The number of obese dogs has increased in recent years. As well, so many dogs are getting cancer and other diseases.
There are three main reasons for this downturn in the health of dogs - diet, lack of exercise, and environmental contaminants.
Your dog’s best defense against cancer and other diseases is a strong immune system. Diet plays a big role in a dog’s ability to maintain a healthy immune system. If you are feeding your dog commercial dog kibble, knowing how to choose a quality dog kibble is essential for your dog’s health and well being.
Many commercial dog kibbles are comprised of ingredients that are seriously bad for our dogs. A kibble that provides poor nutritional value, contains cancer causing and otherwise toxic ingredients provides little hope of attaining and maintaining day-to-day energy and health. In addition toxins will build up in a dog’s body over time. This puts great strain on the organs such as the liver and will eventually cause organ damage and failure. Poor quality nutrition can also lead to either being underweight or overweight / obese - either of which can also trigger the onset of disease.
Just because a product is for sale in a pet supply store or on-line through a pet supply dealer don’t ever assume that the product is actually good for your dog. Also, just because the manufacturer labels the food as ‘natural’ or ‘holistic’, does not mean that the product is made up of good ingredients. 'Natural' can simply mean the ingredients were derived from a plant or animal. 'Holistic' may mean that the product has a few vegetables in it. But the vegetables may have been rotting - not fit for human consumption so they were used for pet food. There is no law currently in place that prevents a company from saying that the ingredients they are using in their kibble is first quality - they do not have to prove that this statement is true.
Unknowingly you may be paying a manufacturer to seriously compromise the health and shorten the life of your dog. On the other hand you may be feeding your dog a very good kibble product. Unless you know a little more detail about how to discern true quality in a kibble product it is very difficult to identify good from bad. The same principles discussed in this article are also applicable to dog treats.
Before we get into the facts regarding what makes a kibble a good food or bad, I just want to briefly address the issue of cost to the consumer - you!
Let’s Define ‘Quality’ In Broad Terms
In broad terms what is meant by ‘quality’ as pertains to this discussion? Well…
- Are the ingredients that make up the kibble inspected by authorities having jurisdiction, i.e. CFIA (for Canada) or USDA (for the USA);
- Is the ingredient human grade or feed grade? Feed grade can contain many ingredients from less nutritional sources and many contaminants;
- Is the ingredient antibiotic-free, steroid-free, organic…you get the idea.
So, as an example - while corn is not the best source of nutrition for dogs just because there is corn in a kibble it does not make the kibble bad. If the corn is human grade it is good quality, but if the corn is not human grade it may contain contaminants such as aflatoxins. This is one of the core principles of good vs. bad.
Please also note that just because a kibble is AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) approved does not mean that it is a good product. Although this group does regulate the pet food industry and the board does include some members of the US state and federal representatives it is not a government body and is partisan as it includes people directly involved in the pet food manufacturing industry. AAFCO is directly responsible for the unclear labeling on pet food products including kibble…responsible for the confusion around poor vs. good quality.
Does a Good Quality Kibble Really Cost you More than Poor Quality Kibble?
I have seen many pet supply stores and large retailers selling a poor quality kibble for the same or more than they are selling a better quality kibble. And yes, better and really good quality kibbles may be more expensive to purchase at the cash register (than inexpensive kibbles) but the actual cost of these products is not necessarily higher once you get home and open that bag of food.
What do I mean by this statement? Well, a dog kibble that is comprised of poor quality ingredients offers less digestible high quality nutrition so you have to feed your dog considerably more kibble to at least part-way meet his/her nutritional needs than you would if the kibble was comprised of quality ingredients. You will go through a 40lb bag of poor quality kibble much faster than you will go through a 30lb bag of good quality kibble.
Now Let’s Look at Good vs. Bad in Detail
What we really want to make sure of is that we don’t purchase product a) comprised of poor quality nutrition, b) minimize the carcinogens and other toxic components.
