Regulars and Shorts

Animalia: June 2012

By catalyst

Do you know what’s in your dog food?
by Carol Koleman

Good diet for dogs

This month I spoke with Dr. Pam Nichols re. canine nutrition. Dr. Pam earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Colorado State University in 1996. She opened the Animal Care Center in West Bountiful in 1999 and the K-9 Rehab Center in 2004.

What constitutes a healthy dry dog food? It depends on the dog. Some tolerate every protein and carbohydrate, others do not. A good rule of thumb is that if your dog has solid, small stools that are dark brown, if her coat is healthy and shiny, chances are great that you are feeding the right food for your dog.

What ingredients should we watch out for? Avoid food preservatives BHA (butylated hydroxysanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). Look instead for vitamin E, rosemary and lecithin.

What about folks making their own dog food? It can be done, but it is difficult, and too expensive for most people, not to mention dangerous for the humans if the raw meat is not handled properly.

Thoughts on dry versus wet dog food? If you don’t mind working on teeth regularly, wet food is fine. Dry food helps clean the teeth. What I’m more concerned with is that most dogs are overweight. Encouraging them to eat more than they need by adding wet food or other “treats” to dry food is probably not so smart. Most dogs have a nutritional set point as puppies that tells them how much to eat. When an owner gets nervous that their baby is not eating and begins to add in foods like egg, chicken, lunch meat to encourage eating, they overcome the dog’s set point. Also remember that if a dog exercises a lot one day, it will likely eat more the next day and visa versa. It is the body’s normal reaction to try to maintain a healthy weight.

What are the best commercial dog foods on the market? That depends on your dog’s reaction to the food. How are his bowel movements? How is his coat? Not all dogs will do well on every food. Speak with your vet about what’s best for your dog.

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Be informed and work with your vet for what’s best for your dog, though be wary if what’s suggested is a product that has some “bad” ingredients listed (see sidebar on this page). Science Diet, a popular brand often heavily pushed by vets, has some of the worst ingredients. One petfood rep told me off the record that, like pharmaceutical companies, some major pet food companies give bonuses and trips to those vets who encourage clients to buy their dog food.

Product recommendation

Stewart Raw Naturals (MiracleCorp)

This raw dog food was tested by our expert tasters—Stella, Joe and Grace (Joe being the toughest critic)—and passed with flying colors. All three dogs loved the flavor, and I liked how easy it was to handle (or more precisely, not handle).

Proponents of a raw diet for dogs say heat reduces the nutritional value of food; raw food provides more enzymes and amino acids than cooked, canned or kibble. Important ingredients for a healthy diet are essential fatty acids, live enzymes and antioxidants. Raw Naturals has all these. I was impressed to find that human-grade meat is used, with no additives, hormones or fillers.

I mention in “Read” below about weighing the higher cost of quality food with its benefits. This company gives a good argument when it says that “lower quality food may need to be increased in order to provide the same nutrition as a smaller quantity of higher quality food, thereby increasing, sometimes even doubling its cost.” I did notice that when I fed the recommended amount to each of my dogs, the volume in the bowl was about half of what I use in dry food. The Stewart website includes helpful diet information and where to buy Raw Naturals.

Read: Feed Your Best Friend Better by Rick Woodford. Inspired to create nutritious meals for his sick dog, the author went on to open a homemade dog food company in the Pacific Northwest, and then wrote this informative cookbook for dogs. The chapter “Choosing a Commercial Dry Dog Food” fits well with Dr. Pam’s advice above. Re. higher food costs with quality food: Mr. Woodford says that though one pays more initially, there is a savings on veterinary costs later that are caused by substandard ingredients.

Website: This is easily navigable website is dedicated to hiking with dogs, including a state-by-state search of where you may legally hike. This site is particularly useful with Utah being tricky with so many water- sheds that don’t allow dogs.

What to look for on a dog food label

Protein: YES for eggs, named meats such as chicken, beef, lamb. NO on meat by-products (slaughterhouse waste, rejected for human consumption), bonemeal or animal digest (which may legally include 4-D animals—dead, diseased, disabled, or dying prior to slaughter—as well as rats, roadkill, animals euthanized as shelters, and restaurant and supermarket refuse).

Veggies/fruit: YES for yams, leafy greens (remember, dogs are omnivorous), carrots, broccoli, apples, blueberries, bananas. NO on pulps, powdered cellulose.

Fats: YES for fish oils, chicken fat, olive oil, flax oil. NO on animal fat, mineral oil, soybean oil, beef tallow.

Grains: YES for oats, quinoa, brown rice, millet, tapioca. NO on flours, soy, cornstarch.

Preservatives: YES for vitamin E, rosemary and lecithin (natural preservatives). NO for BHA (butylated hydroxysanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene).

This article was originally published on May 25, 2012.