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This review of the Animal Diet Formulator is from the perspective of a pet parent and not a raw brand or veterinarian. There may be aspects of the program that a veterinarian or raw food brand may like or dislike that doesn't make it on my radar. Keep that in mind when reading this review.
What is a Biased Review?
When I do a product review, I use “bias” in the title because I’ve been accused of being biased. After giving it some thought, I realized that “Yes! I am biased.” These are my dogs (my babies) and I am trying to keep them as healthy as possible so I’m going to be a bit biased about the products I purchase for them. Despite my bias, I am always honest because I know first hand that raising dogs can be expensive and I'm not going to encourage you to buy a product if it's not worth the investment.
What is the Animal Diet Formulator?
The Animal Diet Formulator (ADF) is a program created by Steve Brown and is now maintained by the Royal Animal Health University (RAHU). With ADF, I can formulate balanced meals for my dogs, however, I purchased it with the goal of charging a fee to formulate meals for others. I have since changed my mind for several reasons:
- I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to formulating meals. What if the dog has a health issue?
- To use this program to formulate meals, I need to purchase a commercial license with costs more money.
- Initially, the ADF was so cumbersome to use that I would go months without opening the software.
That being said, I use the Animal Diet Formulator to create diets for my dogs. Although I don't follow my recipes to the letter, I do appreciate what I'm learning from the program and I've eliminated several supplements from my dogs' diet as I learn which whole foods balance out a meal. For instance, sunflower, hemp, and pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses.
I share my recipes in the exclusive group for premium Keep the Tail Wagging followers. I only have a few created at the moment and they are formulated for Rodrigo. I'll be formulating more recipes specific to Scout and Zoey's size (and age), and Apollo as well.
Getting Started with the Animal Diet Formulator
So, rumor has it that the newest version of the Animal Diet formulator doesn't require any of the things that I purchased when I signed up, so this section of my review may be obsolete to people new to ADF (October 2019 and later).
- I purchased ADF at the Raw & Natural Dog Summit 2018 at a price of $600.
- I also needed a PC and Windows Office (I'm a Mac user) and this ran an additional $500 (the laptop and Windows software were are separately).
Before I launched the software, I spent over $1,000. If you buy the software today, you won’t have to make the same investment.
What I Love About the Animal Diet Formulator
As I stated above, I love what I'm learning about my dogs' diet. While this was an expensive investment (for me), now that I'm 99% DIY, the Animal Diet Formulator has become a valuable investment. I enjoy that I no longer need to wonder if I'm feeding a balanced diet – I know that I am.
Once I got used to the software, it became easy to create a recipe. Once I created my first recipe (which does take time and patience), the following recipes were easy because I just needed to replace the main protein and adjust the amounts of other ingredients to achieve balance.
1,000 Ingredients from USDA Database
When I was developing my nutrient spreadsheet, I combed several resources to find nutrient values for the food I was feeding my dogs. It wasn't fun. ADF does all the work for you with their database of 1,000 ingredients. I suspect that their database will continue to grow because I've been able to email them to ask for data on certain foods. If they don't have it today, the food may be included in a future addition.
The Animal Diet Formulator allows you to choose what nutrient guidelines to balance too, US (AAFCO) or European (FEDIAC). I've chosen the European guidelines because others believe that the FEDIAC guidelines are more accurate. I was surprised that there wasn't an option for the NRC because I often see people reference these guidelines as well.
All Life Stages
ADF covers all life stages. As you're creating a recipe, you can choose the age, weight, and activity level of your dog. This allows you to narrow down the nutrients and calories in the meal. I created a recipe for Rodrigo and found that I wasn't feeding him enough and added a few more ounces to his meals. He's much happier.
Long story short, I love that the ADF is easy to use.
What I Don't Love About the Animal Diet Formulator
Although I'm enjoying the software now, it took nearly a year for me to appreciate ADF. Before now, I felt like I wasted my money, that the software was a lemon, and every time I tried to use it, I wanted to throw my computer out the window. Things have improved.
And, that being said, this is what I don't love about the Animal Diet Formulator (Excel Version*) and, with the upgrade, I’ve added additional thoughts in bold. The reason both are still in this post is for folks who may have given up on the Beta (it gets better):
- It takes several attempts before the software opens and is ready to be used. I've finally learned to never close it. Since I only use my PC for the ADF software, there's no need to shut it down. With the upgraded ADF software, this is no longer an issue. I log in from Google Chrome (my preferred browser) and it speeds a long with no hiccups.
