The Scoop on Dog Food

Love Dog

In This Chapter

  • Knowing how much protein, carbohydrates, and fats your dog needs
  • Making sure that your dog is getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals
  • Getting an inside look at how your dog’s food is made
  • Checking out organic options
Dogs are carnivores — meat eaters. Their teeth are shaped for biting, tearing, and grinding flesh and bones, and their intestinal tracts are short, with enzymes that are good for digesting proteins (but not very good at breaking down and absorbing plant material). So it only makes sense that your dog’s diet should be meat based.
Dogs are also opportunists, which means they’ll eat whatever comes their way, including the trash in your kitchen and the grass in your yard. They do gain nutritional benefits from vegetables, fruits, and grains, but they need meat in their diets as their main source of nutrition.
This chapter covers the eight building blocks of nutrition. All these building blocks are required in a well-balanced diet, regardless of the dog. But the amounts of these nutritional elements that each dog needs depends on that dog’s unique situation — puppies and adults need different amounts, as do spayed and pregnant females, and active and inactive dogs.

Proteins

Proteins are the most critical component of food for your canine carnivore. They are also the most abundant component of your dog’s body. Your dog needs proteins to produce hair, nails, tendons, cartilage, and all the connective tissues that support the rest of the tissues and organs in her body. Adequate protein is important for your dog’s growth and proper development, her muscle development and strength, a functioning immune system, the production of functioning hormones, the proper volume of blood, injury repair and prevention, and much, much more (see Figure 1-1).

Figure 1-1: This dog, Fate, arrived at a shelter in terrible condition, but after two months of proper nutrition, her coat is rich and glistening.
Your dog’s body can also use proteins to produce energy, if necessary. Fats and carbohydrates are much more readily available sources of energy, but dogs can break down proteins and convert them to energy when necessary, such as when food supply is low.

Technical Stuff

Proteins are made up of amino acids linked in a chain. When your dog eats protein, enzymes that the pancreas secretes into the intestines break them down into shorter chains of amino acids called polypeptides, which are small enough for the intestines to absorb. A dog’s body makes 20 different amino acids — some are essential amino acids and others are nonessential amino acids. As the name implies, your dog requires essential amino acids in his food. Food that contains all the essential amino acids is called a complete protein source. The nonessential amino acids are . . . drum roll, please . . . not essential; if your dog doesn’t get them in his diet, he can convert other amino acids into those that he’s missing.

Your dog can get proteins from both animal and plant sources. But only animal-source proteins are complete protein sources, and not all of them are complete. Examples of complete protein sources that come from animals are eggs, whole milk, and lean meat. Grains are another important source of proteins in dog foods, but they are incomplete protein sources because they don’t contain some of the essential amino acids your dog needs. Plant protein sources frequently used in dog foods include soybeans, wheat, and corn.

Remember

Your dog’s major source of protein should be animal products, not grain. Don’t buy a dog food in which soybean meal, soy flour, or corn gluten meal is the primary, or even the secondary, source of protein (see the section “Reading a Dog Food Label” later in this chapter for more on this). Dogs don’t have the enzymes to use grains properly as main sources of protein.

Tip

The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the organization that sets guidelines for the types and amounts of nutrients dogs need in their foods. The AAFCO has determined that foods for adult dogs should contain no less than 18 percent protein, and that foods for lactating females or puppies should have a minimum of 22 percent protein. Military or police dogs, mushing dogs, and other dogs who work hard every day or who are under stress may need more. Dogs recuperating from injuries or surgery may need more protein as well, to repair muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Technical Stuff

Not all complete protein sources are created equal. A cow’s hoof and a filet mignon may both have all the essential and nonessential amino acids, but your dog can get the amino acids he needs more easily from the filet mignon than from the cow’s hoof. Some proteins are just more digestible than others. So how do we know which protein sources are digestible and which aren’t? Nutritionists measure the amount of protein in a food, feed it to dogs, and then measure the amount of protein in the dogs’ feces. The difference between how much was in the food to begin with and how much the dog excretes reveals how much of it the dog absorbed, and that is the digestible protein. A protein isn’t very useful to your dog if it ends up on your lawnrather than in his body. Hair and feathers are a cheap source of protein, too — but they’re indigestible. On the other hand, eggs are highly digestible but expensive. Not surprisingly, the more digestible the protein, the more expensive the dog food. As with many things in life, you get what you pay for.

Warning!

Beware of foods that advertise over 90 percent digestibility. The highest-quality dog foods are 82–86 percent digestible, whereas economy foods (inexpensive brands you get in grocery stores) are around 75 percent. The percent digestibility of a dog food is not stated on the label, but most dog food manufacturers provide that information on request.

Tip

If your dog’s feces are voluminous, it may be a sign that his food isn’t highly digestible.

A brief history of dog food

Before the late 19th century, there was no such thing as prepared dog food. Lucky dogs owned by the well-to-do ate the leftovers from their owners’ dinners, and street dogs aplenty canvassed the alleys, scrounging in the trash. In the 1870s, a time when transportation literally used horse power, a European entrepreneur devised a unique way to solve the problem of what to do with the carcasses of the many horses that died every day in the cities: He decided to package and sell the horse meat as dog food. The idea caught on, particularly among the wealthy, who appreciated the convenience of having a ready-made food for their dogs.
The first commercial dog foods in North America were made by Ralston-Purina in 1926. The foods were tested on dogs that the company kept in large kennels on the property near St. Louis, Missouri. Ralston-Purina dog food was given the ultimate test when it was fed to the sled dogs on Admiral Byrd’s expedition to Antarctica in 1933. Although this was a punishing test for a dog food, it also was an early precursor to the celebrity endorsements that are a major part of the advertising budgets for many large companies today.
In the decade after World War II, the idea of prepared dog food really caught on. The economy was booming and people didn’t mind spending a little money for the convenience of having a ready-made dog food for their canine companions. Besides, the companies producing these dog foods were performing studies on the nutritional needs of dogs, and their foods were billed as containing everything a healthy dog needed.
At that time, most dog foods were canned. This method of preserving food was familiar to Americans, who enjoyed the convenience of canned human foods that could be stored for months or even years on their shelves. In
1956, dog food companies began to utilize the extrusion process, in which nutrients in dried form are mixed with water and steam- and pressure-forced through an opening; the extruded material then is cut into small pieces. The food pieces are cooled, coated with vitamins and other components that are lost in the process of heating, flavored, and packaged.
Dry dog food allowed the consumer to more easily carry large amounts of dog food home from the grocery store. In addition, people found pouring food from a bag more convenient than opening a metal can. Plus, dry foods were advertised as helping keep dogs’ teeth cleaner. As a result, since the late 1960s, the majority of dogs have been fed dry dog food, although canned food is still widely used, especially for smaller dogs.
In the early 1970s, the National Research Council (NRC) published the first recommendations listing the minimal nutritional requirements of dogs. Dog food companies now had a standard by which they could measure the nutritional value of their foods and parameters by which they could claim their foods to be complete and balanced. (The term complete indicated that all the required nutrients were present in their foods, and balanced indicated that these nutrients were in the correct proportions.) The NRC nutrient requirements for dog foods were supplanted in 1992 by nutrient profiles established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Throughout the late 20th century, as the dog population continued to grow, so did the dog food industry. By 1999, the pet food industry was an $11-billion-a-year industry — and very competitive. Today dog foods are advertised and marketed every bit as competitively as human foods, highlighting the importance of being aware of what you’re buying.

