Which Sport Dog Food is Best?
In recent years, many sport dog food formulations have become very popular. These products generally boast a higher percentage of protein and fat when compared to the average dry dog food. The most recognized brands that create these products include Purina Pro-Plan, Eukanuba, and Victor. Several other lesser-known brands also have sport formulas, including Kinetic and Inukshuk. This post will look at these products, looking closely at Pro-Plan, Eukanuba, and Victor, and touching on some of the rarer sport products on the market. While some of the companies have canned products in addition to their kibble lines, we will be focusing on the kibble varieties only for this post.
Purina Pro-Plan Sport:
Pro-Plan Sport dog foods are probably the most well known of all the high protein, high fat commercial diets available for dogs. Pro-Plan is owned by Purina, which is owned by Nestle. Nestle is the biggest food company, not just in the USA, but in the world.1 Nestle acquired Purina in 2001.2 Purina Pro-Plan first came on the market in the 1980s, but Purina had been in the pet food market decades before this.2 As such, they have a reputation as a long-standing, established producer of pet foods.
Many pet owners like that Pro-Plan is produced by such a huge corporation, as large corporations can spend more on product testing when compared to small companies. Also, Pro-Plan is widely available, so it is easy to find when traveling. While perusing dog forums, I found that owners often state that Pro-Plan Sport is the only food that keeps weight on their dogs during the most intense portions of the season.
Purina boasts on its website to be the only brand to fuel 95 of the top 100 show dogs.3 I believe that this is largely due to marketing. Years ago, as I sat and watched dog conformation shows on animal planet, it was Eukanuba that was considered the best of the best, the food fed most to champions. There must have been a shift in advertising, as Eukanuba is not nearly as promoted at dog shows as it once was. While it is a decent dog food, I really believe that so many people feed Pro-Plan because of marketing, but that is my opinion.
Some more holistic minded people view Pro-Plan as one of the worst dog foods on the market, since it contains corn, corn-gluten meal, and by-products. I don’t like that they use corn-gluten meal in their products, but I don’t have a problem with Purina using by-products in their formulas (see this post where I discuss by-products). Corn-gluten meal is a plant protein concentrate, and plant proteins are not as bioavailable to dogs as animal protein sources. Still, Pro-Plan appears to have a decent amount of meat used in its Sport line.
It seems that many Pro-Plan Sport foods have actually went through feeding trials to assure that these products meet the needs of puppies, as opposed to simply meeting minimum requirements per the AAFCO. This is a plus for many owners, especially owners of large breed dogs, since nutritional deficiencies in these animals can have devastating effects on skeletal development. Many pet food companies have not done such feeding trials, so it is noteworthy that Purina spent money to conduct this research.
The Pro-Plan Sport line features meat as the first ingredient, along with poultry by-product meal as the meat concentrate in the food. Another plus is beef fat being used as the main source of animal fat in the products. Most of the formulas are 30/20 (with 30% crude protein and 20% crude fat), but they have a few which are 27/17 (the small bites recipe and the turkey and barley diet), and one which is 26/16.
Overall, here are the Pros and Cons of this brand of sport dog food.
- Established company with plenty of research behind their formulas.
- Widely available at pet food stores, so easy to find when traveling.
- Many formulas, making it easy to rotate between protein sources.
- It appears that all Pro-Plan Sport foods are formulated for all life stages.
- Feeding trials were used for many of the formulas.
- Meat is the first ingredient.
- Beef fat is used as the source of fat. Animal fats are always superior to plant oils.
- Corn-gluten meal is in most Pro-Plan Sport formulas (The turkey and barley formula does not have this ingredient)
- Multi-national corporation produces this food. If the buyer likes supporting smaller companies, this is a huge drawback.
- By-products: Some people prefer foods without by-products. Most of the Pro-Plan Sport diets have by-products (The turkey and barley formula does not have by-products)
My Experience with Pro-Plan Sport:
Maple’s breeder feeds her dog’s Pro-Plan Sport, so that is what I started Maple out on upon bringing her home. I was using the chicken and rice formula per the breeder’s instructions. Maple’s system did not agree with this food, and she would throw up regularly after eating it. I switched her over to another brand, and she had fewer vomiting episodes. In Maple’s case, I think it was a combination of the food and her having a sensitive tummy, as she stills throws up occasionally. In addition to this, some of the dog owners in her puppy class said their dogs do well on Pro-Plan Sport overall, but that their dogs had issues with the chicken and rice formula like Maple did. As such, I would recommend trying one of the other Pro-Plan Sport varieties if someone wanted to give this food a try.
