Regarding Dog Food: How much do you love your dog?

Most people feed their dogs dry dog food, and most people think that the big dog food companies with their multi-million dollar ad campaigns and beautiful packaging really care about dogs.

Surprise! The number one concern of these companies is their bottom line, and they will do whatever it takes to enhance it, including offering sub-standard ingredients and the equivalent of brain-washing. Market share and profit is where it’s at. Now I know this is the basis for the great economic system of capitalism which is responsible for a vast number of improvements in the world, but when it comes to your dogs health, you really need to aware of some facts about dogs and dog food.

1. Dogs are
primarily carnivores (but technically they are not “obligate carnivores,” so they can actually be called “omnivores”). However they nevertheless need a mostly meat based diet, just like their evolutionary ancestors, wolves. See more about this towards the bottom.

2. Plant based foods for dogs (and wolves, their closest relative) are OK for carbohydrate fuel use but are more difficult to use for protein than animal based proteins. The best carbohydrate source for dog food is brown rice and sweet potato, because it is less likely to cause problems. Regular potato is next, but it’s not as readily assimilated as the first two.

3. It is difficult to find a relatively top quality dry dog food in a big box/chain store, however some of them have begun to provide them but you have to hunt and read to find them and they will probably be the most expensive.

4. From their marketing you would think all Beneful, Iam’s, Pedigree, Eukanuba, Science Diet, etc. products were great dog foods. BUT you have to
READ the INGREDIENTS! Most of them have high amounts of wheat, corn and/or by-products.

5. A quick way to evaluate a dry dog food: Concentrate on
the first five ingredients (click for an excellent site with loads of in-depth info)--beyond that the quantities in the food are relatively small. This is not always absolutely true (see Identifying Better Products), but it’s easy and quick guide. If you see wheat, corn, or soy in the first five, and especially in the first two, forget it. Corn and soy though are a little more forgivable, but never wheat. Though those ingredients provide some muscle fuel from carbohydrates, they are basically cheap fillers that are prone to causing allergy or intolerance problems (there is a difference). Even if your dog doesn’t have an allergy or intolerance to wheat, corn or soy, it can develop one from repeated use just like humans can develop allergies later in life. Why take the chance if this is your beloved friend? Brown rice is a better carbohydrate fuel for dogs, with potato being second.

6. A specific type of meat meal is good, like chicken, lamb, beef, fish, etc. If it just says and “unspecified” meat and/or bone meal, it’s probably not a good food. And if any type of meat “by-products” are in the first five ingredients--forget it, you don’t even want to know what’s in these. Note: Why is meal better than fresh? Fresh meat is mostly water, and by weight (which is how it’s measured for the labels) a specific meat meal has about 300% more protein than fresh meat. Plus it keeps better.

I recently saw a premium, very expensive dog food labeled on the front as “Bison and Brown Rice.” On the back though, the first ingredient was indeed bison, but the second ingredient was “fish meal,” indicating that most likely this was primarily a fish based food rather than a bison based food. It was still good dog food, but just not what you probably thought it was from the front label. The worst example of this is when a whole meat rather than a meat meal is the first ingredient and the second ingredient is not any type of meat, with wheat being the most egregious. In this worst example you are paying for and subjecting your dog to a mostly grain/vegetarian dog food.

7. You can’t go by percentages of protein on a nutrition label. An almost pure grain dog food may have as much protein as a more meat based one, but dogs can’t process and/or utilize grain proteins like humans can--and they need the amino acids and vitamins in meat proteins that are absent in plant based proteins, plus dogs don’t have all the human digestive enzymes that enable digestion of some plant proteins. So plant based protein in dog food shouldn’t be counted the same as meat based protein on the nutrition labels, but it is. Therefore you really need to think about what the labels really mean.

8. Dog food manufacturers vary considerably in the quality of their ingredients, even though they may be listed as the same. This time the rule of “you get what you pay for” is worth considering. With the cheaper foods, it’s more likely that the same listed ingredients are of lesser quality than an expensive food, regardless of the company’s advertising or pretty packaging.

