Good dog food, bad dog food
In feeding dogs anything but meat, you may be wasting your money and making your dogs digestive system work hard for no reason. But for the many people who will continue to feed their dogs vegetables, this article shines a light on what manufactured dog foods might contain.
If you are concerned with what you are feeding your dog but think you can’t afford real meat, you may want to stop feeding it manufactured dog food and start going to the markets. For instance in Scotland you can buy a kilo of chicken legs for £5 and a kilo of chuck beef (off the bone) for £7 (2011 prices). These prices are probably comparable to any dry and wet dog can food you feed your pet and are 100% meat, not just a small percentage of off cuts or offal.
Regarding dog food snacks, while they are a complimentary food source they can contain many artificial flavours, colours and preservatives. If you are feeding your dog manufactured dog foods, ideally you should be feeding your dog natural dog snacks that are mainly composed of meat.
Dog food trade Tricks
Quality dog food should have meat listed as its major ingredient. And counter intuitively you want ‘meat meal’ listed high on the list rather than just ‘meat’. This is because the meat meal should be essentially the same as meat, but with the liquid removed. Thus gram for gram, ‘meat meal’ has a much higher percentage of meat than an ingredient just listed as meat.
The lower quality pet foods still use BHT, BHA, and Ethoxyquin, which have been banned for human consumption because they are known to be carcinogens.
Most manufactured dog foods include preservatives, because they will be stored. While preservatives are not ideal for humans or dogs, if you must feed a dog these foods, make sure they have natural preservatives like vitamins E and C (also shown as tocopherols and ascorbic acid).
Dog Food Filler ingredients
Many inexpensive dog food foods contain a large quantities of “filler” ingredients. Filler ingredients are usually cheap sources of indigestible (to dogs) protein, or straight carbohydrates. The fillers that cause the most dog digestion problems are corn, wheat and soy. They are also the most common causes of allergic reactions in dogs. Allergy reactions from food allergy include lethargy, hair loss, skin issues (rashes, hotspots), diarrhea, vomiting and a lack of interest in mealtimes.
Dog food analysis
One of the best resources on the internet that reviews and explicitly describes the quality of dog foods can be found at reference three. It provides an amazingly detailed review of many brands of dog food, and if yours is missing, you can request a review of it. The following are some of the highlights:
Dry dog food
In its cheapest form can be cheaper than wet dog food, though higher quality products can easily exceed £10 per kilo, which is double the cost of chicken legs. People usually buy this food as it is what they start their puppies on, is convenient, doesn’t deteriorate and often has higher vitamin and mineral content than wet foods.
A big drawback of dry dog food is that it often has a relatively low meat content, and it often has a high filler amount such as corn and wheat, which not only makes digestion difficult, but can cause allergies.
Wet Dog Food
This is also known as canned dog food and contains a considerable amount of water. Though it is often sterile which except for several recall cases, means that it won’t spoil easily either. Because of the water content, you will need to give your dog a higher amount of wet dog food than the dry food equivalent.
You may think that you are seeing ‘meaty chunks’ in wet dog food, but often these are grain gluten and other protein gels purposely arranged to look like real meat.
In fact what you may think is meat in canned dog food is often ‘Textured vegetable protein’. TVP is usually made from up to 50% soy protein soy flour or concentrate, but may alsocontain cotton seeds, wheat or oats. In wet composition this may supply up to 15% protein per volume, which is why a can of ‘dog food’ that has low protein composition in it, may seem to have ‘chucks of meat’ in it, but you are actually seeing TVP protein from vegetable matter.
Organic dog foods are gaining popularly because they don’t use fertilisers, GMOs or pesticides. They are mainly composed of protein, meat, and grain and don’t contain artificial food preservatives or flavours. And while they are often considerably more expensive than regular manufactured food they often contain similar non meat ingredients.
Interpreting dog food labels
By most developed country labelling laws, dog food is required to state the minimum crude amount of protein, fat, carbohydrate and water. It does not state that these need to be explicitly described or whether your pet’s body can absorb the types of ingredient contained within.
It is important to have a guaranteed mineral content listed. Dog food should contain calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium and linoleic acid. Cat food should contain taurine and magnesium.