Link to website: https://www.purina.com/pro-plan/dogs/sport-dog-food?page=1
Eukanuba is another brand with a long-established reputation. Eukanuba is owned by Mars Petcare, the same parent company that produces Pedigree, Royal Canin, Iams, Nutro, Cesar, and other brands of pet products.4 Mars is also the owner of Banfield Pet Hospitals,4 something of which I was unaware of prior to writing this post. Before being acquired by Mars, Eukanuba was owned by Procter and Gamble. The food was originally created by Paul Iams, the same person who started Iams pet food.5 If memory serves me correctly, Eukanuba used to be the king of dog foods, considered the best of the best. Pro-Plan has now taken this place, but Eukanuba is still well known and respected in the dog community.
All of the performance products available through Eukanuba use chicken by-product meal as their chief and only source of animal protein, and for all but the 21/13 formula, it is the first ingredient. These products use wheat gluten and corn-gluten meal, which are plant protein concentrates. All of the formulas use chicken fat as the chief source of fat. There is a 21/13 formula, a 26/16 diet, a 30/20 diet, and a 30/28 product. Many of Eukanuba’s non-performance foods also contain egg as well as fresh chicken, and it is disappointing that the performance lines do not have these beneficial ingredients.
The Pros and Cons of this food are as follows:
- Established company with long history of research in pet nutrition.
- Chicken fat is used as the main source of fat.
- Corn-gluten meal is included in the formulas.
- Wheat gluten is in several of the formulas.
- Chicken by-product meal is the only animal protein source in these foods. While I think by-products can be beneficial in dog food, I like to see non animal by-products and/or meals used as well.
- Multi-national corporation produces this food. If the buyer likes supporting smaller companies, this is a huge drawback.
- By-products: Some people prefer foods without by-products.
My experience with Eukanuba:
While not specific to the Performance line, something odd I discovered about Eukanuba’s puppy food is that it gave Maple a fishy odor. She loved the food and was doing well on it, but I didn’t appreciate her fishy smell! When perusing dog food forums, a few others noted that their dogs developed a slight odor when fed Eukanuba’s foods. This is odd to me, as I give my dogs fish oil, but only ever noticed a fishy smell in Maple while she was eating the medium breed puppy food. For this reason, and the lack of availability of this food in my area, I stopped feeding her Eukanuba puppy.
Link to Website: https://www.eukanuba.com/us/athlete-range
Victor Pet foods is based out of Mt. Pleasant, Texas. The parent company to Victor Pet food is Mid America Pet Food. In addition to Victor, Mid America Pet Food produces Eagle Mountain Pet Food, Wayne Feeds, and Nature’s Logic.6 The food is carried by many independent pet food stores, as well as Tractor Supply Company.
One of the really nice things about this line of products is that the company shows you how much of the protein is coming from animal protein sources. This information is readily available on the front of all Victor’s packages. In addition to this, a complete breakdown of the nutrients in the food is available on the companies website. Victor’s website states that most of their ingredients are sourced in their home state of Texas, but they do not specifically address whether or not they source some of their ingredients from other countries.
From their classic line, Hi-Pro Plus and High Energy are both suitable for active dogs, with Hi-Pro Plus also being suitable for growing puppies (excluding growth of large breeds). Their Grain Free Active Dog and Puppy formula is for dogs of all life stages, including growth of large size dogs. High Pro-Plus is a 30/20 formula, High Energy is 24/20, and Grain Free Active Dog and Puppy is 33/16.
All of Victor’s products marketed for active dogs use beef meal as the first ingredient. Other common ingredients in Victor’s products include chicken meal, chicken fat, and blood meal. Victor’s grain free options include peas and sweet potatoes, and the grains commonly used in the grain inclusive formulas are sorghum and millet. From my research, is appears that none of Victor’s foods contain corn, wheat, or soy. Also, the company does not list animal by-products on their ingredient labels.
- Variety of animal proteins used in formulas.
- Chicken fat is chief source of fat.
- No corn, wheat, or soy. Grains used are gluten free.
- Reasonable Price compared to many higher-end dog foods.
- Texas based company.
- No mention of organ meats.
- No fresh meats, only meat meals. Some people prefer foods with fresh meats.
- Grain free formulas appear to be high in peas, which may be problematic.
My Experience with Victor:
I tried Victor High-Pro Plus on Raina and Maple. Raina gobbled it right up, and her sensitive digestive system did pretty well on it, though it seems like the food might be a little low on the fiber side, as her stools were very small while feeding this food. This is great for many dogs, but Raina seems to feel best with a little more fiber in her diet. Maple did well on it, no stomach upset, but she really didn’t care for the taste of this food.