What chain/big box store sells the cheapest chain/big box store relatively good dog-food?
Costco, with their “Nature’s Doman,” either the Lamb or Salmon and Sweet Potato, and the second would be their “Kirkland,” Lamb or Chicken and Rice. To get a better food than that, and for more money, visit a specialty pet or feed store (but ignore the foods there that are also sold in chains and big box stores).

For more information, see these excellent in-depth sites:
Dog Food Analysis: Reviews, Dog Food Advisor, and The Dog Food Project. There is enough there to keep you reading for days.

A couple of the worst dog foods: Atta Boy and Ol’Roy, along with many store brands like K-Mart’s Champion and Wal-Mart’s store brand. I’m sorry, but we will argue if you still continue to feed your dog these and try tell me you love your dog. A personal note: I have a really hard time when I’m at a store and see someone dressed relatively nicely buying one of those really crappy dog foods. Excuse me, these people don’t really LOVE their dogs, and they’re delusional if they think they do.

OK, and then I start thinking about people who keep their dogs on chains . . . OK, let’s not go there, I’m getting heated up. It’s just that I’d prefer that those people were kept on chains and the dogs were in good homes.

A note about the carnivore versus omnivore controversy: Some people say that dogs and wolves are omnivores because they will eat fruits, vegetables and grains in the wild (many vegetables that people think of are actually in the fruit class, such as tomatoes and squash). Yes, when deprived of a meat source of food, they well eat berries, apples and melons, etc., but only when deprived. And when is the last time a researcher has seen wolves digging for carrots, potatoes or other roots, or eating sufficient wheat, barley, rye or soy growing wild?

An interesting fact: Regarding the genetic relationship between dogs and wolves, dogs are actually more related to wolves than coyotes are:

“The domestic dog is an extremely close relative of the gray wolf, differing from it by at most 0.2% of mitochondrial DNA sequence....In comparison, the gray wolf differs from its closest wild relative, the coyote, by about 4% of mitochondrial DNA sequence.”

Robert K. Wayne, Ph.D. “Molecular evolution of the dog family” Theoretical and Applied Genetics

So to determine what is likely to be the best diet for your dog, look at the diet of wild wolves. While it is technically possible to create a vegetarian diet for dogs, it is difficult to do and requires extensive knowledge and effort along with additional nutritional supplements (and your dog would still probably prefer a nice steak or chunk of fresh, hot caribou).

Regarding a vegetarian diet for dogs, Lew Olson, PhD (who worked in psychotherapy before changing careers), author of
Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs, makes this analogy: “Trying to feed a dog a vegan diet would be like me feeding my horses meat. You’re taking a whole species of animal and trying to force it to eat something that it isn’t designed to handle. People do this to make themselves happy. It’s not about the animal.”

Regarding the notion that too much protein is bad for a dog:
From T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM at

“A few individuals express concern regarding feeding dogs and cats "high protein" diets. Blame is laid on "high protein" levels for a spectrum of disorders ranging from epilepsy to hyperactivity to kidney damage. Attempts to find a level of protein at which a diet becomes "high" in it are often met with a range of values; nutrition experts do not all agree what level constitutes a "high" level of protein in a dog’s diet.

The data showing that excess protein causes renal damage are
imaginative extrapolations of results derived from test animals that have renal deficits pre-existing and who are then fed levels of protein that induce uremic poisoning. Early studies that pronounced protein as harmful to dog kidneys were based on studies done on RATS! They weren't even done on dogs, and that research drove the pet food industry for years.

As it turns out, there are major differences in how the rat kidney (is a rat a meat eater, anyway?) metabolizes protein contrasted to how the canine kidney handles protein. I invite anyone to produce even one
scientific experiment on dogs or cats that proves normal kidneys are harmed by feeding good quality, balanced rations that contain high levels of protein.”