Wellness® dog food has been approved by the Whole Dog Journal, and has also been included in many “Top 10” lists of dog food formulas. At time of publishing Wellness® offers a bewildering array of products, including 35 dry foods, 40 canned foods, and a variety of mixers and toppers. Wellness® is owned by Wellpet LLC (owned by the Berwind Corporation), a company that combined Eagle Pack, the former Wellness® and Old Mother Hubbard. As of May 2012, at least some of Wellness’s foods were being manufactured by Diamond since they were included in the Diamond recall that month that featured a number of well-known brands. We have heard from one source that some of the canned food for Wellness® is co-packed by American Nutrition. Companies don’t usually like to advertise the fact that they have a third party doing work for them but most smaller dog food companies, including Wellness®, don’t own their own pet food plants.

According to the website, Wellness® is formulated with natural ingredients, and is free of artificial colors, flavors, or animal by-products. They boast guaranteed probiotics, omega 3 and 6, and fruits and vegetables. Wellness® has had a few recalls, including a recall for large breed puppy food in May 2012 and a October 2012 recall for Wellness® Super 5 Mix Small Breed Adult Dog food.

For this article, we reviewed Wellness® Complete Health Adult Recipe Deboned Chicken and Oatmeal recipe, which in this author’s opinion is the basic adult maintenance diet. The ingredients are listed on the guaranteed analysis panel:

Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Oatmeal, Ground Barley, Ground Brown Rice, Rye Flour, Tomato Pomace, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Whitefish, Tomatoes, Natural Chicken Flavor, Carrots, Ground Flaxseed, Ground Millet, Calcium Carbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Spinach, Vitamin E Supplement, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Sweet Potatoes, Apples, Blueberries, Zinc Proteinate, Mixed Tocopherols added to preserve freshness, Zinc Sulfate, Niacin, Iron Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Beta-Carotene, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chondroitin Sulfate, Vitamin A Supplement, Chicory Root Extract, Copper Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Sodium Selenite, Garlic Powder, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Calcium Iodate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Dried Lactobacillus plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Rosemary Extract, Green Tea Extract, Spearmint Extract.

The Good

Wellness® uses chicken, chicken meal, and whitefish as protein sources, and oatmeal, barley, rice, and rye flour as carbohydrate sources. There is a nice variety of fruits and veggies. Wellness uses guaranteed probiotics, use mixed tocopherols to preserve freshness (natural preservatives). I also believe that Wellness® uses packaging that is designed to help protect the product from going rancid. There are no artificial colors, flavors, corn, wheat, or animal by-products. Stating that the chicken is ‘deboned’ has no benefit other than marketing: there is no definition for deboned chicken in the AAFCO manual.

The Bad

Wellness® uses Yucca, which is purported to be a digestive aid and control intestinal gas. There is no science that support this. The best way to control intestinal gas is to feed a dog food that is highly digestible with correct amounts of fermentable fiber.

Wellness® does not control their own distribution centers. For those of you who are unfamiliar, pet food does not go straight from the manufacturing plant straight to the pet store. Typically, the pet food is transported from the manufacturing plant to a distribution center, then to a pet store. In between the manufacturing plant, distribution center, and pet store pet foods are often exposed to extreme heat (i.e. unloaded off a plane and sitting on a tarmac recooking under the sun) and unsanitary distribution centers that the pet food company does not control. There have been reports of these distribution centers having rats, mice, and extreme temperatures, all of which affect food quality.

The formula states that it has omega-3 fatty acids, but what is the quality control for ensuring these fragile molecules are delivered to the pet in a bioavailable and undamaged manner? Omega 3 molecules are very fragile, and are oxidized in the presence of light, heat, or oxygen. They actually transform from beneficial cis-fats to trans-fats. that you have purchased sat in a hot tractor trailer or warehouse before going into the pet store where you purchased it, or has sat open in your house, then the omega 3 molecules have long since oxidized and are no longer providing any benefit to your dog.

The Unknown

You can only glean so much information from an ingredient label. There are other important questions to ask yourself when choosing a food to feed your dog:

  1. How are the ingredients cooked? For Wellness®, this is unknown. You want to look for a food that is slow cooked at a lower temperature to preserve the integrity of the ingredients.
  2. Where are the ingredients sourced from? As we all learned from the deadly pet food recalls due to melamine contamination in 2007, where the ingredients come from matters. Yes, Wellness® is made in America, but where do the ingredients come from? This is unknown.
  3. How long as Wellness® been sitting on the shelf before you bought it? While we certainly support patronizing mom and pop boutique pet stores, the harsh reality is that the foods at the big box stores most likely turn over at a higher rate, and may be fresher products.

While Wellness® is certainly better than Pedigree, Ole Roy, Beneful, or Alpo, there are other foods out there that can give similar or superior nutrition and better peace of mind for a comparable cost.

Written By: Dr. Sarah J. Wooten, DVM — Renowned Veterinarian