Synthetic Additives, Preservatives & Colouring Agents
Many off-the-shelf dog foods and treats contain synthetic additives, preservatives and colouring - many are proven carcinogens. These substances are added to the kibble to help stabilize the product and enhance its appearance. The most common of these preservatives are BHA, BHT, EQ (ethoxyquin), propyl gallate. Then there are artificial colouring agents and additives such as glycerol monostearate, phosphoric acid and propylene glycol (this is used in antifreeze - antifreeze kills dogs!). Read product labels - if the product you are looking at contains these ingredients put it back on the shelf! Instead look for products that contain ‘natural preservatives’ and antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and mixed tocopherols.
Minimize the Poor Nutrition and the ‘Unknown’ in Your Dog’s Diet
Once again, many off-the-shelf dog foods contain food stuffs from unknown sources. These food stuffs are cheap source fillers that provide poor quality nutrition and can be full of unknown chemicals, steroids and antibiotics, petroleum derivatives, aflatoxins, etc.
Grains and Legumes
In the last decade the percentage of grain products used in kibble has increased dramatically. Many of these grain products are added primarily as fillers. These products are included for the benefit of the manufacturer’s cost margin and profit, not for the benefit of your dog. The digestibility of many grain products is negligible. Your dog ends up consuming a lot of filler with very little nutrient value. This is very deceptive as you think you are feeding your dog enough and his stools are sizable (due to the high filler indigestible fibre content), but his nutrient intake is low. Here is a list of some of these low nutrient, cheap fillers…brewers rice, cereal food fines (leftovers from human grade cereal production - junk), feeding oat meal, grain fermentation soluble, maltodextrins, fermentation solubles, potato product (leftovers from human grade potato product production - nutritional value, nil), soy flour, corn bran, corn cellulose, oat hulls, peanut hulls, rice hulls, soybean and wheat mill run (wheat middlings), corn germ meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal (these last three ingredients are often included as a source of protein - very poor quality protein!).
While some of these fillers are derived from the leftovers of human food processing - as the product at the end of the line, they can be full of chemicals. They can also be from non-human grade sources. If the grains/grain derivatives are not from human grade sources they will contain aflatoxins. Aflatoxins cause liver cancer. Aflatoxins grow mainly on grains but they also grow on legumes - like peanuts, walnuts and pecans. This is one reason why you will hear some people say do not give your dogs nuts! Actually it is fine to give your dog peanuts or peanut butter - they are a good source of nutrition - just make sure you are giving them human grade.
Aflatoxins can also be found in cottonseed oil, fish meal and peanut oil. Human grade foods are monitored closely for aflatoxins, if they are present the raw product (such as grain) is not allowed to be sold as human grade. There are no such regulations for animal grade foods so most commercial grade dog, cat and bird food will have some aflatoxins...the body can usually detoxify small amounts.
Another thing to consider…corn and soybeans in the USA and Canada are almost all grown from Genetically Modified (GM) seeds - the long term effect of ingesting GM food is not known.
Look for off-the-shelf dog food that specifies that the ingredients are from first grade or human grade sources. As far as grains go, whole corn is OK if your dog is not allergic to it but the other corn derivatives (i.e. corn bran, corn cellulose, corn meal are just fillers offering little nutritional value if any). Rice offers better nutritional digestibility than many of the grain products noted above…although some dogs are allergic to rice. Human grade whole oats do pack a lot of nutritional value, but again some dogs are allergic to oats. Sweet potatoes are a great alternative to rice and oats. Millets and barley for example, are also good alternatives.
High quality fiber such as the fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables is very different from the low quality fiber found in many off-the -shelf dog food products. Again, low grade fiber is added as cheap filler for the benefit of the manufacturer’s cost margin and profit, not for the benefit of your dog. Cellulose derived from dried, processed wood is the most common form of cellulose (hard to believe but true!), corn bran (GM product), oat hulls, peanut hulls, rice hulls, soybean middlings (GM product) and wheat middlings. These ingredients may also contain aflatoxins. If the product has a lot of these ingredients put it back on the shelf.
