We all have our particular passions as to specific aspects of loving and living and raising dogs. Whether it's conformation, field work, agility, breeding, behavior or just trying to give our dogs the best we can because they give us so much.
My admitted obsession is nutrition. While we all spend a lot of time discussing HD, ED, cardiac, eyes, thyroid and all the genetic issues relating to our babies, I'm not sure we spend enough time on how proper nutrition can improve our dog's longevity and overall health. Just as in humans, there is much credible information out there to suggest that with better nutrition we can help stem the tide in cancer in our dogs to cite just one example. We do discuss here often, how changing food can improve stools, cut down on allergic reactions and eliminate ear problems.
In my view, superior nutrition is key not only to help with the basic issues (stools, ears, itching) but can also work as a preventative to curb the ever rising incidents of cancer and diabetes in our companion animals. Unfortunately, long term studies to prove this point are hard to come by as most studies are currently performed by the "big dogs" in pet foods and they don't have any interest in finding out that their "grocery" brands could be harming our pets with their grain heavy, inferior protein sourced products.
In an effort to be helpful with all the questions we get here regarding foods, I put together this guideline as to what to look for and what to avoid in choosing a food -
Grocery Brands - Are brands like Purina, Pedigree, Alpo, Kibble n Bits, and private labels.
Can include corn, corn glutens, meat by-products, wheat, protein concentrates or spilt proteins, white grains, artificial preservatives and coloring and will tend to be very grain heavy - Here's an example of a grocery brand with an inferior ingredient panel -
Whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), corn gluten meal, meat and bone meal, brewers rice, soybean meal, barley, whole grain wheat, animal digest, calcium carbonate, salt, calcium phosphate, potassium chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, choline chloride, zinc sulfate, Vitamin E supplement, zinc proteinate, ferrous sulfate, added color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 2, Yellow 6), DL-Methionine, manganese sulfate, manganese proteinate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, copper sulfate, calcium pantothenate, copper proteinate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin B-12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin D-3 supplement, riboflavin supplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.
When evaluating dog foods, the first 4-6 ingredients listed before the fat source are the bulk of what's in the food. Food ingredients have to be listed by weight before cooking. In reading the above panel ("inferior" ingredients listed in red) you can clearly see that this formula is nothing but corn and poultry by products. Another sign of inferior ingredients is not naming the animal source but uses generic terms like poultry, animal or meat as a label as opposed to naming the specific protein source like chicken meal or lamb.
Now let's look at a "premium" brand - an example would be a Science Diet, Iams or Eukenuba or some Nutro Labels. Nutro and Eukenuba do make holistic formulas that would put those formulas in the holistic category.
Chicken, Chicken By-Product Meal, Brewers Rice, Corn Meal, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Dried Beet Pulp (sugar removed), Natural Chicken Flavor, Dried Egg Product, Brewers Dried Yeast, Dicalcium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Beta-Carotene, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (source of Vitamin B1), Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement (source of Vitamin B2), Inositol, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of Vitamin B6), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid), Fish Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Flax Meal, Apple Pomace, Dried Carrots, Dried Peas, Choline Chloride, Dried Spinach, Dried Tomato, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Carbonate), L-Carnitine, Rosemary Extract
Not much better is it? You'll notice that they add many good things but at the end of the ingredient panel which basically makes it insignificant. The basis of this formula is chicken by products and corn. Note that the first ingredient is chicken but a protein source is weighed before cooking so the chicken if weighed after cooking would be further down the list.
Now we come to the holistic formulas which for the most part do not use any by-products, corn, soy or wheat. They use only whole grains and fresh meat sources combined with a meal.