Fats

Fats are the major source of energy for dogs. Dogs who live outdoors in the cold need more fat to supply them with the energy to keep warm. And police dogs and working dogs need enough fat so they don’t have to get their energy from carbohydrate or protein supplies.
But fats do more than provide your dog with energy. They also help keep skin and foot pads supple and coats healthy. Supplying an allergic dog with the proper amount and type of fats can make a huge difference in how much she scratches. Fats also carry fat-soluble vitamins into the body from the intestines. These vitamins are essential for health, and the only way your dog can absorb them is if she eats enough fat to carry them into her body. Plus, just as with our own food, fat makes a dog’s food tastier, which can be important in helping dogs who are ill to eat enough.
Fatty acids are the major component of fat. Dogs really need only omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid), because they can’t make it on their own. Linoleic acid keeps your dog’s skin supple and pliable, and her pads and nose leather flexible. Dogs lacking linoleic acid have scruffy, dry coats and dry, cracked pads. Luckily, dogs don’t need a lot of linoleic acid. Good sources are beef, pork, chicken, and the oils from corn, safflower, and soybeans.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also help dogs with allergies by controlling the inflammatory responses in their skin. Omega-3s can improve dry skin and decrease stiffness from arthritis. But omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids have some opposing functions, so you need to be sure that your dog is getting a balance between these two components. Shoot for a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of about 5 to 1. Your dog is better off if her food has the correct ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than if you try to provide it in supplement form. Look for dog foods that have safflower oil or corn oil for omega-6 fatty acids, and fish oil or fish meal for omega-3 fatty acids.

Tip

The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is listed on the bags of some of the better-quality foods, so if your dog is having skin problems, opt for a higher-quality food — and one with the correct ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.

Although your dog needs fat in her diet, too much fat can contribute to obesity, the number one nutritional problem in dogs. Excessive fat can also slow the digestive process and may cause nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. High-fat diets also play a role in the development of pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can result in very severe vomiting and sometimes even death. So you need to control the fat levels in your dog’s diet. Feeding a high-quality dog food (and not giving lots of extras), watching your dog’s weight, and making sure that she gets enough exercise is the best way of ensuring that she won’t become obese. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean a low-fat diet is good for dogs. Too little fat can lead to dry, flaky skin; dry, cracked pads; and a dull coat.

Tip

Be sure to read the dog food label before choosing a diet for your dog and observe your dog’s response to the food. If you don’t like the appearance of your dog’s coat and skin on one diet, try a different one.

Carbohydrates

Every cell in your dog’s body needs a continuous supply of carbohydrates, particularly in the form of glucose, to function properly. In fact, it is so important for cells to have glucose that the body produces the hormone insulin to drive glucose into the cells. Glucose is especially important for your dog’s brain and muscles. Carbohydrates also assist in the digestion of other nutrients, especially fats. Your dog’s carbohydrate requirements vary according to his level of activity, health, and overall energy needs.

Technical Stuff

Carbohydrates come in three basic forms: sugars, starches, and cellulose. Sugars and starches are simple carbohydrates because they are readily available as glucose or can be broken down into glucose. Good sources of simple carbohydrates are rice, oatmeal, corn, and wheat. Simple carbohydrates are easy for your dog to digest when properly cooked; they also add texture to the food, making it more palatable. Cellulose, the main carbohydrate found in the stems and leaves of plants, is a complex carbohydrate. Dogs don’t have the enzymes to digest cellulose (most animals don’t), but it serves as fiber, helping regulate water in the large intestine and aiding formation and elimination of feces.

Tip

The best foods use the carbohydrates that come in grains; sugar need not be added to food, although some manufacturers do this to make it taste better. The AAFCO has no recommended minimum or maximum levels of carbohydrates in dog foods. Carbs make up the remainder of the bulk of the food after fats, proteins, fiber, and vitamins and minerals have been added.

Fiber

Fiber is an important component of dog food. It provides bulk to the food and helps the intestinal contents absorb water, which results in formed stools that are readily expelled. If a food has too little fiber, the dog may have loose stools, because there is nothing to help the stools form. If a food has too much fiber, it will pass much more quickly through the gastrointestinal system, making digestion less efficient and the stools hard and compacted.

Beet pulp is an excellent source of fiber. It is the dried residue from sugar beets, which first have been cleaned and freed of crowns, leaves, and sand, and then used to extract sugar for human foods. Dried tomato pomace is another good source of fiber. It is the dried mixture of tomato skins, pulp, and crushed seeds, a byproduct of the manufacture of tomato products.
Most dog foods contain between 3 and 6 percent fiber. Weight-reduction diets may have between 8 and 25 percent fiber.

Water

Water is the most plentiful molecule in your dog’s body (your dog’s body is two-thirds water) and is essential for every function, from digesting food to dashing across the yard. In the gastrointestinal tract, water dissolves nutrients to prepare them for digestion and helps transport the nutrients across the intestinal wall.
Your dog loses water by several routes, through salivation and respiration, and in urine and feces. If your dog loses more water than she takes in, she will suffer from dehydration, which, if severe and untreated, can be fatal.

Remember

Every dog should have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Enzymes

Enzymes play a role, often in conjunction with vitamins, in just about every body reaction. They are like the keys that unlock the doors to chemical reactions. Each enzyme is the catalyst for one specific reaction, which is why so many different enzymes exist. The pancreas secretes several kinds of enzymes that assist in digestion. In addition to enzymes secreted by the pancreas, enzymes are present in fresh foods.
In most dogs, the pancreas produces sufficient enzymes for digestion. However, in some dogs, pancreatic function is not optimal. Older dogs frequently have trouble fully breaking down their foods for optimal absorption of nutrients, as do dogs with pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or pancreatic cancer.

