By Dr. Becker
Recently I read an online article titled "12 Things You Never Knew About Pet Food,"1 and thought I would share it here at Healthy Pets. It will be a good refresher for many of you who read my newsletter regularly, and there are also lots of new visitors to the site every day who can certainly benefit.
The co-founder of a fresh dog food company who is also a certified canine nutritionist wrote the article. For the record, certified nutritionists (sometimes also called animal nutrition specialists) aren't board-certified veterinary nutritionists, which are veterinarians with additional nutrition training.
There are several online education programs available to the general public for certification in animal nutrition, such as the ones offered by the Academy of Natural Health Sciences, the Companion Animal Sciences Institute and others. I don't know much about these programs, so I can't offer an opinion on their content.
Some veterinarians are flatly opposed to the idea of weekend or online courses that offer pet parents or any interested party an animal nutrition certification of some kind, but I'm not one of them. I think the more knowledge people gain about how nutrients work in the body, the better food choices they will make for themselves and the animals they are feeding.
However, it's important to seek nutrition advice from someone you completely trust as competent in providing accurate information. Unfortunately, solid nutrition information doesn't always come from your local veterinarian, either. Animal nutrition isn't taught in any detail in many veterinary schools, and big pet food companies like Purina, Royal Canin and Mars Petcare typically handle some aspect of the educational process.
In addition, the official nutrition experts of the traditional veterinary community, board-certified veterinary nutritionists, often have direct or indirect ties to those same big pet food companies. With that said, let's take a look at canine nutritionist Gabby Slomes' "12 Things You Never Knew About Pet Food" (pared down to 11, since number 12 is sort of an advertisement for her company's products).
11 Tips for Feeding Your Dog Well
1. "Stick to protein-rich, not wheat, diets. Diets higher in protein and lower in wheat and processed grains (as found in most shelf stable commercial pet foods) will result in more energy for your dog and less GI problems."
This is sound advice and no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention to the grain-free pet food movement. What's missing from this tip is that your dog's protein should come from animal versus plant sources, since plant proteins don't provide the complete amino acid profile necessary for your dog's health.
Another caution involves grain-free processed kibble, which is loaded with carbs and calories, and contains high-glycemic potatoes, chickpeas, peas or tapioca that require a substantial insulin release from the body. All those carbs break down into sugar. Excess sugar can trigger both obesity and diabetes, and plays a role in a long list of other disorders and diseases, including cancer.
2. "Wash your dog's food and water bowl regularly. People easily forget about the cleanliness of their dog's bowl and how it can affect their pet's health. Most of us would never think about using the same soup or salad bowl for a week straight without washing it but many let their dog's bowl sit on the floor without thinking twice.
This allows bacteria to grow and can cause illness from contaminated dishes from a mild upset stomach to vomiting and diarrhea. Make sure to wash your dog's bowl daily with dish soap and rinse thoroughly!"
This is great advice no matter what type of food you offer your dog, but it's especially important if you feed raw or gently cooked meals. Something else to keep in mind is that stainless steel, ceramic or glass food and water bowls are preferable to plastic. Some dogs develop allergies to plastic bowls, and in addition, with time and use, plastic degrades and can leach toxins into your dog's food and water.
3. "Buy human-grade dog food. Most dog foods are classified as 'Feed' and although the pet food industry is currently a $25B business, we found that some kibble is legally made from 4D meat: meat from dead, dying, diseased and disabled animals. Human-grade ensures not only that the quality of ingredients that go into the food are edible by humans but also ensures food safety standards of the facility it is cooked in."
This is an excellent tip. From a legal perspective, only pet foods made in human-grade facilities, subject to the inspections and approval necessary to have human-grade status, can be considered 100 percent human-grade. Unfortunately, few pet food companies can meet these criteria. Relatively small pet food manufacturers are where you'll find formulas containing human-grade ingredients.
4. "Beware of meat with accompanying word 'meal.' Meat meal, labeled on dog food ingredient lists such as 'chicken meal' and 'beef meal,' is a nicer way of saying it is 'rendered' meat. Render plants process animal by-product and can include materials such as grease, blood, feathers, and entire carcasses."
It's true the vast majority of processed pet food contains rendered ingredients. Chicken meal is made from chicken muscle meat and/or bones and/or internal organs that have been ground or otherwise reduced in particle size.
Unfortunately the definition does not include the quality of meat used in making the meal, so the quality can range from human-grade meal to diseased meat meal and there's no way to discern which is in your pet's food. For this reason, I recommend all meals be avoided.
