When it comes to chow time for Fido, it's important that you understand what you are scooping into your beloved's dish. Commercial dog foods have come a long way. There was a time when tossing a few table scraps to the family dog sufficed. Not anymore.
Unless you are feeding a vegetarian diet, all commercial dog foods contain some kind of meat or meat byproducts. Meat byproducts can include spleen, liver, kidneys, heart, brains, intestines and various other organs of mammals, fish and poultry.
Dog food brands that contain byproducts are really just taking the refuse from the slaughterhouse and turning it into dog food, reports Dog Food Advisor; they don't provide the high-quality protein your dog needs. In the wild, dogs eat the entire animal, getting a balanced diet. But when fed a diet high in byproducts and grain, your dog is not getting the nutrition he needs to thrive.
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The higher-quality dog foods list the animal or animals from which the main protein source -- the meat -- came. There are dog foods made from many animals, including deer (venison), kangaroo, duck, rabbit, salmon, cows, pigs and chickens. When the label lists the protein source using a generic name such as "animal," "meat," or "poultry" there is no guarantee that the meat is not from road kill, dead zoo and shelter animals, horses or "4-D" meat, according to Dog Food Advisor.
Meat that's considered 4-D comes from animals that are dead, dying, diseased or disabled before slaughter. Although it's unfit for human consumption, 4-D meat is sometimes used in pet foods. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, such meat might "present a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it."
Dogs with food allergies might do well on one protein source but be allergic to another. For example, if your dog is itching or having tummy troubles, try switching to a salmon or rabbit formula. The way the proteins are broken down and digested plays a part in how the body processes it. That's why some animal meats cause food allergies and others don't.
Grains and plant materials are usually present in dog food. Cellulose from soybeans, wheat, corn, rice and barley is fine in moderation, but these ingredients should not be listed above the protein source. A specific grain, not a protein source, is often an allergen. Avoiding that grain is a good idea if your dog has food allergy symptoms such as yeasty ear infections, chronic hot spots, runny nose, diarrhea or flatulence.
Vegetarian dog foods contain grain, but they might also contain protein such as egg and cheese. These foods include vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure the dog is getting all the nutrition needed to thrive.
Choosing Your Dog's Food
If your dog does not have any food allergies or other medical condition that require a particular type or brand of dog food as recommended by your veterinarian, choose wisely.
The adage "You get what you pay for" is particularly true in the case of dog food. Generally speaking, higher-priced foods are of better quality than inexpensive, generic, off-brand foods. If more expensive food keeps your dog healthy, you'll save on vet bills in the long run.
Many websites compare brands of dog food (see Resources section). If you take some time to learn about the ingredients in commercial dog foods, that will benefit both you and your dog.
- DogFoodAdvisor: How to Avoid Choosing Dog Food With Inferior Meat Content
- PetMD: Contrasting Grain-Based and Meat-Based Diets for Dogs
- Natural Balance Pet Foods: Vegetarian Dry Dog Formula
- U.S. Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration: Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.