I get a lot of questions about dog food and requests for recommendations and I thought I would offer a little ‘Dog Food 101’.

I am the proud owner of two wonderful English Springer Spaniels, Jezzie and Bruti and let me state that my dogs eat a combination of raw and home cooked. I did a great deal of research before settling on this as what I feel the best alternative for their health and nutrition. I have very little faith or trust in most of the ‘commercial’ dog food available. This is not saying that they are all bad but my choice is not to offer anything to my dogs that I would not eat myself, or at least be able to eat my self.

I am a strong proponent of the raw diet because of a dog’s basic physiology. Their DNA differs from the wolf by only 2% and wolves are basically carnivores. There is a great deal of discussion on whether dogs are true carnivores or omnivores. One phrase you will hear used is ‘opportunistic feeders,’ meaning they will eat what is available. My own personal belief is that a dog is more carnivore than anything but will be an opportunistic feeder due to what is available to him.

Dog’s teeth are classic carnivore, they have short digestive tracts and their bodies lack certain enzymes which make it difficult, if not impossible for their bodies to process grains and vegetables unless they are ‘predigested’ by processing; cooking, mincing, grinding, breakdown by enzymes, or fermentation through bacteria. Different grains can also be processed to different degrees after they are ‘predigested’; rice (72%), wheat (60%) or corn (54%).

For these reasons I tend to opt for a raw diet, and because my dogs can be a bit finicky and picky and just plain enjoy certain foods cooked, they also get home cooked. For their raw diet I go by the basic raw guidelines of 10-10-80. Ten percent RMBs – raw meaty bones, ten percent organ meat and 80 muscle meat. Several meals a week they get home cooked which might consist of baked chicken, scrambled eggs (they refuse to eat raw) and maybe some low fat cottage cheese or plain yogurt. For treats they get stuff like jerky, raw carrots which doesn’t do much health-wise but they do enjoy them and it doesn’t hurt, same with broccoli stalks, and a variety of home made biscuits I make myself.

As you can easily see I feed a diet that is high in protein and even more importantly, high in digestible protein. Protein is essential because it is utilized as the building blocks for tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, etc. and a body cannot manufacture the necessary amino acids without protein. The most highly digestible, complete protein sources come from eggs, muscle and organ meats. Once the body has utilized the protein it needs, the extra is metabolized and used for energy. Unlike fats, it is not stored by the body. Animals fed diets too low in dietary protein may develop deficiency symptoms like decreased appetite, poor growth, weight loss, a rough and dull coat, and decreased immune function.

Based on this, you can see how important it is for any food that you feed to you to be high in meat and I don’t meant meat by-products. Whatever you are feeding your dog, take a minute and check the ingredient listings, if meat is not the first ingredient, you are short changing your best friend. Yes, they can survive on less but why should they? Shouldn’t you be offering them what if the best for their optimal health?

When it comes to labeling, keep some things in mind;

  • Ingredients are supposed to be listed ‘in order by predominance of weight,’ but this refers to weight before processing. This means a food that may contain 75% meat prior to processing may shrink to 10% of the total weight once the water is removed.
  • Named ingredients are only required to make up 1/4 of the total product; they may not even be descriptive of the main ingredients.
  • When checking out the ‘guaranteed analysis’ of dog foods, take a look at the moisture content, the higher the moisture content the lower the actual nutritious dry matter – you’re paying more for the water and less for the nutritious ingredients. You need to be able to convert the percentages so that you’re comparing ‘equals.’
  • Manufacturers are not required to list ingredients that they did not add themselves such a ingredients added by suppliers

The bottom line when it comes to labeling is that labels can be misleading. What you believe you read may not necessarily be what your dog is actually getting. If you really care about your dog and its health and nutrition, take the time to do your homework.

This is just some basic overview on pets’ food requirements and the fallacies in pet food labeling. Next I’ll bring you some realities on the ingredients in dog food. Arm yourself with the knowledge to keep you pet healthy and happy.

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