You would think that buying dog food would be easy — after all, they’re happy eating out of the trash, right?
However, there are so many options, each with their own specific selling points, that you can quickly become overwhelmed by the search. In order to take some of the stress out of the buying experience, we’ve compared some of the top brands on the market against one another to determine which is best.
A Sneak Peek at the Winner: 4Health
Although 4Health isn’t a name you’d typically associate with high-quality food, they surprised us with how well they stacked up against a premium option like Blue Buffalo. When you combine that with their superior safety history and lower price, it’s enough for the upstart to notch a “W.”
The winner of our comparison:
Our favorite 4Health recipes are:
- 4Health Salmon & Potato Formula Adult
- 4Health Small Bites Formula Adult
- 4Health Grain Free Puppy Formula
To see why 4Health managed to earn the victory here, as well as to learn in what areas Blue Buffalo might have outperformed it, read on.
You may have never heard of the 4Health brand, but it’s a surprisingly well-made kibble.
4Health is Tractor Supply Company’s Store Brand
Tractor Supply Company is a store that specializes in selling products related to home improvement, agriculture, and livestock. As a result, you may have never set foot inside one of their stores, much less considered buying a dog food from them.
They offer a wide range of pet products, though, and 4Health dog food is one of their best. If you don’t have one of their stores close to you, however, you may never have the chance to give your dog their food.
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4Health Doesn’t Use Fillers or Animal By-Products
You won’t find ingredients like corn, soy, or wheat in their foods, nor will you see any animal by-products.
This elevates the quality of the food while also reducing the risk that your dog will have issues digesting it.
Real Meat is the First Ingredient
The foods are all built on a foundation of lean protein, and real meat is always the first ingredient.
Despite this commitment to quality, their foods are very reasonably priced.
The Company Sometimes Uses a Controversial Marketing Technique Known as Ingredient Splitting
Ingredient splitting is a technique that some companies use to mislead customers as to how much of a certain ingredient is in their food.
For example, if the ingredients list shows rice, rice flour, and brewers rice as separate ingredients, there’s a good chance they took the total amount of rice in the food and divided it by three.
This lets them move it further down the ingredients list. Thus, if you see something like chicken as the first ingredient followed by several variations of rice, there’s a good chance chicken wouldn’t be the first ingredient if you added all the rice up.
About Blue Buffalo
Blue Buffalo is one of the top natural pet foods on the market today, and unlike 4Health, you can find them in a variety of stores nationwide.
Blue Buffalo is a Young Company
The company was founded in 2003 but has quickly grown into a dog food Goliath. This is due to their commitment to making quality foods, as many pet owners are willing to spend a little more for a better food.
In 2018, the company was bought by General Mills, so it’s no longer an independent operation. They remain committed to making premium, natural food.
They Have Several Different Food Lines
Blue Buffalo has their basic formula as well as several different specialty lines catering to dogs with specific issues. These include a high-protein formula, a limited-ingredient food, and more.
While their selection isn’t as impressive as some other brands, they should be able to accommodate just about any of your dog’s needs.
They Might Not Be as Committed to High-Quality Ingredients as They’d Have You Believe
Purina is one of Blue Buffalo’s biggest competitors, and in 2014, they sued Blue Buffalo, claiming that the company lied about the ingredients of their food.
Specifically, Purina alleged that Blue Buffalo uses a significant amount of poultry by-product in their food, despite the company’s claims to the contrary. Blue Buffalo was forced to admit in court that the allegations were true.
It’s unknown the extent to which they used these by-products, or when (or if) they stopped. However, even if their foods are squeaky-clean now, the whole incident calls the company’s integrity into question.
Their Foods are Often Mediocre, Nutritionally-Speaking
Despite the company’s reputation as a high-end food, many of their recipes are only middle-of-the-road in terms of their nutritional content, with low protein being a common issue.
That’s not to say that all their foods are questionable, though (and we like the Wilderness line in particular). It’s just a warning that you should read the label closely before buying one of their foods.
3 Most Popular 4Health Dog Food Recipes
1. 4Health Salmon & Potato Formula Adult
4Health really went overboard with the omega fatty acids in this recipe, as it has salmon, fish meal, canola oil, and flaxseed in it. That should give your dog a nice shiny coat, as well as help keep her immune system finely tuned.
The fish gives it a decent amount of protein (25%), but the real stars here are the fruits and veggies. It boasts kelp, cranberries, blueberries, spinach, and a whole lot more, so your dog will get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in each bite.
