There are many myths about dog food and what constitutes a healthy diet. Certian dry and wet dog foods claim to be hypoallergenic, for example, but may include certain things that your dog can’t tolerate. Each dog needs an individualized diet specifically for them, especially if they have uncommon allergens affecting their health. This article helps to dispel some misinformation to help you make an informed choice about what you feed your pet.
- look for a food with meat as the first ingredient
- feed a diet with plenty of natural moisture
- choose food with meat that’s been sustainably and humanely raised, when possible
- consider a grain-free diet for dogs with chronic ailments
- think that a dry food diet is going to clean your dog’s teeth
- feed a diet that’s loaded with wheat, corn, soy, rice, and beet pulp
- base your recipe choice on the designated life stage or breed specified on the bag
- fall for marketing claims and buzzwords like ‘hypoallergenic’
Do look for a food with meat as the first ingredient
Meat should form the majority of a dog’s diet, and the meat used should be a high quality, easily digestible form, where the species is named (for example ‘chicken meal’ or ‘beef’. Meat by-products (for example ‘poultry byproduct meal’) can include a mix of different animal species, which presents a risk for pets suffering with sensitivities to particular proteins. By-products can include feet, beaks, hides, feathers, and other animal parts that are difficult for the body to properly assimilate.
Pet food ingredients panels are listed in order of predominance by weight, so when meat is listed first, it means that most of the recipe is made up of meat. Ensure that a recognizable source of meat is listed (for example ‘chicken’ rather than ‘poultry byproduct meal). It’s especially important that the majority of a dog’s diet be made up of good quality, digestible meat, and not protein in the form of byproducts like beaks, hooves, and feathers, which are difficult for the body to assimilate.
Do feed a diet with plenty of natural moisture
Dry food (kibble) diets are plagued with problems. As the dry food reaches the intestines, it will actually ‘rob’ the body of moisture in order to facilitate digestion. When dog food lacks natural moisture, it can cause the dog to become chronically dehydrated on a low level. This can stress the kidneys and may actually lead to kidney disease over the long term. If the dog gulps down water after consuming his dry food, this can lead to the pellets actually swelling in the gut, which is a big risk factor for bloat and gastric torsion, especially in larger barrel chested breeds.
Do choose food with meat that’s been sustainably and humanely raised, when possible
The manner in which meat-producing animals are raised can affect the quality of the meat itself. Intensively farmed animals lead more stressful lives and suffer with more anxiety, which can increase the need for antibiotic usage to address resulting stress related sickness, increase cortisol levels, and affect the nutrients in the finished meat products.
Choosing a food that’s made with free-range meats, supports more humane, sustainable farming practices, and animal wellbeing.
Do consider a grain-free diet for dogs with chronic ailments
Many of the most common chronic ailments for which dogs routinely visit the vet are directly related to food. While many pets do just fine on a diet that contains healthy (preferably organic) whole grains, many others become plagued with ailments like ear infections, itchy skin, and hot spots, chewing at the feed and chronic gastrointestinal upset. In many cases, when grain (and more specifically gluten) is eliminated from the diet, these problems disappear.
If your pet has been suffering for a prolonged period of time with one or more of these conditions, and repeated vet prescriptions for antibiotics and steroids aren’t bringing about a long term cure, consider trying a grain-free diet for a couple of months and see if there’s an improvement. Remember to also eliminate grain-based treats and restrict access to grain-containing food that other pets in the home may be eating, for best results.
Do not think that a dry food diet is going to clean your dog’s teeth
Many people think their dog needs to eat dry food in order to clean his teeth. This is like relying on a crunchy pretzel to clean our teeth! The first problem is that most kibble is not sufficiently abrasive to scrape plaque and tarter from the teeth. Secondly, most dogs don’t even chew their kibble anyway. If you’ve even had the misfortune of seeing your dog regurgitate his food, you’ll have noticed those pellets usually come back up the same as they went in — whole, round pieces. This shows they were gulped down without any chewing at all! The best thing for dental health is to feed a minimally processed whole food diet, and offer a raw beef marrow bone a couple of times a week, or clean the teeth with a canine toothbrush.
Do not feed a diet that’s loaded with wheat, corn, soy, rice, and beet pulp
These ingredients are some of the most common culprits in pet food sensitivities. Signs of sensitivity include scratching, skin irritation, hair loss / hot spots, chronic digestive upset, chewing at the paws, and chronic ear infections.
Plus, ingredients like corn, soy and beet pulp are the most common to be genetically modified in the United States. GMO crops have been associated with reproductive and developmental problems in butterflies, intestinal inflammation in pigs and colony collapse disorder in bees. We don’t yet know the long terms effects of feeding GMOs on a daily basis to companion animals, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.
Do not base your recipe choice on the designated life stage or breed specified on the bag
Every dog is an individual, with his own specific nutritional requirements which can vary based on age, breed and level of activity. But even two dogs from the same litter can have different lifestyles and ingredient intolerances. Rather than choosing a food for ‘seniors’ or ‘Bulldogs’, it’s best to closely observe your own dog’s body weight and reactions to certain foods. Some do better with a small amount of grain in their diet and others need to stay completely grain-free. Some require fewer calories than the package suggests, even if they’re highly active. And just because a dog celebrates a certain birthday doesn’t mean he automatically needs to change to a ‘senior’ food.
Do not fall for marketing claims and buzzwords like ‘hypoallergenic’
Many dogs suffer with food sensitivities, but there’s really no such thing as a ‘hypoallergenic’ food, because every dog has unique ingredients that they can and can’t tolerate. What constitutes ‘hypoallergenic’ will vary by individual, based on what they’re sensitive to.
There are some common allergens like wheat, corn, soy and beet pulp that all dogs should avoid (see #2 above) but a supposedly ‘hypoallergenic’ diet that’s made with chicken is going to be no help for a dog who’s intolerant of chicken.
Your dog’s health can be directly related to the food he eats. By doing your research, feeding him as an individual and closely observing his well-being when he consumes different types of food, you can select a diet that will set him up for a lifetime of go