Link to website: https://victorpetfood.com/
Other, Lesser-Known Sport Foods:
Here are some lesser-known brands that have formulas geared toward active dogs. I have never fed any of these brands, but they are probably worth looking into for people who need to feed their dogs sport formulas. These foods are not widely carried in pet food stores, so ordering the products might be the only option. I have not fed either of these brands to my dogs, so I don’t have any first hand experience with them.
Kinetic Dog Food:
This is a brand of dog food I stumbled upon while researching for this post. As far as I can tell, this is a privately owned company based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, with the parent company being 3-Amigos Nutrition Group. Their products contain chicken by-products, but do not contain corn, wheat, or soy. It appears all formulas contain chicken meal, menhaden fish meal, and egg. The grains used include rice and sorghum. Kinetic has formulas suitable for adult dogs and a diet for puppies. The food is made in the US, but it sources some of the supplements in the food from other countries, as many companies do. The food is worth a try for those who don’t like corn, wheat, and soy, but like the use of chicken by-products.
Link to the website: https://kineticdogfood.com/.
Inukshuk Dog Food:
This food is produced by Corey Nutrition Company and is based out of New Brunswick, Canada. The company boasts of 40 years of producing quality products. The food is specifically geared to fuel the high needs of sled dogs in the bitter cold of Northern Canada. Their highest fat formula would probably be inappropriate for any dogs but sled dogs working tirelessly in freezing conditions, but their 26/16 formula is suitable for a wide range of dogs. Most of the diets feature chicken meal, herring meal, chicken fat, herring oil, and chicken liver, while the marine diet has no chicken. No by-products are used by this company. Three of the four Inukshuk formulas do contain wheat and corn, but it does not appear to have plant protein concentrates, so I personally would not see this as problematic unless the dog has allergies to these ingredients. The marine formula is free of corn, wheat, chicken, and soy.
I cannot find any information on this food meeting AAFCO standards, but since this is a Canadian company, this is understandable.
An additional bonus to appreciate about this food is the fact that all of Inukshuk’s formulas are GMO-free, which is important to many consumers.
Link to website: https://www.inukshukpro.com/
So, Which One is Best:
With dog food, it really comes down to what you are looking for in the product. Here, I will give my final thoughts on the products discussed.
Pro-Plan leads the pack in animal feeding trials, scientific studies, advertising, and I feel availability. It is also nice that they have a variety of formulas, making it easy for owners to rotate protein sources. The feeding trials that back Pro-Plan Sport really set this food apart, as most foods are only formulated to meet AAFCO standards, but Purina actually ran feeding trials. Since this food is suitable for all life stages, including growth of large breed dogs, it would be very convenient for owners with multiple dogs of multiple ages.
Based upon ingredients alone, Inukshuk stands out the most, as it contains chicken meal, herring meal, and chicken liver. Liver is so nutrient dense; I feel it should be a part of any dog’s diet. When by-products are not included, I feel it is important for the pet food manufacturer to assure some organ meats are contained in the food. It is impressive that Inukshuk can boast only using non-GMO ingredients, and it is also refreshing that this food does not contain plant-protein concentrates. Since I have never fed this product to my pets, I cannot personally attest to how dogs do on it, but I think I am going to order some just to try it out on Raina and Maple.
Victor is a good quality product based in Texas. From what I have seen, it is one of the only higher-end dog food brands to still have a reasonable price tag. It also has decent availability, and good quality ingredients. I wish that the food contained some fresh meats, as I personally have found my picky dogs prefer foods with fresh meat listed first.
Kinetic dog food is notable for not using soy, corn, or wheat, while still using chicken by-products, making it a good option for people who want to feed a diet that contains by-products but that avoids corn, wheat, and soy. This is something I haven’t seen before in a product, and I think I will have to buy a bag to see what my little pack thinks of it. The downside is that all recipes rely on chicken, so this isn’t an option for dogs who don’t tolerate chicken well.
The Eukanuba Performance line is a little bit of a let-down honestly (just going off of ingredients). I have always liked that Iams and Eukanuba generally use a combination of fresh meat and chicken by-product meal as their protein sources, along with including egg in many of their formulas. Their Performance line only uses chicken by-product meal for animal protein. Based upon ingredients alone, I would try the other Sport foods listed in this article before trying Eukanuba’s Performance.
There are many types of dog food on the market today, and this is just a sampling of some of the available sport dog foods. Stay informed and do what works.