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For dogs with grain allergies, grain-free diets are a must.
But grain-free doesn’t have to equal expensive.
4Health is a private brand of pet food created by Tractor Supply Co. in 2010. It promises to provide high-quality nutrition with wholesome and flavorful natural ingredients — all without breaking your budget.
At least some of the formulas (turkey and beef) in 4Health’s grain-free line appear to have been manufactured by Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, which was acquired in early 2018 by The J. M. Smucker Company.
Earlier this year, J. M. Smucker recalled various wet dog food products after low levels of pentobarbital (euthanasia drug) were found.(1)
How much did this effect this brand of 4Health recipes, if at all? Let’s find out!
So: Do 4Health’s Grain-Free Formulas really provide every day digestive and overall health support while being priced reasonably? Let’s find out!
4Health Grain-Free Chicken & Vegetables Formula
Every 4Health Grain-Free Formula has fresh meat as its first ingredient, followed by wholesome vegetables and a rich balance of vitamins and minerals.
As their name suggests, this line is free of any grains as well as corn, soy, and wheat — all of which are common causes of food allergies in dogs. 4Health formulas also include Omega fatty acids and species-specific probiotics to help promote healthy skin and shiny coats.
With near-average protein, fat, and carbohydrate contents as well as moderate amounts of named meats, there is very little to dislike about 4Health Grain-Free Formulas.
Overall, 4Health Grain-Free Chicken & Vegetables Formula is an above-average dry dog food, earning 4 out of 5 paws on its nutritional analysis and ingredient list.
Read on for an in-depth look at the ingredients, nutritional analysis, and customer sentiment.
Quick Peek of What's Inside
In the United States, the guidelines for pet food ingredient labels are established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and individual state regulations.
The AAFCO requires that ingredients must be listed in descending order of weight (including water weight). This means that ingredients that appear at the top of the ingredient list — typically the main proteins, carbs, and fat sources — are present in higher amounts by weight in the food than items at the bottom.(2)
Although it is difficult to determine how much of an ingredient is actually in the food (due to high water content in meats and vegetables), you can assume that the first few ingredients are in the highest amounts. Therefore, the first few ingredients of a dog food can tell you a lot about the quality of the product.
The first ingredient in this formula is chicken, an excellent source of protein for dogs. Per the AAFCO, chicken is the “combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone.” It also excludes feathers, heads, feet and entrails.
While chicken is a quality ingredient, it contains up to 69% water.(3) This means that once it’s cooked, chicken likely accounts for a smaller percentage of the total content of the final product.
Chicken also provides all the essential amino acids for your dog, as well as choline, selenium, phosphorous, and pantothenic acids. 4Health sources their chicken from USA suppliers.
The second ingredient is chicken meal, a highly concentrated source of chicken protein. It is simply fresh chicken that has been cooked to remove moisture, thus containing up to 300% more protein by volume than fresh chicken.
In comparison to fresh chicken which contains high moisture with approximately 18% protein and 5% fat, chicken meal contains only about 10% moisture, 12% fat, and a whopping 65% protein.
Next, as an alternative to grains, dog food manufacturers have been using alternative carbohydrate sources such as our next three ingredients, garbanzo beans, lentils, and peas, all of which are legumes.
Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, have been rising in popularity because they are high in protein, carbs, and dietary fiber while low in fat. They are also full of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, B, and C, potassium, magnesium, copper, and folate.
The high protein content of garbanzo beans must be considered when evaluating the total protein reported in this formula.
Lentils, much like garbanzo beans, are high in fiber, folate, iron, and complex carbohydrates.
Peas are a source of high-quality carbohydrates and fiber. They also contain vitamins A, C, and K as well as a range of minerals.
While the nutrient contents of the three ingredients above might seem great, there is an important issue to be considered here: ingredient splitting.
Ingredient splitting is the practice of manipulating ingredient weights so that it would appear as if real meat is the primary ingredient — when it might not be so.
If we were to combine all the legumes together and report them as one, this combination would likely move up on the ingredient list — possibly making legumes the predominant ingredient in this formula.
Some experts have criticized peas and other legumes as inappropriate for dogs primarily due to the presence of lectin and phytates.
Critics believe lectin can block absorption of nutrients and contribute to diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal disturbances, cardiovascular disease.(5) Dogs and cats also lack the enzymes necessary to process phytates, which bind minerals like zinc and iron and leech them out of your dog’s body.(6)
Next, we have potatoes. Potatoes are a source of gluten-free carbohydrates. They also provide fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese. However, potatoes are of only modest nutritional value for dogs.
The seventh ingredient is chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), obtained from chicken during commercial rendering or extracting processes. It is considered a highly digestible animal fat source with high levels of linoleic acid (Omega-6).
Tapioca is another popular alternative to grains. While it is a source of complex carbohydrates, it is worth noting that tapioca has a very high glycaemic index value and provides little nutritional value to dogs. If your dog is diabetic, you may want to avoid food with tapioca.
The ninth ingredient in this formula is egg product. We do not know if this form is wet or dry, and quality can vary significantly. However, eggs are often referred to as nature’s most perfect protein source and is also a great source of fat and vitamin E for dogs.
