If you ask different dog owners what they feed their dogs you’re likely to get very different answers. Dog owners can have drastically different ideas about what constitutes healthy food for dogs, feeding their pets everything from a gourmet, grain-free diet of the most expensive kibble to BARF (a bones and raw food diet).
Truthfully, there are many highly accredited, well-respected experts and canine nutritionists who recommend different kinds of diets for dogs, so if you feed your dog one kind of diet instead of another, you shouldn’t feel bad. The most important thing is to feed a good quality diet and for your dog to have his nutritional needs met. The important thing is to always pay attention to your dog’s health and condition. If your dog is healthy, with good skin and coat, no allergies or gastrointestinal issues, and he likes his food, then hurray! That’s what really matters. Not what your friends think or what their dogs eat. Every dog is different and the food that works well for one dog may be a disaster for another dog. Don’t allow guilt or peer pressure to lead you into buying foods for your dog that may not agree with him, especially if he is doing well on a food already.
There is a certain cachet to buying more expensive, impressive-sounding dog foods but they aren’t always the best choice for every dog. For instance, if your neighbor is feeding a dog food with an exotic protein such as emu meat, or something of the like, you may feel that your dog’s food with chicken or lamb is rather dull and plain. You may think that your dog deserves an exotic protein, too. The problem is that exotic proteins are really intended for dogs with allergies or other gastro problems who can’t eat more basic meats without dire consequences. Instead of rushing out to buy food with an exotic protein for your dog so he won’t feel bad (Note: he doesn’t care), you should really be thankful that your dog is healthy enough that he can eat a normal diet for a dog.
Many people have come to believe that all commercial dog foods are “bad” or contain garbage ingredients. These beliefs are based on a couple of things:
1) One or two controversial books about behind-the-scenes operations at dog food manufacturing companies; and
2) the major dog food recalls from 2007.
The books about dog food manufacturing offered some facts mixed in with information about some practices from decades ago. Dog food production is dog food production: fats are rendered; meats are cooked in large vats, etc. That doesn’t mean that government regulations aren’t followed. The books also offered a lot of conjecture without facts to support it such as the idea that dead pets are used to make pet food. It’s extremely unlikely that the more unsavory practices described in these books occur today at dog food manufacturing plants. It would be almost unbelievable for these practices to occur among the more well-known producers. If nothing else, the public relations fallout would end sales and no manufacturer would be willing to take such a risk.
The major dog food recalls that occurred in 2007 were caused by a problem (fraud) with raw materials such as corn gluten meal imported from China. The manufacturers themselves were unaware that they had been victimized and used the product without knowing that it was contaminated with melamine. Although the raw material affected countless brands of dog food and led to major recalls, affecting consumer confidence, this was a problem that was hard to foresee. Many companies have testing in place now to prevent this kind of fraud in the raw materials from occurring again.
In other respects, there are all kinds of commercial dog foods of every kind of quality. Some are grain-free, some are organic, some are “holistic” or “gourmet,” though these words don’t have a government definition. If your dog has a specific health problem you can likely find a dog food for his condition, though you may have to have a prescription from your veterinarian or purchase the food through his or her practice. And, of course, there are many very good dog foods that have been around for a long time with a proven track record.
In Part II of this article we’ll look at how you can learn to read a dog food label and what you should look for when choosing a dog food for your dog.