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A Dogs Dinner or Confused.com - Author Alison Frost

Common sense tells us that we need good, clean, appropriate food in order to provide our bodies with the building blocks of good health. We cannot possibly expect ourselves or our dogs to remain healthy if we're not providing all the proper nutrients our bodies need. We all know that. However, if we were to take a step back and look at the state of health of our dogs today , what we see is that our dogs are experiencing epidemic proportions of cancer, periodontal disease, auto-immune diseases and degenerate organ diseases never-mind the comparatively "minor" conditions of allergies (or hypersensitivities), chronic yeast infections, gunky ears, gastrointestinal disturbances and the like. These conditions are not normal, and hence it is not normal for our dogs to exhibit symptoms of disease. It is also not effective to simply treat the symptoms of disease without looking towards their underlying cause.

Of course, there are many factors that influence overall health including genetics, the environment, toxins and our water. However, the most fundamental building blocks of good health involve something that we, as responsible pet owners, have direct control over and that is the food we're providing to our companion animals.

 

To discover what foods are most appropriate for our dogs, let's think scientifically for a moment. Our dogs are carnivores , despite the pet food industry's attempt to convince us otherwise. Classification of a species is not based solely on what it chooses or is forced to eat, but also on anatomical and physiological factors that determine what foods it is designed to eat and digest properly. These factors take millions of years to change via evolution. This means that even though your dog may enjoy eating fruits, veggies, and left over pizza , by scientific definition he's still a carnivore.  See below.

 

The diets of wolves and lions, both wild carnivores, are centred around meat, organs and bones, along with fur, hide, and feathers, none of which is cooked, cut up, or otherwise prepared for them in any way. Their strong jaws easily crush bones while their sharp teeth shear off large chunks of meat that are swallowed whole, and quickly. The domestic dog is closest genetically to the wolf, with only about 1-2% difference in their total gene pool. Examine your dog's mouth and notice the tooth structure; there are no flat molars in there. Try (gently!) to move the jaws side-to-side and notice that they only go up and down. Yep, he's a carnivore!

Infact not only that, wolves and dogs have an identical digestive tract. They do not have the digestive enzymes in their saliva (amylase) to break down complex carbohydrates like grains as omnivores do. The dog's digestive tract is one-third to one-half the length of an omnivore and this shortness is designed for quick, muscular digestion of raw meat and bones. They also have a much higher concentration of hydrochloric acid in the stomach for break down of proteins and to kill any dangerous bacteria. Their stomach acidity is less than or equal to pH 1 with food in the stomach, while humans are pH 4 to 5.

 

Given these physical attributes, what type of food is most suitable for our carnivorous companions? Should we turn Rex loose in the woods and expect him to go catch his own supper, like his wolf ancestors?  Well, no, not exactly although we do have a few inept hunters just in our little mob. Domestic dogs are dependent on us for their daily meals. Dogs learned, thousands of years ago, that teaming up with humans was a good way to ensure a daily source of food. Albeit leftovers, it lessened the load in terms of daily hunting and foraging for survival. In exchange, humans gained companionship and protection. They formed a win-win partnership that still exists today.

So its proved, Our dogs are carnivores. Cats are obligate carnivores. It makes simple sense to feed our dogs and cats food that carnivores are designed to eat. ie raw meat food.  It's really not reasonable to expect any animal to maintain health, never-mind thrive, when we feed a food that is biologically inappropriate with the likes of a dried food made predominantly of grains, with little or no meat.

A raw diet is certainly not a panacea for every ailment under the sun but it is the one factor influencing overall health that is directly under our control and we owe it to our dogs to give them what their bodies so desperately need.

Many pet owners now feed a raw meaty bones diet, including myself, and have seen the benefits very quickly,  but I appreciate that its not for everyone.  Cost (although its not as expensive as you think...bones from the butchers are usually free! ) , convenience, vegetarianism values etc  , coupled with the panic and lack of confidence that you won’t do it right are all prohibiting factors which mean commercial petfood is the only option.  So taking that onboard let’s look at how you can improve your dogs  diet the commercial way.  

 

What to look for in a complete food:

 

Did you know that the commercial petfood industry is a billion pound business just in the UK?  There are literally hundreds of different brands to choose from,  let alone individual products within each brand, so its no wonder that people get confused deciding what is the best type of food to feed their dogs.  People want convenience, but they also want to ensure that whatever they choose will benefit their dog nutritionally.

Its important to say that not one brand or brand product will suit every dog.  Each dog is different and may have individual intolerances, taste preferences or specific health issues that need dietary restrictions.  Its also fair to point out that if there was an “ideal” complete as the marketing  people like to tell us, every product would have similar ingredients and typical analysis (eg protein & carb levels) , and they don’t. The variety between just one product range by one manufacturer is enough to send you into confusion.

 

As every commercial petfood on the market contains different ingredients, and each one has the potential to cause symptoms of allergy or intolerance in some dogs you have to learn by trial and error which ratio works best for your dog. So it’s not surprising that people feel confused or are persuaded by clever marketing that they are feeding their pet a good quality food, when the truth is they are not.

So when choosing a commercial brand of Food what should you look for?

 

Meat/ Fish etc

Should be listed as the first ingredient. Meat is easily digestible and should be the main protein source. Also look for a named meat…i.e. chicken meal, as opposed to “meat meal” as it could contain absolutely anything. The meat content should always be high.

Purchase dried foods in smaller bags and vary the protein sources regularly. I.e. Chicken one month, Lamb another. Buying a huge 20kg bag which is open for a few months before it’s used up will “go off” and not be as nutritionally viable. Keeping food in tight storage containers improves longevity too. Food allergies are also more likely to develop if the dog is fed the same food all the time.  Wet food (canned or packet) usually has a much higher meat content, but be careful to check the ingredients.

