I can hardly walk thru a grocery store isle these days without seeing shiny packages grabbing our attention to today’s diet trends. Low-fat, Gluten-free, GMO-free, green, antioxidants, paleo, raw, low carb, who knows what half of that stuff means or why it’s on my package of Cheese-its. No matter what you believe about what we should be eating, I think we can all agree that we should avoid processed food and we also shouldn’t eat so much in general. Obesity is a far more pressing issue than what we are actually consuming and this trickles down to our pets as well. Over 50% of pets are overweight and that is a huge problem on many fronts. If you’re looking for some help and need it, let’s go over some basics about dog food.
I feed a commercial diet, so no judgement here if you do too. Consumer food purchases are consistently focused on three big items. Convenience, taste and price. We hardly have time to cook for ourselves and our kids, let alone our pets. The result is, you go to a store to buy kibble for your dog and you beat yourself up about it. In turn we compensate by buying the best food we can afford. Note: this is my personal approach so I’m not knocking it. All I’m asking is for you to be careful about what you read to educate yourself on what to buy.
- Do not get your nutrition information from bloggers and websites. Most of the time, it’s not accurate and even when it is, it can be confusing and probably won’t end up helping you anyway as you get overwhelmed with the quicksand of catch-phrases and trends.
- Dogs need a low carb diet. FALSE. Low carb diets are higher in protein and fat. Most dogs don’t need the extra calories, it just makes them fatter. Now if your dog is a working dog, that is say running the Iditarod, then this rule does apply.
- Dogs need a grain-free diet. FALSE. Many people avoid buying food with grain because they think they are covered in glutens and glutens are bad or grains are carbs and carbs are bad (see #2). Gluten-free is a real thing. Humans can have Celiac disease or intolerance to these little fellas, but with the exception of a particular line of Irish setters, it does not occur in dogs. As for grain-free food being low in carbs, not necessarily. Check the label. Example, potatoes (grain-free carb) are much more likely to spike your blood sugar than brown rice (a grain) and potatoes are used extensively in grain-free diets. Besides, dogs are fine with carbs (see #2). And if you are feeding your dog grain-free because you think your dog is allergic to them….on to #4!
- Dogs can be allergic to grains. FALSE. Most commonly diagnosed food allergies in dogs, beef, dairy, chicken, lamb and fish. Is it possible that your dog is allergic to a grain? Yes. Is it likely? No. But hey, if you want to feed a grain-free diet, that’s perfectly ok, it won’t hurt them.
- “Natural” dog foods are better for your dog. FALSE. The word “natural” doesn’t tell me much, but I can tell you what it doesn’t tell me. It does not imply better (water is natural but it can still kill you) or minimal processing. Don’t buy a food just based on that cool tag on the front of the package….read the label.
- Dogs aren’t wolves, they’re dogs. TRUE! There are actually science-based studies comparing the dog and wolf digestive tract. They are quite fascinating if you want to read, but to sum up, dogs have evolved hanging around biped humans who are omnivores. Scrounging off of us, they have evolved to better digest this kind of diet….which includes carbs.
So what have we learned that is helpful? There is no perfect, ideal food for your dog. No really, this is helpful! Every dog is as different as every human, so what may be good for Fido, may not be appropriate for Fluffy. That’s ok though, we have a ton of options now! The dog food industry is booming! Try rotating your dog’s diet and see what works best. If you buy an expensive food and your dog gains 15 pounds, starts itching or pooping in the house, who cares who recommended it? Do what works for you. I rotate food pretty regularly, until I forget. So sometimes my dogs are eating one thing for a few months and sometimes just for one month. If your dog doesn’t have a sensitive stomach or other dietary indiscretion, then follow the sales and save yourself a buck in the process. If your dog is overweight, sort that out first. Most of the time, we can peel weight off a dog just by controlling their portions and don’t need to give them a “diet food”. Stick to healthy snacks and treats, like carrots or something homemade. Consult with a veterinary nutritionist. They went to school and then back to school and then back to school again to learn about nutrition so it’s safe to say they know more than the average bear…err vet.
Good luck and happy hunting!