One of my research passions in life is pet nutrition. I love reading about it, and I read countless articles and books specifically on it. I don’t know why, but I have an unending appetite (har har) for any research on dog food.
It began when my chow, Rollo, had a seizure. After a round of vet visits, the vet found that her liver and kidneys had suddenly started to fail. She had just been in for a health check-up, and everything seemed fine – she was eating fine, her stool was fine, she wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms of sickness – then boom, three weeks later, seizure and organ failure. The vet asked what I was feeding her, I blinked and told him I had just opened a new bag of dog food.
The next day, I found out that the dog food had been recalled for melamine. I had never been more sorry in my life that I hadn’t ever actually looked in to what I was feeding her. The next year and a half was a slow decline for Rollo. The vet had been able to stabilize her liver somewhat for awhile, but after about ten months, the inevitable end was coming into view. She hung on for awhile, but never recovered from that initial sickness. After another few months, my decision became clear. It was the saddest day of my life, thus far, when I had to put my companion of 13 years to her final sleep.
I had started doing some research on pet food before she passed away, and had initially been shocked that most dog foods contained a majority of corn, and that this wasn’t good for dogs. After all – it’s what my vet sold. In fact, he had specifically warned me against feeding her a raw or home-made diet because it could make her condition worse – so I didn’t. I thought that Iams and the ‘Healthy, Natural’ food I was feeding her was fine.
In doing additional research, I found that many vets just aren’t taught about nutrition. Admittedly, I don’t know if recent changes and new research have improved this any, but it was kind of amazing. We’re taught that nutrition is one of the key points for preventing serious diseases as humans – why would it be any different for a dog, a cat, or a gerbil? And why would my vet recommend a corn-based diet for my dog?
Regardless of the motivation, the seed had been planted. I began reading everything I could get my hands on and was completely grossed out by what can actually be found in pet food – diseased, dying, disabled animals (use of these in human food is banned), a million different preservatives, a warning against mixing water with dry food because it can make the bacteria that is in pet food thrive and make your pet sick, unborn fetuses in the slaughtered animals – and horrified to find that though pet food companies were re-branding themselves as ‘safe’, ‘holistic’, and ‘healthy’, in reality, the food was anything but.
It was an eye-opener, to say the least. I used many, many sources to form my opinions – from books written by veterinarians to independent research to online articles – and all of them basically pointed to the fact that major pet food companies don’t always make a great product – in fact, some of them make a product that will make your pet sick, whether it be tomorrow or a year from now. Sometimes, the bigger the advertising budget, the worse the food is for your pet.
So what SHOULD pets be fed? My obvious choice would be a thoroughly researched raw diet, though it’s not nearly as convenient as kibble. Second to that, a home-cooked diet. Third to that (which, to be honest, I feed the dogs right now) a well-researched kibble, supplemented with human-grade foods.
Yes, it costs more, but the proof of feeding a better diet is amazing: Sam’s coat is gleaming and soft, their breath doesn’t smell as much, they don’t have a ‘doggy odor’, both of them are lively (even Sam, who’s getting up there in age). Sam has lost weight on a better diet, and Bean has maintained a healthy weight. If you’ve always fed your dogs a lower-grade food and make the switch to a better diet, the difference is truly amazing.
Where do I find the information? Pet nutrition info can be found many different places, and I’m working on a review of several books on the subject. However, if you need info RIGHT NOW because you’re interested in changing the way you feed your pets, I can point you to two good sources:
1. Dog Food Analysis. You can search for your current food and research the analysis given by a small group of individuals who have researched pet nutrition. Each food is given one review, a breakdown of the product, and a recommendation, from one (poor) to six (great) stars.
2. The Dog Food Project. Another independent website that lists a lot of very helpful information about pet food. There is a list of foods to avoid, product groups, and many useful and informative articles about dog nutrition. The nutrition primer is very helpful if this is your first foray into dog nutrition.
I know this won’t endear me to many people, but I feel it needs to be said: research what you feed your dog. It’s not easy, and there’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but finding info to give them a better diet won’t just improve their coat and make them more spry. It may be the difference between life and death.