"We are what we eat" and "You get what you pay for" are two sayings that certainly apply to pet food.
There are so many dog foods on the market today -- rows of them. How can we tell which ones are good and which ones are not?
The answer is simple. Read the ingredient label. It sounds simple, but you have to know what to look for on that list of ingredients.
Dog food packages are designed to impress you, so the pictures and big print on the front of the bag are going to imply that the food contains products like lamb meal, chicken and other wonderful things. Those ingredients will be in the food, but when you read the ingredient list, which is usually found on the side or back of the bag in fine print, you will discover how far down the list they are. Ingredients must be listed according to the percentage in which they are found in the product. If chicken is first on the list, there should be a larger percentage of chicken in the food than the ingredients that follow it.
However, pet food companies are very clever about making their mediocre product sound terrific. Some of them, even some of the big names, are putting good-sounding ingredients first on the list but then being rather tricky in how they list the remaining ingredients. Some do not even try to confuse you with the ingredient list since they know that most people do not read it. Too many people read only the front of the bag, where it can say absolutely anything, and they believe what they read. That is not a good idea.
Not only do we have to read the ingredient label, we have to know what to look for. The Whole Dog Journal annually puts out a booklet titled, "Top Dog Foods for Total Wellness." It lists approved foods and the foods that are not recommended and it talks about the criteria used to make these determinations. Basically, the really cheap foods contain really cheap ingredients and offer very little to your pet other than a full stomach. Not all the expensive dog foods contain great ingredients, but the quality of those ingredients will be better than those in the cheap foods.
Once you commit to feeding your dog or cat a high quality pet food, set out to find one that suits your pet. Read and compare labels and choose the best one. Feed it for a month. If he does well, stay with it for a while. If he does not do well, give the food away and try something else. If your dog has chronic health problems, such as ear infections or he is constantly chewing on his feet, and when you put him on a new food these symptoms disappear, you know you are headed in the right direction.
According to the "Top Dog Foods for Total Wellness," "A good dog food will contribute to a healthy coat, good energy level, balanced temperament and flawless health." The criteria used to determine good and bad ingredients include, first, superior sources of protein -- meaning either whole fresh meat or single source meat meal.
Chicken meal is good. Poultry meal or poultry and meat meal is not good. It must specifically list the source.
Secondly, look for a whole meat source as one of the first two ingredients, but even better are two meat sources among the top three ingredients. If the list of ingredients begins with a meat protein such as chicken and then is followed by three or more grains and no other meat proteins, the chances are great that the food contains more grain than meat.
Third, look for whole, unprocessed grains, vegetables and other foods.
According to the booklet, "A previously unprocessed food has the best chance of surviving the food making process with some of its nutrients intact."
Indications of a low quality food include non-specific fat and protein sources, such as animal fat rather than chicken fat or meat meal rather than beef meal. Artificial preservatives, such as BHA and BHT or ethoxyquin, artificial coloring and flavoring should be avoided. Propylene glycol is a chemical added to some chewy foods to keep them moist. Avoid it. Sweeteners are added to some inexpensive foods to make them more appealing to the dog, but these can aggravate health problems including diabetes.
You get what you pay for in dog food and the more you study ingredient labels, the better you will be able to provide the best food for your pet at a reasonable cost. Feeding a high quality food means you can feed less and know your pet is receiving proper nutrition for his good health. With a cheap food, the pet has to eat more to receive enough nutrition to sustain him. Most of this bulk of food is not processed and therefore ends up in the backyard. Pay more, feed less and have less waste.
The best pet foods are generally found at feed and pet stores. Take time to study the labels. Just as for a child, we need to make good decisions and provide the best food we can for our pets.
-- Christy Powers can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.