“I am so disappointed in Best Foods,” my daughter Isabel fumed throwing down her gloves on the kitchen table.
“How so?” I asked neutrally.
“Their brand of dog food contains animal BY PRODUCTS as its first ingredient. Can you believe it?” she ranted. “Do you know how bad animal by-products are?” she continued. I did. Animal by-products can range from 4-D meat (animals that are dead, dying, diseased or disabled) to road kill to just about anything associated with any type of animal. (Try not to think too carefully about that last one.)
“How can they call themselves Best Foods and sell such crappy dog food?” she asked rhetorically. (Full disclosure statement: Best Foods is a pseudonym because I still want to be able to shop there despite its lamentable dog food.)
“They probably have not taken on dog food yet, honey, “ I soothed. “They may still be dealing with the ruckus from labeling untested food from China ‘organic’.”
Though a smarty pants remark designed to lighten her mood, it may not be far from the truth. Creating a healthy dog food is not only a commitment; it is a whole specialty onto itself. Interestingly, some of the issues about doggy eating are the same as they are for people.
The most important concern is that dogs are increasingly suffering from the same chronic illnesses as people. Could this be related to their diets having some of the same pitfalls as people's diets? Dogs, like people, do best eating a balanced diet of fresh meat, whole vegetables, fruits and grains. For dogs, the heaviest emphasis should be on meat as this is the basis of their natural diet while people arguably should concentrate on vegetables, fruits and grains.
Some of us (I am guilty here) actually make their dogs a diet of whole foods. My dogs eat better than most of the people I know and it requires extra work. My efforts in this regard are a source of laughter and conversation in my neighborhood. A conversation that usually starts with, “What in the world are you making for those dogs?” Yes, steaming up vegetables may seem a little over the top but I had three dogs with touchy stomachs and skin problems so I had to figure out what they could eat, just like I did for the people in my practice. When I took them all off chicken, all of their stomach and skin conditions completely cleared up. Just like removing food irritants can help people symptoms.
Isabel watched this growing up so when she got her own dog she expected to be making her food. But, unlike some children who outgrow a total absorption with animals, she did not. Through college she worked at pet stores ending up at a serious holistic establishment that does not sell any dog food that contains animal by-products, soy or corn. Now she educates me on dog nutrition. Last year, she told me the grains had to go and I should stick to vegetables, fruits and meat. One of our dogs had a bad breathe problem and it made sense to me that getting rid of grains might help as getting rid of gluten sometimes helps people with sour stomachs.
“What else do you tell people?” I asked her, curious.
“Many dogs are overweight,” she explained, “because they eat bagged kibble that contains grains. The best way for them to lose weight is to get off of dry food and starch and eat meat, fruit and vegetables.” Just like people!
Most dogs eat dry dog food out of a bag that contains low quality meat by-products, grains and sweeteners. The sweeteners are added to entice the dogs to eat food that is mainly cheap starch vs. more healthy animal protein. That sounds familiar. This is exactly what fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Taco Bell have been accused of doing with meat entrees. Allegedly Taco Bell taco “beef” filling and McDonald Chicken nuggets contain far less than 50% meat. Instead cheap starch fillers, taste enhancing chemicals and sweeteners are used to entice people to choose an inferior food. (See: http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/new-economy/2011/0126/Taco-Bell-meat-Beef-says-firm.-Filling-says-suit concerning the lawsuit against Taco Bell for low meat content in their “beef” taco filling or Michael Pollan’s excellent discussion on McNuggets in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)
The first veterinarian I ever saw informed me he had extra training in dog nutrition because he knew I was a nutritionist and this would be impress me. He then went on to say that the most balanced way to feed a dog was to use only prepared, expertly fortified dry dog food. “Very funny,” I said thinking he was making a joke at my expense. “And you should only feed your kids fortified dry cereal,” I cracked. He was not joking and I never went back. I had to assume his nutrition “education” was provided courtesy of the Fido Dog Chow company.
“What do you tell people who say their vets only recommend prescription diet food that they sell?” I asked Isabel knowing this situation had to come up frequently.
“Most of those prescription kibbles are the same old junky dog food at premium prices,” she opines. “ but you have to be very careful. People think their vets are experts on dog feeding when they mostly know what the dog food companies want them to know. I try to explain without being offensive that most veterinarians are not properly trained in nutrition and that they have to be informed consumers.”
Just like people.
For more information on how to choose a healthy dog food, see, “Choices, Choices: On what criteria do you base your dog’s food selection?” The Whole Dog Journal, Feb. 2011. (www.whole-dog-journal.com).