All About Dog Food
Dog food refers to food that is specifically developed and intended for the consumption by dogs. Like all carnivores, dogs have sharp, pointed teeth, and have short gastrointestinal tracts better suited for the consumption of meat. In spite of this natural carnivorous design, dogs have still managed to adapt over thousands of years to survive on the meat and non-meat scraps and leftovers of human existence and thrive on a variety of foods.
The earliest recorded account of the development of dog food was in 1781, when an encyclopedia mentioned the practice of removing the liver, heart, and blood of a downed stag and mixing it with milk, cheese, and bread, and then giving it to their dogs.
Canned horse meat was introduced in the U.S. under the Ken-L Ration brand after WWI as a means to dispose of deceased horses. The 1930s saw the introduction of dry meat-meal dog food by the Gaines Food Company. By the time WWII ended, pet food sales had reached $200 million.
Choosing the Right Dog Food
Feeding your pet is one of the most important aspects of pet care. For this reason, learning how to choose dog food that will provide the right nutrition for your pet is essential and can be easy, especially when you keep a few simple factors in mind.
Today, your dog’s diet is a far cry from the meat-based diets that their ancestors ate. A trip down the pet food aisle will boggle your mind with all the wonderful claims made by dog food makers for their repertoire of products. Knowing the nature of the ingredients will help sort out some of the more outrageous claims, but what’s really the truth behind all this hype?
So, what’s in the dog food you’re feeding your pet?
Plump whole chickens, choice cuts of beef, fresh grains, and all the wholesome nutrition your dog will ever need! NOT!!!
These are the images pet food manufacturers promote through the media and in their advertising. This is what the $16.1 billion per year U.S. pet food industry wants you, the consumer, to believe you are buying when you purchase their products.
The first ingredient on the label should always represent what the dog food is most made of. But Beware – this is not always the case!
Let’s use chicken as an example. When a dog food lists a meat in the ingredients, such as “chicken,” it is going by the weight in the meat’s raw state – before it was cooked!
Chicken in its raw state weighs about 80% more than it does once it is cooked and processed into a dry pellet. Once it is processed you are left with only 20% of the actual meat.
On the other hand, the word “meal” in an ingredient is something that was weighed AFTER the water was taken out. For example, “chicken meal” is chicken which is weighed after it has been cooked and the water has already been taken out, giving you more meat, and more protein per weight volume.
So, be aware that if the ingredients read “chicken” first and “corn meal” second – the dog food may actually contain more corn than chicken. This can be bad because corn is a filler that a dog’s body does not utilize well, if at all! The corn gets pooped out, and then the dog must eat more dog food in order to get enough protein and nutrients that their bodies can use.
In addition, corn (and other grains) can also cause many health issues. Dogs were not meant to eat grains. For example, corn has been linked to skin allergies, joint swelling and bloat in dogs. A poor diet can also cause a dog to shed more, have a dull coat and have body odor.
If you were to take a look at your dog’s teeth, you would notice that he does not have any grinding molars. This tells us that dogs were not meant to eat grains because they lack the proper teeth to grind them up. Instead, dogs have canine teeth for ripping into meat.
Another factor that often gets overlooked when considering how to choose dog food is convenience. Often, when you buy dog food, convenience plays a large part of the decision process. For many pets, dry varieties are best since they are easy to buy, widely available, convenient to store and easy for your pet to eat. Next, in terms of convenience and popularity, comes wet dog food. Wet types of dog food are available in cans and vacuum-sealed pouches. Many of the top-rated pet food brands offer both a line of wet dog food and a line of dry dog food. Specialty foods, which come in a number of forms like dehydrated, live and raw, are another important factor when considering how to choose the right dog food.
How Dry Dog Food is Made
The vast majority of dry dog food is made with a machine called an extruder. First, materials are blended in accordance with a recipe created with the help of computer programs that provide the nutrient content of each proposed ingredient. For example, corn gluten meal has more protein than wheat flour. Because the extruder needs a consistent amount of starch and low moisture to work properly, dry ingredients – such as rendered meat-and-bone-meal, poultry by-product meal, grains, and flours – predominate.