Here's a holistic formula - Examples of holistic brands are Wellness, Innova, Natural Balance, Nature's Variety, Solid Gold, Merrick
Chicken, Brown Rice, Lamb Meal, Oatmeal, Barley, Duck Meal, Potatoes, Carrots, Chicken Fat (preserved with natural mixed tocopherols), Tomato Pomace, Natural Flavor, Canola Oil, Brewers Yeast, Salmon Meal, Salmon Oil, Whole Ground Flaxseed, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Spinach, Parsley Flakes, Cranberries, L-Lysine, L-Carnitine, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Dried Kelp, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B-1), Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Calcium Pantothenate, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B-6), Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Riboflavin (Vitamin B-2), Vitamin D-3 Supplement, Folic Acid.
You'll notice here that the only ingredients before the fat source are whole named poultry meats or meals (chicken and lamb), whole grains and carrots. The next round of ingredients are pretty good as well with salmon meal and oil, flaxseed, spinach, cranberries, etc.
There is a wide degree of differences in holistic formulas and this is where we all go crazy in trying to determine which formula will work best for our dog. Trial and error is most likely the best approach and rotating between protein sources and brands has also shown to be helpful as long as there are no known allergies to a specific grain or protein.
The next category up the food chain is grain-free holistics - Brands like Evo, Welllness Core, Nature's Variety Instinct, Taste of the Wild and
Controversy abounds as to the proper protein level in grain-free foods. Is 40%-50% to high and can lead to kidney issues? I don't think anybody knows yet but if it's a concern to you, than picking of the one grain frees that have more moderate protein levels in the 30's might make sense.
Here's an example of a grain free ingredient panel - (Note-most grain free formulas use potatoes as a binder- this example uses tapioca)
Duck Meal, Turkey Meal, Salmon Meal, Canola Oil (naturally preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), Tapioca, Tomato Pomace, Pumpkinseeds, Herring Meal, Sun-Cured Alfalfa Meal, Montmorillonite Clay, Natural Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Brewers Yeast, Vitamins (Choline Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid, Niacin Supplement, Biotin, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Acetate, Riboflavin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Iodine Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Carotene, Folic Acid), Peas, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Sodium Selenite), Sea Salt, Dried Kelp, Cranberries, Blueberries, Inulin, Freeze Dried Turkey, Freeze Dried Turkey Liver, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Rosemary Extract, Freeze Dried Turkey Hearts, Freeze Dried Ground Turkey Bone.
Crude Protein (min): 35.0%
Crude Fat (min): 22.0%
Crude Fiber (max): 3.5%
Moisture (max): 10.0%
Finally, the ever controversial raw feeding and or homemade diets complete the choices for our Goldens.
Here again, the choices can be confusing and overwhelming. Do you follow the BARF philosophy, the prey diet, a holistic homemade diet or a combination of all them and exactly what are the differences?
BARF - A BARF diet consists of RMB'S (Raw Meaty Bones) and vegetables in a 60-40 to 80-20 ratio that includes adding eggs, yogurt and supplements. BARF devotees claim dogs are omnivores not true carnivores which allow for vegetables, eggs and yogurt in their diet.
PREY DIET - Prey diet devotees believe dogs are true carnivores and therefore should only eat raw meaty bones, organ meat and occasionally ground meat with no other supplmentation.
HOMEMADE HOLISTIC DIETS - Holistic diets follow more of the BARF philosophy with meat and vegetables providing the basis with the allowance of eggs, yogurt, antioxident rich berries and occasional whole grains with supplementation with oils and vitamins.
Fears about bacterial contamination have kept many a dog owner away from raw feeding. While there is evidence to suggest that dog's digestive systems work much faster than ours and any bacteria goes thru the dog before any infection can take hold....it's still a concern for some. When you think about it, dogs get into things all the time outside that are filled with bacteria that don't hurt them so the argument does have some weight. For those who want to feed a healthy homemade diet but can't get past the bacteria issue, cooking ground meat and tempering eggs in a homemade formula might be an option.
At the end of the day, we all want the best for our dog babies. I, for one, am a firm believer that the better we feed our dogs, the less trips to the vet we'll make and the longer our dogs will live.
I hope this post continues the healthy discussion and debate on dog nutrition.