Healthy Dog Food? Hmm...

By: Cynthia Parrao

So, here’s a toast to all of our animal companions and the ways that they enhance our lives on a daily basis. I share my life with a beloved yellow Labrador mix named Sunny. There’s nothing that makes me smile more than watching her in all her grace as she swiftly chases her stick often times daringly into choppy waters. She is the light of my life and my best friend and as of a few years ago I realized that I hadn’t taken the time to closely inspect the food that I was feeding her. So, after doing some research and trial and error I found several foods that she does wonderfully on.

We are now thankfully living in an era of awareness especially around pet nutrition and well being. Due to this fact, the number of healthy dog foods has grown exponentially and for this, I am very grateful. Just in case any of you out there are completely confused about what to feed your dog, I want to give just a few little tidbits of information that may assist you in making a sound decision about the nutritional needs of your pet.

As we know every dog is different. There are so many breeds and sizes and every dog has different nutritional needs. Typically feeding guidelines on a dog food product will give you a broad range of how much to feed your dog per day. I recommend talking to a veterinarian if you are unsure or if your dog happens to be somewhat overweight or have any possible health issues. This way you can get advice from an expert who may give you feeding tips depending on your dog’s level of activity and so on.

So let me start by saying this, next time that you are shopping for a new dog food, look on the label for the ingredients list. Always check to see what the first ingredient is. It can be meat, rice or corn, or for specific needs, the first ingredient may be some type of extracted plant protein, used for certain protein allergies. It is very important to understand that corn itself is not unhealthy for dogs in general, rather as a top ingredient it is not going to be especially beneficial for your pet. The ingredients list indicates respectively the amount of all the ingredients by weight or percentage. Therefore, the first ingredient will be what that food is mainly comprised of. Now one can clearly see that a carnivore does not need to be eating large amounts of corn several times a day. It is truly beneficial for our carnivore friends to have healthy, high quality proteins included in their diet in order for their bodies to function optimally. I've provided a link that you may check out for more information.

The next ingredient you may want to look for is anything stating “by-product”. Often times this will be one of the first five ingredients listed. Although there is such a thing as good by-product, mostly it is leftover scraps of who-knows-what ground down finely and added to a food as filler. It should come as no surprise that this can be feathers, hooves, heads and other body parts that are not considerably digestible or nutrient dense. Also in some cases foods contained ingredients that were not fit for consumption. Once again don’t forget that the higher up on the ingredients list, the more of that ingredient the bag contains. These often indigestible by-products can build up in the system causing a multitude of skin conditions, hair loss, and itchy hot spots. The body will push excess waste out of the skin especially if digestive troubles are the issue. To learn more about by-products click here.

Another set of ingredients to be aware of are artificial preservatives, colors and flavors. These are not always so bad but I believe that it is important to keep the chemical additives to a bare minimum if possible. Keep in mind that foods which do not contain artificial preservatives have a shelf life of around six weeks. This is because they are naturally preserved with either fats, mixed tocopherols (a source of vitamin E), vitamin C or rosemary. Try to keep the bag sealed as well as possible to prevent the food from going rancid faster.

There are so many types of dog foods out there that it is understandable that one can get confused as to which one is the best for their pet. Making sure that the food is made with fresh, healthy and necessary ingredients is first priority. High quality proteins, good complex carbohydrates, veggies and adequate vitamin and mineral levels are key. Next comes making sure the food is right for your pet. I like to feed my dog a mixture of dry and wet food, occasionally throwing in a raw food supplement. In addition, I switch her food every two to three months in order to keep things interesting and avoid the possible formation of allergies from over sconsumption of any one ingredient. There are many great foods out there that offer several different formulas involving different proteins but have a similar fat and protein percentage. This makes it a bit easier for your pet to adjust to the new food. It is recommended to feed the new food in small increments at first by just adding a bit more each day while slowly reducing the old food.

I wanted to quickly touch on raw food, which can be beneficial for many animals suffering from allergies, weight problems and much more. Raw food still contains enzymes due to the fact that they have not been destroyed through the cooking process and this assists the body with digestion. Though not many studies have been conducted to show the benefits of raw food there are many people who are happy about the results of feeding this diet to their pets. Not only does raw food contain a lot of moisture but it is very nutrient dense since it does not need a lot of carbohydrate filler for consistency and binding purposes like dry foods do. It consists mainly of meat, moisture and typically contains veggies, herbs and/or fruit in order to make it a balanced diet. Since every dog has its own nutritional needs, it is suggested to consult a veterinarian about raw food in case of any questions or concerns although many veterinarians are a bit nervous about this diet because of the possible presence of e coli and salmonella. Take the time to research companies that provide raw foods. If you find one that you are interested in there is typically a toll free number that you can call if you have questions regarding their products. Here is a link that I found to be helpful in terms of raw food.

There are so many varieties of good, healthy dog foods out there to choose from. Your dog will greatly appreciate you taking the time and effort to find and maintain that optimal, balanced and delicious diet. If you like, throw in a couple bones here and there. They are great for teeth and gums.

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