The dog food dough is then fed into the screws of an extruder. It is subjected to steam and high pressure as it is pushed through dies that determine the shape of the final product, much like the nozzles used in cake decorating. As the hot, pressurized dough exits the extruder, it is cut by a set of rapidly whirling knives into tiny pieces. As the dough reaches normal air pressure, it expands or “puffs” into its final shape. The food is allowed to dry, and then is usually sprayed with fat, digests, or other compounds to make it a more palatable dog food. When it is cooled, it can then be bagged.
How Wet Dog Food is Made
Wet or canned dog food begins with ground ingredients mixed with additives. If chunks are required, a special extruder forms them. Then the mixture is cooked and canned. The sealed cans are then put into containers resembling pressure cookers and commercial sterilization takes place. Some manufacturers cook the dog food right in the can.
Wet foods are quite different in content from dry or semi-moist foods. While many canned dog food contain by-products of various sorts, they are considered “fresh” and not rendered or processed (although they are often frozen for transport and storage). Wet dog food usually contains much more protein, and it’s often a little higher quality, than dry dog food. They also have more moisture, and are packaged in cans or pouches.
Choose Your Dog Food Carefully
While it may be tempting to go for the cheap stuff, this is generally not the best choice for your dog. Look for dog food options that incorporate high quality proteins from fish, chicken, lamb, and/or eggs. Also look for a way to feed your dog’s fatty acids to keep his coat shiny and healthy. Generally, you’ll want to feed your dog a ratio of 5:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. This can come in your dog food, or in supplements such as salmon oil, especially designed to give to your dog.
Animals, just like people, can also have special dietary needs, and this is important to keep in mind when considering how to choose dog food for your animal. For example, your pet might have an allergy toward grains and will need a special type of dog food to manage this. In addition, puppies and senior animals require specialty formulas. Keep in mind, also, that your veterinarian is only a phone call away should you have questions about a specific dog food for your pet.
What about special ingredient claims? Many of the high-end dog food options today rely on the marketing appeal of people-food ingredients such as fruits, herbs and vegetables. But, the amount of these items actually present in the dog food are usually quite small. Also, the items themselves may be scraps and rejects from processors of human foods – not the whole, fresh ingredients they might want you to picture. Such ingredients don’t usually provide a significant health benefit and are really just a marketing gimmick.
That being said, dog food marketing and advertising has become extremely sophisticated over the last few years. In order to protect your dog, it’s important to know what is hype and what is real in order to make informed decisions about what dog food to feed your pet. And the idea that any one dog food provides all the nutrition your dog will ever need for its entire life is a very dangerous myth!
And lastly, avoid harmful foods. While it’s nearly impossible to ensure that your pet will never come in contact with tainted dog food, you can reduce your pet’s risk by being mindful of what he is being fed. Even more serious, grapes, raisins, tea, alcohol, garlic, onions, avocados, salt, and chocolate, among other things, are toxic to your dog. Protect your dog’s health and well-being by reviewing the Dangerous Food Items for Your Dog section of this site!
Act Quickly After Exposure to Toxins
As with any toxic exposure – every minute counts! Knowing what to do can save a life – in this case, your best friend’s life! Most importantly, you should have the phone number of Poison Control, your regular veterinarian and an after-hours animal hospital posted in your home. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at (888) 426-4435 in the US.
It is usually best to wait until you reach Poison Control before you do anything, but you will usually be told to make your pet vomit to get rid of the bulk of the dangerous food items. Vomiting can be induced with a teaspoon of peroxide if you don’t have ipecac. Give the peroxide or ipecac by mouth every few minutes, giving your pet a chance to relax in between doses, since many dogs will refuse to vomit when held. Using a small syringe to administer the peroxide or ipecac can make the process a little less stressful for everyone concerned.
Once vomiting occurs, or if you are unsuccessful within a few minutes, you should then seek professional help from a qualified veterinarian to find out what more to do about the ingestion of any of these dangerous food items. Be sure to have an idea of how much of the substance your pet ingested and how long ago it happened.