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There are several commercial dog foods that are nothing but worthless dry kibble—lack the necessary nutrients that your dog needs. Well, this doesn’t mean that all commercial dog foods are bad.
Of course, there are dog food manufacturers who value the health of their customers’ pets and do everything in their capacity to create food formulations that are healthy and nutritious. The only thing that you need to do as a dog owner is to sift the wheat from the chaff.
So, what should you do to ensure that you are giving your pooch the best foods that contain the essential nutrients that he needs?
Well, when it comes to processed dog food, there are a lot of things that you need to know. To make your work easier, we came up with a list of some of the basic facts that any caring dog parent ought to know.
Although the list is not exhaustive (dog food is a terrifying topic, you know…), it will help you differentiate between good foods that will boost the health of your furry friend and those that can potentially harm him.
Let’s dive in.
- Poor diet kills. In fact, 20% of all human deaths globally are linked to poor diet. Therefore, considering that low-grade, commercial diets that we feed our dogs are much worse than the worst human diets, it doesn’t require the knowledge of a rocket scientist to guess the extent to which mass-produced dog foods can affect your dog’s health.
- The FDA and AAFCO allow 4D meat to become foods for our pets simply because their definitions of these types of meat don’t comply with the laws that govern human-edible meats. In other words, meat meant for pets doesn’t have to be under continuous scrutiny by the FDA like human food. See the video below for more information:
- Since food affects the brain, a bigger percentage of dog behavior problems can be linked to harmful ingredients in commercial dog foods such as preservatives, flavors, and artificial colors. So, something as simple as changing your dog food or feeding him with certain types of food can change his behavior in a more profound way than you can imagine.
- The process that makes dry kibble or canned dog food stable enough to sit on shelves for an extended period of time are sometimes so severe that manufacturers are forced to add things back like artificial flavors and synthetic vitamins and minerals just to entice our dogs to eat the foods. Sometimes these synthetic nutrients can be toxic to your dog. For instance, too much vitamin A and D are associated with toxicity in dogs.
- Although Association of American Feed Control Officials (or AAFCO) is responsible for ensuring that every pet food sold in the US adheres to a set of acceptable standards and are safe for pet consumption, frequent pet food recalls is a clear indication that an AAFCO-approved label is not an assurance that the pet food or its ingredients are free from toxic contaminants. However, an AAFCO statement on food labels is an indication that such foods are formulated to meet the required nutritional standards, so they are better than those without the labels/statements.
- Remember that your body does not use peanut butter that you eat for energy. Instead, it uses the nutrients in the peanut butter such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats for specific purposes to help your body function. The same is true for our dogs. The nutrients contained in your dog’s food are the main building blocks of his body. Accordingly, before you purchase any dog food, take your time to read the Guaranteed Analysis section on the food label to get a comprehensive picture of all the nutrients inside the dog food.
- The notion that you should never give your dog pork is a mere myth. Pork is a highly digestible protein that contains excellent amino acids. It is less likely to cause allergic reactions that some dogs experience when they consume other protein sources. Besides, pork is white meat and also contains more calories per pound.
- FDA requires dog food manufacturers to list all the ingredients in their products by their chemical names to help dog owners, nutritionists, and other stakeholders figure out the structures of the ingredient as well as how they will interact with the dog’s body. While this is very vital to nutritionists, some terms may appear too complex for the average dog owner. However, this doesn’t mean that any unfamiliar name is less safe or less important. Accordingly, when you see an ingredient that doesn’t appear friendly, you shouldn’t consider it as a red flag. Just do more research about the ingredient to be on the know.
- Should you go for meat or meat meal when comparing ingredients? Well, if you want an option with most meat nutrients, a meat meal is the best bet. Ingredients are often listed in descending order of their weight—and remember that weight includes water. So, when you see meat or chicken listed as an ingredient, it means that you will be purchasing unprocessed meat or chicken complete with water. Meat or chicken meals, on the other hand, are meat/chicken with water and fats removed. So, they will weigh less than chicken or meat but actually contain a high percentage of proteins and amino acids.