Vitamins

Dogs require 14 different vitamins. With only a few exceptions, dogs don’t make the vitamins themselves, which means they must get these vitamins in their food. Vitamins participate in numerous chemical reactions that help to release the needed nutrients from food and help the dog’s body put those nutrients to use. Vitamins can be either water soluble or fat soluble.

Water-soluble vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins have to be supplied on a daily basis, because they are continually broken down and excreted. They include the following:

Thiamin (vitamin B1): Promotes a good appetite and normal growth. Required for energy production.

Riboflavin (vitamin B2): Promotes growth.

Pyridoxine (vitamin B6): Aids in the metabolism of proteins and the formation of red blood cells.

Pantothenic acid: Required for energy and for protein metabolism.

Niacin: Exists in many enzymes that process carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Vitamin B12: Necessary for DNA synthesis and intestinal function.

Folic acid: Works together with vitamin B12 and in many of the body’s chemical reactions.

Biotin: Acts as a component of several important enzyme systems.

Choline: Required for proper transmission of nerve impulses and for utilization of sulfur-containing amino acids.

Vitamin C: Participates in the formation of bones, teeth, and soft tissue.

The daily requirements for each of these vitamins are supplied in premium dog foods. Generally, an excess of these water-soluble vitamins is harmless because they are excreted in the urine. As long as your dog is eating a high-quality complete and balanced commercial diet and is healthy, you don’t need to worry about supplementing her diet with water-soluble vitamins.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins don’t have to be supplied in the food every day because excess levels are stored in a dog’s body’s fat. Long-term storage means that they can accumulate to toxic levels, but this is very rare. Your dog needs the following fat-soluble vitamins:

Vitamin A: Necessary for proper vision, especially night vision. Important in bone growth, reproduction, and maintenance of tissues such as the lungs, intestines, and skin.

Vitamin D: Critical to the dog’s ability to use calcium and phosphorus for bone and cartilage growth and maintenance.

Vitamin E: An antioxidant that protects the cells (and dog food) from oxidative damage. Important for muscular and reproductive function.

Vitamin K: Essential for normal blood clotting.

Minerals

Minerals are present in small amounts in the tissues of all living things. Teeth, bones, muscles, and nerves have especially high mineral content. Although the AAFCO provides guidelines for the minimum amounts of minerals necessary for canine growth and development, each dog’s mineral requirements depend on the current nutritional state. For example, if a dog is iron deficient, he will need and absorb more iron from the intestinal tract. Working dogs and ill or stressed dogs may also have higher requirements.
Minerals can be divided into two groups: major minerals and trace minerals. The major minerals are required in gram amounts each day, whereas the trace minerals are required in milligram or microgram amounts per day. Of the trace minerals, several are known to be required for canine health, and the roles of others are less understood.

Warning!

Your dog’s body needs to maintain a delicate balance between the various major and trace minerals. For several trace minerals, the line between the required amount and toxic levels is a thin one. So supplementing an already balanced dog food with minerals can create more problems than it solves.

Table 1-1 lists the different minerals your dog needs and which foods are good sources of these minerals.

Table 1-1                                                  Sources of Minerals


Mineral
Source
Calcium
Dairy products, poultry, meat bone
Phosphorus
Meat, poultry, fish
Magnesium
Soybeans, corn, cereal grains, bone meals
Sulfur
Meat, poultry, fish
Iron
Organ meats
Copper
Organ meats
Zinc
Beef liver, dark poultry meat, milk, egg yolks, legumes
Manganese
Meat, poultry, fish
Iodine
Fish, beef, liver
Selenium
Grains, meat, poultry
Cobalt
Fish, dairy products

Major minerals

The four major minerals are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfur. Calcium and phosphorus are the most important minerals in all dogs’ diets, especially in the diets of growing puppies. Calcium is needed for muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and blood coagulation. It is also required to activate numerous enzymes that affect virtually every process in the cell. Phosphorus plays a part in nearly all chemical reactions in your dog’s body. Both strengthen your dog’s bones and teeth.

Technical Stuff

Although the ratio of calcium to phosphorus in a dog food is important, the total amount of calcium ingested may be more important. Excess calcium is thought to contribute to the development of hip and elbow dysplasia, osteochondrosis dissecans (degeneration of the joint cartilage), and other bone and joint problems. Calcium deficiencies frequently occur in dogs who are fed all-meat diets. A severe deficiency of calcium can cause rickets and bone malformations. A moderate deficiency can cause muscle cramps, impaired growth, and joint pain.

Tip

As of this writing, all premium-quality adult maintenance dog foods produced by major manufacturers have enough calcium to support the healthy growth of puppies, including those of giant breeds. Resist the urge to provide extra supplementation of vitamins and minerals, particularly those containing calcium, to your growing puppy on a premium dog food.

Warning!

Never add bone meal to a complete and balanced diet. Not only are you likely to alter the critical calcium to phosphorus ratio, but you also risk decreasing your dog’s ability to absorb and utilize many of the other minerals he needs.

Magnesium is essential for many enzymatic reactions. It also helps promote the absorption and metabolism of many other vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and E, calcium, and phosphorus. As with calcium and phosphorus, magnesium is important in bone growth and development. In fact, 70 percent of the magnesium in your dog’s body is in his bones. Magnesium is rarely deficient in complete and balanced diets. However, its absorption can be impaired when the diet is too high in calcium and phosphorus.
Your dog needs sulfur for the synthesis of a variety of components in his body, most notably proteins. Sulfur is also an important constituent of joint fluid and cartilage and, thus, is important for proper joint health.

Trace minerals

Your dog needs only very small amounts of trace minerals in her diet. Trace minerals are found in meat and grains and are provided as a supplement in complete and balanced premium dog foods. A balanced diet is still the best source for all the vitamins and minerals required for optimum health.
The trace minerals include the following:

Iron: Iron is present in every cell in the body. It is particularly important, along with protein and copper, for the production of red blood cells, which are responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to every part of the body. Dogs with iron deficiency develop anemia. But remember, iron is needed in only small amounts, so it is important that you not supplement with iron unless you have a prescription.

