Rating algorithm overhaul - Have your say!

Over the next couple of months, I am going to be giving our rating algorithm a long overdue overhaul.

Until now, it has only analysed the ingredients list - a system that has worked well but a little restrictive nonetheless. As well as re-examining the way we score ingredients, I will also be adding in other key factors like the nutrient levels in the finished product and the way in which the food was made. Other, more abstract issues like company ethics and carbon footprint may also enter the equation if I feel you, our lovely members, have an appetite for them.

So here’s my question to you…
What factors do you look at when your picking a food? Just the ingredients? Nutrient levels? Cooking/preparation method? Ethical matters? Something else?
How much import do you give the different factors? If a food were awarded a score out of 100, what proportion would you assign to each aspect?

Our ratings are there to help you so if you have any preferences on how they should be calculated, now is the time to let me know


Hi David,
I think I know what you are trying to achieve. There a foods that score highly on ingredients and get lots of attention but would fall short on other factors. At the same time there are foods that may score higher based on the finished product.
The 4 factors (ingredients/processing/ethics and nutrients) are all linked to the quality of the finished product.
As the importance of each factor varies from person to person it may work better to keep them equal. It seems the fairest way to me.
Ethics is difficult to rate, for example: A manufacturer may look further afield for higher welfare standard but that increases their carbon footprint.
Score each out of 25 and add them together for a score out of 100.
What do you think?


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I feel that the Dog Food Directory works well at the moment but here are some suggestions:

Sorry - I have mentioned this before but I still have a concern about scores, mainly because I have made mistakes in the past when I first started using this website. Many of us are programmed to look at scores and jump to the conclusion that the the higher they are the better the product will be for our dogs. I know that within the information pages you mention that the score is not always important and that the dog owner needs to look at the condition of their dog but that is easy to miss and some dog owners are inexperienced. All the high scoring foods are high in protein and fat. There is nothing wrong in that but it is not always appropriate for some dogs. Pet owners may think that their choice of food is somehow inferior but actually could be the best thing for their particular dog. I don’t know how you get round that but I do think it might be an issue.

I like to know where the ingredients are coming from (as far as possible). If the meat is human grade then that is good too.

This is really important because I don’t want animals to suffer so I would prefer to buy food that has an ethical stance on animal welfare. Having recently read about the treatment of rabbits destined for the pet food market, that worried me. I don’t think that one animal should suffer for the sake of another.

Preparation method:
We have spoken at some length on here about the issue of acrylamide in dog food that is prepared at high temperatures (extrusion/baking). I also know that some people on your Facebook page have commented negatively on the fact that a dry product has scored a full 5 stars. I am not a nutritionist but I am not sure that kibble should ever score 5 when it is so highly processed and subjected to high temperatures.

Carbon footprint
I would definitely prefer to buy food where the whole process (ingredients and manufacturing) is done in the UK. However, in the past I have bought food that was made in Europe because I thought it was the better product and in the case of cold pressed, it is not made in the UK.

Saving a search:
We have spoken about this before, but as someone who tries to help others source a suitable product, I feel that it would be really useful to be able to save a search.

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Thanks for posting Michael. Originally, the rating was simply meant as an estimation of a food’s healthiness but with the rise of alternative processing methods (cold-pressing, freeze-drying, raw completes etc) and some unusual nutrient profiles (particularly as a result of very high meat contents), it’s clear that only looking at the ingredient list might not tell the whole story.

To me it’s clear that processing method and nutrient levels should form part of the score but exactly how much is another matter. Ethics, on the other hand, is, as you mention, not easy to measure and not directly linked to how the food affects the dog.

Just beat me to it Dottie. Many thanks for your very good suggestions. A couple of points:

I’m sure most users would agree that some sort of scores are a necessary part of the site as without them it just becomes a fairly directionless list of dog foods. In the modern era, I think people would much rather have a convenient rating than have to trawl through the data for every food and try to figure out which is better. You are quite right, though, that owners of dogs that are already doing well shouldn’t necessarily look for better ranking foods but for those that are already looking for a new food, I think the scores are crucial. Of course, they could be better but that’s why I’m making the changes.

