It’s hard to anticipate potential health problems for pets. Cancer and heart disease are as much a problem in the canine community as they are for their human owners. While keeping up with routine veterinary visits is of critical importance, taking some lifelong steps at home to foster overall canine wellbeing is also crucial. Since owners can’t always control hereditary and environmental issues that may be detrimental to their dogs’ health, they should do everything possible to address future issues preventatively rather than just curatively. Perhaps the single best thing that pet owners can do for their dogs is to ensure that they receive the right nutritional balance.
Avoid Byproducts, Fillers & Carbohydrates
As a general rule of thumb, the less expensive dog food brands and product lines have higher amounts of “fillers” or “filler ingredients.” Fillers include byproducts, byproduct meal, unspecified meats, corn, wheat, and other grains. AFFCO, or the Association of American Feed Control Officers, explains that chicken byproducts can refer to any “non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered animals…” Even though the term “byproducts” does not refer to hair, teeth, or horns, it applies to intestines, feet, and parts of the head. Feeding dogs a higher quality of meat ingredients that are rich in protein versus feeding them fillers like meat byproducts is one major way to increase canines’ quality of life.
The other filler ingredients (mostly grains) are inexpensive ways for dog food companies to supplement the caloric values of their products. It is more expensive to incorporate protein and fat into a dog food than to just add carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the canine species has evolved over tens of thousands of years to require mostly fats and proteins. According to the National Research Council, dogs don’t need carbohydrates at all, especially when compared to their human counterparts. While a modest percentage of carbs in a dog’s diet will provide it with extra energy, the carb-loads in most dog foods are exorbitant, comprising as much as 74% of some food brands.
According to Foster & Smith, 20% of pet allergies can be attributed to food reactions. By avoiding cheap filler ingredients and by monitoring any negative reactions to a protein source, dog owners can proactively maintain their dogs’ good health via good nutrition.
Healthy Additives: Joint Maintenance and Shiny Skin & Coat
Premium and ultra premium dog food brands will do more than just incorporate premium food ingredients into their lines. By browsing the backs of dog food bags, consumers can readily identify vitamins and supplements by several different names. Many such brands include some levels of both glucosamine and chondroitin. Although there are still conflicting results, studies such as those by the National Institute of Health suggest that these two compounds may mitigate pain and increase the restricted mobility associated with osteoarthritis. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to choose a premium or ultra premium dog food that already has these two joint compounds rather than buying a grocery store brand and adding powder supplements to the dog bowl.
Linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids are fatty acids that are intended to promote increased skin and coat health. Although AFFCO does not consider them to be “essential nutrients,” it’s hard to find a premium or ultra premium brand that does not contain some level of these two amino acids. These ingredients will appear on the bag as other names as well, such as omega 6 and omega 3 acids. Some pet owners will add supplements containing fish oil to their dogs’ food bowls to accomplish the same goal.
Best of the Brands
There’s an increasing tendency for dog owners to put their pets on raw food diets. Most people simply don’t have the time or money to place their pets on raw food diets or to prepare their pets’ meals from scratch. Also, conventional dry dog food kibble can clean a dog’s teeth as they gnash and grind the dog food. Therefore, the best thing most of us can do is to choose a good, conventional dog food brand from the beginning.
Ultra premium companies include Merrick (38% protein & 17% fat), Wellness, Blue Buffalo, and Canidae. Void of byproducts, rich in protein and fat, and full of healthy supplements, these are brands that coincidently aren’t often mentioned in recall lists. Merrick pet food in particular is manufactured in and distributed from the U.S., putting most pet owners at ease who are anxious to avoid anything coming from China (and rightfully so). Premium brands such as Iams, Eukanuba, Pro Plan, and Nutro Ultra & Natural Choice may have some grains in their foods, but they all still avoid byproducts and add supplements in order to balance benefits with lower cost.
Brands that should be avoided include, but are not limited to, Pedigree, Alpo, Ol’ Roy, and Bil Jac. These companies tend to stuff their foods with byproducts, carbs, and other fillers while not adding any beneficial supplements. In fact, Science Diet only recently removed byproducts and filler ingredients from their own so called “premium” lines in the last few years. Before, Science Diet listed byproducts as the first or second ingredient on the vast majority of their labels. This means that they sold foods that are mostly composed of byproducts for decades, all the while charging a pretty penny. Science Diet must have an exceptional marketing division.
Although cost might be a prohibitive factor for using a premium or ultra premium dog food, it’s important to consider the advantages of paying more up front. Dogs that eat less fillers in their foods go to the bathroom much less by amount, translating into less waste and less time spent picking up waste. Dogs on good diets have healthier skin and coats provided there are no specific allergies. Lastly, using a good dog food is the easiest way that an owner can directly shape the future of their dog’s health and wellbeing!