Tomato pomace is an inexpensive by-product of tomato manufacturing, consisting of the pulp, skin, and seeds. It is a great source of soluble fiber, maintains a healthy digestive tract, contains high levels of vitamins and minerals, and slows digestion, thereby increasing mineral absorption.
However, some people scorn tomato pomace as a low-quality filler that has no nutritional value for dogs.
Next is natural flavor, which is a natural flavoring additive. It can come from various plant or animal sources but does not contribute to nutrition.
The 12th ingredient on this list is flaxseed. It is one of the best plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, and fiber. Flaxseed is a popular dog food ingredient because its nutrient-rich profile can benefit dogs’ skin and coat.
There is some concern that flaxseed is not good for reproduction, but no dog-specific studies have been done.
The next ingredient is ocean fish meal, a fish-protein concentrate that contains 300% more protein than fresh fish. It is also a source of fish oil, which benefits dogs’ skin and coat health.
Although neither Tractor Supply Co. nor Diamond Pet Foods, Inc. specifies the source species for this ingredient, dog owners may be pleased to know that Diamond only uses fish meals free of ethoxyquin, a controversial fat preservative.
Salt is a common additive in dog food as it is a necessary mineral for all animals.
Next, we have choline chloride, a source of the essential B vitamin choline. It is essential for liver function, proper brain development, nerve function, muscle movement, and other processes in your dog’s body.(8)
Dried chicory root is a natural source of inulin, a soluble dietary fiber that also acts as a prebiotic for the probiotics that follow later in the ingredient list. Inulin can stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in your dog’s digestive system, thereby absorbing nutrients more readily.
Our next three ingredients, tomatoes, blueberries, and raspberries, are all low-calorie, high in fiber, and packed with antioxidants.
This formula also contains glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate to aid in joint health. The source of these ingredients are unknown, and benefits are inconclusive.
This food also contains Yucca Schidigera extract, which can help reduce your dog’s stool odor. Yucca also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Dried fermentation products of:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium animalis
- and Lactobacillus reuteri
. . . all refer to the probiotics and digestive enzymes added to this recipe.
From here on, the list includes a number of other items, mainly additional vitamins and minerals.
Listed ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Meal, Garbanzo Beans, Lentils, Peas, Potatoes, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Tapioca, Egg Product, Tomato Pomace, Natural Flavor, Flaxseed, Ocean Fish Meal, Salt, Choline Chloride, Dried Chicory Root, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Raspberries, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Chondroitin Sulfate, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Bifidobacterium Animalis Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Reuteri Fermentation Product, Vitamin E Supplement, Beta Carotene, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin D Supplement, Folic Acid.
Note: That some nutritional percentages reported are only estimated values, and are indicated as such as (est). Each dog food manufacturer is required by law to publish a Guaranteed Analysis, which defines each product’s maximum values of fiber, moisture and ash in addition to the minimum values of protein and fat contained within. Exact nutritional percentages are not available and hence all calculated values (including carbohydrate percentages and calorie amounts) are determined using these minimum and maximum published values and therefore may differ from actual values.
ⓘ Nutritional information as published by the dog food manufacturer.
ⓘ The manufacturer's published guaranteed analysis values normalized for moisture content.
Using the calculations provided by the AAFCO, 4Health Grain-Free Chicken & Vegetables Formula has approximately 362 calories per 100g (102 calories/ounce): 25% from protein, 35% from fat, and 40% from carbohydrates.
4Health Grain-Free Chicken & Vegetables Formula has a large variety of added vitamins and minerals. The minerals are chelated (ex: Iron proteinate), meaning that their binding to amino acids make them more biologically available.
4Health’s claims of “optimal nutrition for optimal health” have no actual definitions under AAFCO or FDA. These terms are simply used for marketing purposes.
While we have concerns about ingredient splitting and the limited insight into the quality of the ingredients, the ingredients themselves are appropriate for dogs. The product has many characteristics of a decent quality dog food.
But what do the customers say about 4Health Grain-Free Chicken & Vegetables Formula?
It has a very high rating on Tractor Supply Co.’s website, with an average rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. Most customers reported being extremely satisfied with the quality of the ingredients for the value, and many noted improvements in their dogs’ digestive and skin/coat health.
Some customers have also reported that their dogs’ allergies and ear infections improved significantly since switching to this formula. This formula has a rating of 3 out of 5 stars on Amazon, but it’s worth noting that there are only two reviews, one of which is a complaint about the price of the food on Amazon. 4Health products are not available on Chewy.com.
4Health does not have a dedicated page on ConsumerAffairs.com, but Diamond Pet Foods (the manufacturer) has a rating of 4.25 out of 5 stars with over 370 reviews. Since Diamond manufactures many different brands of pet foods, it is important to remember that the customer ratings and reviews may not be applicable specifically to 4Health.
All in all we give 4Health Grain-Free Formulas the thumbs up, what about you?
How do you rate this product line?
After taking a closer look at the Grain-Free Formulas from 4Health and the Chicken & Veggies recipe specifically, we do recommend this product line for dogs who need to adhere to a grain-free lifestyle.
Finally, we do recommend considering 4Health Original Formula recipes for your adult dogs food bowl. But be sure to choose the right recipe for you and stay away from any potential allergens your vet warned about.
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