Trainer Tips–Picking a pet food

27May 2013

I am realizing more and more than many people do not really know what they are feeding their dogs.  Your dog’s diet has a huge impact on their health and life, the same way it does with us as humans.  I know that dog food can get fairly expensive, but that’s no reason to be feeding your dog an unhealthy diet.

I am going to start with the basics.
Three things your pet food should NOT contain:

These things are filler products that offer little to no nutritional value to your pet, and are not easily digestible.  (This is true for cat food as well).  Furthermore, many dogs will develop allergies from these products.  Your dog could have been on the same food for several years without issues, then one day everything changes and they seem itchy and have bad skin or hot spots.  This is usually due to feeding a food that contains one of these things.

There is one particular popular brand that I hear many people use that is very unhealthy for your pet.  Can you guess which one it is?

The answer is Pedigree.  Depending on the exact bag/ flavor, Pedigree ingredients lists 2-3 different corn ingredients.  This is NOT good for your dog!  Pedigree also lists:  wheat, brewers rice, and animal fat.  These are also not healthy things for your dog (See below).

So how do you know what to look for in a dog food?

The best way to pick a dog food is to flip over the bag and look at the ingredients list.  The first thing listed should be some sort of meat, or meat meal.  Better foods will have several kinds of meat listed.  A meat listed first (salmon, turkey, etc) is a better food than a meat meal listed first (salmon meal, turkey meal, etc).

Other things to look for in your pet food.  Obviously as stated above, you want a food with NO corn, soy, or wheat products.  Along with that you want to avoid foods that list “animal fat.”  When a pet food lists animal fat in their ingredients, this could be anything from the grease at fast food restaurants, to animal products collected at a slaughterhouse.  Avoid foods listed with “animal fat.”

Also beware of “Brewers Rice.”  This ingredient is not as bad as the ones listed above, but if included on the ingredients label, it should be very low down on the list.  I generally try and avoid food with this ingredient.

Things you want to look for, of course, the meat listed first…but the label should also include plenty of vegetables and fruits.  Things like:  sweet potatoes, potatoes, blueberries, raspberries, yams, carrots, etc.

The best dry dog food that I know is Orijen.  Orijen is 70-80% meat products, 20-30% fruits and vegetables.  It is the best possible food you can buy your dog.  Of course that also makes it one of the most expensive.  A large 28 pound bag of Orijen can run $90-$100 or more.  Obviously, many of us can not afford that.

Some owners enjoy a food that is lower in protein for their dog.  If this is what you are looking for, Natural Balance is a good choice for you.  Natural Balance lists sweet potato or a similar first ingredient, then meat.  This food is still a good choice in many cases, and does not contain any corn, soy, or wheat.

One of my other favorite dog foods is Taste of the Wild.  It is an excellent food at a good medium price.

If you are on a really tight budget but want to improve your pet’s diet, try mixing an excellent semi-expensive dog food with a less expensive, but still good, food.  This can help stretch your budget.  We have often mixed Taste of the Wild with a brand that lists a “meat meal”as the first ingredient (lower quality food).

Another helpful way you can stretch your budget is to mix in left-overs with your dog’s regular dry food.  This is not something that we do every day, but if I have something that I need to eat or throw out, I will often give it to our dogs.  Please keep in mind, that your dogs can not and should not have just any left-overs.  We avoid giving them things that are spicy, or adding too much liquid over dry food (soup, etc).  Also remember that several common people foods are toxic to dogs (list below).  If the left-overs contain any of these items, we will not give it to the dogs.  Remember if you are adding extra food to your dog’s meal (i.e. left-overs), subtract that much in dry food.  If your dog gets a cup of food at meal time, it should always be a cup, even if you have added left-overs.  Be careful with this.  Adding left-overs can be an easy way to make your dog over-weight and unhealthy if you are not careful.  Remember they don’t always get something extra in their food, and they don’t just get any left-overs.  The most common left-overs we add to our dog’s food is meat rice.

Helpful Hint:  If your dog has diarrhea or constipation, you can add pumpkin (canned or fresh) or cooked rice to help properly adjust their stool and balance out their stomach.  We have used this trick several times.

Dog Toxins:
Grapes/ raisins

Hopefully you will all take the time to read your pet food labels from now on and really know what you are giving your dog.  They are our pets and we love them…so let’s help keep them around for as long as possible!

Also check out these helpful blog articles:

Saving Money on Food

Is Human Food okay for your dog?

Trainer Tips:  Begging