Zinc: Zinc is important in the metabolism of several vitamins, particularly the B vitamins. It is also a component of several enzymes needed for digestion and metabolism, and it promotes healing as well. Your dog needs zinc for proper coat health. Some breeds of dogs, particularly the northern breeds such as Siberian Huskies, appear to have problems with absorption and/or utilization of zinc. These dogs develop poor coats and dry, scaly skin with sores (particularly on the nose and mouth) and stiff joints unless they are supplemented with zinc.

Copper: Copper is a trace mineral that has many different functions. It is needed for the production of blood and for the proper absorption of iron. It is also involved in the production of connective tissue (the cells and extracellular proteins that form the background structure of most tissues) and in healing. Copper is found in fish, liver, and various grains. The amount of copper in a grain is related to the level of copper in the soil where the grain was grown. A copper deficiency can result in anemia and skeletal abnormalities. Some breeds of dogs, such as Bedlington Terriers and Doberman Pinschers, can have a genetic problem that interferes with the metabolism of copper. In these dogs, copper is stored in the liver to toxic levels, resulting in hepatitis.

Iodine: Iodine is critical for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, which regulates the body’s metabolism and energy levels and promotes growth. Iodine is found in high levels in fish. It is added to most dog foods to make the levels sufficient for canine health.

Selenium: Selenium works with vitamin E to prevent oxidative damage to cells. It is needed in only minute amounts in the diet. Meats and cereal grains are good sources of selenium. In dogs, an excess of selenium results in death of the heart muscles, as well as damage to the liver and kidney. Deficiency results in degeneration of heart and skeletal muscles.

Manganese: Manganese is a component of many different enzyme systems in the body. Most important, it activates enzymes that regulate nutrient metabolism. It is found in legumes and whole-grain cereals; animal-based ingredients are not a good source of manganese.

Cobalt: Cobalt is a part of vitamin B12, which is an essential vitamin. Cobalt does not appear to have any function independent of vitamin B12.

In addition to these trace minerals, other trace minerals known to be important in laboratory animals but with an unclear role in dogs include molybdenum, cadmium, arsenic, silver, nickel, lead, vanadium, and tin.

Remember

As scientists discover more about the nutritional needs of dogs, they are beginning to recognize that our canine companions may need different nutrient levels for optimal health than they need just to prevent deficiencies. Be sure to discuss nutritional questions with your veterinarian — and take a vet’s advice over anyone selling dog food, because stores may push the brands that give them a bigger profit margin. And if you have a question about a specific dog food, call the manufacturer.

Technical Stuff

How dog food is made

How do some cows or chickens and a pile of grains turn into your dog’s dinner? First the animals are slaughtered and the body parts not used for human consumption are put into bins according to which parts of the body they do or do not contain. These are either shipped directly to the dog food manufacturer or are rendered and the meal (what remains after the fats are removed) is shipped to the manufacturer. Similarly, either grains or the meal (what remains after the oils have been extracted for use in human foods) may be shipped to the dog food manufacturer. If whole grains are sent, the manufacturer grinds and separates the grains into their different components. For example, wheat may be separated into wheat flour, wheat germ meal, wheat bran, and wheat middlings.
The ingredients are then mixed in proper proportions and added to the extruder, a large tube containing a screw that mixes the ingredients with steam and water under pressure, and then squirts out the mixture through holes at the end, like a pasta maker squeezes out spaghetti. A knife cuts the ribbon into small pieces, which are then moved along a conveyor belt through  a
dryer/cooler until the right amount of moisture remains. The food is then coated with fat, vitamins, and flavorings.
The high temperature at which dry dog foods are processed breaks down proteins and may change their structure and quality. In addition, the heat destroys any enzymes that were in the food components. Vitamins that have been destroyed during processing have to be sprayed back onto the food after it cools. But whether the components that are added back are really the same as those that were present in the unprocessed food components is unclear, and this is why some people prepare foods for their dogs at home. As a trade-off, however, processed dog food is virtually sterile. None of the common bacteria present on beef and poultry, such as salmonella and E. coli, remain after the food is processed.
Semi-moist foods are not dried as much, and they have more preservatives and sugar added. Canned dog foods are heated but not sent through an extruder. Thus, they tend to retain more of the natural proteins, fats, vitamins, and enzymes.

The Main Types of Dog Food

If you’re like most people, when you look at the shelves of dog food in the store, you’re bewildered by the choices available: puppy foods and senior foods, foods for large dogs and small dogs, diet foods for pudgy pooches, foods that claim to be all natural, foods that promise to improve your dog’s coat, foods that make their own gravy, and foods shaped like little bones.
How can you possibly pick the best food for your furry friend that will give him all the nutrients he needs and help him live a long and healthy life? Worry not. The following sections help you make better choices when buying dog food.
Many different forms of dog food are available today. Dry food usually contains less than 10 percent water, semi-moist foods contain 25 to 40 percent water, and canned food contains 75 to 80 percent water.
You may also have heard the terms premium or super-premium to describe dog foods, but these terms don’t have a legal definition — they can be used by anyone. Premium is a term frequently used to describe high-quality dog foods generally sold in pet supply stores rather than grocery stores. Super-premium generally refers to the highest-quality foods that are prepared using the best ingredients available. Likewise, no legal definitions govern the terms gourmet or natural when referring to dog food.

Warning!

Most veterinary nutritionists agree that semi-moist dog foods offer very little nutritional value. These foods contain dyes and other nonessential additives so that they can be shaped into little bones, steaks, or other shapes. The additives may make the food visually appealing to the consumer, but dogs don’t care what their food looks like. Semi-moist foods also are preserved with sugar, which contributes to obesity and periodontal disease in dogs.

Tip

Avoid foods that don’t have complete nutritional information on the label (see the “Reading a Dog Food Label” section of this chapter for more information). Foods that are produced and sold within the same state aren’t required to have complete nutritional information the way foods that are sold across state lines are. These foods may be nutritionally sound, but without complete information, you can’t be sure. Also steer clear of dog foods that haven’t been tested in feeding trials with real live dogs.

Who’s in charge around here?

Several watchdog groups oversee various parts of the dog food manufacturing and marketing process. Take a look at this rundown of the regulatory agencies and what they do:

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO): The AAFCO consists of animal food officials from the United States and Canada who have joined to develop minimum standards for dog foods (and other animal foods as well). The AAFCO publishes standardized nutritional guidelines for dog foods, which most dog food manufacturers use as their nutritional standard. The AAFCO has also established specific guidelines for what should and should not be included on dog food labels. Although the AAFCO does not have any powers mandated by law, reputable dog food companies willingly comply with its guidelines — which allows them to state on their dog food labels that they meet or surpass AAFCO guidelines. Visit its Web site at www.aafco.org.

