Since I became involved with animal rescue, I’ve heard all about dog food. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, I’ll go ahead and let you know: people hold very strong opinions about this stuff! Opinions many of them seem to think you simply must know. Dry food vs. wet food, brand loyalty, raw food, etc. It can get very confusing, especially when people have hidden agendas or only bother to cite sources that agree with their personal beliefs. So what’s a dog (or cat) parent to do?
First, you have to sift through all the facts and the fiction, take a look at the ‘hot topics’, and decide what matters most to you personally. Research, keep an open mind, choose what’s best for you, and just tune out the naysayers who try to tell you your way is wrong. If you’ve done your homework, then surely you’ve made the best choice for you.
Hot Topic: Dog Food Recalls
Salmonella in dog food seems to be the most common cause for recall. It is important to keep in mind that some types of Salmonella only affect humans. It is not uncommon for infected dogs and cats to be carriers of the other strands, meaning they show no symptoms but have the potential to infect their human family members.
Salmonella is a danger that can appear in all forms of dog food. The most infamous culprit is a raw food diet, in which the dog eats uncooked meats, eggs, etc. By no means is a raw food diet ‘an infection waiting to happen’, but if an owner chooses this diet, he or she should do their research and exercise extreme caution with the storage and preparation of their dogs’ food. One good source of information (and first hand experience!) is the online dog magazine, Keep The Tail Wagging.
Salmonella can affect dogs who eat dry, wet, or raw food. While a recall on a batch of food you have actually purchased is something to watch out for, I don’t personally concern myself too much if I see a certain brand has experienced a recall at some point; most brands of dog food experience recalls from time to time. The best way to avoid infection is to take safety into your own hands. Owners should always be cautious when purchasing, storing, preparing, and serving food – both their own and their dog’s!
There are several simple ways to decrease your risk of illness! Make it a habit to wash your hands before and after handling dog food. Always use warm water and soap. The Center for Disease Control recommends not washing your dogs’ dishes in the kitchen sink where you wash your dishes. They also suggest owners use a dedicated food scoop and not scoop food out of a bag with the dog’s bowl. (This habit is good for measuring and maintaining healthy weight anyway.) Owners should ensure food is stored below 80 degrees F. Finally, when purchasing food, avoid bags that appear ripped and cans that look dented.
Hot Topic: Is Dry Food Really Better For Dental Hygiene?
I grew up in a family that wholeheartedly believed dry dog food was the best for our pets’ teeth. Now, I’m not so sure it really matters. The thought process was that dry food scraped off plaque while wet food would stick to teeth and cause decay. However, if you are doing your part to maintain your dog’s oral health, it really shouldn’t matter. Dogs’ teeth should be brushed several times a week (props if you do it daily). At the very least, dogs benefit from chew toys, bones, antlers, dental treats, etc. These will keep their teeth stronger, help quell their destructive behaviors, and remove plaque and tartar.
Hot Topic: Bloat
While the exact causes of bloat in dogs are unknown, many believe a diet of only dry food may increase the risk. If owners are concerned, but prefer dry food for other reasons, they can mix water into their dog’s food and let it sit while the food re-hydrates and expands to its full size.
Other possible causes of bloat include eating too quickly, eating too large meals, and too much movement before and after eating. I recommend feeding 2-3 meals per day instead of 1. Owners with fast eating dogs can purchase a slow eating food bowl, or even just throw some large toys in a food bowl for their dog to eat around. (Make sure they are not small enough to accidentally be ingested!) Additionally, some cautious owners crate their dogs for about 30 minutes before and after feeding to discourage movement and play with a full tummy. (It’s not a bad idea to feed in a crate anyway, as it teaches dogs to associate their crate with good feelings!)
Hot Topic: Cost
To me, cost is a huge factor! I buy the best dog food I can, but it has to stay within my budget. My research led me to Diamond Naturals dry dog food. I find it suits my needs and Lana’s. When bought in the large, 40 lb bag it costs me just under $1 per pound. However, I am neither a nutritionist nor a veterinarian. While my dogs love this food, I believe everyone needs to reach their own decision about which food is right for them.
Either way, canned and dry food are varied, with more than enough brands offering sizes and qualities to fit every budget. Raw food can be more expensive than regular food if bought pre-made, or cost less if the owner prepares the meals themselves. Cost is something extremely personal, and only you can decide how much money and time you have to invest in your dog’s diet – just remember, no matter your budget, raw, dry, or wet food is still an achievable goal!
Hot Topic: Quality
Quality is the issue that confuses me the most. I hear people claim such and such dog food killed their beloved family pet. These people switch over to dog food I can’t possibly afford, and I honestly feel like they try to shame the rest of us for not following the trend.
Many others argue that companies spent years perfecting the ratio of proteins to carbs to fat and that they’re all pretty similar. When shopping for dog food, I basically did the same thing I do with human food – I just read the ingredients to avoid high fructose corn syrup and artificial food coloring.
I’m not a nutritionist. I feel confident that those two ingredients aren’t good for anyone, but I honestly don’t have the slightest clue about the nutritional needs of any animal!
What I can tell you is I’ve personally known dogs who lived well beyond their expected life span eating “grocery store” foods. Lana doesn’t eat foods like that, but I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to approach others and tell them what the internet has told me about any specific brand of food.
Hot Topic: Allergies And The Gluten-Free Trend
Gluten free is a big deal right now, but should it be? In my personal opinion, no! Unless your dog is allergic to gluten, why work so hard to avoid it? While gluten doesn’t offer nutritional benefits, the wheat it’s found in does. Basically, gluten free does not necessarily equate to healthful!
According To WebMD the most common dog food allergies are not what most people expect. They include “beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb, soy, pork, rabbit, and fish”. I have heard this time and time again, and if you do your research, you’ll hear it again and again as well.
There are so many resources for research on dog food. My go to website is actually The Dog Food Advisor. They explain the ingredients in different brands of dog food, discuss the ratio of fats to carbs to proteins, and even keep a list of recent recalls and recently changed food formulas. You could also ask the people working in pet food stores (I can’t guarantee they’ll all know what they’re talking about, but the manager at my PetSmart seems to, as do the men who run the local feed store where I normally shop). I always recommend asking your veterinarian’s opinion if you find yourself in a rut. I promise you, they didn’t go thousands of dollars in debt to not learn about animal health.
Finally, I’d like to give a big shout out to Lana’s former rescue, Florida All Retriever Rescue (FARR) for donating several bags of Diamond Naturals dog food to the Bainbridge Decatur Humane Society!!