- While some nutritionists blame grains for allergies in dogs and we also understand that some dogs can be allergic to grains just the way some are allergic to meat, grains are fine for most dogs and usually contain more nutrients than most of the replacements that you’ll find in grain-free ingredients. You should also note that FDA is investigating a potential link between grain-free foods and cardiovascular diseases in dogs.
Source: CBS News
- Although vegetables don’t fall among the top ingredients/foods that dogs love to eat, they are very beneficial as they provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals. For instance, sweet potatoes are known to be excellent sources of potassium, beta-carotene, vitamin B, and antioxidants that can help your pooch fight against different cancer-causing agents.
- Again, while fruits are not a detrimental part of a dog’s diet, fruits like apples or blueberries are potent sources of vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. Cranberries may also help assist with dental hygiene as well as urinary tract infections by killing certain bacteria.
- Only about 10% of skin allergies in dogs are caused by dog food. Most triggers of allergy in dogs are flea bites and other environmental allergens. So, don’t be quick to associate an allergy in your dog with grains or proteins. The only surefire way to diagnose a food allergy in your dog is to do a vet-supervised elimination diet trial.
- The amount of food that most brands recommend for dogs is based on weight but doesn’t take into account other factors such as the level of exercise that they get. Accordingly, they may sometimes be more or less than what your dog should actually consume. To figure out your dog’s calorific requirements, talk to your vet or use a suitable calorie calculator for dogs.
- Most commercial dog foods are laced with sugar (usually disguised as corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, etc) to make the foods tastier to your dogs. However, sugar contributes to obesity and interferes with your pooch’s ability to digest calcium, proteins, and other essential minerals. Studies have also shown that sugar inhibits the growth of useful intestinal bacteria and can lead to behavioral problems.
- Most commercial dog food manufacturers add sodium nitrate to your dog food to help it retain color. However, we know that dogs neither see colors vividly not make food choices based on color. This means that the ingredient is only added to enhance the appearance of the foods to humans and is completely unnecessary. What should worry you most is the fact that sodium nitrate may cause cancer, arthritis, and affect your dog’s immune system and even cause death.
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (or BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (or BHT) has been deemed as suspicious cancer-causing compounds by the World Health Organization. However, both compounds are still used by the pet food industry to make foods last longer. The two compounds can also cause allergic reactions, kidney/liver conditions, and fetal abnormalities. So, when buying dog foods, avoid those that contain these compounds.
- Although fats are often associated with a lot of health risks, they play a significant role in enhancing cell functions and digestion. They also provide energy and help your dog absorb certain vitamins. Fats have also been proven to keep dogs’ coats healthy and shiny. But don’t include any type of fat in your dog’s diet; look for high-quality fats like fish oils, chicken fat, olive oil, omega-3 and omega-6, and canola oil.
- “Grain-free” is a common label in most dog food labels. One thing you should know is that grain-free doesn’t mean hypoallergenic and AAFCO doesn’t provide a clear definition or standards to be met for a food to be labeled grain-free. In a nutshell, grain-free may mean different things to different dog food manufacturers. It is also critical to understand that dogs are carnivore species but have omnivorous eating habits, so they need complex carbohydrates for normal stool formulation. And while high carbohydrates are often associated with obesity in dogs, it should actually be a concern in high-fat diets.
- You should rethink the notion that raw diet food is the best for your dog because it is ‘natural’ and it is ‘what other carnivores eat in the wild.’ To begin with, among the 36 genome regions that differentiate dogs from wolves, 10 are related to digestion and metabolism, indicating a clear nutritional difference between the two. Secondly, wild animals tend to have a shorter lifespan compared to our pups, so raw diets may sometimes fail to provide proper and complete nutrition for the long lifespan that our dogs enjoy.
