By Adele Buxton
When it comes to the question of what to feed your dog, it certainly seems that everyone has an opinion. Some swear passionately by raw food, some proclaim kibbles to be the answer, others avoid too much protein, others seek it out and some don’t really care as long as it’s cheap and the dog eats it. Are we making ‘a meal’ of dog food or is there really a single wonder food that is best?
Over the years I have provided my dogs with various food in a quest to find the food that makes their coats glean, their eyes shine and gives them that certain ‘je ne sias quoi’. I have fed them with raw food, I have cooked lovingly for them, I have tried various brands of wet and dry food and after all my endeavours – no one diet really stood out from the rest! Now, I simply give them a good quality kibble mixed with a little wet food for variety and any suitable table scraps that happen to be going. It’s easy, it’s affordable, they are in good health and most importantly, my dogs seem to like it.
However, even choosing a particular brand to feed your dog is no mean feat in itself! Anyone who has searched online for dog food or who has walked down the isle in a pet store will recognise that it is almost impossible to decipher the claims and contents of the multifarious brands, let alone make a decision about what is best for your dog!
So, how do you begin to choose that wonder food?
Read the ingredients! If you can understand what is in the food and why, you are heading in the right direction.
If you are uncertain as to what it all means don’t be disheartened. There are many websites which will provide you with lots of useful advice on feeding your pet (and of course some others, complete with conspiracy theories, which border on the hysterical!). Stick to UK websites and you should be fine. For example, a quick Google search will probably lead you to the PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association) website which although funded by the manufacturers, is not a bad starting point for your research.
Be aware too of labelling tricks! By law, ingredients have to be listed in weight order. For example, if in a list of ingredients chicken comes before rice, this should indicate that there is more chicken in the food than rice. However, some companies may lead you to believe that the source of protein is the largest ingredient by listing it first but then follow it up with multiple sources of carbohydrate such as rice, wheat, maize, corn etc. If added together, all these sources of carbohydrate would far outweigh the source of protein! Another fine trick is to state ‘with chicken’ or ‘with beef’. Just have a look at the percentage of chicken or beef stated on the ingredients list, you may be a little surprised!
Some foods state a single type of protein (for example lamb or turkey). Others may state ‘meat and animal derivatives’. The latter can basically include any type of meat, so you won’t really know what you are getting, although it is required by law to be derived from meat fit for ‘human consumption’. It’s generally made from the bits that we don’t like these days such as offal. Also, don’t assume the chicken, lamb or turkey for example, are likely to be the best cuts of meat, so much will depend on price. Many manufacturers will state chicken or turkey meal. Don’t be to put off because it doesn’t sound as appetising. It is usually added as a dried component and many high quality manufacturers will in fact use it.
If none of this appeals to you, raw feeding or home cooking are always possible alternatives. However, bear in mind that raw meat may come with some unwelcome bacteria which may not do you or you dog any good and some raw vegetables simply cannot be digested by dogs until cooked. Home cooking which looks more appetising, if a little time consuming, always has the potential to leave your dog lacking in some important nutritional requirement, which is most unlikely with manufactured food. Therefore, extra mineral and vitamin supplements may be required. But do your research carefully and you may find its for you.
Whatever you decide, keep a close eye on your dog to see if that particular food agrees with him! If your dog suffers from skin irritations or frequent digestive upsets, if he has too much energy or too little energy, if he is scavenging for food or eating other animals’ faeces, or if plain and simple he just won’t eat it, the food you have chosen may not be right for him. Your vet may need to make a diagnosis if the problems are severe but there are many ‘hypo-allergenic’ foods for dogs with food allergy and intolerance problems.
Two of my dogs have a clear preference for the brands of kibble they enjoy. One hates fish kibbles, another thrives on it and one will eat just about anything that fits in her mouth! One has a really cheap brand of wet food mixed with her kibbles because she loves it and it helps her go to the toilet more easily (and no raw feeding did not help with this at all!).
The reality is, that all dogs are different and what works for one, may not work for another – even in the same family. As one canine nutritionist once told me, if it’s right for your dog its right!
Find what is right for your dog and whatever that may be, long may he continue to lick his bowl until it shines.