How To Find The Right Dog Food
What ingredients should I look for in a good dog food?
- Good quality animal proteins should top the best dog food ingredients list. You’re looking for whole, fresh meats or meat meal from a specific source—for example chicken meal, not “poultry” meal. The first ingredient in canned food should be whole meat, fish, or poultry.
- Whole, unprocessed grains (like rice or brown rice, whole ground barley and oatmeal) are a more expensive but nutritious way of providing roughage to dogs. The less processing that is done, the greater food value is retained.
- Whole vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, peas and carrots. Once again, as little processing as possible. Fat or protein should be identified by species. “Chicken fat” or “beef protein” is better than a mystery mixture of unknown origin. Organic ingredients are great, but be careful. Organic foods are wonderful for us and our dogs because they limit exposure to chemical pesticides and fertilizers, but the word “organic” can be used a variety of ways in dog food (anyone can use the word, since there is no one to police “organic” in animal food).
- “Human grade” ingredients. Manufacturers who use this phrase on their products—even if a dog food company uses the same meat and rice that go into human foods—are technically breaking the law. Regulatory laws don’t allow “human grade” on dog food, but some premium food makers do it anyway— because they are telling the truth (at some risk, at least theoretically, to themselves).
What dog food ingredients should I avoid?
- By-Products (Meat or Poultry) indicate a lower-quality dry dog food. They have nutritional value but less than meat or meat meal, which are more expensive and handled more carefully.
- Fats or proteins from unknown sources. “Animal fat” is a catch phrase that can include low-quality, inexpensive fats, including old restaurant grease.
- “Dedicated fiber sources” are less desirable because they are by-products of other food manufacturing processes.
- Crude protein is not an ingredient that a dog’s body can utilize. It is not what most people would even think of as protein, since it refers to beaks, hair, hooves, feathers and tendons.
- “Powdered cellulose” is the fiber source with the lowest value of all. It is defined by the AAFCO as “purified, mechanically disintegrated cellulose prepared by processing alpha cellulose obtained as pulp from fibrous plant materials.” A less fancy description is “sawdust.”
- Artificial colors or flavors are unhealthy chemicals which can have long-term health consequences and should not be necessary to entice a dog when the food has good quality ingredients. Colors are meaningless to a dog but are used to attract the human buyer.
- Sugar or other sweeteners. Cheap dog foods use sweeteners (corn syrup, sucrose and ammoniated glycyrrhizin) because dogs have a sweet tooth. Sugar in the diet can aggravate health problems like diabetes in dogs.
- “Food fragments” are lower-cost by-products that come from processing another food, for example wheat bran, which is what’s left after the nutritious wheat kernel is removed. Many products have some food fragments, but look out for multiple fragments from one food—which is a way to hide a large amount of a low-value ingredient. For example, a food that lists corn in various forms has a lot more corn that it does meat protein, which may therefore deceptively appear first on the ingredient list.
- Flavor and texture enhancers. If food is made of good ingredients, it shouldn’t be necessary to boost it with any additives.
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