- AAFCO requires dog food manufacturers to provide different nutritional profiles for the gestation and lactation stages. The manufactures are required to state whether their products are fit for particular life stages and whether they have passed feeding trials meant for such stages. So, if you come across a diet label that it is compliant with AAFCO requirements for all life stages, it simply means that it has been tested for the gestation, lactation, and growth stages.
- Remember to wash your dog’s food and bowl regularly. Nobody would dare use the same salad bowl for 3 days straight without washing it. But what about your dog’s bowl? Well, some people wouldn’t mind letting their dogs’ bowls sit on the floor for a week! Dirty bowls allow bacteria to grow and cause a wide range of health conditions, including upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. Ensure that you wash your dog’s bowl daily if you care about the health of your pooch. If anything, this is a very easy routine if you have a dish-washable dog bowl. Check the best options here.
- Giving your dog certain supplements is highly recommended. However, you should do it in moderation considering that some supplements have excessive amounts of vitamin A & D as well as other minerals that may be toxic to your dog. For instance, too much vitamin D in dogs is linked to a wide range of health issues including vomiting, weaknesses, increased urination, loss appetite, constant thirst, and seizures among others.
- Don’t assume that foods with lots of ingredients are the best. A bigger percentage of dog food manufacturers may list some ingredients on their diets for marketing purposes (to increase the appeal of the diets to dog owners). For instance, many manufacturers tend to list fresh meat as the first ingredient in their dog foods simply because they know that dog owners are looking for meat in dog food ingredients. So, be cautious with diets with a lot of ingredients as some of the ingredients may have no proven benefits or maybe in minuscule amounts to offer any tangible benefits to your dog. Additionally, you should understand that more ingredients mean more quality control for the products to adhere to AAFCO regulation—which translates to more time and expenses on the manufacturer’s part. The best thing is to choose dog food diets with high-quality ingredients or diets from companies that are known to have the expertise to put a number of ingredients in a way that can meet most of your dog’s nutritional requirements.
- Raw fish can cause thiamine (or vitamin B1) deficiency in dogs. Common signs of thiamine deficiency include abnormal posture, anorexia, weakness, seizures, and even death.
- Don’t be lured to think that dog foods that are labeled as ‘human grade’ are better. To use this term, all the food ingredients and the final product must be handled, stored, processed and transported in ways that meet all the FDA regulations for human food. If the entire food isn’t human edible, manufacturers shouldn’t claim that certain ingredients are. The moment an ingredient is meant to be used in pet food, it should no longer be fit for human consumption unless the ingredient is made from human food plants or it never leaves the human food chain. More importantly, the fact that an ingredient is sourced from the human food chain doesn’t mean that it is more nutritious, safer or wholesome than those that are solely prepared for pets. Put simply, always take the “human grade’ claims with a grain of salt at best.
- The dietary needs of dogs are unique. Some dogs may need more protein than others while others may benefit from certain types of vitamins and minerals compared to others. To figure out your dog’s dietary requirements, start by learning its breed and some of the health issues they are prone to since the best dog food is dependent on a specific breed, age, and lifestyle. Your vet can also help you figure out the dietary needs of your dog.
- Before purchasing a new dog food brand, check its recall history. Remember that even the best dog food brand can be subject to a recall. Irrespective of how they claim to be the best or how good their formula is, steady history of recalls should be a red flag. You can always find more information about recent dog food recalls from FDA’s website. The best quality dog foods are those offered by companies without a history of recalls or only have a few isolated cases.
- Raw meat may not only contain bacteria and parasite but may also lack proper balance of nutrients when fed alone. Although meat is a great source of protein, it contains low levels of calcium, which dogs require for proper bone and tooth development. So, feeding your dog large quantities overtime may make him develop skeletal muscles.
- Feeding a dog large quantities of liver on a daily basis may cause vitamin A toxicity.
- Avoid giving your dog small bones such as chicken bones or pork chop as they may splinter and lodge in your dog’s mouth or throat. Learn more here: Guide to Giving your Dog Bone Treats.
