When it comes to feeding dogs and other pets, commercially prepared kibble has become the food of choice for most caregivers, and it’s easy to see why. It is relatively cheap and quite convenient to dole out. But it’s become abundantly clear that using quality ingredients and the right preparation methods for pet food far outweighs cost and convenience considerations when acquiring pet food.
Some experts argue that dogs are by their very nature carnivorous and suited to eat protein from meat rather than grain – a common ingredient in many pet foods. And yet our dogs’ digestive systems closely resemble a grey wolf’s, a creature which depends on prey such as rabbits, deer and mice for its survival. Grey wolves get about a third of their nutrition from the meat and bones of these carcasses and supplement the rest with fruit and vegetables. Put plainly, their diet is made up of meat, bones and raw vegetables, essential components for their health and longevity.
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It’s no secret that large food manufacturers extract far more protein from grain such as wheat and corn and its by-products than from healthy meat sources when making pet food. Grains are not by themselves bad for canines, the problem arises when they’re used in high ratios during ingredient formulation. This is made worse by cooking which kills off crucial enzymes and alters their structure, making pet food hard to digest. Apart from causing obesity, grains are also known to alter the pH balance in the dog’s gut which can cause health problems.
Another ingredient found in commercial pet foods is poultry by-product – basically made up of chicken leftovers like feet, beaks, intestines and undeveloped eggs which are unfit for human consumption. This low-quality source of protein is preferred by pet food makers for its low cost, despite the fact that it is harder to digest than a clean chicken meal. Of course, this flies in the face of the common theme that processed pet food is one of the safest meals to feed your dog since it is ‘scientifically formulated’ and endorsed by experts, but to understand the dog food industry one must dig a little into history.
The dog food industry started as a way of making money from unwanted food products and the man credited for this brilliant concept is James Spratt, an Englishman who came up with the first complete dog food – a biscuit comprising of wheat meal, vegetables and animal blood in the 19th century. Pet food gave mill owners a lucrative way of disposing of their unwanted by-products including floor sweepings and cheap meat off-cuts. Then followed the claims about how healthy and nutritious their products are, complete with endorsements from vets, a lot of them paid for by the processors. What is hardly ever mentioned is that mass processed pet food has the same effect that junk food has on humans, thanks to its high carbohydrate content.
When deciding the best diet for your furry companion, there are two important points to keep in mind: fresher is better, and it is also prudent to rotate meals. Fresh food has more bioavailable nutrients because they remain intact, and don’t get destroyed by heat, as is the case with dry kibble or canned food. The same goes for natural enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and probiotics which make meals more nutritious and easier to digest for your pet.
Feeding your dog a natural, raw food diet has been shown to improve your dog’s overall health and longevity. Such a diet may include:
Just as important as meal freshness is variety. Your dog is far more likely to get complete nutritional value from a varied diet than a “formulated” meal fed to him repeatedly. In fact, feeding your dog on the same dish repeatedly for lengthy periods can lead to the development of food sensitivities and allergies. One way around this problem is to supplement kibble with canned food for added variety and nutrition; this way you can enjoy the convenience of processed foods but at the same time reduce the amount of grain in your pet’s diet.
There’s really no problem with feeding leftovers to your pet from time to time; however, the following rules must be observed:
The food must be healthy for them to eat and should, therefore, be restricted to meat, veggies and fruits which are chopped and cooked, as well as various complex starches like baked sweet potato, rice and oatmeal. Junk food should never be fed to your dog.
If you supplement their food with people food, remember to control how much dog food you feed them to avoid problems with obesity.
Avoid certain foods that can be toxic to our pets; these include onions, grapes and raisins to name a few.
Keep in mind that it’s vital to maintain a good balance between calcium and phosphorus in your dog’s diet by including raw bones in his meals; that’s because meat contains more phosphorus than calcium. Providing your pet with a daily multi-vitamin supplement can also do wonders for his overall health.
You may also want to include other foods like homemade pre-mixes to which you can add meat and appropriate oil to boost the fat content. Pre-mixes are made up of vegetables, vitamins and minerals, but also come with some grains to make the meal complete.
Diets with a high plant protein content are tough on your pet’s organs, especially when they’re aging pets. The fact that low quality, mass-produced pet foods come with a lot of protein from soy and corn makes it difficult for your dog to properly digest and utilize these sources of protein. High animal protein diets, on the other hand, promote the health of your aging pets and are essential for their wellbeing. When selecting a high protein diet for your pet you should be on the lookout for corn or soy as main ingredients and go for those with animal protein.
There’s no doubt that raw food diets confer a lot of benefits to your pet dog. That’s because dogs and other carnivorous animals have very short intestinal tracts designed for the consumption and digestion of raw foods. The way this works is that raw food is conveyed through a dog’s digestive system in less than half the time it would take to go through a human’s, and in the process, the highly acidic conditions kills most bacteria. This means that even if the food was contaminated, there’s little chance of harmful microbes getting into the animal’s bloodstream.
At any rate, commercially prepared raw food manufacturers put measures in place to control against harmful or unwanted organisms such as e. Coli and salmonella when processing products such as frozen raw diets; so if you have any concerns about contamination of raw food, a frozen raw diet is a good option. That said, it’s always prudent to take extra care when handling raw meat. Always wash food bowls and any other utensils used when handling meat, including and your hands after feeding the dog. Ensure you keep the meat frozen up to two to four days before feeding, then thaw in the refrigerator before serving the meal. Avoid leaving the food down for your dog for more than 30-40 minutes.
Prescription diets are basically commercial pet foods designed to cater for a dog’s dietary needs based on their age, size, and breed. Specifically, medical diets are formulated for dogs experiencing health problems from minor conditions such as itchy skin to serious problems such as GI tract infections to cancer or kidney disease. Prescription diets are categorized as veterinary diets – available only from veterinarians, or as over-the-counter (OTC) products –sold in pet supply stores. OTC foods are usually not as effective as veterinary diets because they are allowed onto the market without going through the same rigorous research as veterinary diets. They are also designed to maintain long-term health for different kinds of dogs whereas medical diets are formulated to address specific medical concerns.
In trying to balance cost, convenience and the overall health benefits of pet foods, dog owners are faced with the onerous task of finding the right kind of diet that won’t put them out of pocket. So the next time you’re out shopping for pet food make sure you read the label to help you keep plant protein sources at a minimum while ensuring your dog’s diet is as natural as possible. This way he’ll s they suffer less disease, live longer and probably produce less smelly waste matter.
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his mischievous, mixed breed rescue Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy. A leading authority on all dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.