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— September 24, 2013 —

What is my dog eating?
by Tim Wienckowski

Searching for the right food can get complicated and making the right choice is as important as any decision for your dogs health. A trip down the food aisle at your pet store can be overwhelming with all the food choices. Labels are written in another language and all the advertisements show happy, healthy and energetic dogs running around loving their food. We all want that dog, but what food is the right choice? A fast food commercial always shows healthy people and we know that fast food isn’t healthy.

When I adopted Sally, I knew that I wanted to feed her quality food that she would love and would be good for her, but I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on the top of the line products. I received advice from several people on what they feed and what is good for their pups: grain free, omega 3s, raw diet, wet food, dry food. It seemed like the more information I received the less clear I was.

I decided to do a little research and find out what I can about the benefits and risks involved with different food choices. The first step I took was to understand what’s in dog food. Dog food contains a meat source, vegetable source, vitamins and minerals, preservatives and usually filler. The first ingredient you want to see are high quality proteins, high on the ingredient list. Meals, like chicken meal, lamb meal, etc. can contain several times the protein content per weight of meat (chicken, lamb). This is because meat is mostly water which is included in the weight, but cooks off in the process. Both are considered high quality sources of meat but ingredients are listed by weight so often, low quality dog foods will list a meat ingredient first, which will be followed by several by-products and fillers.

The second thing to look for are grains and fillers. Examples include corn, wheat, oats, rice and any processed version of grains. These ingredients bring minimal nutritional value to dogs and have been shown to cause diseases, cancer and obesity in dogs. The reason they are used is because they are cheap and marginally increase the protein content. Dogs are carnivores by nature and the majority of their natural diet is meat, bone and organs. The small portion of vegetables they do get usually is from the stomachs of their prey. It’s a little gross, I know. But understanding what they naturally would eat is vital to understanding what you should be feeding them. At no point prior to commercial pet food have cats or dogs ever eaten grains as part of their diet. The best options here are grain free. These foods are made using a pea or sweet potato base mostly which are much friendlier to a dogs digestive system.

Most dog foods will use preservatives as necessary to keep the food edible, however preservatives should not be artificial chemicals that might be cancer-causing agents. Avoid pet foods that use chemical preservatives BHA, BHT and Ethoxyquin. Natural preservatives such as vitamin E and vitamin C are great alternatives that are much better for your dog.

I found a great site that reviews dog food (www.dogfoodadvisor.com). This site breaks down the ingredients of hundreds of different dog food options and discuss the health implications, positive or negative, of each ingredient. There is a simple five star rating system to rank the quality of the food. Another area of this site you may want to keep tabs on is the section on dog food recalls. It seems there are an increasing number of recalls the more big labels buy small labels and outsource the manufacturing to other countries where food safety is less regulated. Keeping tabs on recalls can help ensure you pet doesn’t get a bad batch of dog food.

Another option is feeding a raw diet. This has been getting more popular lately. I decided a few months ago to switch Sally to a raw diet due to the increasing number of dog food recalls. I was concerned that I wouldn’t keep up and she would end up getting sick. I purchased a book that a friend recommended, Raw Dog Food by Carina Beth Macdonald, and have been following that diet plan. A raw diet isn’t for everyone or every pet. I discussed this with my vet prior to starting the diet to ensure that she was healthy enough and that all dietary requirements were covered in her new diet. Please discuss with your vet prior to any drastic changes in your pets diet.

There are a few myths to a raw diet that I want to address. A raw diet is not necessarily more expensive than quality dry dog food. I was spending over $50 per month on dry dog food and now spend less than $40 on raw. Eating a raw diet has not turned my dog into a blood craving Kujo dog. Eating raw chicken is ok for dogs because they have stronger digestive enzymes than humans and a shorter digestive tract as well. Just think about all the other stuff they ate without getting sick (socks, sticks, poop, etc.). Chicken bones are not bad for dogs to eat raw. Cooked ones splinter, but dogs love raw meaty bones.

I don’t have any affiliation with the book or website I mentioned in the article. These are just what I used. I’m sure there are other options out there if you choose to do your own research. I hope reading this will inspire you to find out what is really in your dogs food. The answer may be shocking.

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