What should I feed my dog?This is a really common question, and when you type it into Google a billion search results appear – mostly from dog food companies. The answer ranges widely, from all meat raw diets to even vegan diets for cats and dogs. What you chose to feed your pet can be influenced by many things, such as advertising, personal beliefs, brand loyalty, experiences, and advice from friends, family, and professionals.
In this article, we hope to dispel any myths and answer your questions about dog food so that you can make the most informed choice for your pet.
Wild DogsAs we all know from those fantastic National Geographic specials, dogs are domesticated versions of their wolf cousins. After centuries of selective breeding, wolves are almost completely different from our companion dogs. However, there are still versions of domesticated dogs living in the wild today, such as the African Wild Dog. Studying wild dogs can help us to decide what food would be most beneficial to our domesticated dogs. Domesticated dogs will eat whatever their master will give them, trusting it’s good for them. Wild dogs choose what to eat based on what they need at the time.
In the wild, dogs primarily rely on raw meat for their diet. Dogs also get a good portion of their nutrition from fruit and plants. They do not eat grains, and often benefit from a 12 to 24 hour fasting period to allow their bodies to digest and detoxify from whatever they’ve eaten. Based on this evidence, and several studies done on our domesticated dog, professionals have come up with the best food for your pet: the raw food diet.
The Raw Food Diet MovementYou’ve probably heard of Raw Food for your dog. This diet is based on decades of research on evolutionary animal science. The movement started as early as the 1930s, but didn’t really take off in North America until the late 1990s. Pet owners who have switched to the raw food diet often see a marked decrease in health problems such as allergies, bladder infections, ear infections, arthritis, and skin problems.
There are literally thousands of raw food diet websites, recipes, and also emerging commercially prepared raw food diets available to the consumer. However, it is often more expensive and time consuming than typical dog food. For the average pet owner, they are most likely going to choose a commercially prepared dry and/or wet food combination. So how can we give our dogs the best diet, even if we don’t choose the raw food diet?
Kibble vs. WetFeeding your dog just kibble is not suitable for your dog as dogs derive the majority of their water through their food. Even with plenty of fresh water available, dogs can become dehydrated and contract urinary tract problems with dry food alone.
On the other hand, feeding your dog nothing but wet food is also detrimental. Kibble helps promote healthy teeth and gums, where as wet food can sit in between their teeth and cause rot. Wet food is often more fatty than dry food, and too much wet food can also cause diarrhea.
A good mix for most dogs is a ratio of half wet food for each whole of dry. For instance, if your dog eats one cup of dry food, then add ½ cup of wet food.
The Best Food for your Best PalI’m sure you’re chomping at the bit for us to just name a brand of pet food and be done with it. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Brands and their subtypes can vary a lot, and the ingredient list can also be confusing. The first ingredient is always the primary source of protein (as protein shouldalways be the majority of your dog’s diet) however the remaining ingredients depend on the brand’s individual and secret formulas.
The best way to choose the right dog food is to look at the whole ingredient list, and the nutritional content label. We have compiled a list of what to look for, and what to avoid if possible.
- Specifically named meats and meal “meals” like chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, etc. as the first ingredient listed
- Other protein ingredients that are acceptable, but should not be the main source, are by-products and by-product meals that list a specific species. For example, chicken by-product meal but not poultry by-product meal.
- Generic meat ingredients like “meat”, “poultry”, and “fish”
- By-product meals. If you can avoid them, please do. The ingredients of these by-product meals can include things like chicken feet, gizzards, necks, bones, and depending on the quality of the processing plant – even feathers.
- Any food that contains corn or soy in any form as a main ingredient (typically the first four or five ingredients)
Fats & OilsGood:
- Specifically named fats and oils like herring oil, canola oil, chicken fat, etc.
- High percentages of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids with a ratio of at least 7:1 (5:1 or lower is ideal). To explain – Omega-6 should be a higher percentage than Omega-3 to a seven to one ratio. As an example, Omega-6 is 1% than divide that 1 by 7 to obtain the Omega-3 percentage of 0.14%.
- However, if there are low percentages of Omega-6 and Omega-3 you can always supplement with a fish oil supplement.
- Non-specific sources such as “animal fat”
- Mineral Oil (this can cause diarrhea)
- Some dogs do better with more carbs than others, and some dogs cannot handle grains at all. If your dog has issues with digestion, skin problems, or allergies – try switching to grain free low-carb products for a few weeks first. If there is no change, go the opposite direction and increase the amount of carbs while remaining grain-free.
- Whole ground grains like rice, oats, barley, millet, potates, sweet potatoes, and peas for the majority of dogs is okay.
- Rice is the most easily digestible grain for dogs
- Corn is not okay for the main source of protein, but is acceptable as a grain product. If there are other sources of protein listed prior to corn, then corn is being used as a grain.
- “Split” ingredients such as rice, rice flour, and rice bran all appearing in the same ingredient list
- Fragments like “potato product”
- Unspecified grain sources like “cereal food fines”
- Middlings/mids or mill run of any kind
- 40-50% of fibre or less. Fibre is not digestible for dogs, but it is a necessary evil for most commercial dog foods to work.
- Corn bran, peanut hulls, rice hulls, soybean hills, oat hulls
Fruits & VegetablesWhile fruits and veggies add vitamins and minerals to your dogs meal, it should not be your deciding factor for a food. Unprocessed, fresh items are better than processed.
- Apple pomace, grape pomace, citrus pulp (poorly digested)
- High quality foods do not require flavourings
- Natural flavours like specifically name broths are okay (eg chicken broth)
- Any highly rendered products like “digests”
- Ingredients of unknown origin, like “meat broth”
- Onions – they are toxic to dogs!!
- Things you can understand, like Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols), Rosemary, Sage, Clove Extract, and Vitamin C or forms thereof (Ascorbyl Palmitate, Ascorbic Acid)
- Chemical preservatives like BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, TBHQ, Sodium Metabisulphite
SweetenersSweeteners should not be in your dog food at all. They are usually only added to poor quality dog food to make them more attractive to your dog. Fun fact: unlike dogs, cats cannot taste sweet things!
- Cane molasses, corn syrup in any form, sugar, sorbitol, sucrose, fructose, glucose, ammoniated glycyrrhizin, propylene glycol
DyesDyes are also unnecessary. A lot of dogs are colour blind anyway, and the ones that aren’t don’t seem to care if their food is “meat” coloured or not. Dye is purely marketing aimed at the people buying the food. Don’t buy the dye!
- All numbered dyes (like Red 40)
SupplementsDog food must meet some nutritional guidelines to be sold, so often there are supplements in the food. Supplements like glucosamine and pro-biotics are generally not included in large enough doses to actually provide a therapeutic effect – just another marketing technique!
- Chelated or sequestered minerals (also labelled as chelates, proteinates, amino acid chelates or complexes, polysaccharide complexes)
- Nonacidic time released versions of Vitamin C. Label examples: Ester C, Calcium Ascorbate, Stabilized Vitamin C, or L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate.
- Natural Vitamin E (Tocopherol, Natural Tocopherol)
- Natural sources of Vitamin K (egg yolk, liver, oats, kelp, alfalfa)
Are you curious about Breed Specific Dog Food? Check out this link: