There’s a great locally owned pet shop in Nashville called Wags & Whiskers. They opened in 2004 as a retailer of holistic and premium dog food, natural treats and durable toys. Not only that, but they also have a self-serve dog wash area in the back which Oscar has been none-to-pleased to utilize every now and again.
..and since it’s right on the way home from the dog park, this feature has been very useful in certain situations:
(As if I need an excuse to share that picture of Oscar again. Anywho….)
I recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation on dog food ingredients at Wags and Whiskers’ newly opened second location . We were
bribed with offered wine and cheese and promised a free take home sample, so how could I pass that up? I consider myself pretty ingredient savvy when it comes to kibble – I know to look for the protein as the main ingredient, and that corn is nothing but filler and should be avoided at all costs. We feed Oscar a nice good expensive “premium” dog food, because while an obvious beneifit is that it’s good for him, I also know that less filler = smaller portions, which means that even though my bag of premium dog food is more expensive than the one next to it on the shelf, once you take into account portion size I’m actually spending less. So I expected to sit in the back and nod along knowingly, collect my free sample and hit the road.
Well I should know by now that when it comes to dogs, I can always learn something new. And what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t share my new-found knowledge? Of course, I am by no means an expert on pet nutrition, so please do your own research or consult your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet. And with that, here we go….
Where does it come from?
Just as important as the ingredients in your dog food is the source of those ingredients. There’s a 1-800 number on every bag of dog food. After this presentation, the first thing I did was call up the number on our bag of kibble and ask them where they got their protein. According to the presenter, there is no reason a dog food company wouldn’t be happy to give you this information. Is your salmon farm raised (ie, pumped full of hormones & steroids) or wild caught? Is your chicken from the same farm every time, or do you get it from whoever can give you the lowest price (ahem, lowest quality)?
Good Protein vs. Not-so-good Protein
The first five ingredients listed on a bag of dog food make up 85% of the bag, by weight. What this means is that this is what you’re paying for, so you want “the good stuff” to be up there in the top five. The good stuff is, of course, your protein (chicken, beef, turkey, salmon, duck, etc). All of that I knew already.
What I didn’t know was that chicken as an ingredient actually has quite a bit of moisture, something like 75%. Remember how those first five ingredients are “by weight”? That means when chicken is the first ingredient, a lot of that weight is moisture. That’s OK, because that’s also what’s going to give the kibble its flavor, and what makes Cooper salivate in anticipation when he has to wait for his dinner…(watch for drool-age starting around the 0:50 mark)
Meal vs. By-product. I figured “by-product” was bad, and I was right – “by-product” is exactly what it sounds like, it’s everything that’s left over from the animal after the meat is processed (think beak, claws, hooves, and other yucky things that only Andrew Zimmern would eat). A kibble that has any sort of “by-product” listed as a top five ingredient should be avoided.
However “meal” is actually really good. Chicken meal, for example, is made by grinding up good clean chicken meat (beak & feather-free) and removing most of the moisture so you’re left with a significantly higher protein content than just chicken. So, if your first two ingredients are “chicken” and “chicken meal,” you’re in good shape!
Get Specifics. Going back to knowing where your kibble comes from, make sure the ingredients are specific when talking about the protein – you want it to say “chicken” instead of “poultry,” or “salmon” instead of “fish.”
Variety is the Spice of Life. I love sushi, but I would get super sick of it if I had to eat it for every meal, every single day. I’ve never asked a dog, but I imagine they’d get sick of the same kibble day after day. So it’s not only OK, but it’s actually really good for your dogs if you alternate the protein source in their food. Dogs aren’t meant to get everything they need from just one food – for example, chicken has different vitamins and minerals than salmon. As long as you stay within the same brand of food, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to switch from salmon to chicken to lamb to duck and back again.
Eat Your Vegetables!
If veggies are good for you and me, it stands to reason they’re good for dogs too. I knew that already. I knew that seeing ingredients like carrots and sweet potatoes in the list of ingredients on kibble is a good thing. I also already knew that as an ingredient, “corn” is used as a filler and is not-so-good to have in dog food. What I didn’t know is that dogs cannot digest corn – at all. It doesn’t matter if it’s called corn, whole ground corn, yellow corn, white corn or purple corn – it’s bad.
Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs
I also learned a whole list of other ingredients that dogs can’t digest, that fall under the “carbs & grains” category. These include white rice, rice bran, brewers yeast, wheat flour and rice flour. Apparently though, not all carbs and grains are bad. For example, oatmeal is one of the best grains you can include in a dog food. It’s higher in protein and fiber than other grains, and lower in calories. Oatmeal is a good source of iron, fatty acids and antioxidants, and vets like it because it’s not likely to cause food allergies. Other grains/carbs that are A-OK to include in your kibble ingredients are brown rice, millet, barley and quinoa.
So there you have it, a few new tidbits I added to my arsenal of information when selecting dog food. Of course, every dog is different and again, I’m no expert, so please make sure you check with your vet before you change-up your pooch’s feeding regimen. There’s a wealth of information out there on this topic – type “dog food ingredients” into the Google-machine and see what happens. The important take-away here is that not all kibble is created equal – make sure to do your research. After all, these two can’t read labels, so they’re counting on us to do it for them.
Cooper is still looking for his furever home! If Coop is the dog for you, please fill out an adoption application with Agape Animal Rescue.
…and don’t forget to VOTE for COOPER!