We also like that they add glucosamine and chondroitin, as those ingredients can help keep your pup’s joints functioning well into old age.
The fiber is very low, which, when combined with the average amount of protein, could have your dog feeling like she’s starving to death between meals. We also don’t agree with how much salt they put in it.
Still, most foods at this price range would be stuffed to the gills with cheap fillers and animal by-products, so to find a kibble that actually has real food in it feels like a coup.
2. 4Health Small Bites Formula Adult
- No Corn, No Wheat, No Soy Ingredients - Ideal for pets that may have sensitivities.
- Probiotics to support healthy digestion and Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids to help keep the coat...
This food treats small pups the same way it would big ones, as it packs quite a bit of nutrition into tiny bits of kibble.
The protein levels (26%) wouldn’t be much to write home about for a large breed kibble, but that’s a pretty perfect amount for little dogs. There’s quite a bit of animal protein in here too, as it has chicken, chicken meal, chicken fat, and fish meal.
The rice and oatmeal inside make it very soothing on upset stomachs, and there aren’t really any ingredients that could potentially aggravate sensitive eaters. We also like how many probiotics they added, as well as nutrients like taurine.
We do wish it had a bit more fiber, and it could stand to add a little fat, but those are minor criticisms. Overall, this is one of the best small breed formulas we’ve seen, especially given the price.
3. 4Health Grain Free Puppy Formula
Many puppy kibbles have a lot of questionable ingredients in them, as manufacturers apparently believe that their growing metabolisms can just burn through anything. 4Health takes puppy nutrition seriously, however, and their motto seems to be, “First do no harm.”
This is a grain-free formula, so you won’t have any cheap fillers inside. Those foods are usually sources of empty calories, and they can set your dog up for a lifetime of unhealthy eating. They can also exacerbate food allergies.
It has a good amount of protein at 27%, but we’d prefer it if they added a little more. Still, the source ingredients for the protein are pretty stellar: chicken, chicken meal, chicken fat, and ocean fish meal.
There’s also quite a bit of omega fatty acids inside, which are essential for brain and eye development, as well as growing a shiny coat. Ingredients like salmon oil, flaxseed, and the chicken fat contribute to that.
We wish they had omitted the egg product, as many dogs have trouble digesting eggs. Also, it has a lot of salt, especially for a puppy food.
Those small issues aren’t enough to bring this food down too far, and it remains one of the best puppy kibbles we’ve come across.
3 Most Popular Blue Buffalo Dog Food Recipes
1. Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Natural Adult
- STARTS WITH REAL TURKEY: A recipe that starts with real turkey as the first ingredient, this adult...
- LIMITED INGREDIENT DOG FOOD: BLUE Basics is a limited ingredient grain free dog food that doesn’t...
Limited ingredient foods are often recommended for dogs with food sensitivities, as the less ingredients inside, the less likely she’ll run into one she can’t handle.
Unfortunately, while this food keeps the list manageable (save for all the vitamins and minerals), it also cuts out a lot of the protein. There’s only 20% protein in here, which is very low, and the fat levels aren’t much better (12%). This food won’t leave your dog feeling full for long.
Even worse, some of that protein comes from plant sources, which lack important amino acids.
What the recipe does right, though, is toss in a bunch of highly nutritious foods. Canola oil, fish oil, pumpkin, blueberries, cranberries, kelp — they’re all here. Your dog shouldn’t lack for vitamins and minerals.
There’s a good amount of glucosamine inside too, thanks to the turkey meal. However, they’re a little heavy-handed on the sodium.
Overall, this is a good option for dogs with delicate digestive tracts, but most others will find it to be a little too lightweight for their liking.
2. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Rocky Mountain Recipe High Protein Grain-Free Natural Adult Large Breed
- PACKED WITH REAL BEEF: A recipe inspired by the Rocky Mountains, this high protein dog food is now...
- GRAIN FREE DOG FOOD: BLUE Wilderness large breed dog food is made with the ingredients to help...
Wilderness is Blue Buffalo’s high protein line, but even this food has only about as much protein as you’d find in 4Health’s average foods. 28% is a pretty good number, but it’s not exceptional by any means. It’s basically at the higher end of average.
A lot of that protein comes from peas, too. There are quite a few meats in here — beef, fish meal, beef meal, venison, and lamb — but there can’t be that much of them if this food is only at 28% protein and pea protein is so high on the list.
