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Pet Happenings July 2009

Nutrition 101: How To Read Your Dog’s Food Label
by Kaye Davis of Moab Barkery

The topic of dog food is a heated one among dog owners. Some people believe that “dog food is dog food” and so they buy the cheapest brand available because, well, their dog is doing just fine, thank you! There are others that believe the most expensive brand is better because it costs more. Neither of these ‘theories’ is correct.

Saying “dog food is dog food” would be like saying fast food or TV dinners are equivalent to a meal at a 4 star restaurant. It is likely that the quality of ingredients at the 4 star restaurant dictate the price you pay, but that’s not always the case either. So saying that the most expensive brand is the best just because it costs more is like saying that a $10.00 hamburger and fries meal at a restaurant is more nutritious than a $2.99 Happy Meal.

For an example to make our point the following is a list of ingredients from two different dog foods, one an expensive nationally sold brand and the other a grocery store brand; can you tell which is which? One costs almost twice what the other does. Can you tell the difference?

Brand #1. Chicken, Corn Meal, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Chicken By-Product Meal, Chicken Fat (Preserved with mixed tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Dried Beet Pulp (Sugar Removed), Natural Chicken Flavor, Fish Meal, Potassium Chloride, Dried Egg Product, Brewers Dried Yeast, Salt, Flax Meal, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Fish Oil (Preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), [vitamins & minerals].

Brand #2. Chicken (natural source of glucosamine), brewers rice, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal (natural source of glucosamine), whole grain corn, whole grain wheat, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), non-fat yogurt, animal digest, calcium phosphate, salt, potassium chloride, caramel color, [vitamins & minerals].

You may not be able to tell which one is which but you should be able to see that the ingredients are very similar. Then why is one so much more expensive than the other? Because you are paying for the name…lesser quality dog foods are often heavily advertised because people will buy a product they are more familiar with. The companies that advertise heavily can afford to do so because they use cheap, low quality ingredients in their foods.

There are hundreds of nutritious, quality dog foods available on the market today. The brands we know using high quality ingredients and are available locally include Canidae, Innova, California Natural, EVO, Healthwise, Wellness, Evangers, Solid Gold, Nutro, Wysong, and Organix just to name a few. These companies are not advertised like the lower quality brands because the people that purchase their products already know they are buying a better dog food and they use better quality (often human grade) ingredients in their food.

Here’s how to find out if the price you are paying for your dog food equals quality of ingredients. The following is a list of ingredients to look for when purchasing dog food and the reasons why they are important…

• Specifically named meat protein sources, such as chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, etc. It can be listed just as the animal or meal, ex. Chicken or chicken meal. It should also be the FIRST INGREDIENT listed.
• Good carbohydrates, such as brown rice, oatmeal, barley, millet, amaranth, and potatoes (not potato product) or sweet potatoes. These are considered good carbohydrates, because they do not have unwanted side effects (gas, shedding, hot spots “itching”). However, carbohydrates are really not needed by the dog, because dogs get their energy from meat protein & fat. These are in the food to help the dog feel full.
• Specifically named fat sources, preferably animal fats such as ‘chicken fat.’ Dogs are able to utilize animal fats better than vegetable oils, but sunflower, canola, and flaxseed oils (as long as your dog is not sensitive to them) are okay, too. Try to avoid foods that contain beef tallow, generic vegetable oil, unspecified “poultry fat” and mineral oil.
Ingredients to avoid when purchasing dog food and the reasons why…
• By-products are what are left over after the processing plants remove what meat is fit for human consumption. By-products can contain anything from chicken heads and feet, to cow hooves and horns, fur, feathers, blood, skin, bone, feces, and even dirt and sawdust from the floors of the meat processing plant.
• Corn in any form (ground yellow corn, corn meal and corn gluten meal) is a very, very cheap filler (soy and sorghum fall under this category as well) and it serves one primary purpose in dog food – to make the animal feel full. Dogs cannot digest corn and utilize the protein it contains, so it basically just passes right through the digestive system and you get the privilege of cleaning it up when it comes out the other end. Some dogs are also allergic to corn, so if you simply avoid any foods that contain any form of corn in their ingredients listing you’ll be doing your dog and yourself a big favor.
• Wheat is really only an issue if your dog is allergic to it, but wheat also played a big part in the recent pet food recalls, so avoiding it altogether is a good idea.
• Chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT and propylene glycol make the food last longer than natural preservatives, but every single one of them has been proven to cause liver and kidney failure, cancer, or other life-threatening diseases in test animals.
• Meat meal is the worst, and it means there is no designation of animal used to make the food. This can include amphibians, reptiles, roadkill, zoo animals, and euthanized cats and dogs picked up by rendering plants. If the rendering plant the food maker uses is unethical, there is no end to what goes in the hopper. Most rendering plant hoppers can take thousands of pounds of “whatever” and grind it into an indistinguishable meat meal. Ewwww.

So what should you feed your best friend? The key things to remember are that there is no one dog food out there that is perfect for every dog, and price doesn’t always dictate quality or the true cost. There are many things to take into consideration when choosing the right food for your dog such as age, activity level, feed ratio and breed. The best thing you can do is educate yourself about dog food and decide for yourself what food will be best for your dog. Ask questions of your local dog food provider. They should be able to recommend some good choices for your dog..

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