Dog Food Advisor Claims No Industry Influence, Earns Multimillion Dollar Revenue; “Enthusiastically Recommends” Killer Foods
CEO Refuses to Disclose Dollar Amounts Earned From Individual Pet Food Brands
“I would not consider a human dentist who has read a lot of dog food packages qualified to assess the quality of commercial pet foods,” renowned, veterinary nutritionist Lisa Weeth wrote to an online discussion on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) in June 2015. She was responding to a prior post asking for vets’ opinions of Dog Food Advisor publisher Mike Sagman. “I am also more than a little suspicious of pet food review sites that promote expensive brands as the ‘best’ to feed and then include links to websites where owners can purchase those products,” she added. Then, Dr. Weeth concluded her comment with insight into how Dog Food Advisor makes money, an issue that often escapes consumers of online content:
“The founder of DFA does disclose that he receives a “fee” for “referrals” to the purchasing website, but not how much the fee is. Must be significant since the website has expanded content and staff in the last 2 years since including the online purchasing link. Or maybe this is just a coincidence.”
Calling DFA’s credibility into question and pointing out its non-disclosure disclosure in 2015, Dr. Weeth made these comments the same year Virginia-based dentist and founder of DFA Mike Sagman says he trademarked the name, which is registered to, with no hint of irony, “Clicks And Traffic LLC” — Mr. Sagman’s company, with a date of first use in 2014.
Mr. Sagman declined repeated requests by electronic messenger, phone, and email to comment for this story apart from a statement he issued to TCR over LinkedIn:
I created The Dog Food Advisor and have served as its managing editor for the past 15 years. The website was purchased by a new owner back in January of this year. You’ll need to write to the new owner using the Contact Us page found in the footer of the website. Wish I could be more help. Mike
The new owner Mr. Sagman is referring to is Wag! Group Co. (Nasdaq: PET), which announced on January 5, 2023, that it had completed “its acquisition of Dog Food Advisor assets from Clicks and Traffic LLC (‘Dog Food Advisor’) for cash consideration of $9 million. The acquis ition… will expand Wag!’s reach into the pet food and treats market of the pet industry. Dog Food Advisor is one of the most visited and trusted dog food marketplaces, helping busy pet parents make informed decisions about dog food through the website www.dogfoodadvisor.com.”
Wag!’s name comes from the dog walking app which has since branched out to include multiple services. Now, dog owners who use the dog walking services of Wag can also access the Group’s other acquisitions, including a “Furmacy,” and, of course, Dog Food Advisor. Wag is not without its own headlines. Lawsuits like this complaint from a Long Island plaintiff in 2019 abound with claims of gross negligence, alleging that Wag! lost dogs or wore while in their care.
So Much Misinformation, It Makes Veterinarians’ Heads’ Hurt
It’s no secret that veterinarians are not the Dog Food Advisor’s number one fan base. “If you don’t trust your veterinarian to give you a root canal, please don’t trust the retired human dental surgeon [Note: it’s not clear to us that he was a surgeon] that runs Dog Food Advisor to give you nutrition advice,” Dr. Caitlin Holly, publisher of the increasingly popular vet blog “Doc Of All Trades [alltradesdvm.com],” wrote in 2021.
That may be because the site, which, as explained below, is loaded with misinformation, makes a claim of objectivity, which makes it all the more misleading. For veterinary professionals wishing to educate clients about nutrition, websites like dogfoodadvisor.com can make the practice of veterinary medicine feel like an uphill battle.
“One of the most difficult battles we face in veterinary medicine is the constant countering of misinformation regarding pet food,” Dr. Catherine Cole told an FDA public listening session on pet food regulation in 2021 in a slide. She added:
“I spend a significant portion of my day re-educating well intentioned pet owners on just how little useful information is contained in an ingredient list, how there is no such thing as “filler”, and why chicken by-product meal is an excellent source of protein. It is incredibly disheartening to have to continually identify and correct false marketing claims while simultaneously treating patients for a disease that could have been prevented….”
Dog Food Advisor’s founder Sagman is described on the service’s website as having begun the company as a passion project after his dog, Penny, died from being poisoned by her food.
“Expanded partnerships with premium pet food brands” and “free of influence from the pet food industry”
Wag! CEO Garrett Smallwood, Chief Product Officer Adam Storm, and General Counsel Mark Grundman declined TCR’s repeated requests seeking comment for this report, including our request for specifics on the revenue sources behind the $1.4 million and $1.6 million in revenue earned by DFA reported by Wag! for the first and second quarters of 2023 respectively. Wag! also reported in January 2023 that the company “expanded partnerships with premium pet food brands such as The Farmer’s Dog, and Nom Nom” upon acquiring Dog Food Advisor for $9 million. TCR asked what was meant by “expanded partnerships” as well as how DFA’s $9 million dollar value was determined. We did not receive any responses. We also asked CEO Garrett Smallwood about the “Disclosure” at the footer of the company’s website which takes readers to a “Disclaimer and Disclosure” page where they are told:
“The Dog Food Advisor operates free of influence from the pet food industry.
We do not accept money, gifts, samples or any other incentives in exchange for special consideration in writing our reviews. However, we do receive a referral fee from online retailers (like Chewy or Amazon) and from sellers of perishable pet food when readers click over to their websites from ours. This policy helps support the operation of our blog and keeps access to all our content free to the public. Please be assured it is always our intention to remain objective, impartial and unbiased when performing our evaluations.”
Finally, we pressed Mr. Smallwood to no avail to disclose the dollar amount in commissions earned over the last three years from Taste Of The Wild, one of the top dog food brands DFA “enthusiastically recommends” on a list of dog foods for heart health.
Taste of the Wild is also among the most frequently reported brands of dog food in diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy cases reported to the FDA or DCM, a fatal heart condition in dogs linked to diet.
To take another example, in the list of “Best Dry Dog Foods,” both Taste of the Wild and Orijen – Orijen is also one of the most frequently implicated killers in the DCM saga – are listed.
“The Dog Food Advisor is a reference website that’s ranked #1 in its niche by Alexa.com, an Amazon company,” the disclaimer and disclosure segment of the website notes.