Friday, February 24, 2012

Canine Caviar

I've had several requests over the last few months to write a review of Canine Caviar products, and I apologize for the length of time it has taken me to complete it. It took quite a while to research and gather enough information to write an article that was informed and complete enough to publish. Canine Caviar is a product that holds a lot of buzz with dedicated converts. It's not a manufacturer that I have any previous experience with, so I was interested to investigate it.

Established in 1996, Canine Caviar is sold in specialty pet stores and veterinary offices. They offer a full line of traditional diets, grain-free formulas, canned, & treats. One distinguishing factor of some formulas is their use of dehydrated meats- meats that have been dehydrated from a raw state before being cooked for 6 seconds, and therefore retain more important vitamins and minerals as well as increasing digestibility. Also offered are two frozen options (not considered a balanced diet) of ground beaver and ground whole turkey. 

Canine Caviar claims that they use only non-GMO ingredients, and that the majority of their meats are hormone/antibiotic/pesticide-free and also raised free range, although their website doesn't offer any additional supporting information. All of their formulas include prebiotics and probiotics for healthy digestion, and botanicals for various benefits. 

The Formulas

There are currently 4 grain-free diets available for adult dogs and 1 grain-free puppy option, ranging between 32-44% carbohydrates and 26-31% protein. Canine Caviar uses chickpeas and split peas as carbohydrate sources which are low in ash and low on the glycemic index, making them a good option for diabetic dogs. Adult diets include venison, duck, buffalo, & herring, and the puppy formula is chicken based for easy digestion. They are relatively simple formulations which provide an easy transition for customers that wish to rotate (as Canine Caviar, and I, recommend). 

Also offered are 5 formulations that include grain: Chicken, Lamb, Puppy, Large-breed puppy, and Special Needs. All but the Special needs formula uses pearl millet as the main carbohydrate source which is a relative newcomer into the pet food market. Millet is an excellent source of minerals, especially magnesium, which has benefit in cardiovascular health. While most millet is rated quite high on the glycemic index, pearl millet is rated right around 55, similar to rice and cracked wheat, but higher than barley.

The chicken and lamb formulas with millet are some of Canine Caviar's most popular foods with acceptable levels of protein and carbohydrates. It should be noted that the lamb formula has a fairly high level of ash at just above 10%, and therefore may not be the best choice for senior animals as the high mineral content could be difficult for the kidneys to filter out. 

Special Needs

Advertised for senior and overweight dogs, the Special Needs formula has a nutrient profile that fits that of traditional high-carb/low-protein weight loss diets. This formula is unique to Canine Caviar as it uses brown rice as the first ingredient, followed by dehydrated chicken meal (not simply meat, but meal which includes bones and connective tissues). As a result of more grains and less physical muscle meat, the carbohydrate percent is at 60%, and protein only 18% - lower than I would recommend for any dog not in acute kidney failure.  In contrast to traditional weight-loss formulas, current scientific studies have demonstrated higher protein and fewer carbohydrates are an effective component of weight-loss diets. Dogs fed a higher protein diet with fewer carbs not only lost fat, but retained lean muscle mass, which is very important for senior dogs as well as the obese. Maintaining an adequate level of high-quality protein is also important for senior dogs. Protein is an essential component to total-body function, and contrary to traditional theories- has proven not be harmful to kidneys. Other studies demonstrate dogs with existing renal problems show no increased deterioration on a higher-protein diet, and in contrast, restricting protein levels can have detrimental effects. 

Large Breed Puppy & Calcium Levels

One formula that poses an obvious problem is the newly-released Large Breed Puppy diet. The nutrient analysis of this formula lists the calcium percentage at 2.3% which is much higher than recommended levels and according to well-documented research, is a potentially dangerous level that may lead to excessive growth and bone problems. Ash percentage in this formula is also high, at over 10%. When I inquired about this to Canine Caviar directly, I was told that the product was under reformulation, but I haven't yet received an answer regarding what they plan to do with existing product. It is still listed on their website as being manufactured and presumably for-sale.

