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To Buy or Not to Buy: a Dog Food Review by Jane Baetz


There are dog foods and then there are dog foods. With all the hype about dog food nowadays it is hard to know what to do and what is right for your dog.

There is quality and there is quantity. There is no right food for every dog. But there are foods that are better for most dogs. I happen to believe in a good quality kibble with high-grade fat, wholesome ingredients and protein that is derived from animals rather than grains.

We’ve all heard and read about protein quality so I don’t need to dwell on that. Some dogs will do fine on grain type protein (corn, wheat, soybean meal), but it takes a lot more of it to maintain the amount of protein needed for an active dog, and more "in" means more "out". You still are not getting the quality protein to sustain activity and vitality.

Soybean meal (not to be confused with the healthy soy products found in dog food) is used to increase protein content and bulk in pet foods. It is very difficult to digest and assimilate. Dogs lack the proper amino acid needed. It is known to cause gas build-up in the digestive tract and has been linked to bloat, a major killer of dogs today. Corn gluten and corn gluten meal are the worst type of corn ingredient; it is the dried residue from corn after the removal of all the quality parts.

Poultry is the easiest meat to digest but recently food companies have recognized the benefits of fish and even pork. Beef has its place back on dog food labels. Beef protein in smaller amounts combined with other meats has great benefits for most dogs. Lamb has been highly publicized as the protein to beat all proteins when a suspected allergy is involved. According to Annamarie Dittmar DVM, at the 2005 veterinarian convention in Las Vegas, the skin specialists announced that most vets jump the gun on restricting foods when a dog appeared with allergies and that most allergies in dogs are from house dust, mold and most carpeting with stain preventing properties. Although lamb is still a great source of protein, it is not as easy to digest as some of the other meats or fish.

"Not all of the pet food companies use waste or already dead animals. There are a lot of great companies out there that put their money in their food, and spend less on advertising."

The next ingredients that are often found to cause allergic reactions in dogs are the grains. Most foods, including the ones that advertise "for skin problems", with lamb contain more grain than lamb. If a dog has allergies to grasses (most grains fall in that category) this can cause havoc on the inside as well as on the skin.

All foods have the correct amount of vitamins and minerals, but it is the first four or five ingredients on the label that we need to pay special attention to for our dog’s needs. I am not fond of corn. In my breed, we have bloat problems and corn is a major player in that. I would much rather see brown rice, long grain rice, oatmeal and barley as a source for fiber and carbohydrates.

You have always been told to watch the first three ingredients because they make up the majority of what is in your dog’s food. What they don’t tell you is that the first three ingredients can be juggled around in amount of each ingredient to make up the whole. So if your food says chicken, corn and corn gluten, the corn and corn gluten together can actually exceed the amount of poultry, which is the first ingredient. So there is more to a label than meets the eye. And when a food is yellow in color it tells me exactly what I fear... corn!

If reading a dog food label, you should see a meat source as the first ingredient. But beware of the type of meat sources. When making a dog food, quality fats in higher quantities are important because the body better absorbs quality fats. Also the type and quality of the protein used in dog food is important.

There are more dog food companies out there than I can keep up with. What I tell my puppy buyers is go to a quality pet supplier or distributor for your food not the grocery store or the discount stores.

"Some veterinarians argue that feeding slaughterhouse wastes to animals increases their risk of getting cancer and other degenerative diseases."

Three of the five major pet food companies in the United States are subsidiaries of major multinational companies: Nestlé (Alpo, Mighty Dog) and Ralston Purina (products such as Dog Chow, ProPlan and Purina One), Heinz (Gravy Train, Kibbles-n-Bits, Nature’s Recipe) plus Colgate-Palmolive (Hill’s Science Diet Pet Food). Other leading companies include Procter & Gamble (Eukanuba and Iams), Mars (Kal Kan, Mealtime, Pedigree, Sheba, Waltham’s) and Nutro. From a business standpoint, multi-national companies owning pet food manufacturing companies are ideal relationships. The multinationals have increased bulk-purchasing power and those that make human food products have found a place to dispose of their waste products... and profit from the un-useful parts. It is a big money maker to place their waste - which is what they put in their food. Waste from the human grade products are being used for dog food. They have found a way to make money off their garbage. They have the funds to advertise and, in turn, make a profit off their unsuspecting consumers.

For most dog food companies, when animals are slaughtered the choice cuts such as lean muscle tissue are trimmed away from the carcass for human consumption. Whatever remains of the carcass such as bones, blood, intestines, lungs, ligaments, beaks, feet and almost all the other parts not generally consumed by humans, are used in dog foods. These "other parts" are known as "by-products". Many of these remnants provide a questionable source of nourishment for our dogs.

Some veterinarians argue that feeding slaughterhouse wastes to animals increases their risk of getting cancer and other degenerative diseases. It has not been proven, but the argument alone is enough red flags for me.

Not all the pet food companies use waste or already dead animals. There are a lot of great companies out there that put their money in their food and spend less on advertising.

Many chemicals are added to commercial pet foods to improve the taste, stability or appearance of the food. Additives provide no nutritional value. Additives include emulsifiers which prevent water and fat from separating, antioxidants which prevent fat from turning rancid as well as artificial colors and flavors to make the product more attractive to consumers and more palatable for their dogs.

All commercial dog foods must have preservatives to stay fresh and appealing. But some are not safe. Synthetic preservatives like BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), propyl gallate a (a less-toxic version of automotive antifreeze) and ethoxyquin - which have been linked to cancer in dogs, but the dog food companies vehemently argue the issues. A good preservative that can be found in quality food is tocopherol, which is a fat soluble vitamin E. Tocopherol is a natural antioxidant with eight naturally occurring compounds, which is a safer alternative and often beneficial.

In the clinic where I work, we are finding more and more pets with diabetes. This is arguably due to pet foods high in sugars - which are added for better taste. Beet pulp sugar (not to be confused with beat pulp fiber), sucrose (table sugar), corn syrup (a derivative of corn starch) and molasses are the most widely used sweeteners in the pet food industry. Corn syrup is also known as an effective "humectants and plasticizer", which is an ingredient that gives the product dampness and flexibility as found in the soft and chewy type foods.

"Just because they sponsor dog events does not mean they are the producing the best dog food."

The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) regulates the pet food industry. All labels must say the food is complete and balanced and approved by the AAFCO. But this does not insure the actual quality of the foods listed on the label as being the best for your dog. And most foods are the minimum of what is expected from AAFCO. The quality of the products is not controlled as long as it meets or exceeds the AAFCO’s label recommendations.

You are not going to find a quality food at the department or discount store, nor are you going to find qualified personal to help you with your questions. Big companies have been known to sponsor dog shows and field trials. They have the money to do so as it is all in their advertising budget. Just because they sponsor dog events does not mean they are producing the best dog food.

I am not pushing any one particular food. There are a lot of quality foods out there. I do feed one particular kind. A great locally made food that you can trust and one that does not carry a high price or fancy bag, it is American Natural Premium. It comes in a plain white bag but is packed with all the healthy quality ingredients that your dog needs and deserves.

We need to educate ourselves in what we are feeding our dogs. If you have a hard working dog that is trying to give you their all, then you owe it to them to feed them the kind of quality food that will give them their best performance, coat and endurance... what they need to get the job done. Skimping on quality is skimping on them. They give 100% and we need to do the same.

Editor's note: Several months ago, I began feeding American Natural Premium dog food to my own dogs and recommending it to all of my puppy clients. The difference between this - and the national brand we had previously fed for many years - is amazing.

As owner of Olde Fashion Bassets, I've been breeding and showing dogs for 38 years. I work very closely with a local dog food company and with the vet I work for, Dr. Annamarie Dittmar. I have had 35 years of hands-on experience with dog foods and have been involved with several dog food trials. My dogs compete in conformation (having over 100 champion titled dogs), agility, obedience - and although I don’t compete myself - my dogs have excelled in field and scent trials. I also have my own dog grooming business. So my experience with dogs is widespread. It is important that my dogs get a quality food for performance as well as a beautiful healthy coat. I feed American Natural Premium as do most of my clients, including several hunting dogs, which have Master Hunter titles, and excel at their sport.

Jane Baetz

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