The Fairy Dogmother
We know that dogs have been domesticated, and fed, by humans for at least 14,000 years. They survived on scraps and anything edible that could be scavenged. For the last 60 years commercial dog food has been available, and pet owners have been led to believe that what is in these bags provides a complete and natural diet for our dogs. Evolution has been designing our dogs digestive systems for millions of years and they have thrived by eating specific foods. Dogs are carnivorous scavengers. They are designed to catch prey and tear flesh,they have short digestive systems to digest food quickly and a stomach that produces enzymes and other chemicals to help digest what they have evolved to eat. No matter how much we alter the appearance of our dogs on the outside, the inside remains unchanged.
We are continually being told to eat healthily and cut out processed foods, eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and to reduce our salt and sugar intake. However, many pet owners feed a diet to their dog that consists of cereals, a little meat (from a poor meat source), salt, sugar and a liberal helping of additives and colorants to make the food palatable. No wonder the number of obese and unhealthy dogs is on the increase.
I choose to feed two of my dogs a raw diet, and my older dog eats a home cooked diet. I know exactly what goes in to their bowls and I am happy to think that I am giving them the best that I can, based on the knowledge that I have. However, I do understand that raw feeding does not suit all owners and that not everyone has the time and resources to prepare a homemade diet. Whilst I do not feed dry dog food I do realise that not all commercial dog foods are made from low quality ingredients and inexpensive by-products that only meet the bare minimum of nutritional requirements. Manufacturers vary so look at the ingredients and make your own decision.
Below are the ingredients in a bag of Bakers Complete with Tasty bacon Flavouring and Country Vegetables, a very appetising name. The description reads, The scrummy, meaty chunks and tasty assortment of crunchy kibble gives your dog all the goodness he needs for a happy, healthy and active adult life.
Cereals (35%), Meat and Animal Derivatives (26% in the chunk, 1% liver in the brown and natural kernels), vegetable protein extracts, derivatives of vegetable origin, oils and fats, various sugars, Minerals, Vegetables (4% in the green and yellow kernels)
Sensory additives: Bacon flavouring
With colorants, antioxidants and preservatives
So let us look at the ingredients in this food and see if it really does contain all a dog needs for a happy and healthy life:
Cheaper dog foods use cereals as their main ingredient (this is the first ingredient listed). This is to keep down cost rather than to provide good nutrition and to bulk the food out. While a dogs digestive tract is not designed to digest grains (or carbohydrates), in their raw, unprocessed form they can utilize the starch from grains that have been converted by the cooking process. However, how well they can be digested depends on the quality of the grain used: Rice (72%) is more digestible than wheat (60%) or Corn (54%).
If poor quality grains are the main ingredient in your dog food then your dog will not be able to utilize all of protein that the label states. Always look for a named grain source rather than just Cereals and choose Rice over Oats, Wheat and Corn. Studies have shown that high doses of corn can inhibit serotonin in the brain and this is an important chemical that reduces stress and anxiety.
Meat and animal derivatives
This covers all animals and parts such as heads, feet, guts, lungs, hair, feathers and even wool! It is a blanket term that can be used to hide undesirable ingredients and means that the manufacturer can change the meat source from batch to batch.
Official definition: All the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment, and all the products and derivatives of the processing of the carcass or parts of the carcass of such animals.
This means that the meat can come from a chicken, horse, rabbit, rat, cow or possibly a giraffe! They are not chosen for their quality but by price. If your dog is intolerant to certain proteins one batch may be fine but they may have problems with the next.
Derivatives of vegetable origin
This is a generic term used to describe by-products of vegetable origin. This is yet another term that is commonly used in pet foods that covers many different ingredients so that pet food manufacturers can use the cheapest available.
Official definition: Derivatives resulting from the treatment of vegetable products in particular cereals, vegetables, legumes and oil seeds.