- Avoid feeding your dog leftovers since doing so may cause vomiting and diarrhea as your dog may end up consuming foods with a high-fat content (such as fatty meat scarps, pan drippings, etc). Feeding your dog table scraps may also encourage begging and food stealing, behaviors that are a bit hard to correct in dogs.
- Just like humans, dogs need to drink a lot of water. The amount of water that your dog requires depends on the seasonal temperature, his activity level, and general health. Consuming dry food will also make your dog thirsty. As a guide, give your dog at least one-quarter of water per pound of dry food. Most importantly, remember that milk is food and not a substitute for water. To ensure that your dog drinks enough water on a daily basis, invest in high-quality waterers. Check this post for a good list of the best options to consider: 42 Best Automatic Dog Feeders (Arranged By Categories)
- Dogs’ digestive systems break carbohydrates into sugars. While your dog may get some temporary energy from the process, sugar may lead to other health issues down the road. For instance, excess sugar may lead to obesity and diabetes as well as a host of other diseases for your dog later in life.
- Senior dogs should be given soft foods or diets, which tend to be easier on their jaws and digestive systems. They should also be given fresh diets that are composed of whole, real ingredients because such diets allow their body to use most of the nutrients—with less going to waste. Fresh, soft foods with high palatability also help keep the senior dogs interested in their foods considering that their appetites tend to wane with time. Senior dogs should also be given a lot of vitamins as well as anti-inflammatory foods such as fish recipes to reduce inflammatory risks and to cater for their reduced appetites.
- According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), puppies need more energy than adult dogs of the same breed. This means that you should feed your puppy higher amounts of proteins, fats, and certain minerals. Your puppy’s food should also contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids for eye and brain development. So, unless advised by your vet, don’t be tempted to give your adult dog foods that are specifically formulated for puppies. Because puppy foods are high in calories (for more energy or their growing bodies), they are highly likely to increase the risk of obesity in adult dogs.
- Giving your dog excess raw eggs can cause biotin deficiency. Biotin is responsible for your dog’s health and smooth coat, so its deficiency may cause dermatitis, poor growth, and loss of hair. Learn more here: Can You Include Raw Eggs in Your Homemade Dog Treat?
- Large breed puppies (we are talking of dogs that grow to be 60+ pounds) should be given diets with slightly low calcium content. Giving them high amounts of calcium can cause excessively rapid growth, which can, in turn, result in orthopedic disorders such as elbow dysplasia.
- Kibble is produced by the extrusion process, which entails dry food ingredients being pulverized under high pressure and heat to form the ingredients into the desired shapes. Extrusion, therefore, alters protein structures and forms completely foreign compounds. So, if you are not giving your dog fresh, frozen, or dehydrated foods, your pooch may be eating empty bulk, vital/important nutrients.
- A high amount of proteins is not suitable for all dogs. When your dog consumes excess protein, it is broken into nitrogen-based compounds and filtered out as waste in the form of urine. Healthy dogs handle extra proteins, but dogs with renal problems such as senior dogs will benefit from low protein diets. In fact, some of the late signs of renal insufficiency in dogs like lack of appetite and vomiting often result from the build-up of the mentioned nitrogenous compounds. Feeding your senior dog protein-restricted diet allows his kidney to work less and avert the accumulation of waste products.
- Corn ingredients are not cheap and useless fillers as many people tend to think. Corn gives dogs energy and is endowed with valuable nutrients such as carotene, which supports your dog’s eyesight, reproduction, skin health, and development of muscles and bones.
- Dry food doesn’t necessarily translate to healthy teeth and gums. Most dry foods not only crumble when eaten by dogs but also get stuck between the teeth. They may also result in plaque and tartar build-up if not removed.
Before giving your dog a particular food or diet, strive to carry meticulous research on your options and choose wisely. We highly recommend homemade dog foods because you can control what goes into your ingredients.
However, if you don’t have time to prepare your own dog food, go for foods from big manufacturers as they employ board-certified nutritionists, adhere to rigorous quality-control measures, and provide complete nutritional analysis of their dog food products.