 

Select Naturally preserved food.

I.e. Preserved with Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols), Vit C (Ascorbic Acid) instead of chemicals.

Low Grains- (rice, wheat, maize, corn, barley, oats to name a few).  Be careful to read the label and check ALL grain sources. Food labelling can be deceiving and just because they label meat first doesn’t mean it’s the main ingredient. Grains tend to be split to hide the overall content so for e.g. wheat, Maize, prairie meal etc when all added together means that grains are the main ingredient.

 

What to avoid:

Fancy Packaging – Because the marketing department will love you for that. What’s important is the ingredients and breakdown, so the most basic packaging may be ingredient wise superior to others. Dont forget advertising, especially on TV, costs money so that cost has to be absorbed in the food. Bakers is a good example of fancy bright packaging, TV coverage and the nutritional content is horrendous.

Artificial Preservatives – (BHA, BHT or Ethoxyquin) , another sign of a low quality food. These are usually labelled as permitted EC additives, EC permitted colourants and antioxidants. Ethoxyquin is banned from use in foods for human consumption except for the use of very small quantities as a colour preservative for spices. Find a food with natural preservatives such as Vitamin E instead.

 

Meat Derivatives,

digest or by products (meal is Ok). These descriptions basically translate to horns, hooves, beaks, feathers to name a few. There is some disagreement whether whole meat is preferable to meal. Meal means it has been dehydrated, so if a meal is listed as the first ingredient, there is greater likelihood that the food contains more meat than grains. When whole meats such as chicken, lamb, turkey etc are listed as the first ingredient, there may actually be much less meat due to the weight of the moisture in the meat. Both whole meats and meals are considered acceptable as long as they are identified and not generic (e.g., not "meat meal" or "meat and bone meal").

 

Grains-

Avoid food that have grains as the main ingredient. Better to choose a brand that has a smaller percentage of grains where possible as these tend to be high in carbohydrates which are difficult for a dog to digest and will tend to increase weight in our dogs. They are present in many commercial brands and are more likely to cause digestive intolerances. These include wheat, maize, corn, rice etc and if the main ingredient, should be avoided. Wheat and oats also contain Gluten.

 

Salt and sugar.

Sugar can damage the pancreas and drain vitamins and minerals from the body. Yeast also thrives on sugar. Excessive salt content leads to kidney and heart problems.

 

High in Carbohydrates (tends to be from Grains).

Food should be high in protein in the form of quality meat ingredients, not high in carbohydrates from grains. Contrary to many myths and popular beliefs, there is no harm in feeding a high quality protein diet to dogs of any age, including puppies and seniors. Studies have proved that protein does not cause joint issues in puppies, nor lead to kidney disease in older dogs. In fact, protein is extremely beneficial: it supports the immune system and the central nervous system, contributes to wound healing, helps build lean muscle, and is required for skin and coat health. There is absolutely no reason to limit the amount of protein you feed your dog. However you must ensure it is high digestible protein from Meat/ Eggs as opposed to grains. Look for foods that are high in proteins from meat sources, rather than the typical high-carbohydrate diets that are more commonly available. Dogs find it hard to digest complex carbohydrates that are used in dog food mostly as an inexpensive source of calories (grains are also used to supply low-quality protein in some foods), and to help bind dry food together into kibble. Studies indicate that highly digestible protein, low-carb foods with moderate amounts of fat also help dogs lose weight better than the traditional high-carb, low-fat (and often low-protein) weight loss diets.

 

Low Price:

generally the lower the price, the lower the quality of the food.

Ive added a bit of a “biography”of what ingredients actually translate to in our head.  

 

Quality v Value

It's important to a lot a people to be able to budget their pets food into the overall cost of their household bills. The super Premium brands such as Orijen, although are superior in terms of ingredients are not always affordable to all.

Also convenience is sometimes an issue. Some of the more reasonable priced foods which are also high quality, eg Greendogfood,  can only be ordered online from specialist pet places, which again is not always convenient for people.

 

In these instances the best thing to do is find a reasonably priced, quality food that is easily accessible (ie from the supermarket, PAH etc) , and just add bits of high quality human type protein based food additions to bump up its quality.  

Low priced top grade foods could be tins of value sardines, raw eggs, Offal, cottage cheese and left over meat scraps. All these foods are easily accessible and cheap and will boost the nutritional content of the chosen commercial food.  Dont forget to check out the “reduced” section at the meat counters too.  You can usually pick up near sell by date offal, meat for a bargain and then just portion it up and freeze it for another day.

 

Understanding Food Labels:

Ingredients are listed on a pet food label in order of pre-cooking weight; heaviest to lightest. Ie,the first five or so ingredients, by weight, make up the majority of the pet food. So even if you just look at the first 3-4 ingredients and understand them, you’ll be on the right track as to whether its good or not.

So whats good and whats bad? Not an easy question as it may not be bad if it only makes up a small percentage,  but on the other hand even the smallest amount may have an effect on your dogs overall health.

Ive listed some examples and tried to explain what they are, and if to be avoided. Its certainly not an exhaustive list, and I can add to this as time goes on.  

Animal Fat : Animal fats are a mixture of fats rendered from different animals. The source of these are diverse and include restaurant artificial preservatives  and factory by-products. The mixture of different animals makes it hard to avoid particular ingredients if your dog has an allergy or intolerance. First you can never be sure which animal fats are present and secondly they can vary batch to batch so that even if your dog can tolerate it, this could be different in a later batch of dog food.

Due to the nature of animal fat, they tend to be preserved with such as BHT, BHA or Ethoxyquin to prevent rancidity as it is hard to preserve them naturally. Avoid!

 

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