How much thought do you put into choosing your dog’s food?
Perhaps you cruise the shelves, reading ingredient lists and comparing protein content.
Alternatively, you might be a sucker for a cute dog on the packaging or reach for a food by a tried and trusted brand.
But when it comes to the battle of the big players like Royal Canin vs Blue Buffalo, how much do you really know?
This article is for those people who take a brand on face value and go with a big name they’ve heard about.
This isn’t to say that a big bear trap awaits and where horrors will be unmasked…no.
What we want to achieve is to help you understand what a brand offers, their strengths, and perhaps their weaknesses.
In turn this will enable you to make an informed decision about the type of food balanced against the value it offers, so that your best buddy gets the type of diet you want.
It’s worth going back to basics and reviewing what exactly you want from a dog food.
Consider which factors are most important to you and your dog.
For example, is your dog a fussy eater?
If this is the case then palatability and taste is going to be essential.
This is in sharp contrast to a Labrador that would eat toasted cardboard and think they have a treat!
How do you feel about processed food that contains additives such as flavors, colors, and preservatives?
However, be aware that not all additives are bad.
For example, vitamins when given their chemical name can appear undesirable whilst in reality they are perfectly natural.
Decide on your standpoint when it comes to the origins of the ingredients.
What superficially appears a simple ingredient such as ‘Beef’ can come from very different sources.
The meat could be from intensively reared animals that are given antibiotics are growth promoters or from grass-fed, free-ranging animals that are organically reared.
The implication being that the same meat has the potential to contain artificial substances, whilst the other is wholesome and healthy.
How important to you is the quality of the ingredients?
When it comes to the protein content, meat offers higher quality, more easy to digest protein than those from vegetable sources.
Thus you may prefer to look for foods where soy is low on the ingredients list.
But the implications don’t stop there because ‘meat meal’ is very different to a named meat such as beef, lamb, chicken, or rabbit.
That isn’t to say that all meat meal is necessarily bad, but the quality and composition can vary from batch to batch.
Also consider how many different ingredients go into the food.
For example, if your dog has dietary allergies then you’ll want to keep to a limited palate of ingredients.
This is in order to limit the exposure of your dog to different food stuffs and hence reduce the chance of them coming into contact with a food they react to.
How much is cost a factor?
As a rule of thumb you get what you pay for.
There are many excellent economy foods out there, but generally, the cheaper the food the more bulking agents or inexpensive fillers are used in the formulation.
OK, so now you have a working idea of what you want to put into your dog, let’s take compare and contrast two of the big players: Royal Canin vs Blue Buffalo.
Royal Canin are market leaders both in terms of sales and in innovation.
They formulate their diets based on careful analysis of the scientific needs of pets at different stages of life and of different breeds.
These guys are the tech-boffins of the pet food world.
They analyze how organs work, how the body burns food, and how it differs between dogs.
To them a Great Dane and a Chihuahua aren’t just ‘dogs’, they are completely separate animals each with a unique requirement for protein, minerals, and calories.
Just one example of this is how Royal Canin was the first pet food company to engineer food specifically for growing puppies of large breeds.
They also take food safety and quality incredibly seriously.
Each shipment of raw ingredients comes from a known farm and is rigorously tested to ensure it meets strict standards before it is accepted.
If the ethos behind Royal Canin is using science for better nutrition, then the ethos of Blue Buffalo is about paring things down and going back to a dog’s roots.
If you had to choose three words to sum up Blue Buffalo they would be: Family, Natural, Healthy.
Alternatively, the three words to sum up Royal Canin would be: Proven, Quality, Targeted.
OK, back to Blue Buffalo.
The brand started when the family dog started having health problems.
Blue’s pet parents decided to tackle his problems from all possible angles which meant feeding him a natural, top quality food.
The only problem was the foods already on the market didn’t meet with their strict criteria.
The answer they came up with was to create their own dog food!
As the saying goes: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” because Blue went on to defy the odds and live a further ten years.
In fact, the ethic behind Blue Buffalo is summed up by “Feed them as family”, which is exactly why they started.
