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Dog Food: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Learn how to tell healthy dog food from junk food just by reading the label.

We are what we eat.  It's a statement I think of every time I stop at McDonald's and then out of guilt I do order a salad.  Who orders a salad at McDonald's?  Anyway, the same goes for our dogs, but since they can't feed themselves, it's our responsibility to provide them with a healthy diet. A diet that will not only nurture their figures but also the systems within.

A lifetime of low quality food can leave your beloved fur-child with health problems ranging from itchy skin, bad teeth/breath and a dull coat to different types of cancer, heart problems and system failure.  No one WANTS to hurt their loyal companions so my conclusion is that people who aren't feeding a quality diet are simply not aware that the food being sold to them as “premium”, “natural”, “nutritious”, and “healthy” is actually closer to the likes of feeding their dog McDonald's on a daily basis.

If I could give any dog owner a bit of friendly advice, it would be to read the ingredient labels, and avoid purchasing your dog food from the grocery store. By all that’s good and holy, just keep walking when you get to the stacks of Kibbles’n’Bits, Alpo, Pedigree, Purina, Iams and Science Diet. There is not ONE bag of food worthy of your dog or your money on those shelves. These brands may be the ones you’ve grown up with and their bags may be covered with beautiful photographs of happy dogs and illustrations of healthy ingredients like fresh meat, green veggies and juicy fruit. Resist the temptation to be seduced by something that couldn’t be further from the truth.

How do I know what the truth really is? Let me walk you through the process of taking a bag of dog food, flipping it over and analyzing what you see on the ingredient label. I do it with almost every item of food I buy for MY consumption, why wouldn’t I do it for the dog I love with all my heart?

All dog food is NOT created equal. With a few simple ingredient evaluation tips, you will learn what to look for and what to look out for on a label to make sure you’re feeding the kind of food that will help, not hinder.

Reading the Label

1) Identify the main ingredients. The list of ingredients on a bag of dog food will be long. A good way to pin-point what ingredients make up the bulk of the food is to locate the first named fat source.  Anything listed before it, and including it, are the main contenders.  Everything after is included in much smaller amounts.  The items at the very end are used for flavoring, preserving and for dietary needs (like probiotics, vitamins, minerals etc.)         

LOOK FOR: Specifically named fats like chicken fat, herring oil, canola oil, sunflower oil etc.       

LOOK OUT FOR: Non-specific types like animal fat, poultry fat, and vegetable oil.                                                                                 

*Example Ingredient List*: Turkey, chicken, chicken meal, ground barley, ground brownrice, potatoes, ground white rice, chicken fat (fat source), herring, apples, carrots, cottage cheese, sunflower oil, alfalfa sprouts, egg, garlic, probiotics, vitamins, minerals...

2) Evaluate the protein source. Now that we’ve located the fat source (bold) and identified the main ingredients (italics), we can look at them more closely.  Now we want to look at the MOST important component in dog food, protein.

LOOK FOR: Specified whole meats or meat meals within the first 2-3 ingredients. When I say specified, I mean you want to know exactly what animal the meat is coming from.  By using the example above, we see turkey, chicken and chicken meal.  Two whole meats and one meat meal, spells high quality so far!

LOOK OUT FOR: Any kind of by-product, unspecific meats or meals and corn products. By unspecified, I mean generalized. Low quality food will use blanket words like poultry, fish, meat, animal, liver but they won't tell what kind of animal it's coming from.  These are all extremely cheap and unsavory ingredients that come from questionable sources and have been found in the past to even contain the animal type you are actually feeding, DOG! (shuddering)

3) Analyze ingredients, scan for cheap fillers. After your protein sources you will want to see a nice list of other quality whole ingredients.

LOOK FOR: Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, barley, millet etc. If it's a grain-free food it will have whole alternatives such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, or peas.  Whole fruits and veggies may also be present like blueberries, apples, carrots and peas. Because dogs are more carnivorous than omnivorous, fruits and veggies are not really mandatory but are a nice touch.

LOOK OUT FOR: Corn products like corn-gluten, corn meal or ground corn. Also fragmented grains, fruits or veggies like middlings, mill run, hulls, or stalks of any type provide ZERO nutritional value and only add to the waste your dog will produce. Again, these are cheap ingredients that are found in low quality food and can lead to allergies and LOTS of poop.

