Just to let you know how brave I am to blog about dog diets. I say that because there are endless ‘expert’ opinions and thoughts about what is right for your dog. We have quite a bit of food expertise, so the easy answer is; check with Stephanie or Nikki, Vanessa, Alex or Stasia, and they will give you some of the best suggestions on the planet. Just describe your dog, type, age, weight, allergies and what you feed now, and they will direct you to one of the carefully chosen brands we have available.
For the blog, I will broaden the topic, to include the entire dog food world, and describe healthy criteria, and what is just plain bad. I am actually jealous of your dogs, most of whom have options when it comes to their diets. I have rotating food allergies, (just made up that title) which means I am allergic to most foods, and each time I find a safe protein, I become allergic to it at some point.
I can say, 100%, no exceptions, don’t eat anything with any part made in China, The dog food recalls in 2013 were over the top- more than ever before, mostly due to toxic Chinese ingredients and manufacturers.
How to Choose a Healthy Dog Food
But what does “healthy” dog food mean? It’s a food that contains a dog’s basic nutrition needs, a good source of protein, and adequate fat, fiber and moisture – and then some (see “Up the Ante” below).
To start with, any dog food must meet the safety regulations of the FDA. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (or AAFCO) defines what goes on dog food labels but some feel this is inadequate considering that the AAFCO is not governed and includes people in the pet food industry who benefit from certain guidelines. So, we as dog owners are left largely to ourselves to find a safe and healthy food for our dog.
An average dog should have a diet that is 50% vegetable, 40% meat and 10% grain. Grown dogs need a minimum of 18% protein on a dry matter basis, whereas puppies require at least 22%. All dogs also require some fat, amount dependent on their level of activity. Dogs also need approximately 4% of their diets to be fiber. These are all, again, on average. In doing a dog food comparison, it is best to start with the labels.
Deciphering Dog Food Labels
Dog Food Ingredients: A good way to determine the quality of a food is the ingredient list. With a little practice, you can find a food that does not have unwanted products and is highly digestible. The ingredients are listed in order by weight.
One trick some manufacturers use is to break an ingredient into several different smaller ingredients and list them separately. For example, the ingredients might include chicken (first), ground corn, corn gluten, and corn bran (further down). You might think chicken is the main ingredient but, grouping the corn ingredients together, they would likely greatly outweigh the amount of chicken.
The following must be included on dog food labels:
- Minimum crude protein
- Minimum crude fat
- Maximum crude fiber
- Maximum moisture
Note: “Crude” does not take into account digestibility or the source. The source could be human-grade beef or chicken feathers.
Some Tricks of Your Own
- Look for the first source of fat named on the label, to determine the main ingredients. For example, if chicken fat is listed seventh, the ingredients prior to that are the major ingredients. Those after are secondary.
- Watch out for the names and description on the package of dog food. For instance, a product called “Doggy Dinner with Liver Flavoring” might have only a small amount of flavoring since a certain percentage is not required.
- Calculating the “real” amount of each guaranteed analysis can tricky. Manufacturers can be deceptive, using high quality ingredients that contain a lot of water and therefore save them money. For more information on calculations, visit the FDA website.
Up the Ante
Luckily, healthy dog foods are easy to find today. Or, you can try making your own food with healthy dog food recipes. If you choose to do this, consult with your vet and do some research. There is a lot of information online and in books such as “The Whole Pet Diet.” Some things to consider for buying or making are:
- Look for natural and/or organic ingredients. A dog food package with “Natural” stamped on it means nothing – there are no regulations in place to define this. So sifting through the ingredients is vital.
- Avoid corn, cornmeal, soy and wheat. These are difficult for dogs to digest and can cause allergies.
- Instead, choose your grains from barley, rolled oats, millet, quinoa, and brown rice.
- Depending on your dog’s ability to digest, check the digestibility of the protein source. For instance, fish is more digestible than muscle and organ meats.
- Check digestibility of the carbohydrate source. Rice is at the top, followed by, in part, oats and yeast.
- Avoid animal-by-products which may contain heads, feet, and other animal parts.
- Avoid preservatives and additives – they have been shown to cause health problems in dogs.
- Look for Vitamin E and C; they are natural, healthful preservatives.
- Look for Omega-3; it is good for your dog’s coat.
- Some dog owners prefer to look for “human-grade” food in their dog food. This simply means the food is purchased from human-grade food facilities.
A Holistic Approach
Healthy nutrition is the foundation but don’t forget the other elements of a healthy canine lifestyle: exercise, medical check-ups, alternative medicine such as Acupuncture, dental hygiene, and grooming. Manage all of these and you will have one happy, healthy dog.’
A Story for the Heart…
Our wonderful overnight manager, Kim, received an email last week from a woman she has known for years. It read;
‘Allie is in need of a rescue or to find her forever home! Her owner passed away over the weekend and is currently living by herself in her apartment. She has less than 2 weeks until she will be sent to a shelter. Allie is a super nice, loving 13 year old female white boxer. Three very sweet older women who live in the building, have been taking her out and feeding her. Can you help? Please contact me.”
Kim was right on it. First, she had to figure out who legally owned Allie, in order to complete the surrender papers. Next, she contacted Paws New England, a rescue org. she has worked with, who are trustworthy and do a great job finding foster and forever homes. One day later Allie was on her way to be fostered.
Initially, Allie was confused about leaving her home– but we all know the outcome is a bizillion times better than ending up in a shelter.
Thanks, Kim and Katie!