It’s packed with glucosamine and chondroitin, though, which is good, since this is a large breed formula. Big dogs need all the joint support they can get their paws on.
It’s a grain-free food, so it uses pea and tapioca starch in place of wheat or corn. That’s good, as peas and tapioca are more complex carbs, but this food still has quite a few carbohydrates.
We definitely like this food, but we feel that it should blow us away a bit more, given that it’s designed to be their high-protein option.
3. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Puppy
- REAL MEAT FIRST: Blue Buffalo foods always feature real meat as the first ingredient. High-quality...
- FOR PUPPY DOGS: Specially formulated for puppies, BLUE Life Protection Formula Puppy Food contains...
Since we praised 4Health’s puppy food so effusively, we felt that Blue Buffalo should have a chance to respond.
We actually like their puppy kibble more than most of their adult foods. The protein levels are pretty good (27% — but again, we’d like to see more), and there’s a good amount of fat inside. More importantly, it’s crammed with omegas, as it has fish meal, fish oil, and chicken fat in it.
They still use plant protein, but there’s less in here than in other recipes. It has brown rice and oatmeal as its primary carb sources, both of which are extremely gentle on stomachs.
This food is very similar to 4Health’s, and we’d be hard-pressed to pick a winner by comparing labels alone. However, given that Blue Buffalo’s formula is quite a bit more expensive, that might be our answer right there.
Recall History of 4Health and Blue Buffalo
4Health has only had one major recall that we’re aware of. In 2012, the FDA recalled their dry food due to concerns over Salmonella contamination.
Blue Buffalo, on the other hand, has this recall business down to a science.
The company was part of the so-called “Great Melamine Recall of 2007.” Over 100 brands were recalled because they used a manufacturing plant in China that tainted food with melamine, a lethal substance found in plastics. It’s not known if any animals were impacted by eating Blue Buffalo products, but thousands of animals died as a result of consuming tainted food.
They also had the following recalls:
While not technically a recall, the FDA has flagged Blue Buffalo as one of several foods that may be linked to canine heart disease. Nothing has been proven yet, however.
4Health vs. Blue Buffalo Comparison
Now that you’ve seen an overview of both foods, let’s pit them head-to-head to see how they compare, shall we?
Both foods should be similar in taste, as they both use real meat as their first ingredient and have a variety of other delicious foods inside.
We might give Blue Buffalo the slightest of edges here, only because they have more flavors to choose from.
Again, both foods generally use a variety of high-quality ingredients.
4Health tends to be higher in protein as a rule, though, so we’ll award this category to them.
This one’s no contest. 4Health is much cheaper than Blue Buffalo, and in fact, it can compete with just about any budget food out there.
We’re still not sure how they’ve managed to make such a high-quality food so inexpensively.
Blue Buffalo has a wider array of foods to choose from than 4Health does, so they’re the clear winners here.
However, there’s a big disparity in quality between Blue Buffalo’s various foods, and the number of foods we’d feed our dogs is much smaller than the number of foods they make.
While they split the four categories, we feel price and nutritional value should carry more weight than the other two, making 4Health our champion.
Also, 4Health’s superior safety history definitely doesn’t hurt.
4Health and Blue Buffalo are actually very similar foods, as both use real meat as the first ingredient, neither use fillers or by-products (at least, we don’t think Blue Buffalo does), and both have quite a few fantastic fruits and veggies in them.
However, they’re not competitive in terms of price, which is why we can’t really justify telling you to spend more money on Blue Buffalo when 4Health is just as good (if not better) at a fraction of the price.
You’re probably not going to regret feeding your dog Blue Buffalo, but unless you’re made of money, you’ll be a lot happier saving a few bucks and giving your dog the same level of nutrition with 4Health.
Emily started this blog out of pure passion. She LOVES her 3 dogs; Chew Barka, Cooper & Nelson, and spends countless hours every day playing with them.
When she’s not nerding out on dogs, you’ll find her on a snowboard or in the kitchen baking chocolate brownies.
She’s been featured in PetAware, Dogtime, and ModernDog.
- A Sneak Peek at the Winner: 4Health
- About 4Health
- About Blue Buffalo
- 3 Most Popular 4Health Dog Food Recipes
- 3 Most Popular Blue Buffalo Dog Food Recipes
- Recall History of 4Health and Blue Buffalo
- 4Health vs. Blue Buffalo Comparison