Protein should be the first ingredient in your dog's kibble…but there are issues to be aware of with protein sources too. Protein may come from poultry (chicken, duck, etc.), cattle, swine, lamb…the problem is often what goes into the kibble is not the quality cuts of meat - lean muscle tissue. Instead the animal parts that are added to a lot of kibble is the by-products - the bones, blood, intestines, ligaments, and many other parts not sold for human consumption. Here is a list of protein sources that you should avoid - again, if these are listed in the product, put it back on the shelf…beef and bone meal, blood meal, chicken by-product meal, corn distillers dried grains with solubles, corn germ meal, corn gluten meal, fish meal, liver meal, meat and bone meal, meat meal, pork and bone meal, poultry by-product meal, poultry meal and soybean meal. As these ingredients are loosely regulated they may be from 4-D animals (dead, diseased, disabled, or dying prior to slaughter), road-kill, animals euthanized at ‘shelters’ (euthanization includes the use of harmful chemicals, also the animals may have been diseased), the ingredients may also include pus, cancerous tissue, decomposing tissue, ethoxyquin, etc.
Again, look for off-the-shelf dog food that specifies that the ingredients are from first grade or human grade sources. I have heard people say dog food should have bone and blood meal in it - wrong - dogs do not require blood and bone meal, especially the fertilizer grade quality added to many off-the-shelf pet foods.
Animal and poultry fat is added to a lot of kibble. Again these are the rancid fats and oil by products that are not sold for human consumption. Waste from restaurants and food manufacturing is saved and then refined by rendering companies, who then turn around and sell it to pet food manufactures. The manufacturers add them to their poor quality kibble to give it taste and to help the ingredients bind together. The following are the ingredients you should avoid…animal fat, beef tallow, lard, poultry fat, vegetable oil. Again the source of these fats can also be from 4-D animals and the vegetable oil is likely to be poor quality and/or GM.
Sweeteners are not required in your dog’s diet! In fact they are not good for your dog. They are added to many pet foods to make the food more attractive - think about it, some of these products have a lot of fillers - no taste…so the sweeteners give the food some taste. If the product you are going to buy has these ingredients you know what to do - re-shelf it: cane molasses, corn syrup, fructose, sorbitol, sugar, di-alpha tocopherol acetate. Remember, daily intake of sweeteners is just as bad for dogs as it is for humans. Sugar suppresses the immune system - making it easier for cancer to take hold. Sweeteners are also cause of allergies, arthritis, cataracts, hypoglycaemia, heart ailments, nervous energy, tooth decay, obesity and so on. The more your dog’s health is compromised the harder it is for your dog’s body to fight cancer!
If you would like to see a more comprehensive list of ingredients to avoid you can click here.
If You Are Going To Switch Your Dog's Kibble
If you are going to switch your dog’s kibble don’t switch his food overnight. Add a little of the new food to the old food. Gradually increase the amount of new food and decrease the amount of old food until the old is completely replaced by new. This process should be carried out over several days to several weeks depending on the hardiness of your dog’s digestive system. Some dogs are very sensitive to changes in their diet while others dogs are not.
I cheat on this rule as all of my ten dogs have good tolerance for food changes; if I want to try a new kibble I can do so as an immediate switch. If you have switched your dog’s food before with no deleterious affects and you know your dog’s system is hardy you can shorten the phasing in of the new food.
To Learn More About Discerning Good vs. Bad Kibble
If you would like to look at the subject (of what makes a kibble good or bad) in further depth I recommend that you take a look at the Dog Food Project’s website section on Commercial Dry Foods.
An Independent Review of 100s of Brands and Types of Kibble
If you would like to see an extensive listing of Dry Dog Food reviewed by an independent group I recommend that you take a look at the Dog Food Advisor’s website page on Dry Dog Food.
Learn More About Enriching Your Dog's Diet
If you would like to learn about more about additional ways to increase the good nutrition in your dog’s daily diet you can take a look at these articles…
If you would like to help feed Shelter Dog’s for free you can do so by clicking on these links…when you go to these sites and click on the button corporate sponsors donate kibble to homeless pets on your behalf. I click on all three sites every day.