Oil and fats
They are in food to supply energy and essential fatty acids. It is difficult to tell which animal fats or which oils are present in this food and due to the nature of fats, and to prevent them becoming rancid, they tend to be preserved with artificial preservatives such as BHA and BHT as it is difficult to preserve them naturally. Always look for a product with a named fat source such as chicken or lamb fat.
This can mean sucrose, fructose or glucose, all of which are present in fruit , vegetables and cereals and are usually added as an energy source. However, they also make food more palatable, and profitable. They are generally added to poor quality food to make it more attractive to a dogs, otherwise they would refuse to eat it. Dogs,like humans, have a sweet tooth and if your dog eats his food quickly, and happily, you are more likely to continue buying it for him.
All foods must meet certain nutritional standards and so manufacturers have to add in a minimum amount of vitamins and minerals. These can vary in quality and how well the body can absorb them. Many nutrients are lost, or altered, during the manufacturing process and therefore have to be replaced once the food has cooled down.
These are used only to make the food more attractive to the pet owner - your pet does not care whether his food is a pleasant colour.
These are used to improve the taste of the food but this should not be necessary. How bad would it taste if nothing had been added to make it palatable. Both colourings and flavourings have been associated with causing hyperactivity
Artificial Preservatives and Antioxidants
Pet foods need antioxidants to give them a long shelf life. As soon as the bag is open and the fats come in to contact with air they begin to oxidise and become rancid. To stop this happening manufacturers have the choice of using synthetic antioxidants or natural ones.
Synthetic antioxidants: are often listed as EC permitted antioxidants
These are the two commonly used
- E320 - BHA - Butylatedhydroyanilose
- E321 - BHT - Butylatedhydroyutoluen
- These are extremely effective at their job, however they are associated with several health problems (including cancer) when fed in quantity. No surprise to learn that this is one of the cheaper methods of preserving pet foods! There is a wealth of information on the internet on the possible problems caused by the use of these chemicals, including causing cancer in dogs.
- Natural preservatives are usually made from anti-oxidants like vitamins C or E. You will see them on dog food ingredients as tocopherols or ascorbate. Natural preservatives are considered fairly safe.
It is your responsibility as a pet owner to look past the pictures of fresh cuts of meat and juicy vegetables, the cute commercials and the misleading and biased information about proper nutrition. Check the ingredients listed on the bag and decide for yourself if what you are buying is natural and wholesome.
What ingredients should I look for
A named meat source such as Chicken Meat, Lamb Meat or Fish is ideal but a Meat meal can be considered. If the label states just Meat Meal this can mean a variety of meats that have been rendered down together and this can cause problems if your dog has an allergy to a certain meat. Ideally the meat content should be a minimum of 25%.
Cereals should be named with % content. Preferable are cereals that are more highly digestible such as rice and oats rather than corn. Avoid foods that list Maize or Corn as one of the main ingredients and those which contain Wheat or Sorghum.
Fats must have the animal source e.g. Lamb fat, Chicken Fat, Turkey Fat.
Preserved with natural antioxidants. These include tocopherols and rosemary.
- Meat and animal derivatives
- The term "cereal"
- Artificial colourings
- Artificial flavourings
- Artificial Preservatives
- EC Permitted additives
- Unspecified fat source
- Containing wheat or sorghum
A FEW ANSWERS TO SOME COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Is it ok to feed my dog scraps
Pet food manufacturers and many vets will tell you that by feeding your dogs table scraps it will upset the balance of the commercial food that you are feeding. It is important that you do not feed your dog junk food or things that contain a lot of artificial ingredients or a high amount of fat. However, leftover meat, pasta, rice, fruit and vegetables are a healthy addition to your dogs diet. Carbohydrates (such as pasta or potatoes) must be cooked or processed in order for your dog to digest it. If you add to their food, always subtract enough kibble to allow for this.
