand is unsafe, a history of repeated recalls may indicate that a brand struggles with quality and safety control. 

We scan the FDA’s database and rate each brand by the number of recalls in its history. Brands and foods with fewer recalls receive higher ratings.

  1. Price

To evaluate a food’s price, you need to compare it to other foods in the same category. 

By segmenting by food type and comparing each food’s price to those of other similar products in our database, we determine if a food is above or below the category’s market average price. 

Because most of us are looking for lower-cost products, lower-priced foods receive higher ratings.

  1. Customer Experience

In order to understand how customers feel about a food, our system gathers customer ratings from various online retailers, including Chewy and Amazon. 

By aggregating these customer ratings, we’re able to identify average ratings and give a picture of the typical customer experience. Foods that are rated highly in this category tend to be available at popular retailers and taste great.

  1. Manufacturing Method

Our rating system evaluates each food’s manufacturing method on a 100-point scale, assigning higher ratings to manufacturing processes that promote higher nutritional value. For example, fresh and dehydrated foods receive higher scores than extruded dry foods. 

Dry (Extruded) Food 

While temperatures and exact methods vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, kibble is made using a high-pressure extrusion process. Foods go into the extruder at 200 – 250 degrees F and are subjected to extreme pressure and intense heat, allowing the food to cook in as few as 15 to 30 seconds. The effects of extrusion on pet food nutrient value demand further research, but limited evidence that it may degrade certain nutrients, combined with the fact that it is a lower-moisture manufacturing method, makes dry food rate lower in this category.

Canned (Wet) Food

Whether it comes in a can, a pouch, or a tray, wet cat food is mixed and prepared, then cooked in a hermetically-sealed container. Temperatures vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the foods are usually processed at somewhere around 250 degrees F until the food reaches a temperature of at least 185 degrees F. This manufacturing process allows the food to retain moisture and nutrient content. We give foods with this manufacturing method a moderately high rating in this category.

Fresh Food

Fresh food is manufactured using moderate levels of heat and usually resembles homemade food. Because this process helps the food to maintain moisture and nutritional integrity, foods made using this method receive higher ratings in this category.

Dehydrated Food 

Compared to extruded dry food, dehydrated food seems to maintain greater nutritional integrity and may be a more nutritious option. Foods made using this method receive higher ratings in this category. 

Raw Food

Freeze-dried and frozen raw foods retain the inherent nutritional value of the fresh meat and other ingredients, so they receive some of the highest ratings in this category. 

As new foods enter our database, the Pet Food Sherpa pet food rating system becomes stronger and more accurate. 

At Pet Food Sherpa, constant growth translates to constant improvement. As we continue to gather data on an increasing number of foods, our system learns more about the pet food market and is able to make more accurate assessments.

Whether you’re focused on price, ingredient quality, or finding a food that rates well in every area, we hope that this rating system helps you to make more informed decisions on what you put in your pet’s bowl.