4) Check the preservatives.

LOOK FOR: Natural preservatives like mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Rosemary, Sage, or Clove Extract, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Ascorbic Acid and other forms of Vitamin C.

LOOK OUT FOR: Harmful chemicals like BHA (Butylated Hydroxysanisole), BHT
(Butylated Hydroxytoluene), Ethoxyquin, TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone), Sodium Metabisulphite.

So now that you have the tools to properly poke through and discern the good from the bad from the ugly, I'm going to list those of a few popular brands. Two of these you will see on your grocery store shelves and one is only sold at pet stores. Can you guess what's good, what's bad and what's ugly?

                             Pedigree - Complete Nutrition Adult  

Ground yellow corn, meat and bone meal, corn gluten meal, chicken by product meal, animal fat (preserved with BHA/BHT), wheat mill run, natural poultry flavor, rice, salt, potassium chloride, caramel color, wheat flour, wheat gluten, vegetable oil, vitamins (cholinechloride, dl-alpha tocopherol acetate [source of vitamin E],l-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate [source of vitamin C], vitamin Asupplement, thiamine mononitrate [vitamin B1], biotin, d-calciumpantothenate, riboflavin supplement [vitamin B2], vitamin D3supplement, vitamin B12 supplement), trace minerals (zinc sulfate, copper sulfate, potassium iodide)

                               Iams-Chunks and Mini chunks      

Chicken, corn meal, ground whole grain sorghum, chicken by-product meal, ground whole grain barley, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols, a source of vitamin E, andcitric acid), fish meal (source of fish oil), chicken meal, dried beet pulp (sugar removed), natural chicken flavor, dried egg product, brewers dried yeast, potassium chloride, salt, sodium hexametaphosphate, flax meal, choline chloride, calcium carbonate,ferrous sulfate, zinc oxide, vitamin E supplement, dl-methionine,ascorbic acid, manganese sulfate, copper sulfate, manganous oxide,vitamin a acetate, calcium pantothenate, biotin, rosemary extract, thiamine mononitrate (source of vitamin B1), vitamin B12 supplement,niacin, riboflavin supplement (source of vitamin B2), inositol, pyridoxine hydrochloride (source of vitamin B6), vitamin D3supplement, potassium iodide, folic acid, cobalt carbonate.

                                     Innova EVO (Grain Free)

Turkey, chicken, turkey meal, chicken meal, potato, herring meal, chicken fat (preserved with mixedtocopherols, a natural source of vitamin E), natural flavors, eggs, potassium chloride, choline chloride, calcium carbonate, garlic,apples, carrots, tomatoes, cottage cheese, alfalfa sprouts, dried chicory root, ascorbic acid, taurine, lecithin, rosemary extract,vitamins (vitamin E supplement, niacin, d-calcium pantothenate,vitamin A supplement, vitamin D supplement, beta carotene, vitamin B12 supplement, biotin, riboflavin, pyridoxine hydrochloride,thiamine mononitrate, folic acid), minerals (zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, copper proteinate, manganese proteinate, cobalt proteinate, calcium iodate), direct fed microbials (dried lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried lactobacillus casei fermentation product, dried bifidobacterium thermophilum fermentation product, dried enterococcus faecium fermentation product)

So, with your new knowledge, which one would you feed your loving and loyal companion?

Feeding your dog is easy but finding a healthy and wholesome kind of food is a little more tricky.  I hope that with these guidelines you will go forth and flip those bags, scan those labels and not stop until you've found a food that will do Spot's body good.  Because they're worth it.

Sources: http://www.dogfoodproject.com/, http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com/, http://www.feedmypet.com/dog-food-comparison.html,

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rising together October 19, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Thanks. Great post. I use a good product, grain free..sadly still have allergies in my dog and scratching. We also make our own wet food for them with org. chicken or hamburger mixed with some vegs and potatoes or rice. a little on top of the dry and they are happy.
Tyrone Girdle November 20, 2011 at 01:28 AM
General Feed and Seed used to sell Wysong Dog and Cat foods. It's the best dry food Iv'e found. minimal processing.

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