By Sheltie Nation member & guest author Ann Compton. (Ann is an accomplished Animal Journalist with more than 20 years specializing in canine topics. Currently, she writes a weekly column on animal care for one of Connecticut’s newspapers.)
One of the most important things we can do for our dogs to keep them healthy is to feed them good food. With so many name brands compromised this year—even some veterinary foods and ‘premium’ brands–many people are understandably confused about what they can and should feed their pets.
There are ways to make sure that what you feed your dog is wholesome, nutritious, and safe. Unfortunately, what you cannot do is pop into the supermarket or local chain store and grab a bag of whatever happens to be on sale. You must aware of what the dog food you are buying contains.
The single most important thing you can do for your pet is to be an educated consumer. This means that you MUST read the ingredients on the label! Of course, you must know what you are looking for when you read ingredient labels, and what you shouldn’t buy.
It’s really a simple formula. All pet food should consist of whole ingredients. Avoid foods with the words, “by-product, “wheat or rice gluten/protein,” “wheat bran, rice bran, rice flour,” or ingredients such as “animal fat” or “meat protein.” These are fillers of inferior quality or unknown origin, or what is known in the pet food industry as “fractions,” including over-processed ingredients that have no nutritional value—in other words, doggie junk food.
The recalls we saw this summer centered primarily around wheat gluten, made in China. What is wheat gluten, and why is it in your pet food? The answer is, it shouldn’t be. Wheat gluten, although not as well known, is an alternative to soy-based meat substitutes such as tofu; some types may taste even more like meat than tofu due to their chewy or stringy texture. It is often used in place of meat in Asian, vegetarian/vegan, and macrobiotic cuisines. Good quality foods with whole ingredients do not use wheat gluten.
A term frequently found on some pet food labels is “by-product.” By-products are just that: leftovers from the good part of the meat; parts you really wouldn’t want to feed if you knew what they were—parts “not fit for human consumption.” The translation is this. The label should read “chicken,” or “chicken meal,” but not “chicken by-product.”
Next, the first ingredient on your dog food label should be named meat or fish, such as “chicken” or “lamb” or “beef,” not unidentified “meat” or “poultry.” It’s very important that one named meat or fish be the first ingredient listed on the label, since ingredients are listed in order of their total weight in the food and what your dog’s diet should consist of first is a meat or fish, unless he is under veterinary care and has dietary restrictions. Succeeding ingredients should be whole grains, vegetables or broth.
The same is true for vegetables and grains. Whole grains such as rice or vegetables should be named, so you know what you’re getting in the food. Avoid foods with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, sweeteners or sugar.
Does this food cost more? The answer is yes. But you’ll save money in the long run on vet visits, avoid potential health issues, and you can usually feed less of a natural, quality food because it doesn’t contain the fillers found in other brands.
If you don’t know where to find good, natural pet food, consult your local yellow pages for natural or holistic pet food stores. Since the recalls, even some chain pet stores have begun carrying a few premium brands such as Old Mother Hubbard. There are also many natural pet food sources online; all offer delivery.
There are a growing number of healthy, whole foods for dogs and cats. Some brands that top the list include Eagle Pack, Innova, Solid Gold, Canidae, Wellness, Wysong, and Merrick. If you can’t find these foods locally, try an online resource such as www.waggintails.com or www.jbpet.com . Doctors. Foster and Smith also make an excellent line of pet foods that can be ordered online (www.drsfostersmith.com ) or through their catalog.
Remember to check your pet’s biscuit and treat labels as well. They contain similar ingredients that can also be questionable. Look for the same whole ingredients when buying treats and chews.
Stay tuned for part II of Ann’s great article & what you should do to assure the safety of the food you buy for your pet!