MAY 2, 2014 – By Kris Butler – It seems there are as many strong opinions out there about which dog foods are best to feed as there are opinions about which vehicles are best to drive. And, lately, the dog food companies advertise about as much as the car companies do. So how do you know what to believe? First, you can believe this article is promoting knowledge rather than any one product.
After making improvements to their dogs’ diets, people often notice differences in their dogs’ coats. We believe more subtle changes occur, beyond appearance. Not only are Team Butler’s canine athlete’s physical performance and stamina surely affected by eating food that is more beneficial to them, but we believe every dog’s mental focus and attention relate to diet as well. Consider the highs and lows (from hyper-active to crash) of human behaviors that result from sugar/glucose and carb-rich diets and how that might compare to canine behavior and performance.
Irish Setter Meri came to live with us in 2001. She soon became a “duck-hunting therapy dog” and my professional partner. Meri’s breeder had informed us about the Irish Setter propensity for canine bloat, and that information led to greater awareness of the ingredients we were feeding our dogs. Since then, we’ve continued to make positive changes in how we feed and supplement our dogs’ diets.We want our human clients to read and digest the important information on dog food labels (not just the hype) and empower yourselves to make food choices for your dogs based on content rather than marketing. It’s not just an issue for canine athletes or therapy dogs. We believe that what family dogs eat relates directly to dogly behavior, too. It’s as simple as flipping a bag of dog food and reading the ingredients section and, then using the ingredients labels AND price tags to make the best overall choice in quality and cost for your family.
Change often occurs in small steps, in layers. You can’t know the primary ingredients you are feeding your dog unless you look at the “ingredients” label found on each bag of dog food. Assume nothing. Set aside marketing claims. Ignore the front of the dog food package. Look at the ingredients listed in small print on the back or side of the package. This simple exercise produces ah-ha moments for many people.
Dog food manufacturers are required to list ingredients, and list them in order of weight, in an “ingredients” section on each package. The first ingredient listed is most predominant; the second ingredient is next in predominance, and so it continues throughout the list of ingredients. Even if you only consider the first few ingredients, you’ll have taken a productive first step.
Just looking at the first ingredient might be enough to suggest whether further exploration is warranted. The first ingredient should be an identified meat or an identified meat meal. The first ingredients in commercial dog foods can be corn products or meat by-products. Noting the inclusion of corn or meat by-products anywhere within the ingredients is enough to move me on to explore another option.
Dog food manufacturers must also describe percentages of important nutrients such as protein and fat and moisture. Don’t be misled by high percentages of protein that might come from less than highly digestible food sources. If the nutrients cannot be rendered during digestion, they pass through the system. You will have to refer to the “ingredients” section of the manufacturer’s information to discover the actual sources of protein, fats, and grains.
Below you’ll find links to more specific information. There’s a lot to digest (pun intended!). So chew on it and if you’re interested in applying what you’ve learned, check back for Part 2. In Part 2 of (Dog) Food for Thought you will have the opportunity to compare and contrast commercial dog food ingredients, taken from the backs of dog food bags, so that you might be prepared to make your best decisions next time you actually shop for your dogs.
Link to Label Information 101 http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=labelinfo101 Detailed, easy enough to read, with practical examples throughout.
Link to Dog Food Advisor http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/ Reviews and ratings (based on labels, by the way) updated regularly for the less ambitious among us. Emailed notices of recalled dog food products and treats also available through this site.
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