Compare wet and dry food content by multiplying the crude percentages in the wet foods by 25 % (wet foods contain only about 25 percent dry matter). Then, divide the percent guarantee listed by the percentage of dry matter, and multiply by 100
Dog Food Warnings
Beef, chicken or a real protein source can be listed high in the ingredients list, however this is what is used at the start of the process. It does not reflect the amount in the food after processing(removal of water).
Always avoid pet foods that include low quality fillers such as cornmeal, wheat and soy fillers.
Most dry pet foods are based on grains or other plant material. Dogs are carnivores, its best to avoid these all together.
In the ‘typical analysis’ section you can find the crude fat and crude protein percentages, but these values may be obtained mainly from cheaper grain protein. These proteins cannot easily be digested by carnivores because they lack the digestive enzymes (amylase) in the right part of their digestive system required to digest plant material. Look for foods that specify that the protein % is derived from a specific meat source.
Meat and fat products should be identified by species. As this goes towards the quality you are buying. Avoid any products that use unidentified “meat”, “animal” or “poultry” products in their foods.
If you use dry or wet manufactured food, it will include grains. If you must feed your dog these foods, ensure they include quality whole grains rather than ‘grain fragments’ which are essentially of no nutritional value.
The deceptive practice of Splitting ingredients
Ingredients in dog food are listed in order of their weight. Splitting is where different components of the same ingredient are listed as separate items, so that the ingredient doesn’t appear higher on the list. For instance brown rice, white rice, rice, rice bran, rice gluten and rice flour are all parts of the same ingredient. In this way a manufacturer may list meat as the main ingredient in dog food where it is 30%, even though rice makes up 50% of the food. They just list the two or three rice components separately so that it appears as if it is not the main ingredient.
The best dog food ingredients
Always look for a specific meat product such as chicken rather than poultry, and for a type of chicken ingredient such as “chicken” which means fresh chicken, rather than chicken by-products which can mean offal, feet, beaks etc.
The best products for dogs and cats are meat and meat by-products. “They have no evolved need of carbohydrates in their diet. Grains are in pet food because they’re cheaper than meat products, and are needed to hold the kibble bits together. Not because they’re species-appropriate nutrition for a carnivorous mammal.”
Examples of reading dog food ingredient lists
Example two: The ingredient list: Chicken meal, brown rice, white rice, rice bran, rice gluten meal, barley, chicken fat does not rate as well as the first example. While the first ingredient is chicken meal (the dehydrated component) there is as strong likelihood that the total rice ingredient (adding brown rice, white rice, rice bran and rice gluten meal) is much higher than the amount of meat in the food.
An excellent example that the site gives is for the ingredient list: Chicken, chicken meal, turkey, turkey meal, brown rice, chicken fat. At first look this appears to include four poultry ingredients as the main components, but since chicken and turkey meat are composed of 80% water a more true indication of ingredients would be: chicken meal, turkey meal, brown rice, chicken fat, chicken (sans water), turkey (sans water).
Many dog foods have their ingredients listed in two tables on the label. These are under ‘ingredients’ and ‘Typical analysis’ (% of crude protein, % of crude fat). Because of the vague nature of the listings, it is not possible to know whether the meat ingredients are the highest component (because of splitting), or if the protein and crude fat are mainly from meat rather than plant matter.
Another article this site advocating dog meat requirements shows that chicken is typically composed of 24% protein (which is closer to 100% if you remove the water content). While a high rating dog food may only have 8% crude protein (from an unidentified source).
Based on these observations, it is highly likely that the majority of wet and dry dog food contain a very small percentage of actual meat. And if they do, it is likely to mostly be the meat pieces not fit for human consumption. While you may consider that wild dogs would eat most parts of an animal, the animals they kill are often in good health and do not contain any artificial growth hormones or antibiotics. This means that the offal that a wild dog may consume is usually infinitely better for it than what domestic dogs are given. Offal such as liver, kidneys etc is more likely to concentrate any bad chemicals than meat (body tissue).
Dog food manufacturers walk a tight rope between creating a product that a dog will eat, providing a minimum level of nutrition and still creating a profit.
In these times of escalating meat prices, it is likely that the quality and quantity of real meat ingredients in manufactured food will remain low. If you choose to buy manufactured food, the above points and the analysis performed on ref 3 provide a good guide as to what to choose. If you instead choose to provide your carnivore dog with a carnivore diet, remember to change the types of meat or animal portion regularly so your dog or cat does not get bored and can access different minerals and vitamins from animals fed on different diets.
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