Pet Food Institute (PFI): PFI has been around since 1958 and is the national trade association for pet food manufacturers. It monitors legislation that affects the pet food industry and lobbies for the interests of pet food manufacturers before federal legislative bodies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the AAFCO, and Congress. As a way of self-policing, PFI has established the Nutrition Assurance Program, which provides specific guidelines for the feeding trials that are used to test the nutritional quality of dog foods. Dog food companies that have complied with these guidelines in their food trials can state on the label that their food provides complete and balanced nutrition according to AAFCO procedures. For more information, visit its Web site at www.petfoodinstitute.org.

National Research Council (NRC): The National Research Council’s Committee on Animal Nutrition was the first group to establish minimal requirements for canine nutrition. First published in 1974, the minimal requirements are similar to the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) you see on packages of human foods. The NRC requirements for dogs were updated in 2001, based on a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on canine nutrition. The Canine Nutrition Expert Subcommittee of the AAFCO currently recommends that dog foods use its nutrient profiles rather than those of the NRC. However, the NRC provides an important and independent source of information for the consumer on the nutritional requirements of dogs. Access the NRC at www.nas.edu/nrc/.

Reading a Dog Food Label

The first place you need to look when trying to decide on a food for your furry friend is the label on the bag, box, or can. Reading a dog food label isn’t very different from reading the one on your cereal box. A certain amount of nutritional information must be included on the label, but a certain amount of leeway exists in how the dog food company presents it.

Divide the label into two parts: the product display panel (on the front of the package) and the information panel (usually on the back).

The product display panel

The product display panel is the place where the dog food company hopes to catch your eye. So it makes sense that it appears on the front of the package. You’ll typically find a few key pieces of information on the product display panel, primarily the dog food company name, the product identity, the product use (whether it’s dog food or cat food, for example), and the net weight of the package. You may also find a banner statement, which is where the dog food company makes claims about the quality of the food.

Product identity

The product identity section states the name of the product, such as Big Bart’s Beefy Dinner.

Technical Stuff

Any terminology regarding the meat or meat flavor used in the product identity statement has to comply with a list of specific definitions. Consider some examples of common phrases and the standards that need to be met before the dog food company can use the phrase:

Beef for dogs: The food must contain 95 percent beef by weight.

Beef dog food: The food must contain 70 percent beef by weight.

Beef dinner, beef entrée, or beef platter: The food must contain 25 percent beef by weight.

Dog food with beef: The food needs to contain only 3 percent beef.

Beef-flavored: The food doesn’t need to contain any beef; it just needs to taste like beef (using artificial flavors).

Tip

The same rules for terminology apply to any meat source in dog food, such as chicken, lamb, and so on.

Product use

The product use statement just indicates which animal the food is formulated for (dogs or cats, for example).

Net weight

Warning!

The product display panel includes the net weight of the package contents. Just as with human foods, dog food manufacturers frequently change the size of containers without changing the price. For example, a can that looks to be a standard 6-ounce size may actually contain 5.5 ounces, but at the same price. Be sure to read the label carefully.

Banner statement

The front of the package may also have a banner statement, which is where the manufacturer makes specific claims about the dog food. The AAFCO regulates the content of banner statements. For example, if a label says that dogs prefer the taste of that food, it must also tell you what other dog foods were tested to arrive at that conclusion. An example of a correctly worded statement regarding preferred taste would be, “Preferred by dogs over the leading premium brand.”
Rules also govern what defines a light/lite, low-calorie, or less fat dog food. If a manufacturer states that its food is light or low-calorie, that food must have 15 percent fewer calories than the average of other dog foods in the same category. If the manufacturer claims that a certain dog food has less of a component, the claim must state how much less and tell the consumer less than what. For example, a dog food claiming to have less fat must state the percentage reduction in fat (on the basis of weight, not volume) and must state that this is less fat than other dog foods in the same category (dry, semi-moist, or canned, for example).
Dog foods using the terms lean or low-fat must meet yet another set of standards. They must have a maximum fat content that is 30 percent less than the industry average for dog foods. In addition to the required statement listing the minimum amount of fat in the food (see the “Guaranteed analysis” section later in this chapter), these foods must state the maximum amount of fat, because these diets are used for weight loss.

The information panel

The information panel is where the manufacturer tells you the nitty-gritty details of what’s in the food. You’ll usually find it on the back of the package. The information panel should provide a guaranteed analysis of what’s in the food, an ingredients list, a nutritional adequacy statement, feeding guidelines, and the manufacturer’s contact information.

Guaranteed analysis

Legally, dog food labels are required to state only the minimum levels of protein and fat and the maximum levels of moisture and fiber in the food. These are only minimums and maximums, so keep in mind that the dog food may have more than the minimum amounts or less than the maximum amounts of components stated on the label.

Tip

If your dog is ill, small differences in the amount of these important nutrients may make a difference in her health. If you have any questions about your dog’s food and whether you’re giving her what she needs, talk with your vet.

The AAFCO nutrient profiles for dog foods let you know the minimum requirements for protein and fat for both adult dogs and puppies. But the AAFCO protein and fat levels are listed on a dry-weight basis, whereas the proteins and fats on a dog food label are listed on an as-is basis, which includes water. This difference can lead to some confusion when you try to determine whether a given dog food has the levels of nutrients your dog needs. It can also be confusing when you compare one dog food to another, because each dog food may have a different level of moisture (which affects how much of the nutrient is actually there on a dry-weight basis).

Tip

To make accurate comparisons between two foods, you need to do some math, so get out your calculator and follow these steps (protein is the example, but you can do the same equation for other nutrients as well):

1. Find the percentage of protein in the dog food.
2. Find the percentage of moisture in the dog food.
3. Subtract the percentage of moisture from 100 to get the percentage of dry.
4. Divide the number from Step 1 by the number in Step 3 and multiply by 100.
This gives you the percentage of protein on a dry-weight basis.
For example, if you’re looking at the label of a dry dog food (see Figure 12) and it says that the food contains 26 percent protein and 10 percent moisture, subtract that 10 percent moisture from 100, which gives you 90 percent dry. Then divide the 26 percent protein by 90 percent dry and multiply by 100; you get 29 percent protein on a dry-weight basis.
Figure 1-2: A dog food label can tell you how much protein is in there, but you need to do a little math.
If you’re looking at the label of a canned dog food, the formula is exactly the same, but you’ll find significantly different results. If the label says that the food contains 9 percent protein and 80 percent moisture, subtract that 80 percent moisture from 100, to get 20 percent dry. Then divide the 9 percent protein by 20 percent dry and multiply by 100; you get 45 percent protein on a dry-weight basis.
So what does all this math tell you? If you just compared the labels of the food, you would have thought that the dry food had more protein (because the dry food label said the food contained 26 percent protein and the canned food contained only 9 percent). But when you do the math, you discover that the canned food actually has 45 percent protein (on a dry-weight basis), compared to 29 percent in the dry food.

