Reading Dog Food Labels
Every bag of pet food lists the ingredients, but not many people know how to read the label, let alone pronounce some of the ingredients.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees the animal food industry, but the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) advises the industry. The AAFCO performs tests on feed to make sure it is nutritionally sound. While pet foods say they meet the AAFCO's standards, you must understand those standards and then decide if they're good enough. Go to www.aafco.org for more information.
Read the Whole Label
Ingredients are often listed in order of weight before processing. Theoretically, the most prevalent ingredients would be listed first, but this is not always the case. Manufacturers sometimes split ingredients. For example, lamb may be listed as the top ingredient, but further down the ingredient list you may see rice, rice gluten, and whole grain rice. There may be more rice than lamb in this pet food.
The AAFCO deems a number of byproducts acceptable for use in pet foods.
Meat byproduct. This includes organs, blood, and bones from mammals that are slaughtered for human consumption.
Ground yellow corn. Corn is hard enough for people to digest, let alone pets. Corn is not a protein. Corn does have four amino acids, which are protein, but it is mainly considered a carbohydrate source.
Poultry byproduct meal. Byproducts of poultry are all the inedible parts — feet, heads, beaks, etc.
Corn gluten meal. This is an inexpensive byproduct of human food processing that has very little nutritional value and is used to bind food together. It's not a harmful ingredient, but it does not have much nutritional value, so you should avoid products with it.
Animal fat. These fats are usually a combination of different animal fats and oils. They are often preserved with citric acid and mixed tocopherols, which are a form of vitamin E. Look for specifically named animal fats that are preserved through natural means; this is what you want to be in your dog food.
Brewers rice. This is a waste product of the alcohol industry.
Soybean meal. Soy is very allergenic to many pets, as are corn and wheat. It is a poor-quality protein filler used to boost the protein content of low-quality pet foods.
Animal digest. This is processed animal tissue. The animal tissue can be from any source, so there is no control over quality or contamination.
Salt. Salt, also listed as sodium chloride, is a necessary mineral. Dog food ingredients naturally contain sufficient quantities of salt, so you should look for foods with a minimum of added salt. Too much sodium is unhealthy for animals, just as it is for humans. In low-quality foods, it is often used in large amounts to add flavor.
Added color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 2). Artificial colors are not good. Some people and animals can have severe allergic reactions when they have artificial coloring in their foods. Red 40 is one of the most tested food dyes, but the key mouse tests were flawed and inconclusive. An FDA review committee acknowledged problems, but said evidence of harm was not consistent or substantial. Like other dyes, Red 40 is used mainly in junk foods. The largest study of Blue 2 suggested — but did not prove — that this dye caused brain tumors in male mice. The FDA concluded that there is “reasonable certainty of no harm.”
No matter what kind of dog food your dog eats, brushing her teeth is essential. Food builds up on the teeth, and even if your dog only eats dry dog food, it's not sufficient to protect her periodontal health.
DIY Dog Food
If you want to cook for your dog, you will at least be sure of what they are eating. Consult your veterinarian for advice on where to look for recipes and nutritional guidelines. Use a good protein source such as chicken, turkey, or beef as the basis for the food. Adding sweet potatoes, yams, green beans, carrots, squash, spinach, or other vegetables or even fruit such as apples, is essential. You can add white potatoes and a grain such as oatmeal, barley, or brown rice if you wish. Adding some flaxseed meal and a good oil such as canola or olive oil is good, too. Add in some organ meat like liver. Your dog needs calcium, and it can come from bone meal or even nonfat dried milk or cottage cheese. A good multivitamin is essential also. Make sure to vary the food from time to time to be sure they get all the nutrients they need.
Many pet owners swear by the BARF (Bones and Raw Food) diet to nourish their pets. It is touted as a more natural diet for pets. Information on BARF can be found on the Internet, and books are also available on the subject.
Try any new food or diet for a month. After that month, evaluate how your dog looks. Is his hair shinier? Does he still itch? How's his flaky skin doing? What about his energy level? The answers to these questions will tell you whether his new diet agrees with him or not.