You’re also right that the current focus on higher meat formulas isn’t always ideal. When I first developed the algorithm the only high meat dry food available in the UK was Orijen so a lot of emphasis was put on meat content. Now, with so many high meat foods on the market, it’s becoming clear that meat content isn’t the be all and end all and that pushing for ever higher levels of meat can, in fact, lead to inappropriate nutrient levels in the finished product. These points are top of the overhaul list.

In terms of quality, I am already gathering information on the country of origin and will add a filter into the directory. I’m not personally convinced that it should form part of the rating but if enough people value it that highly, it can be done. Ethics is a very tricky subject as there are so many facets - animal welfare, carbon footprint, ingredient sourcing, recyclable packaging, animal testing, the list goes on. Not everyone values each of these elements equally and, at the end of the day, none affect the quality of the food.

By the way, an interesting fact is that all meat used in pet foods available in the UK has to be ‘human grade’ by law. That doesn’t seem to stop some companies advertising the fact as if they are special though.

The ‘save search’ function is on the to do list but it’s likely to be quite a big job so may still be a little wait I’m afraid.

I think preparation method is a big consideration for me, If I were to feed kibble on a regular basis, then it would be a cold pressed one even if I felt that the ingredients were not as good as a baked or extruded food. I also stopped feeding another food which I had been happy with when I discovered that preparation had changed and it was being cooked in the plastic carton. With all the warning about carcinogens being released from plastic bottles left in hot cars, this just seems like an unknown to me and not worth the risk.

I would prefer that food was produced ethically. If I had a choice of two similar foods and one was produced more ethically then I would probably choose that one and I would be willing to pay more but if the quality of the more ethically produced food was not high, I would be more likely to buy the food I felt would be better for my dog.
ETA. I think I have a lack of knowledge and a head in the sand approach to ethics at the moment. However If I heard about unethical practise within a company, I would avoid buying their product.

To summarise , I would prioritise production method, followed by ingredients and lastly ethics :-[


The scoring system is essential, particularly as it is helpful for people to look at ingredient lists and see exactly why some products attract the various ratings. I am glad that you are looking at the issue of high protein/fat = high score. Processing method is definitely important and should be taken into account in the scoring system.


This in an interesting point and one that hadn’t really occurred to me to include in the ratings. The vast majority of wet foods are cooked inside their tins/pouches/cartons/trays etc so I will certainly look into it.

I think a lot will have to depend on exactly how much the different preparation methods actually affect the nutrient levels. Unfortunately, this seems to be another area mostly based on anecdotal evidence but I will keep digging and will let you know when I find what I’m looking for.

Don’t know how you would score it for an algorithm but I would like to see the way a food is labelled given priority. After ingredients, people ask ‘why isn’t the label more clear?’ more often than any other thing. Fair note to the other posters, but I have had very few customers whose first concerns were ethics or how the food was made.
In particular to the labelling, I feel there is too much positive/negative labelling. As David said in previous post, saying a food is ‘human grade meat’ implies that other foods not carrying this label are not human grade (when in fact all are). Other labels similar are ‘vet approved’, ‘developed with vets’ and to some extent ‘naturally sourced’ (can you unnaturally source something?). ‘Made in England’ is one I have a problem with too - are all the ingredients from England?
The biggest labelling bug bear I have is ‘prescription diet’
On the positive side of this, I would like to see a food score more if it adds information on the label that is not a requirement. Information I would like to see - Calorific value. Kibble size. A ‘once opened use by’ guideline.

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Would it be possible to be able to save dogs profiles?

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I think the ingredients and where these were sourced is what is important.


Great idea! I’ll see what I can do but it might take a while to figure out the programming so please don’t hold your breath!

Thank you for your post Meg - you make some interesting points. David will be spending more time on the website early next year so your comments will be useful to him.