Tip

If all this math seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, here’s a quick rule of thumb to help you compare dry and canned foods. For a dry food, to determine the level of protein, fat, or fiber on a dry-weight basis, add 10 percent to the level that is listed on the label. For a canned food, multiply the amount of protein, fat, or fiber by four. This timesaving tip makes it easier to compare while you’re standing in the store aisle.

Technical Stuff

As this exercise shows, canned foods typically have much more protein than dry foods. A major reason for this is that grains are needed in dry foods to help them hold their shape after extrusion. Canned and dry foods made by the same manufacturer usually have very different percentages of protein.

Ingredients list

Dog food manufacturers are required to list the ingredients in each dog food in descending order by amount, on a dry-weight basis (refer to Figure 1-2 for an example). The label must list every ingredient. A dog food company can actually have a grain as the most abundant ingredient in its food while making it look like the most abundant ingredient is a meat. Take a look at how they do it: Say that the Chow Hound dog food company is making dog food using wheat as the main ingredient and poultry byproduct meal as its second-most-common ingredient. Instead of just listing wheat, the company can break down wheat so that it’s listed on the label as wheat flour, wheat germ meal, wheat bran, and wheat middlings. This allows the company to list poultry byproduct meal first, because the food has more poultry by-product than it does wheat flour, wheat germ meal, wheat bran, or wheat middlings. The four wheat ingredients can be put lower on the list, making the wheat seem like a less important and less abundant ingredient. Scan down the list of ingredients, and if the second, third, fourth, and fifth ingredients on the list are all something other than meat, your dog may be getting more of that than meat.

Tip

In general, a good-quality dog food has two quality animal protein sources listed in the first few ingredients. Look for a food that also has two different sources of fat in the ingredients list, for adequate energy and to provide all essential fatty acids (see earlier in this chapter for more on fats).

Tip

Dog food companies frequently change the composition of their dog foods, so the label on the food you purchased yesterday may not be the same today. Keep the ingredients list from your current dog food label in your wallet and periodically check it against the labels on the dog foods you’re buying, just to make sure that you’re buying what you thought you were.

Tip

Vocabulary 101

If you’re confused by some of the lingo on dog food bags, you’re not alone. Some of the definitions for the food terms you’ll see in the ingredients list include the following:

Animal byproduct meal: Rendered animal tissues that don’t fit any of the other ingredient definitions. It still can’t contain hair, horns, hoofs, hide trimmings, manure, or intestinal contents or extraneous materials.

Byproducts: Non-human-grade proteins obtained from animal carcasses. They can vary greatly in their digestibility, and the consumer has no way to determine their digestibility.

Meat: The clean flesh of slaughtered cattle, swine, sheep, or goats. It must come from muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, or esophagus.

Meat and bone meal: Rendered mammal tissues, including bone. Other than that, it is similar to meat meal.

Meat byproducts: Fresh, nonrendered, clean parts of slaughtered mammals. It does not include meat but does include lungs, spleens, kidneys, brains, livers, blood, bones, fat, stomachs, and intestines. It cannot include hair, horns, teeth, or hoofs.

Meat meal: A rendered meal made from animal tissues. It cannot contain blood, hair, hoofs, horns, hide trimmings, manure, or intestinal contents or extraneous materials. It may not contain more than 14 percent indigestible materials. Lamb meal is made from lamb parts. Meat meal is made from cattle, swine, sheep, or goats.

Poultry (or chicken or turkey) byproduct meal: Ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines. It cannot contain beaks or feathers.

Poultry (or chicken or turkey) byproducts: Nonrendered clean parts of slaughtered poultry, such as heads, feet, and guts. It must not contain feces or foreign matter.

Preservatives and antioxidants in your dog’s food

Antioxidants are preservatives that are added to foods to help protect the fats, oils, and fat-soluble compounds such as vitamins from breaking down. Unsaturated fats readily mix with oxygen in the air and become rancid. Rancid fats are not just a problem because they smell bad; they also cause the food to lose its flavor and texture. More important, rancid fats can affect a dog’s health. When a dog eats rancid fats, he may end up suffering from a relative deficiency of vitamin E, a natural antioxidant that the body uses to combat rancid fat.
Because all dog foods contain some unsaturated fats, they all require some sort of antioxidant preservative. Many foods are preserved with preservatives, including BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin. Ethoxyquin has been especially controversial, because concerns arose that it caused cancer. However, studies in dogs and puppies have not shown an increase in cancer from ethoxyquin. Still, due to consumer preferences for natural ingredients, most dog foods are now preserved with vitamin E and vitamin C. Ironically, the vitamin E and vitamin C that are used in dog food are man made, too — so they’re not exactly “natural.”
If you’re feeding a dog food that has been preserved with vitamins E and C, be sure that the food is less than six months old when you give it to your dog. Most manufacturers use a production code that indicates the date and even time when the food was made, along with the plant that manufactured it. Others use a best used by code, which indicates the time by which the food should be consumed. To determine how fresh your dog’s food is, call the manufacturer and ask them to explain their code. They will tell you what each number and letter means.
Finally, a food’s antioxidant powers are depleted more rapidly during hot, humid weather, so in the warm summer months, use food that is less than six months old. Always store your dog’s food in a cool, dry place, and don’t buy more than a month’s supply at a time.

Nutritional adequacy statement

Dog food manufacturers can determine the nutritional adequacy of dog foods in two ways. The best way is for the dog food manufacturer to conduct feeding trials, in which it feeds its foods to real, live dogs and sees whether they like to eat it, whether they gain weight at the proper rate, and whether their blood and bodies have the right composition of proteins and fats. AAFCO requirements state that dogs in feeding trials must be fed the dog food for at least six months. If a dog food has been tested in feeding trials, the label will say so, usually in a statement like, “Animal feeding tests using Association of American Feed Control Officials’ procedures substantiate that this food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance.” Try to choose a food that makes this kind of claim on its package.

Warning!