Chicken by-product meal can contain more pieces and parts than chicken meal, including necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines. Because "by-products" is a massive category and there's no way to assess the quality of raw ingredients used, it's best to avoid pet food containing by-product meal as well.
5. "Fresh food is better. Canned and kibble food go through such extreme processing to make them shelf stable that most of the natural nutrients are sapped. To compensate, a ton of synthetic vitamins and minerals are added back to the diet as well as artificial flavoring so the dog will eat the kibble.
Just like humans, dogs feel the difference when they eat meals made from real ingredients. It's easier to absorb nutrients from more gently processed food and thus easier for dogs to utilize them to stay healthy."
6. "Find the perfect portion. Studies have shown that if you keep your dog at an ideal weight (a 4 or 5 on the body composition score) as opposed to pleasantly plump (a 6 or 7) you can add 20 percent to their life (who doesn't want more time with their dog?!).
Most dog food brands give a range based on just your dog's current weight, but not knowing your dog's unique attributes such as how much exercise they get, it can sometimes be up to 50 percent more than your dog should be eating."
Here's the general formula I use to calculate the number of calories a dog should eat:
Daily Calories = Body Weight (kg) x 30 + 70
First, convert your dog's weight from pounds to kilograms. One kilogram = 2.2 pounds, so divide her weight in pounds by 2.2. Let's say she weighs 50 pounds: 50/2.2 = 22.7 kilograms
Daily Calories = 22.7 x 30 + 70
Daily Calories = 751
If you feed treats, you'll need to factor those into the total daily calories your dog requires. You may also need to adjust the calories down or up depending on how much heart-thumping exercise your dog gets on a regular basis.
7. "Steer clear of preservatives. To extend the shelf life of food allowing it to sit on a store shelf for months, if not years, most commercial pet food brands that go through retailers (as opposed to directly to consumers) are forced to put a bunch of preservatives in their food.
While natural preservatives exist, such as rosemary extract, many artificial preservatives can be toxic to dogs if used over a long period of time. We found out that some preservatives used double as pesticides (gross)! They are not permitted in the U.K. but are still legal in the U.S. to be used in dog foods."
Another excellent tip! I strongly encourage you to avoid pet food and treats containing BHA and BHT, as well as ethoxyquin, propylene glycol, TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone) and propyl gallate.
8. "Foods to never feed your dog. Most people are aware that chocolate is bad for dogs. However, you should also stay clear of onions, grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts and bones! Bones can break and sliver and can puncture your dog's intestinal tract or cause them to choke."
Cooked bones are a definite no-no, but raw recreational bones can be very beneficial for many dogs. For more information, see my recent article on the rules for offering raw recreational bones to your dog.
9. "Dogs are not wolves. Yes, dogs descended from wolves and share around 98 percent of the DNA, but that does not mean they require the same diet, nor do they require a raw diet. There have been no studies showing dogs will be healthier on a raw diet, and there are dangers associated with it for both dogs and humans. Like any raw meats, they can carry pathogens that can cause food poisoning."
Slome is co-founder of a fresh (not raw) dog food company, so she's selling AGAINST raw diets here, which is unfortunate. Her argument against raw diets doesn't hold water. In addition, there have been no studies of raw diets for dogs because the only people funding dog food studies are major processed pet food manufacturers.
10. "Home cooking is harder than you think. Ensuring your dog is well nourished with human-grade does not just mean feed your dog food that you would eat or leftovers from dinner. Because dogs eat the same thing every meal it is extra important that their food is nutritionally balanced.
We hear all the time people cooking ground meat with peas and rice but there can be key elements missing for your dog's health (or too much of some). A balanced diet must meet all of dogs' essential vitamin, mineral, and amino acid requirements. It is best to either consult a vet for a specific recipe to follow, or choose a food that meets AAFCO requirements."
I absolutely agree that making your dog's food from scratch requires you to make sure you're meeting macro and micronutrient requirements. Do not guess. The reason most vets dislike homemade diets is because they are unbalanced, which over time can create health problems.
I agree people need to follow a recipe they know is balanced, but you don't need to consult a board-certified nutritionist to do this in every case. To check out how balanced your homemade recipe is plug the ingredients at Balance It.
11. "Keep your dog hydrated. Generally speaking, dogs need between a half and a full ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. If your dog is active or lives in hot climate, maybe more. Fresh, natural food also keeps dogs more hydrated."