Choosing the right food for your dog

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At the end of August, a vet clinic in another state sent out a warning about a popular, well-advertised dog food causing skin and ear allergies, seizures, severe GI distress, organ failure and even death. I passed the warning along, and last week I received a thank you from a friend that had read this on my Facebook page. She had been feeding this brand to her dog, and the dog “began having allergies and dermatitis type issues” that had the owners perplexed as to the cause. After seeing my post, she changed the dog’s food and saw “a significant difference within 48 hours.” I’m glad this helped my friend and her dog, but I’m sorry she ever fed this brand to begin with. Since the introduction of this food to the market, I have commented on the great quality of the marketing that lures people to feed it to their dogs, and the horrible quality of the food itself. I’ve come to realize that most people want to feed their dog a high quality food, but aren’t sure how to find one.

Some dogs have allergies to various grains or meat sources, and other dogs need to be on special prescription diets recommended by their veterinarians. If your dog does not have special needs, and you plan to feed him dry kibble, the following guidelines should help you in your selection process.

The first item you want to see in your dog’s food is a named meat source. A named meat source is something like beef or chicken or lamb or salmon. Unnamed meat sources, often shown as “meat and bone meal” can contain a wide variety of things you wouldn’t want to feed your pet. This includes diseased farm animals, out of date supermarket meats, zoo animals, road kill and euthanized dogs and cats. In the rendering plants where these meals are created, things like Styrofoam trays, flea collars and ear tags are ground to become a part of the mix.

Don’t get “meat meal” confused with named ingredient meals such as “chicken meal” or “beef meal.” A named ingredient meal, for example, “chicken meal,” is preferred over the whole ingredient “chicken.” Ingredients are listed on the bag by weight. Whole meat ingredients may be as much as 80 percent water. After cooking, the meat content is reduced to a fraction of the original weight; fooling you into thinking the product contains much more meat than it actually does. By contrast, “chicken meal” is a meat concentrate and can contain as much as 300 percent more protein than the whole ingredient. There’s nothing wrong with a food containing a named whole ingredient as the first ingredient, as long as it is closely followed by a named ingredient meal.

While named ingredient meals are positive things to see in food, by product meals are not. By product meal is the dry, rendered products of slaughterhouse waste. It’s made from what’s left of a slaughtered animal after all the prime cuts have been removed, usually considered unfit for human consumption. By product meals contain organs, which are nourishing, as well as feet, beaks, undeveloped eggs, blood and bone. While higher in protein than whole ingredients due to the rendering process, by product meals are not quality sources of protein.

Grains also often appear high in the list of ingredients. Some of these grains, such as barley, millet, oats, sorghum and brown rice can provide fiber, vitamins and minerals and/or natural energy. White rice is not an unhealthy ingredient, but is a less nutritious form of rice in which the grain’s healthier outer layer has been removed. Other grains can be problematic for dogs.

Corn in its many forms, such as corn gluten meal, corn meal and ground corn, wheat and soy are grains commonly found in dog food. Corn is often used to inflate the protein level of a food, although it can be difficult for a dog to digest unless it has been refined and broken down. All of these grains frequently cause allergic symptoms in dogs. These can appear as red, flaky or itchy skin, skin irritations, hot spots, ear infections, impacted anal glands, paw chewing and more. I have seen dozens of dogs displaying symptoms such as these that have improved quickly when switched to a food without corn or wheat. Because of this, I prefer to feed something absent these ingredients, as well as soy and gluten.

There are other ingredients to seek and to avoid when choosing a kibble for your dog. Next week, we’ll continue our discussion.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcomed to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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