- If you don't update the software, someone at RAHU may turn it off and take away your access despite having accepted payment for the software. This happened to me once (and it's happened to friends who have the software) and I was confused by this step because I never received a notification that this was a possibility. This is the first time I've purchased software where the developer can decide to remove your access anytime (other than due to non-payment). With the upgraded ADF software, updates are no longer an issue because the software isn't on my computer. RAHU handles updates on their end.
- The software doesn't have several ingredients that I use regularly, like duck feet, duck frames, green tripe (bleached tripe is in the database), and whole sardines (raw). I've been told that as more people use the software and request these foods, we'll see more variety offered. Initially, the updates were only for people with a commercial license and I hope that it has now changed to include everyone. Duck necks and duck frames are still not in the system. Green tripe is available, but only canned bison tripe from PetKind. I'm no longer feed this to my dogs because of the thickening additive used.
- Adding and removing ingredients takes some getting used too, the ADF screen is wider than my computer screen and I have to constantly remind myself to scroll back and forth, and formulating in bulk for multiple dogs is a challenge and something I no longer try to accomplish. Adding and removing ingredients is quick and easy; the only thing I don't like is that I have to hit “save” to see the nutrient changes in my recipe. This isn't a hardship, it's simply an adjustment.
- Where's the taurine? When I put together my first recipe in the upgraded software, I noticed that I didn't have any taurine, which is impossible considering my ingredients.
One thing is for certain, after having used the ADF software, I have a whole new respect for people who formulate meals professionally. The more I work with ADF, the fewer complaints I have about the software.
Initial Thoughts on Upgraded Version of ADF
I LOVE IT!!!! ~ 10/17/2019; my updated thoughts are in bold above.
3 Tips for Using the Animal Diet Formulator
If you recently purchased the Animal Diet Formulator, then you have the most recent version and I'm jealous! But despite having more bells and whistles, I have a few recommendations for you:
1 – Be patient with yourself…
There is always a learning curve and this is a new software so you will experience some frustration as you pick it up. I finally made a point of playing with the software for a couple of hours every weekend until I learned how to use it. And, bonus, the people who manage the software are always making improvements so what is frustrating today, might be cleared up soon.
2 – Create a base recipe and build from there…
A mistake a made early on was trying to create recipes from scratch each time. This combined with the learning curve I experienced made the software more frustrating than it needed to be. Today, I have one base recipe that I start with when formulating new recipes. This step makes formulating so much easier.
3 – Have fun exploring the Animal Diet Formulator…
Once I stopped taking it so seriously and started digging into what ADF could do, I was blown away by what I was learning. I now look forward to creating recipes. My goal is to create a balanced DIY raw recipe using the least amount of ingredients. I keep hearing that almonds are healthy, so I'm going to give those a shot. When I'm grocery shopping, I look at food a lot differently, wondering which is healthier when comparing ingredients. I'm having a blast.
Where to Buy Animal Diet Formulator
You can order your copy of the Animal Diet Formulator at AnimalDietFormulator.com (wow, that was easy). We have three options to choose from:
- Personal Use (e.g. pet parents): $299 the first year, then $49 annually
- Professional Use (e.g. meal formulators): $999 the first year, then $299 annually
- Commercial Use (e.g. raw food brands): $3,999 the first year, then $250 monthly.
As time marches on, prices may change as they reflect improvements in the software. Please check AnimalDietFormulator.com for current prices.
Would I Buy Animal Diet Formulator Again?
I often wonder if I would have purchased this $600 software were I to get a preview of my initial experience, then I wouldn't have purchased this software. For months, it was buggy, I couldn't use it, and I was disheartened that after spending so much money, I got a lemon.
The software does work for me now and I'm looking forward to being upgraded to the non-Excel version of the software because I'm hoping that it'll be easier. I'll update this blog post after a few months of use in the new system.
Friends Who Gave Up on ADF
I'm returning to this post a few days after publishing because I failed to share that I have two friends who have not had a positive experience with the Animal Diet Formulator and they've given up on the software.
In one friend's experience, she was disheartened by the customer service and the extra cost that it was going to cost for her to get the assistance she needed. Another friend had technical issues from day one. She also had a tough time with customer service.
This may be a symptom of the growing pains of a new business.