On the subject of scores, it is something that I have pondered about, not least because a common query is ‘what is the best food for my dog?’. Obviously it is necessary to have the point system and it helps people to understand the principles of sourcing a good product. However, I agree that sourcing a suitable product for a dog is not always about scores and in many cases dogs do better on a lower scoring product. David has this to say on the FAQ page:

As long as your dog is fit and healthy and you're both happy with the food then there's no reason to change. Different dogs will always do better on different foods and while the ingredients list allows us to predict which foods are likely to be better for the majority of dogs, there will always be plenty of cases where an individual dog is better suited to some of the lower-rated foods than some higher-rated ones. Our aim is simply to help you to find a food that keeps your dog healthy and happy so if you've already done that, we would certainly recommend sticking with it no matter what rating we give it.
He has also added the filter 'Type of Dog' so the owner can tick working or pet. I think that this can be a very useful one and hope that it helps owners in their search for a good dog food.

In my opinion, the analytical content (fats, protein,carbs) of the food is of the least importance in terms of determining how good a food is, it is more important where these are sourced ie the ingredients. In the past high protein content was thought of as being an indicator of a good food and manufacturers would use cheap fillers that contained high protein to give the appearance of a quality food. Modern emphasis in dog foods, is on the ingredients, with the level of meat content and other ingredients being the indicators of what is a good or bad food. This site gives ratings on the ingredients not the analytical content ( although these are part of the ratings). for example - I can find you a food that has five star rating and another on a one star and with similar protein/fat/carbs analysis but that would not give an indication they were similar foods.

I take your point about the analysis and the quality of the ingredients but I am sure that a lot of people find the dials useful, particularly if they have a dog with special needs. Personally, I have found it invaluable in managing the diet of my dogs. I think it is a case of looking at the ingredient list (and understanding it) first though.

“Also if these charts were promoted and given higher attention on the website they would hopefully be used more and users won’t rely mostly on food scores.”

With hindsight my word “mostly” would be written in italic as that is what I’m trying to put across albeit, clumsily.
The charts on the website follow list of ingredients and an old boot could prop up the protein (and be somewhat disguised in the list), and this shows where scoring should not be dismissed.
Yet it is invaluable to have the charts - having had a dog with specific needs that relied on low protein, low ash, low fat, moderate fibre.
Perhaps David will further promote the charts as they may be a building block to coding for dogs with specific dietary needs for health reasons.


David you did ask us to have our say…I wonder does this sound like it may help to ‘tick’ the boxes :-

Re solely the coding for the scoring based on the ingredients:
That already seems to be an important criteria for many people, perhaps moreso now with greater awareness of what we are feeding dogs; yet time is precious and it is so much easier to read a number (a score/rating) and when time becomes available to be able to read & see the reasoning behind the numbering as explained elsewhere on the site.
So sticking with numbers… once the results are ready (and rated by whichever option the user choses, as is happening already), then perhaps add code to perform further sorts on that database (of those results) to present a PROCESSING score/rating, and an ETHICAL score/rating and a COOKING/PREPARATION method, and a CARBON FOOTPRINT score/rating.
These 5 results could be presented to the user side by side or in tabular form.
Again these are numbers, and again would be backed up by reasoning.

It may look like information overload yet the majority of information is there in a fairly understandable format to enable a user to make a more informed choice. This amounts to presenting all 5 results at once without offering further user choice.

Re the coding for the nutrients:
as you may know I am a [u]great fan of those dials/u and I’d really like more emphasis given to them. ie bigger dials, per variety (lots of work I know sorry), and brief explanations in text with links to your wonderful articles on feeding dogs with health issues (which you have written and are writing).

It’s too difficult for me to choose exactly my preferences as the ingredient scoring is as important to me as the processing and that is as important as the preparation and cooking! Ethically I’d want animal welfare at the top, carbon footprint is another biggy for now and the future generations.

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Thanks Meg