Dog food manufacturers can also sell dog foods that have been formulated according to the AAFCO nutritional profiles for dogs but have not been tested on dogs in feeding trials. To make a formulated food, the manufacturer adds an amount of protein that is at least 18 percent for adult dogs, an amount of fat that is at least 5 percent for adult dogs, and the required amounts of all the other required nutrients. If you feed your dog a food that has been formulated but not tested on dogs, your dog essentially becomes the test subject. Examples abound of formulated dog foods that looked good on paper but, when fed to dogs, resulted in nutritional deficiencies. Stay away from foods that have not been tested in dogs.

Technical Stuff

However, the regulations regarding feeding trials for dogs have a loophole. After a dog food manufacturer has proven by feeding trials that a given food is nutritionally adequate, the manufacturer may state that formulated foods have been tested by feeding trials, as long as the formulated foods are in the same family. Unfortunately, no guidelines spell out the definition of a family of dog foods. We are left to trust the manufacturer’s word.

Feeding guidelines

Every dog food label must have recommendations regarding how much to feed dogs of different sizes. However, the feeding guidelines on the label usually overestimate the amount of food a typical dog needs to eat every day. Cynics say that this is a ploy the dog food manufacturers use to sell more food. The dog food manufacturers indicate that these guidelines are based on calculations of what typical dogs in their feeding trials needed to satisfy their energy requirements. The dogs in these feeding trials are unaltered (not spayed or neutered) and get a great deal of exercise, and few dogs fit the same mold; most need much less food than the amount listed on the bag. (For more information, see the section “Figuring Out How Much to Feed Your Dog” later in this chapter.)

Manufacturer’s contact information

Manufacturers are required to list the address and telephone number of their customer service departments on every dog food label. In addition, many dog foods now also provide Web site addresses.

Tip

The customer service departments of dog food manufacturers are usually very helpful. If they don’t know the answer to a question, they will hunt it down and call you back. If you call a company and they can’t or won’t provide the information that you need, don’t feed that food to your dog.

Figuring Out How Much to Feed Your Dog

How do you decide how much food to put in the bowl? If you’re just starting to feed a new food, and the label tells you how many calories the food contains, you may want to start with the information in Table 1-2, which lists the calorie requirements of dogs depending on the dog’s weight and activity level. For the purposes of the table, an inactive dog is one who rarely gets more than a jaunt around the yard, a moderately active dog is one who gets 15 to 30 minutes of continuous exercise every day, and a highly active dog is one who gets at least several hours of exercise every day.

Tip

If the label doesn’t provide information on the caloric content of the food, you have to use the manufacturer’s recommendations as a starting point. Start by feeding 25 percent less than the manufacturer recommends and then increase or decrease the amount as necessary. 

Table 1-2                                        Caloric Requirements of Dogs


                                                           Caloric Requirements (Based on Activity Level)1
Dog’s Weight (In Pounds)
Inactive
Moderately Active
Highly Active
10
234
303
441
20
373
483
702
30
489
633
921
40
593
768
1117
50
689
892
1297
60
779
1008
1466
70
863
1117
1625
80
944
1222
1777
90
1022
1322
1923
100
1097
1419
2064
1Figures represent the average number of calories required daily to maintain the dog’s weight.

Remember

The figures in Table 1-2 include treats and snacks.

Technical Stuff

As dogs exercise more, they need more calories to maintain their weight. But as dogs get larger, they require relatively fewer calories to maintain their weight. This is because larger dogs generally have slower metabolisms than smaller dogs. Age can affect caloric requirements, too. As a dog goes from 1 to 7 years of age, her energy requirements drop by an incredible 24 percent.

Remember

Dogs’ metabolisms vary so greatly that the best way to know exactly how many calories your dog needs each day is by trial and error. Feed the amount of food that will maintain your dog’s weight. If she loses weight, feed more. If she gains, feed less.

Choosing the Best Food for Your Dog

How do you make that final decision? As a general rule, start by feeding a name-brand, good-quality, commercial balanced diet that has been tested by feeding trials in dogs. Put more trust in companies that have been around a while, because they have their own internal quality controls in addition to those imposed by the regulatory agencies.

Remember

Sorry, but the best-quality foods are not the cheapest. However, the reverse isn’t necessarily true: Paying a lot for your dog food doesn’t guarantee its quality. As you search for the best food, don’t hesitate to experiment. Be a good observer. Talk to your veterinarian and other dog people, such as your breeder. Over time, you will gather more information and be able to make better decisions based on fact as well as experience.

Tip

When you have selected a quality food for your furry friend, your job isn’t done. You still need to keep close track of your dog’s response to the food. Watch his body condition. Your canine companion should maintain a correct weight on his new food. If he gains some weight but looks and acts healthy and full of energy, it may be that the nutrients in the new food are more digestible than those of the previous food, so you don’t need to feed as much. If your dog loses weight on his new food, start looking for another. Your dog’s coat should grow and glisten on his new food, and his skin should be pink and supple, with no sores. A dog’s coat is often a reflection of his general health, although it isn’t the only monitor to use. For example, during the spring in temperate climates, most dogs’ coats look dry as they shed their heavy winter garb for a lighter spring coat.

Tip

One of the best criteria you can use to monitor your dog on a new food is to observe his stools. Stool quality is determined by the ingredients in the food, the relative amounts of different ingredients, the type and amount of fiber, and the digestibility of the ingredients. Small, firm stools indicate a food that is highly digestible. However, your dog should not be constipated or straining to defecate. Large stools, particularly if they are somewhat loose, may indicate a food with less digestible nutrients and/or a high fiber content. Your dog’s stools will vary from day to day. But if your dog often has small, hard stools, consider changing to another food. Those stools may be easy to pick up, but they may also mean that your dog is chronically constipated.

Tip

Monitor your dog’s attitude and energy level. If you feed your dog a good-quality food, he will have lots of get-up-and-go. He will have the energy and endurance to play all you want. Most of all, he will have that joy for life that we all appreciate in our canine companions.

What’s the best dog food for your dollar? Most people find that they save money by buying good-quality, premium foods for their dogs — the kind of food sold at pet supply stores rather than grocery stores. This is because dogs need to eat much less of a good-quality food to take in their required nutrients. In addition, dogs on high-quality foods probably have fewer health problems, and when they do, they heal faster. The icing on the cake is easier cleanup in the yard.

