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Learn How to Become a Wise Dog Food Consumer

Learn How to Become a Wise Dog Food Consumer

by Beth Ostrowski-Parks, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Whenever I’m working with students one on one and sometimes during group classes, I ask them:  “What kind of dog food do you feed?”

Sometimes I’m asking the question because of a certain behavior problem, like over-reactivity to people or dogs, obesity, frequent very loose stools or aggressive behavior.

Dog food is a very misunderstood, but very important part of your dog’s life.  Your choice in foods can make a difference in all of the above examples and more.

I am not a nutritionist. I want to make that clear.  But as the owner of a dog training center of 25 years and with the title of Nationally Certified Behavior Consultant, AND as the owner of dogs that are athletes in dog agility, I have done a lot of research into foods.

Many years ago, I used to feed raw dog food to my dogs.  In fact, that was before it was as easy as it is to do now.  Now you can go and buy, off the shelves (or the freezers), ready made, nutritionally safe dog foods.  Back when I started feeding raw, it was a fairly new concept and you had to go and buy the meat yourself, bag it up, freeze it and add your vitamins.

I did that for years but then acquired a beautiful dog that didn’t do well on raw food.  Raw food was hard on his system and I had to re-think how I fed.

At this time the dog food-buying consumers were getting much more sophisticated and understood more about the quality of dry dog food. 

For example, twenty years ago I had to teach people about why certain, lower value foods were not a good choice.  I encouraged people to spend more and get more for their money.

Now I find myself on the other end of the spectrum where the dog foods can be so high quality that their protein percentages are beyond what our domestic dogs can even handle.

When you see dog foods with the protein percentages up to 33 to 35%, and you are experiencing behavior problems or your dog is experiencing very loose stools, you may want to reconsider your options.   Often (but not always) that is too much protein for dogs to digest properly.   Loose stools over time can cause other problems like blood in the stool, impacted anal sacs, excessive gas and even behavior problems like high strung aggressive behavior.

The simple way to check out your dog food is to read your ingredient list.  First three ingredients of a good quality food will read something like this:  Chicken meal, de-boned chicken, barley.  Or it may say, Lamb, lamb meal, brown rice etc.

There are ingredients to avoid:  If you see these ingredients,  I suggest you look for a different dog food.Those ingredients are 

  • ground yellow corn or corn gluten
  • wheat or wheat gluten
  • sorghum
  • any ingredient with the word "syrup" attached to it.

These are fillers.  There is nothing nutritious about these ingredients, the are just just cheap fillers.    The other problem with fillers made of these grains is they all change to sugar once they are in your dog’s body. (This does not happen with rice, barley or oats.  These grains do not produce sugar.)  Now, question whether your puppy’s hyperactivity may be fueled by sugar?

You also want to avoid

  • any kind of by-product (animal or not)
  • the ingredient "animal fat" (should read "chicken fat" for example, not just animal)
  • any food ingredient that is unrecognizable

Animal fat will be used in most if not all kibbles BUT look for a specific protein like Chicken fat, Turkey fat, etc.  Otherwise, you have no idea what animial that fat is coming from.  Fat is sprayed on kibble after processing to enhance flavor. 

If your dog food is completely grain free, you may want to rethink that too.  A few years ago, it was considered healthy to feed your dog grain free.  Now, there is research and evidence that feeding grain free MAY lead to heart disease.  There are many articles and lots of research being done on this.

Unfortunately, dog food sales are driven more by marketing then they are by research and science or even quality.  You have to become a knowledgeable consumer to ensure you are giving your dog the best nutrition.

Feeding raw or home-cooked food is great, but you have to commit yourself to it and make sure your dog is getting all of the nutrients he needs.  There are lots of books on how to create your own dog food.  Honestly, it’s the best way to feed.  But, you have to have the time.  

Fortunately, there are many really good dog foods out there.  My favorite dog food is called Holistic Select.  It is available anywhere dog foods are sold.

However, I add things to my dogs’ food.  I call these items toppers.

For one meal,  I may use a little good quality canned food (1/8 of a can per pup/meal).  Then for one meal I may use a product from a company called Stella and Chewies.  They make freeze-dried raw patties that you can crumble up over your dogs’ food.  I may add some bone broth (purchase right in your grocery store, I get the unsalted version when I can).  I will sometimes feed some whole milk yogurt or cottage cheese.

I also buy frozen raw medallions from a dog food company called Instinct.  I give my 70 pound Doberman 3 medallions with her dry and my 38 pound Australian Shepherd gets 2 medallions in her dry food.

I always add some water.  If you don’t add water to your dog’s food, your dog’s body must produce the moisture to process and digest their food.  When you add water to your dog's food, you will see him go to his water dish less.

Just like people, dogs are what they eat.  Please be sure you are getting the best you can for them.  You don’t have to break the bank.  You just have to know what is good and what isn’t.  Hopefully this will help you figure that out.