Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Navigating the Food Maze

Whether you subscribe to the notion that wolves and dogs are carnivores or not, they need MEAT!  No way around it.  While there is great argument as to whether meat should be a dog's whole diet, or just a large portion of it, I find there is absolutely no question that meat is one of the most important element in your dog's food.  Also, the quality of that meat is extremely important.

How to read a pet food label to determine if it's worthy of your dog:
1  Don't even consider a pet food that does not have meat listed as the first ingredient in the list on the side or back panel - just keep looking.
2  More meat should follow.  If meat is the first ingredient, you're already headed in the right direction, but if that one meat is the only source, you may want to keep looking.  You can do much better.
3  The quality of meat is important.  Stay away from non-descript meats such as "meat" meal and "poultry" meal.  If they can't even tell you what species the meat came from, it's best to steer clear.  Also, it's a good idea to stay away from meat by-products.  While these parts would likely be very enticing to our dogs, they are very often not treated very well at processing plants.  (the junk at the bottom of the barrel from yesterday, etc) 
Look for specific meat sources.  Your best bets are the meat listed simply as the source itself, such as Lamb or the meat listed as a meal product Lamb meal (which is essentially lamb with the water removed from it). 
4  For my dogs, nowhere on the list of ingredients should you find the words: corn, soy, or wheat.  These inexpensive fillers are hard for your dog to digest, all you'll get for feeding them to your dog is a big pile of poop in the yard. 
One of the "better" grains that you might see in pet foods is rice (even better yet, brown rice)  If you really want to get the best pet foods, you will opt for a grain-free food.  However, I understand that the expense of such foods can be more than many can take on.  I'm interested in helping people move in the right direction, not leaping to the finish line the first day on the track.
5  Beware of companies that "cheat" with grains.  Here is an example:
            "Lamb Meal, Ground Rice, Rice Flour, Rice Bran, Poultry Fat"
This list consists of the first 5 ingredients of a popular pet food.  Notice how Lamb is first in the list (which we have determined is a good thing) but then 3 different varieties of rice follow the only meat source.  This is a very common way for companies to cheat and hope you don't know enough to catch them in the act.  They know that you want to see that meat listed first, but they also know that there is more rice in the food than there is Lamb.  So, they divide the rice up into different forms so that they can put the rice lower in the list.  If you add up the 3 different forms of rice, there is far more rice in this food than Lamb.  While rice is usually an ok grain for your dog to have in his food, it should never be in greater quantities than the meat.

Ok, so, now you have the basic idea of what to look for in a pet food.  You by no means are an expert on the topic after the limited information I have provided you, but you should at least have a little understanding of what to look for and how to avoid being tricked by sneaky pet food companies.  Check out some of my suggestions here

I feed my dogs a prey model raw meat diet.  The goal of this feeding style is to attempt to mimic the natural diet their ancestors eat - prey animals.  Many people feel this might be more than they can handle, but I find with a little practice it's no more difficult than using kibble.  If you'd like to see how I do it, you can check it out here.

A bit about Vets:

Don't be surprised if, after you become a food label Nazi, you find foods that DO NOT qualify as good foods in your vet's office.
(In fact, don't be surprised at all if many of the foods you used to think were great are in actuality, JUNK.)

Vets are good people.  Vets do not try to rip you off (contrary to what some might say).  But, Vets are very often general practitioners - Vets are not necessarily nutritionists. 
Think about it, if you needed some serious consultation about nutrition for yourself or your child - would you just go to your general practitioner?  or would you head to a certified nutritionist or dietitian?  In my opinion, most vets are damn good at what they do, but unless you're seeing a Veterinary nutrition specialist, they may not be the best authority on the topic.  Vets do get some training in nutrition over the course of their education.  The problem is, often this training is sponsored by some of the big name pet food companies that have "agreements" with the veterinary community.  These are the brands you will often (NOT always) see in the Vet's office, and these are often the brands that will be recommended to you by your Vet.  Again, not because they are bad people, or because they are purposely misleading you - simply because that's what they know.  (and it's very likely what they are feeding their own pets)  Vets often have far too many other things to worry about than to be constantly reading up on pet nutrition unless that's their specialty. 

I do not expect my general Veterinarian to be able to give me the best advice when it comes to feeding my pets if that is not something they specialize in.  I expect them to be there to help me when my cat has a urinary tract infection, or when my dog has an upper respiratory infection - that's what they're trained for, and that's what I need them for.