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There are several commercial dog foods that are nothing but worthless dry kibble—that 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 post on the truth about dog food—a list of some of the basic facts about dog food every 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 right in…
1. Poor Diet Kills
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.
2. FDA has double standards when it comes to 4D Meats
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:
Related Content: What are 4D meats?
3. Diet has an impact on your dog’s behavior
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.
4. Beware of artificial flavors and synthetic vitamins/minerals
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.
5. AAFCO label is not always a guarantee that a brand is safe
Although the 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.
6. Reading the Guaranteed Analysis section is the best way of knowing the nutrients inside the dog food
Remember that your body does not use the 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.
7. Pork is good for your dog
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.
Related Content: Are pig ears good for dogs?
8. Complex food ingredient names are normal
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 a red flag.
Just do more research about the ingredient to be in the know.
9. Meat Vs. Meat meal
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.
10. Grains are fine for most dogs
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
11. Vegetables are good for your dog
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.
12. 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.
Related Content: 5 Homemade Recipes for Dogs with Allergies
13. Know your dog’s calorific requirements
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.
14. Beware of sugary foods
Most commercial dog foods are laced with sugar (usually disguised as corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, etc) to make the foods tastier for 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.
15. Food Color is unnecessary in dog food
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 nor 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.
16. Beware of BHA & BHT in dog food
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.
17. High-quality fats are good for your dog
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.
Related content: 5 Best Oils for Dog Treat Recipes
18. Grain-free doesn’t mean hypoallergenic
“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.
19. Raw diet food may fail to provide complete nutrition for your dog
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.
And 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.
20. Foods for all life stages
AAFCO requires dog food manufacturers to provide different nutritional profiles for the gestation and lactation stages.
The manufacturers 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 indicates 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.
21. 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.
22. 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, weakness, increased urination, loss of appetite, constant thirst, and seizures among others.
23. Foods with lots of ingredients are not necessarily 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.
24. ‘Human grade’ dog foods aren’t necessarily better
Don’t be lured to think that dog food that is labeled as ‘human grade’ is 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.
25. 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.
26. 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 on 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.
27. Steer clear of small dog bones
Avoid giving your dog small bones such as chicken bones or pork chops as they may splinter and lodge in your dog’s mouth or throat.
Learn more here: Guide to Giving your Dog Bone Treats.
28. Avoid feeding your dog leftovers
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.
29. Dogs need to drink a lot of water
The amount of water that your dog requires depends on the seasonal temperature, 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)
30. Know what to feed senior dogs
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 to their reduced appetites.
31. Puppies need higher amounts of proteins, fats, and minerals
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.
Finally, 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.
32. Kibble should be combined with high-moisture diets
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 supplementing kibble with fresh, frozen, or high-moisture foods, your pooch may be eating empty, bulk foods without other vital/important nutrients.
It is also important to note that 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.
33. 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 a protein-restricted diet allows his kidney to work less and avert the accumulation of waste products.
34. Corn ingredients are important
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.
35. Give raw eggs in moderation
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?
Facts about Dog Food: Final Thoughts
Before giving your dog a particular food or diet, strive to carry out 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.
Sable M. is a canine chef, professional pet blogger, and proud owner of two male dogs. I have been an animal lover all my life, with dogs holding a special place in my heart. Initially, I created this blog to share recipes, tips, and any relevant information on healthy homemade dog treats. But because of my unrelenting passion to make a difference in the world of dogs, I have expanded the blog’s scope to include the best information and recommendations about everything dog lovers need to know about their canine friends’ health and wellbeing. My mission now is to find the most helpful content on anything related to dogs and share it with fellow hardworking hound lovers. While everything I share is in line with the latest evidence-based veterinarian health guidelines, nothing should be construed as veterinary advice. Please contact your vet in all matters regarding your Fido’s health.