Join Date: Jan 2006
This will be kinda long, but it is a very good resource... if you would like the rest of the article, PM me and I will send it to you. I would post the link, but you have to be a member to view the info.
Choosing the Best Food for Your Dog
by Robin K. Bennett
As professional dog trainer, I talk to many owners who are concerned about their dog's hyperactivity, lack of focus, and general inability to learn. Owners are often surprised to learn some of their concerns can be resolved, in part, by a change in diet. Since a dog's diet can have a dramatic influence on the animal's mood, ability to learn and overall health, behavioral counseling always includes information on choosing the best food for the dog.
With so many different brands of dog foods on the market today, choosing a healthy diet for your dog can be overwhelming. I will attempt to discuss some common areas of concern in choosing the best food for your dog.
How do you decipher dog food labels? Just as with human food labels, dog food ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. We know in choosing cereal for our children, a listing of ingredients that displays sugar first contains more sugar than any other ingredient. The same is true of dog food. The combination of the first three ingredients makes up the bulk of the food and is usually indicative of the overall quality of the food. Finding a meat source listed as the tenth or eleventh item in the list usually means very little meat is actually used.
Which ingredients should be listed first? A healthy diet should be based on an adequate, and clearly defined, protein source such as beef, chicken, or lamb (not something vague such as “meat” or ‘poultry”). Ingredients may list "by-products" or "meal". Generally speaking, meal is the better option. By-products are those items left over after the meat is removed from the animal source. Since by-products are not actually meat, they can often be difficult for your pet to digest.
Lamb, chicken, or beef meal, on the other hand, is the meat after the water and fat have been removed. Meal is highly digestible and filled with approximately 65 percent protein. Grains are often included in dog food because they are a cheaper alternative to quality meat sources. However, a larger volume of food must be eaten to fulfill the nutritional needs of the dog if grains are used as the primary protein source.
Are any ingredients bad for my dog? In people, a diet free of chemicals, colorings, and other fillers is considered far superior than one that is pre-fabricated and chemically preserved. The same is true for dogs. Chemicals and other additives are used in dog foods for several reasons: to make the food more palatable to the dog; to make the food more appealing to the human eye; or to preserve the dog food. However, dog food free of chemicals and naturally preserved is better for your dog. Constantly eating chemicals, food coloring, additives and other fillers is no better for our pets than it would be for us.
Corn, a relatively inexpensive ingredient used in many dog foods, has been linked with some behavioral concerns. Recent studies indicate corn can inhibit the intake of serotonin, which makes it more difficult for the dog to “chill out” and focus on training.
Better quality diets are made without preservatives or artificial colorings. The chemicals BHA and BHT are a particular concern when used in foods. These products are usually added to preserve the food but have also been shown to cause cancer in livestock. Most dog food manufacturers are beginning to take BHA and BHT from their food lines. A better preservative for dog food is Vitamin E or Vitamin C.
Are some dog food brands better than others? Generally speaking, most dog foods can be classified into three primary categories: commercial brands, premium brands, and super premium brands. The commercial brands are usually found in supermarkets and grocery stores. These brands are, by far, the cheapest in terms of cost per pound. A cheaper price usually means cheaper ingredients. Although the cost per pound is relatively low, owners feeding commercial brands will have to feed a much larger portion to their dog in order to meet the animal's nutritional requirements.
Premium brands are usually better quality than the commercial brands. They tend to be slightly more expensive, but feeding requirements are slightly less than commercial brands. In other words, smaller amounts of the higher quality foods can be fed to achieve the correct nutritional level.
In today's market, a new classification of foods has been developed. These foods, known as super premium dog foods, take a holistic approach to dog feeding. They usually have the highest quality ingredients and often use more high-quality meats and meal as the main source of protein as compared to commercial and premium brands, which use mostly grains. The super premium brands contain no "fillers" such as artificial colorings, flavoring, or chemicals, and they are usually preserved with Vitamins E and C. Super premium brands are usually purchased through distributors or shipped directly to your door from the company (usually at no cost). The food is usually prepared in small batches and is fresher than commercial or premium brands.
How do you know if your dog is eating a well-balanced diet? First, examine the overall health of the dog. The eyes should sparkle, the ears should look clean and smell fresh, and the coat should be glossy. If your dog has chronic ear or eye infections, has red or draining eyes, licks his paws all the time, or constantly bites at himself (as if he has fleas although you can't find fleas), talk to your vet or a holistic health practitioner about possible food or environmental allergies.
Dogs, like people, can have allergies and illnesses due to a weakened immune system. The immune system may fail after repeated ingestion of a poor quality diet. The effects may not be immediate but may be caused by a gradual chemical build up that weakens the immune system over time. Dogs can also be allergic to items in the food, such as wheat or beef, which can cause health problems.
Some behavioral problems caused by an inadequate diet may include: extreme bouts of hyperactivity, short attention span, or inability to learn.
Owners of dogs with such problems often describe the dogs as unruly, untrainable, and wild. I compare these dogs to children after they have eaten a large volume of candy. The child, like the dog, will have no attention span due to the inadequate diet. However, for the dog, the same "junk food" is being fed day after day, and the dog will always appear hyperactive.
Other complaints come from owners who describe their dogs as Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde in that the dog's personality seems to change dramatically throughout the day. One minute the dog is sweet and peaceful, the next minute the dog is racing around the room, biting and snapping at everything. Often the change in behavior can be linked to the feeding schedule.
If your dog displays any of the problems mentioned in this article, or if you would like to improve your dog's overall health and appearance, consider a change in diet. If your dog is on a particular diet due to a medical condition, be sure to talk to your vet before switching food.
If you decide to switch foods, make the change a gradual one since a sudden change in diet can upset the dog's digestive system and cause diarrhea.
All About Dogs recommends choosing a food recommended by “Whole Dog Journal,” the periodical rated number one for health and behavior information by the members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). All of these recommended choices are indicated with boldface type in the list of dog foods that begins on page 3.