For Cats

There are several feline formulas offered, both in dry and canned forms. Although not particularly high in protein, dry kibble is grain-free and formulated with split peas or chickpeas as carbohydrate sources making them a good option for cats with diabetes. Dry options include: venison, buffalo, chicken & salmon, and herring.

Prevents Cancer? 

My greatest concern is with Canine Caviar’s claim that they are “the only alkaline-based food designed to prevent the occurrence/reduce the risk of cancer!" This claim seems to be a major part of their marketing; however, my research has shown this claim to be largely unsubstantiated. The science behind alkaline nutrition is highly theoretical, and nutrition alone has not been proven to prevent cancer. Despite this fact, Canine Caviar seems to be emphasizing this particular element of their foods above other, more important elements, such as carnivore-specific nutrition and ingredient quality.

Fish Stix
Canine Caviar offers many treats, most of which are Buffalo and make excellent chews for dogs. However, one treat available raises questions on both an ethical level and a nutritional level- Fish Stix. According to Canine Caviar, Fish Stix are the tail of Ocean Skate (part of the ray family; stingrays etc.) and are naturally high in chondroitin, completely digestible, and "clean teeth better than anything on the market." While this may be true, Ocean Skates and other rays are carnivorous and therefore considered to have a moderate level of mercury contamination. In addition, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (widely considered to be the premier authority on seafood ethics), Ocean Skates have received an "avoid" rating because "Skates have been severely overfished, and most are caught with bottom trawls, which result in high levels of accidental catch and substantial damage to the seafloor." For these reasons, it is my hope that Canine Caviar will remove Fish Stix from their product line and avoid using threatened marine life in the future.

I believe Canine Caviar would benefit from narrowing their focus to more essential factors, such as providing wholesome, carnivore-specific nutrition, instead of emphasizing unsubstantiated claims. They already have many diets that are valuable for the ingredient quality and simplicity of the formulations, and these alone are enough to distinguish them from other pet food manufacturers. Canine Caviar can maximize these benefits by offering more transparency to customers in regards to ingredients and processes and to emphasize the allergy/intolerance benefits of their formulas. Although most Canine Caviar formulas have merit, the unproven claim and ingredient issues previously discussed prevent Canine Caviar from receiving my full recommendation at this point in time.


  1. Your attacking chicken meal? Really? This is one of those instances I am going to have to "consider the source"....

    1. Nowhere was I "attacking" chicken meal. Chicken meal is often one of the highest quality protein sources available. The reason I specifically mentioned chicken meal in the special needs formula is to make readers aware that this ingredient is different than the "dehydrated chicken" present in their other formulas. "Dehydrated chicken" is only muscle meat, and "dehydrated chicken meal" includes bones and connective tissue- not a bad thing, but it does reduce protein levels- which is evident in the Special Needs formula.

  2. Erika - This is a great article. Thank you for the detailed information & eco conscious notes. When I read the previous comment I had to go back & read the article again because I did not read a negative attitude towards chicken meal into what you wrote. It seems strange to me that this company can claim that their products can prevent cancer but I will do more research on that another day.... Great information to have!

  3. I just wanted to clarify to both Erika and Anonymous that the Special Needs formula has "Dehydrated Chicken" as a second ingredient, and not in "meal" form specified above. I agree that dehydrated chicken is a more concentrated protein source than meal and I have seen many positive results from this particular formula as well as the others in Canine Caviar's line.

    1. The special needs formula listed on the website does list "dehydrated chicken meal." I was informed by some stores that there has been changes to the formula and packaging. A call to the company confirmed that it is actually chicken meal in the formula- they said there was an error in the packaging, but they elected to use up old bags instead of reprinting.

  4. All I know is that Canine Caviar is amazing. I've been feeding my highly allergic cat with this food and she has made a complete turnaround. Praises for Canine/Feline Caviar.

  5. Great article, Erika. I have always found that claim to be interesting...By no means are they a bad food, but they are pushing the wrong marketing. They should stick to keeping their food top notch, before people start to lose trust in them. Unrelated topic: what do you think about the new Taste of the Wild Puppy formulas? I have heard mixed reviews.

  6. Very informative and interesting post.It is really a big help. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
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