Paying Attention to How You Feed Your Dog

Many people free-feed their dogs, which is the practice of keeping a dog’s bowl full and letting him eat whenever he wants. Although this may seem like an easy approach to feeding, free-feeding isn’t a good idea, for many reasons:

Dogs who are free-fed are more likely to be overweight. This may not have been true in the past, but with today’s highly palatable foods, your dog will enjoy eating long past the point at which she’s full. She will likely take in more calories than she needs and carry the fat to prove it.

– You can’t tell exactly how much your dog is eating. In fact, you may not recognize that your dog is ill until you suddenly notice you haven’t been adding much food to her bowl in the past few days. Food intake is one of the best indicators of health, so you should always be in a position to monitor your dog’s intake accurately.

Medicating dogs who are free-fed is more difficult. If you have to give your dog pills, such as heartworm preventive, and your dog is free-fed, you will have to make sure that you pop it down her throat and she swallows it. However, if she gets fed two square meals a day, you can just add the pill to her food and it will go right down the hatch!

Free-feeding is difficult in multidog households. Frequently, one dog hogs the food and gains weight, while the other dog is deprived of the food and loses weight. Plus, free-feeding is impossible if your dogs require different kinds of food.

Tip

So how many times a day should you feed your dog? Feed puppies four times a day until they are 3 months of age, when you can move them to feedings three times a day. At 6 months of age, dogs can be fed twice a day, and this is probably the best feeding schedule for a dog to stay on for life. Some dogs are fed just once a day and get along fine. Occasionally, however, dogs who are fed once a day vomit a little fluid or bile 12 to 18 hours after their last meal. If they are fed twice a day, this problem goes away.

Remember

No two dogs are exactly the same. They have different metabolic rates, they have different metabolisms, and they may need to eat different diets. If you have more than one dog, it may be more convenient to feed all your dogs the same food, but make sure that you monitor each dog’s response to the diet you are feeding and change the food if an individual dog needs it.

Tip

Give your dog a quiet place to eat. If other dogs live in the house, don’t feed them from the same bowl. Feed them at a distance from each other so they don’t feel threatened that the other dog will steal their food. The best solution is to feed your dog in a crate so she can enjoy his meal in the privacy of her den. When you put the bowl down, give your dog 15 minutes to eat. If she hasn’t finished in that time, either you are feeding her too much or she isn’t motivated to eat. By removing the bowl, you can be assured that she will be much more motivated to eat at the next meal. Don’t be held hostage by a picky dog. If you try to encourage her to eat by talking nicely to her and giving her delectable treats, she will soon up the ante, demanding better and better treats until she’s not consuming her dog food at all.

Technical Stuff

Many veterinary nutritionists believe that we should be rotating our dogs’ diets — feeding them one food for three to six months, and then switching to another diet. They theorize that abnormal proteins may be formed during the processing of food or that individual foods may have undetectable deficiencies or small differences in the availability of certain nutrients. By rotating your dog to a new food every three to six months, you prevent too much exposure to the abnormality in any given food.

People food is okay in small amounts

Giving your dog fresh vegetables and even some fresh fruit on a regular basis is a good idea. Wolves (from which our dogs are descended) eat the greens and grains from their prey’s stomach, and also eat grasses and berries at times. Dogs enjoy fresh vegetables and benefit from the vitamins and fiber they provide. The only vegetable to stay away from is raw onions (some say cooked onions are fine, but some say they aren’t).
Feed your dog the leftovers from your preparations for dinner, in addition to other vegetables, especially the meats and vegetables. That way, both you and your dog benefit. Just make sure that vegetables aren’t the major component of your dog’s food.
If you give the vegetables in large pieces, they provide mostly fiber because dogs don’t have the enzymes to digest cellulose, the major component of the cell walls of plants. However, if you put the vegetables through a juicer or a super-blender that breaks down the cell walls and turns the vegetables to mush, your dog will also benefit from the nutritional content of the vegetable.

Organic Options for Feeding Your Dog

Maybe you’re going organic with your own diet. Or your dog suffers from allergies and you’ve heard organic food may help. Perhaps you just want your dog to eat as well as you do. Whatever your reason for exploring organic options for your dog, you’re wise to do a bit of research before making a switch. Of course, as with any decision related to diet and your dog’s health, check with your veterinarian before making any changes.
Sales of organic dog foods — foods grown without pesticides, preservatives, hormones, and antibiotics — are on the rise, up 48 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the Organic Trade Association, which monitors organic market trends. Though organics still make up only a small fraction of domestic pet food sales, eco-conscious consumers are finding it easier to purchase the products they need. You can find brands such as Newman’s Own Organics and Natura Pet Products in many pet supply stores.
Often the reason behind a switch to organic begins with some sort of health issue. Skin conditions and allergies can be especially troublesome for some breeds. When sprays, dips, shampoos, medications, and even dietary changes don’t work, some owners turn to organic foods for success. Organic foods are free from the artificial dyes and chemical additives that can trigger a dog’s allergies.

Food for thought: Organic versus natural

Deciphering food labels can feel like a chore, but it’s a chore worth doing when you’re serious about good health. A particularly confusing labeling distinction — and one that applies to food for humans and canines alike — is the one between organic and natural. Don’t be misled — organic and natural are not the same. Organic foods must be certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — that is, produced and processed without chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics. Although natural foods are free of food coloring and chemical additives, they are not organic. So although natural foods have some benefits, they are not held to the same higher standard as organic foods.
In more serious cases, owners of dogs with cancer switch to packaged organic foods (kibble, canned food, treats), believing that organic food may give a sick dog ammunition for fighting the disease. Some people go as far as cooking meals for their dogs, although a veterinarian should first approve this type of diet.
So what are some advantages and disadvantages of organic dog foods? Take a look. As for the advantages, organic dog food

– Is produced without chemicals, steroids, or artificial colors and flavors.

– Contains better grades of grains and proteins to help with digestive issues such as gas or diarrhea.

– Has no bulk fillers, making food easier to digest. It may also help manage weight.

– May help with allergies and skin ailments.

– May help boost immunity, helping your dog ward off ailments.

Disadvantages include the following: Organic dog food

– Isn’t as widely distributed as conventional dog food.

– Is more expensive than nonorganic dog food. (The same situation is true of organic food for humans.)

– Has not been proven through scientific evidence to help your dog live a longer or healthier life.

Weigh these pros and cons, and think about what is best for your dog.
by Eve Adamson, Richard G. Beauchamp, Margaret H. Bonham, Stanley Coren, Miriam Fields-Babineau, Sarah Hodgson, Connie Isbell, Susan McCullough, Gina Spadafori, Jack and Wendy Volhard, Chris Walkowicz, M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD

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