What happens if I mix different brands of food
All kibbles are mixed to a specific formula by the manufacturer and will contain a balance of nutrients based on the size of your dog. If you mix them together or constantly change food around then your dog will not get the full benefit from the food and will definitely not get the best of both. If your dog does get a reaction to an ingredient in the food it will also be more difficult to work out which brand caused the problem. If you want to offer your dog more variety, stick to one brand of food and alternate between flavours every few months. Adding meat, yogurt or vegetables is also a healthy way of keeping your dog interested in his food.
Is it ok to feed raw meat to dogs
Dogs have evolved to eat raw food and have done so for thousands of years. The meat that you feed should look, and smell, healthy and not contaminated by bacteria. If your dog has a compromised immune system or is suffering with illness, do ask your vet before you switch to natural feeding.
How should I introduce natural feeding
Gradually; sudden changes in diet can cause digestive upsets, whatever type of new food you are introducing. Read as much as possible so that you get the diet right from day one. If your dog has a compromised immune system or a specific health problem such as diabetes, liver disease or epilepsy, please seek veterinary or professional advice before changing diet.
Raw chicken carries salmonella, will this harm my dog
Dogs can pick up salmonella from anywhere. From old bits of food, even some dried food and from licking their feet after walking on unclean surfaces. Their intestines are designed to kill and break down the bacteria in the food they eat, including salmonella. A healthy dog will easily cope with these bacteria, but we need to be more careful and wash our hands and surfaces properly after preparing raw meat for our dogs.
Will my dog get worms from eating raw products
Possibly, but the same argument as above applies. Worms are a part of normal life for all species except most humans in developed countries. Your dog is likely to pick worms up in a variety of ways, not just from eating raw meat. Check your dogs stool regularly and if you see evidence of worms, or if you see any other signs of worms in your dogs, use a wormer.
Aren't chicken bones dangerous
Raw chicken bones are fantastic for your dog. They are soft enough so that they bend easily and break up so that they are easy to digest. Cooked chicken bones are NOT good for your dog. They can splinter and cause problems in the digestive tract. It is possible that feeding raw chicken bones could cause a problem for your dog but so could inhaling kibble the wrong way and choking to death. Incidents are rare.
Can I feed my dog raw eggs
The risk of salmonella has been covered above but it was said that an enzyme called avidin, contained in the egg white destroys biotin within the body. However, there is more than enough biotin in the egg yolk to make up for this loss.
Can I feed my dog yoghurt and cottage cheese
Yes. Again it used to be thought that dogs were lactose intolerant and could not digest dairy products. Like humans, some dogs do not produce the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose, but this is fairly uncommon. Cottage cheese is an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, protein and vitamins and only has minute amounts of lactose. Yoghurt is also a good source of calcium, protein, potassium and magnesium, and live yoghurt can provide beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and can help sooth upset stomachs in dogs that are unwell. Only plain versions of both are suitable and low fat options are preferable.
Do dogs need special food for different stages in their life
Often a clever marketing ploy by the manufacturer, a food suitable for all life stages will feed a growing puppy, an adult and a senior dog. There is not a great deal of difference in the nutritional value, and puppy and senior food is normally more expensive, but the amounts that you feed will change over the course of your dogs life. It is wise to check the guaranteed analysis and ingredient list on the packet.
Are all commercial foods bad
No. If you put time and effort in to looking at what companies put into their food it is easy to find the manufacturers who have the best interests of the dog in mind. Quality varies as much as the ethics of the manufacturer, but there are companies producing excellent food for dogs. Look at the ingredients, and realise that a 15 kg bag of food, apparently full of juicy chicken and vegetables, could not be purchased for 20!
I have always fed my dog a cheaper brand of food and he is fine
There is nothing wrong with feeding your dog a food if he does well on it and you are happy feeding it but surviving on a food is not the same as thriving. Dogs, when switched to a high quality natural kibble or raw diet will look and smell completely different within a short amount of time. Their odour will change, their coat will become softer and shinier, the volume of stool will decrease, sometimes body shape will change and they will appear livelier and healthier. Proper nutrition will boost your dogs immune system and keep him/her in tip top physical condition, hopefully allowing them to live a longer, healthier life.