When your dog is a much valued family member, you want to feed them the best.
You could say these two leading brands want the same thing: Your dog to be happy, healthy, and well nourished.
However, they go about it in very different ways.
Royal Canin uses science to create wonderful recipes but in the equivalent of the lab, whilst Blue Buffalo goes for the Mom’s home cooking approach.
There is a place for both types of approach, but it just so happens some people might have a preference for one over the other.
So let’s take a peek at what goes into the foods, to see if that helps you make up your mind.
This time we’ll start with Blue Buffalo.
The brand prides itself on using natural ingredients to provide balanced nutrition.
This means using vegetables and fruit that are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and natural occurring minerals.
They also avoid the use of meat meals and plump for the whole meat itself.
This means their recipes are free from artificial colorings, flavorings, and preservatives, which certainly sound like it should be a good thing.
Another angle Blue Buffalo takes is that they offer different ranges, such as the gluten free diets, and they avoid cheap fillers such as soy and grains that contain gluten.
This is in deference to the argument that a dog’s digestive system is not designed to cope with a lot of grain and the diet should be mainly meat based.
This latter viewpoint is controversial (and beyond the scope of this article!) but it is fair to say that gluten can trigger dietary allergies in some dogs and for these fur-friends avoiding gluten is definitely a good idea.
OK, so let’s take a peek what’s in Royal Canin’s pantry.
Much like a jigsaw puzzle, Royal Canin takes a grand overview of the finished product; rather than overly fixate on the individual pieces.
In other words, they know exactly what a bowl of their food provides and can tell you how this works in terms of dietary daily requirements.
To achieve this Royal Canin do embrace ingredients such as meat meals, wheat, and other ingredients that are considered by some to be controversial.
However, let’s make it perfectly clear that these diets are completely safe and are a good quality food.
There is no implication here that the food is less than nutritious, just that the means they take to achieve this is different – which is after all what variety and choice is all about.
In fairness, Royal Canin is utterly scrupulous in their quality control.
Every batch of ingredients is subject to multiple quality control tests to ensure it meets strict standards.
If the food doesn’t pass then it doesn’t get used.
Royal Canin know an awful lot about animals and their health.
Indeed, there life stage diets were developed on the back of detailed scientific insights garnered from research into prescription diet formulations.
An example of the breadth of Royal Canin diet ranges include:
And if you don’t find a diet amidst that choice to suit, the chances are you will find something amongst the prescription diet range, which covers everything from cancer to brain ageing, allergies to kidney disease.
So what about Blue Buffalo?
There range is somewhat simpler, but still address a wide range of needs.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Blue Buffalo do make a limited range of prescription diets that are available only through veterinary clinics.
Much like Royal Canin special diets, these address specific issues such as having a sensitive stomach or needing a low protein food due to kidney disease.
With so little difference in cost (between similar types of diet) it looks like it’s down to an old-fashioned taste test to decide between them.
Again, this is interesting because both brands have great consumer confidence.
The pet parents feeding Royal Canin describe it as a doggy treat or indulgence and love how much the dogs relish eating it.
The odd dissenting voice disliked the food because it caused their dog to have an upset stomach.
Of course this is difficult to judge, because it might be that dog had intolerance to one of the ingredients, which is through no fault of the manufacturing process or formulation.
In the interests of balance we’ll give Blue Buffalo the same scrutiny.
Again, thousands of pet parents are utterly delighted with their dog’s enthusiasm for the food and how well they thrive on it.
On the downside, one understandly disgruntled customer opened the bag to find it infested with bugs! How that happened is unknown.
So there we have it, a comparison of Royal Canin vs Blue Buffalo.
Which do you think will be on the menu for your dog tonight?
Dr Sarah Robinson attended veterinary school at Oklahoma State University receiving a D.V.M. in 2008. Sarah’s longtime interest is to help people to better communicate with their pet companions, and in doing so, to help them to strengthen their relationships with their dogs and cats. Sarah has published numerous articles on canine feeding in pet related magazines, veterinary journals and leading natural health web sites.