One of the more confusing parts of dog ownership has got to be nutrition. Just take a look at any commercial for one of the major dog food brands, boasting choice cuts of meat, fresh vegetables and whole grains. Truth in advertising? Nope.
Unfortunately, the reality is, most of the major dog food brands you see in commercials are complete and utter crap. To make matters even more confusing, vets don’t receive a ton of training on nutrition, and what little they do is often funded by Hills. How’s that for an unbiased source? So that Hills Science Diet your vet recommends (and conveniently sells right there in the office)? Yep, they’re profiting from that recommendation.
So if you can’t trust what you see on TV and you can’t trust your vet (for the most part – though there are awesome vets out there who don’t peddle that crap), then how is the Average Joe supposed to know what to feed his dog?
To be fair, feeding your dog a low-quality food probably won’t kill him (unless of course they’re involved in one of the many scary pet food recalls as of late. But that’s a whole ‘nother post…). But feeding a low-quality food is sort of like feeding your kids fish sticks and hot dogs… which is okay in moderation, but not twice a day, every day. If you’re feeding a low-quality food, eventually that’s going to take a toll on your dog’s body.
One of my favorite Web sites for dog nutrition (which I’ve already referenced in several links in this post) is dogfoodanalysis.com. This site includes objective, third-party evaluations of just about every dog food on the market, without the influence of the marketing dollars from the big companies and the kickbacks your veterinarian receives.
It’s a lot of information to take in, but as a rule of thumb, I only feed foods that are 4 stars or higher (it goes up to 6 stars, but for a multi-dog household with large dogs, that can get quite pricey).
But if you find yourself in the pet food store and can’t remember how a particular food ranked, remember these 5 things:
- First ingredient should be a named meat source (e.g., duck, lamb, chicken). Be wary of any mystery meat. If they don’t name the meat, it could actually be partially made up of euthanized dogs and cats.
- Avoid any animal “byproducts.” While byproducts could include organ meats (which are good for dogs), all too often “byproduct” is a blanket term for hooves, beaks and other parts of the animal that were discarded as unfit for human consumption.
- Avoid corn. It’s a cheap filler that has no nutritional value for a dog. Basically goes in one end and comes right out the other. Not to mention it’s one of the most common allergens. A hallmark of a crappy food is one that uses corn, and with many cheap foods, it’s the first ingredient listed.
- Anything you can find in the grocery store is crap, and most of the brands you’ll find at the big box pet stores are only slightly more expensive crap. While there are exceptions to this rule, your best bet is shopping at boutique pet supply stores or feed stores.
- Don’t focus solely on the price of the bag. A higher quality food is going to be more expensive, but it’s also going to be higher in calories, which means you feed less. For example the recommended feeding guidelines for a 50 lb. dog eating Innova EVO is 2 cups per day, whereas the guidelines for the same size dog eating Pedigree suggest 4 cups per day!
Anyone who’s ever switched a dog from low to high quality food can vouch for the benefits. In addition to giving your dog a longer, healthier life, you’re going to almost immediately notice a softer, less greasy coat, less shedding, less bathing, better smelling breath, and smaller, less frequent, less stinky poop.
I don’t know about you, but that last one alone would be enough to make me switch!