Dog Food 101:

Check the labels! Check the labels of the food, treats and supplements you feed your dog.  A good diet should contain human grade and natural ingredients, with no by-products, fillers and additives.

Most foods are made with sub-human grade ingredients including dead, dying, diseased or decaying meat and left-over-grain fragments unfit for human consumption. What some dog food companies use for ingredients is appalling, disgusting and totally unbelievable!

Premium, Super Premium, Gourmet and Natural: These terms are not governed by anyone, so manufacturers are free to use them if they wish. 

AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) requires pet food manufactures to list ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight. If an ingredient requires a preservative (antioxidant), the preservative must be listed with that ingredient. For example: Poultry Fat (Mixed Tocopherols used as a preservative) might be listed as such.

A good rule of thumb when checking dog food labels is often the first five ingredients make up 80% of the food. A real good dog food will have at least two animal proteins listed as its first two ingredients such as chicken, turkey, chicken meal, lamb meal etc.  Animal, not vegetable proteins or grains are better for dogs (exception being in weight loss formulas). The quality of the meats and other ingredients should be free from antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides and they should not use or add artificial ingredients, chemical additives, by-products, or fillers of any kind.

Poor Protein Sources:  Soybean Meal, Wheat, Corn Glutens, Corn Meal, Whole Corn, Crushed Corn and Ground Corn are commonly used for their protein content in many pet foods. These ingredients are cheap fillers and are generally poor sources of protein and hard to digest vs. meat.

Allergy Causing Ingredients:  Soy, wheat, corn, grains, beef, dairy, and fish are the main ones. If your dog is having allergy issues such as skin rashes (usually on the feet and muzzle), diarrhea and vomiting, it may be caused by one or more of these items. Most of your better quality foods, treats and supplements do not contain these ingredients at all. Check the labels.

Bad Ingredients:  Many ingredients that are bad for dogs and should be avoided are still found in some name-brand, lower grade dog foods. These are a few main ones: BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin (chemical preservatives), artificial flavors and colors, animal fat, chicken by-products, chicken digest, lamb digest, unspecified meat meals and meat by-products, poultry (poultry meaning not a specific bird), poultry by-products, poultry meal, poultry digest, poultry fat, turkey by-products, corn gluten, corn gluten meal, wheat gluten, wheat middlings, brewers rice, generic fish oil, vegetable oil, mineral oil, and onion etc. If you see any of these listed in the ingredients run the other way!

Things to keep in mind when reading your dog food label:

- Avoid foods that rely on by-products as the sole source of animal protein.  
- Look for a named meat or meal (lamb or chicken meal versus the generic meatĀ) as the first ingredient.
- Dog food shouldn't smell bad (and yes, there is a difference between smelling like dog food and smelling bad!).
- While purchase price shouldn't be a 100% determinant of which food you buy, remember that if the price seems low, the quality of the ingredients probably is too. You get what you pay for!
- Watch out for an abundance of grains in the ingredient list. This usually indicates a higher percentage of fillers.
- Ingredients must be listed in decreasing order of weight. No single ingredient can be emphasized. However, companies can separate the different forms of a single ingredient so they can be split up and appear further down the list (known as splitting). For example, a dog food may have kibbled wheat, wheat flour, and wheat bran listed in different areas, but if you were to look at wheat content as a whole, it would probably be very high.
- Many allergies like itchy skin or yeast infections in ears can be controlled with food management.
- Figuring out what your dog can eat may take some research, but it may make your dog more comfortable in the end.
- Don't assume that just because a dog food is made by a large company, that the food contains high quality ingredients. Check the label!

What ingredients are used, where and how they are obtained, how they are processed, how they are preserved, shelf life, how much crude protein or crude fat is in the product, caloric intake per cup, how and where the food is distributed for sale are all important aspects to research. The web is a great place for information and a real eye-opener too!

The better dog foods will not be found on the grocery store shelf or mass retailers but in higher-end pet stores and health food stores. The makers of these quality foods do not want their product sitting in a warehouse for lengthy periods. They process their quality products in smaller quantities, to be consumed quickly. Check the expiration date before you buy.

Finding a good dog food tailored to your dog's nutritional needs and one he will eat is also very important!  Of course, price and availability are to be considered too. Some of the better quality, more expensive foods cost less to feed in the long run. By using better quality ingredients with less filler, you get more nutrition and calories per cup with lower consumption and less waste and clean up in the end. All this equals a healthier dog with fewer costly trips to the vet.  You get what you pay for! 

For a more in depth look at dog foods we suggest visiting http://www.dogfoodproject.com 

Make sure you allow ample time for your dog to make the transition from his current food to a new one. Any change in your dog's diet must be done gradually over a 7-10 day period so as not to upset the digestive system.

Warning:  Never give your dog chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, mushrooms, garlic, macadamia nuts, raw fish especially salmon or trout, fatty meats especially turkey skin or ham fat,  bread or bread dough, sugary sweets especially those containing the sweetener "Xylito". Never give you dog pig ears or raw hide as they cause blockages. Cooked bones can splinter and are bad for dogs.  Just because they like it does not mean it is good for them!

Safety Tip:  When storing dog food keep product in original package and avoid direct contact of food with plastic when using special containers. Plastics can leach toxins into the food unless they are FDA-grade plastic.