I’ve been researching dog food lately, and I’m going to share a simple test for determining whether your dog food is any good. But first, I’ll start with my newest pet peeve…
Which Dog Food? Answer the Dang Question!
It bugs me when I hit the computer to research something and I end up visiting websites that encourage me to do my own research. When I Google “Best Stapler,” I’m not looking for encouragement to “ask yourself what you are really looking for in a stapler.” I just want to see: “It’s the PaperJaw 3000.” Search for “Best Dog Food” and you will find lots of websites that go on about the attributes of good dog food, but they never tell you what to buy! I’m not going to do that. If you’re interested in my opinion, I’ll give it to you — see the pictures for the foods I use and recommend, and click on them for more info.
Most Dog Food is Nasty
I believe that most supermarket dog food is made out of bad stuff. The ingredient list for Kibbles ‘n Bits, for example, includes corn syrup. I feel sorry for dogs that are being fed sugar as part of their daily diet, and I would expect that whatever money their owners are saving on dog food, they will end up spending at the vet. In short, I believe it only makes sense to consider so-called “super premium” brands, and so I’m only looking at those. Fair-warning: good dog food is significantly more expensive than bad dog food, but the bag lasts longer because you’ll use less per serving, and you’ll end up saving money on vet bills.
Variety is Bad: Common Nonsense
How did we all get convinced that we should buy one dog food and stick with it for years and years? I think it’s nonsense. When fueled with constant variety, dogs enjoy rock-solid digestive systems and happily handle whatever quality foods you throw at them. In contrast, if you make your dog eat the same thing every day, month-in and month-out, of course he’s going to get diarrhea if you suddenly change foods. But the problem is not that you switched foods; it’s that you don’t switch enough. I change foods every time I buy a bag. I don’t bother with that gradual blending business either, and my guys are consistently fine with it. (Note: if your dog has been eating the same food for years, his digestive system probably isn’t so rock-solid anymore, so in that case you should introduce new foods gradually at first.)
A Simple Test for Quality: Your food should have a meat or fish followed by the word “meal” before any non-meat ingredient appears in the list. Leave a comment and let us know if your dog food passes the test.
Other Stuff I Learned
After reading a good book on the subject and studying several websites, as well as talking to my vet and a leading veterinary neurologist at MSPCA/Angell, I’ve settled on the following beliefs. Everything here is “in my opinion.”
- Grain-free foods make sense. Wolves don’t eat corn, wheat, and rice, so your dog shouldn’t either. By the way, I noticed that my dogs both scratched a fair amount before I removed grains from their diet; now they rarely do.
- Raw dog foods are in fashion now, but they are too risky. Raw ground meat can contain scary bacteria, so you’re rolling the dice every time you handle them. Too, that same bacteria can survive in your dog’s waste, so the risk lingers.
- Read the ingredient list and look for meat. Ingredients appear in order by weight, and anything that appears after “salt” can be ignored, since it’s present in very small amount.
- Speaking of ingredients, with kibble, the word “meal,” (as in “chicken meal,” “bison meal,” “salmon meal”) is a good thing. Since ingredients are listed in order of weight, and since all ingredients are ultimately dried into meal in the process of creating the kibble, weighing them wet (before they are meal) is an easy way to make them appear artificially higher in the ingredient list.
- A Simple Test for Quality: Your food should have a meat or fish followed by the word “meal” before any non-meat ingredient appears in the list. In the table below, notice that Orijen passes the test with item #2 (“chicken meal”) appearing before any non-meat ingredient, and Kibbles ‘n Bits fails the test right off the bat with corn as its #1 ingredient. Does your dog food pass the test? Leave us a comment and let us know!
- Add meat and vegetables to your dogs diet. Apples, cooked broccoli, chicken, roast beef — all great. Whatever leftover meat or vegetables you have around; consider throwing it in there. But first, familiarize yourself with the list of foods that are poisonous to canines.
- Canned pumpkin is a high-fber ingredient that is widely recommended as a good thing to add to your dog’s meal. I use it a lot.
- Feed less. I’m puzzled by the suggested serving amounts I see on the dog food bags — they are too high by a lot. If I followed them, my dogs would be fat. The best foods are more nutritious and calorie dense, so you need less.
- Don’t free feed. If your dog isn’t eating all the food you leave for him right away, something’s off, and it’s possible that he’s bored with the food, or the quality isn’t good enough. See “Common Nonsense” above, and in any case, if he doesn’t eat it in 5 minutes, pick it up.
Does Your Dog Food Pass the Test?
Good dog foods pass the test (see item #5 above.) Does your dog food pass or fail? Leave a comment and let us know!