Healthy Food for Your Dog: Part II

In an earlier post we discussed the pet food recalls from 2007 and commercial dog foods.  [ ]  Although some owners may question commercial dog foods, partly as a result of the pet food recalls, the truth is that there are many excellent dog foods on the market.  Armed with some good information about what is good for your dog to eat, you can make intelligent choices and feed your dog a healthy food.

Dog foods are required by law to list the ingredients in their foods.  This means that you can see what you are thinking of feeding your dog before you buy it.  Choosing a food for your dog can still be confusing though because of conflicting claims and marketing gimmicks.  For example, a food may be hyped with all the right media exposure.  It may have a lovely bag showing a happy dog surrounded by ripe veggies, all blooming with health.  But once you look at the ingredients you may discover that the food is made up of lots of things that your dog doesn’t really need.  And those veggies?  Again, your dog doesn’t really need much of them.  They certainly don’t need to be a large part of your dog’s diet.

So, as hard as it is, try to tune out the media hype and ignore the pretty pictures when you are choosing a dog food.  Instead, look for foods that follow these guidelines:

1.  Avoid foods with too much corn.  Corn by itself is not harmful to dogs but it is often used as a cheaper source of protein instead of using a meat source.  In addition, it is so widely used in dog foods that some dogs are allergic to it now.  Dogs do not process corn terribly efficiently, using only abut 50 percent of the protein in it, compared to over 70 percent of the protein in beef, or 92 percent of the protein in fish.  This means that when you feed your dog a food that has corn in it, 50 percent of the corn is passed as waste for you to scoop.  In addition, many manufacturers practice “splitting.”  This means that corn may appear in more than one form in the food, such as corn gluten, whole yellow corn, ground corn, and so on.  By the time you add up all the corn ingredients, corn may be the single biggest ingredients in your dog’s food.  So, choose foods that avoid corn or use it sparingly.

2.  Avoid foods that use too many grains.  Again, grains are not necessarily bad for dogs, but your dog doesn’t need a lot of carbohydrates.  Instead, he needs good sources of protein.  Foods with some grains are fine but keep them in moderation.

3.  Stay away from foods with artificial preservatives, artificial sweeteners and sugars.  Your dog simply doesn’t need these things in his diet.  Artificial preservatives include BHA, BTA and ethoxyquin.  Ethoxyquin is used to make tires.  Look instead for natural preservatives such as Vitamin C or E or rosemary (although you should avoid rosemary if your dog is prone to seizures).

4.  Avoid foods that say they use generic fats and proteins such as “animal fat” or “meat meal.”  You simply don’t know what they are.  These are usually indications of poorer quality foods. Instead, look for named fats and proteins, such as chicken fat and lamb meal.

5.  Avoid meat by-products and meat digest.  By-products and digest refer to specific parts of rendered animals.  Your dog will probably be happy to eat them but they are not the quality parts of the animal.  Instead, look for whole chicken or chicken meal, for example.

6.  Look for foods that include taurine.  Many companies have recently begun adding taurine to their products to improve heart health.  If a food you like doesn’t include taurine you can add fish oil to your dog’s diet to improve heart health.

7.  You can consider feeding your dog organic foods.  While this is not strictly necessary for your dog’s health, some owners feel better about knowing how the ingredients in the food were raised and avoiding excess chemicals.

Once you begin to apply these criteria to your dog food search, it will help you narrow down your choices.  You should find quite a few good foods from which to choose.  Then it becomes a matter of trying out a few foods to find one that your dog likes.

Of course, the final choice is always up to your dog.  Not only will your dog’s taste buds determine which food you feed, but your dog’s condition.  The best food in the world is no good if your dog does poorly on it.  So, try some foods, remembering to make changes slowly, and see how your dog does.  If you notice itching, redness, dry coat, loss of weight or any other signs that the food does not agree with your dog, don’t be afraid to change it right away. Your dog’s health comes first!

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