Convenient Commercial Food
When it comes to feeding your dog, nothing could be easier than opening a bag of food and pouring it into her bowl. Unfortunately, this may not be the best diet for your dog's stomach or for her overall health.
Today, veterinarians are seeing more dogs with health issues they attribute to eating an inferior diet. These include skin and ear infections, coat and eye problems, hyperactivity, lethargy, intestinal upset, constipation, arthritis, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, and parasites.
When you shop for dog food, read the label listing the contents. Here are nine ingredients found in inferior commercial dog foods that you should avoid:
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are preservatives that are meant to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life up to one year, although some studies report they are carcinogenic. Natural recipes use healthier choices such as vitamin C (ascorbate) and vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) as preservatives, but these foods have a much shorter shelf life.
Ethoxyquin is a chemically synthesized preservative; some reports link it to impaired liver and kidney function.
Propylene glycol is a liquid used in some semi-moist foods to prevent drying out; it may cause central nervous system impairment and changes in kidney function.
Propyl gallate is a powder antioxidant that prevents fats and oils from spoiling. It is known to cause stomach and skin irritations in people.
Coloring agents Red 40 and Yellow 5 enhance the appearance of dog foods. Natural brands use natural ingredients, such as carrots, to enhance color.
Phosphoric acid is a clear liquid. It is an emulsifier and flavoring agent that prevents discoloration. Too much of it irritates skin and mucous membranes.
Sorbitol is a synthetic sugar substitute that is used as a flavoring agent. It causes diarrhea and intestinal upset in large quantities.
Dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate is a synthetic form of vitamin E not absorbed as easily as mixed tocopherols. Natural dog food uses vitamin E as a preservative.
Menadione sodium bisulfate vitamin K3 is a synthetic version of vitamin K, also known as menadione dimethyl-pyrimidinol bisulfate. It can irritate mucous membranes.
When selecting a brand and a recipe, look for a nutritionally balanced formula. AAFCO establishes standards of nutritional adequacy for animal foods. Foods that pass their criteria will be labeled “complete and balanced,” but these are minimum standards. If a dog food is called complete and balanced it means that it contains all of the nutrients in proportion to one another and is balanced to the diet's energy level. The AAFCO label does not mean that the food has been tested to determine how animals fare on the diet.
Choose a recipe containing whole meat (chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, fish), rather than meat byproducts. Byproducts, such as lungs, kidneys, brain, and intestines are inferior protein sources. Skip meat “meal” as this is rendered animal tissues, which could include hide trimmings, hair, feathers, or hooves. However, in some foods animal byproducts are used as a filler instead of corn, which provide a better protein source and lower carbs.
AAFCO also sets standards for feeding trials used to test the food on dogs. These trials determine how bioavailable the food is by testing a number of objective variables such as body weight, amount of food consumed, and various blood tests, over a twenty-six-week period. This is a very imperfect method for many reasons, but it is one of the only objective measurements available for determining the nutritional content and proportions of a dog food. While a missing nutrient isn't a problem on a short-term basis, in the long run it will lead to health issues.
AAFCO feeding trials do not guarantee a healthy diet for all animals, but serve as a standard for minimum nutritional requirements. The best test is how your dog fares on the diet. Her coat should be soft and glossy, her eyes should be clear, her skin should be healthy, and her energy level should be normal for her age and breed. She should be able to maintain a healthy weight, and you should be able to see her waist. Her stools should be consistently firm and not watery. No one diet is best for all animals, but there are many very good diets available to choose from. When you shop for a food, decide in advance what ingredients you want to give your dog or ask your veterinarian for recommendations. You will be able to evaluate if a food is good for your dog by looking at her.
Combining Commercial and Home Cooking
If you want to mix a commercial diet with fresh food, reduce the package meal by about 35 percent. Then give your dog an equivalent amount of raw or slightly cooked protein, carbohydrates, veggies, and fruit. Add in one teaspoon of salmon oil for every twenty-five pounds of dog per meal.