Deciding what to feed your pets is no easy decision. With so many choices, how can you be sure you have selected the right food for your pet?
In recent years, pet nutrition has become a hotly debated topic. With wheat, corn, glutens, and GMOs taking over the ingredients market, some pet foods are becoming cheaper. Meanwhile, pet food companies wanting to save their brands are listening to consumers and offering “healthy” alternatives to their traditional recipes. These new recipes are often more expensive than the traditional methods.
What is the best food for your dog or cat?
Holistic veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker recently posted this on Facebook:
“I often receive questions about which pet food brand is best to feed dogs and cats. The truth is, there’s no such thing as one best protein, brand of food, or type of food that all pets do well on. The best food you can feed your pet is the freshest, most natural food you can afford to support your pet’s overall health, well-being, and vitality.”
Dr. Becker is an advocate for what she calls a “species appropriate” diet. What does that look like?
What does a wolf eat?
Dogs are “scavenger carnivores.” This means dogs will eat anything they can find. Because their DNA is 98% identical to the wolf, many people advocate feeding dogs an ancestral diet.
But what does that look like if you’re a wolf?
Wolves are both hunters and scavengers. Their diet can include:
- Livestock and garbage in densely populated urban areas
- Moose, deer, boar, ibex, goats, elk, bighorn sheep, bison, caribou
- Rabbits, badgers, foxes, weasels, squirrels, mice
- Berries, lily of the valley, bilberries, blueberries, cowberry
- Nightshade, apples, pears, melons
From this list, it’s evident that wolves primarily eat meat. The carbohydrates they do receive usually come from the internal organs of their vegetarian prey.
So why do dog food companies insist dogs should have a good source of carbohydrates in the form of wheat, corn, and gluten?
Wheat, corn, and gluten are cheap ingredients. The cooking process requires starch (usually from corn) to form the kibbles of dry dog food. This way, manufacturers can produce large volumes of food at very low cost.
Because the input cost is low, they can sell their food at lower prices in the marketplace.
Pet owners might think they are getting a deal when they buy from their local grocer, but are they? Cheap food tends to make animals sick. That means more trips to the vet and more out of pocket expense by the pet owners to care for their pets.
What can you do?
I visited my local Wal-Mart and wandered through the dog food aisle. I examined the ingredients label of several different bags of food. What I found was shocking. Most of the commercially available foods contain wheat, corn, or glutens in the first five ingredients. And, if they’re not in the first five, they’re included somewhere in the mix. I also found preservatives such as BHA, which can cause health problems when consumed by pets over time.
While I was doing this, I watched as people casually walked into the aisle and picked up bags of dog food without even glancing at the dog food label. This made me wonder, “How many people even look at the ingredient label when they buy dog food?”
How often do you read the food labels on bags of dog food?
— Jason M. Smith (@PetCorps) January 18, 2017
The first thing you can do is look at the ingredients label. What are companies putting into your dog’s food? Is it even good for them?
Next, find out what the best foods are and start feeding your dogs the right stuff.
The Spectrum of Dog Food
If there’s a rule of thumb, it’s this: The cheaper the food, the worse it is for your companion animal.
Dry kibble is at the low end of the spectrum, as it is the least expensive product on the market. This category has its own spectrum from terrible to good.
Next on the spectrum is canned dog food because it costs a little bit more than kibble. However, be careful in this category because the protein levels are low and the fat content is higher.
Be sure to look out for wheat, gluten, and a preservative called propylene glycol. Companies often add propylene glycol to canned food to preserve the moisture content. However, be aware that propylene glycol is a “kissing cousin” of ethylene glycol, a poisonous substance found in antifreeze.
On the high end of the spectrum, you have raw food diets. Raw feeders proclaim, “The only way to know what you’re feeding your dog is to prepare it yourself.”
Raw food diets are the closest thing to an ancestral diet for dogs. For those uncomfortable with feeding their animals raw, you can cook the food. Although more expensive than the other alternatives, it does wonders for your companion animals with fewer illnesses and veterinary visits than dogs who eat kibble.
How do you feed your dogs?
— Jason M. Smith (@PetCorps) December 31, 2016
Bottom line, consider the following when deciding what to feed your dogs:
- What you can afford
- What you believe
I realize the challenge some people face with accepting raw food as a reasonable alternative to kibble. After all, for the last hundred years, manufacturers have convinced us that their products fulfill the nutritional requirements of our companion animals.
That’s a big myth to debunk. However, a new film attempts to shed light on the pet food industry.
If you want to feed your dog kibble instead of raw, do it but do it responsibly. Opt for the high-end kibble and stay away from the low-end.
The choice is yours, but remember “let the buyer beware.”
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