Deciphering Dog Food Labels...
We've all heard the saying 'you are what you eat' and in the last few decades we have become a lot more aware about what constitutes a healthy human diet... but what about our dogs?
Why is diet so important??? Obesity in dogs has been on the increase and in some areas 60% of dogs are overweight, in the UK we have an epidemic of canine diabetes and 1 in every 2 dogs dies of cancer...diet has a lot to do with all of this!
This isn't going to be a blog about what you should be feeding your dog but more about what your dog food is or could be telling you....
Firstly are you feeding a 'complete' food or a 'complementary' food?
A complete food is meant to contain all the nutrients (apart from water) to meet your dog's daily needs defined by the European Pet Food Industry Federation. A complementary food should be a term used for treats and mixers and feeding a complementary food to your dog on a daily basis will not meet the nutritional requirements of your dog.
Who makes your dog food???
There are some amazing dog food manufacturers out there that are focused on making top quality dog food and that is the only thing they do. There are some dog food manufacturers that are owned by other parent companies such as pharmaceuticals or confectionery companies - this may not be a bad thing but personally I want to buy my dog food from a company that is fully focused on the product and processes of the food they make. Some tell tales signs that can help you here is looking at the label and seeing whether it says manufactured by or manufactured for.
A quality protein is something to look out for in your dog's food. Protein can come from meat, fish and vegetables, ideally we want a nice meat protein in our dog food, words like derivative or meal are to be avoided. Derivatives could mean feathers, beaks, nails, connective tissue, hooves and wool and will not provide those quality proteins. Meal is often made from meat/fish remnants from factory processing that are dehydrated and ground into a fine powder and are cheaper source of protein compared to whole meat.
Carbohydrates are needed in dry kibble to create the biscuit type texture, they are cheap and can be used to bulk out food. If the cereals aren't specifically listed and named it may be fair to assume that they are of cheaper/poorer quality.
Vegetable derivative or of vegetable origin
Much like with our meat derivative this can hide lots of things it basically means that it has come from a plant but may be things like sawdust, leaves or bark. Such items are used as bulking agents are of no useful benefit to a dog.
Adding fat can make food more palatable and fat is a normal part of a dogs diet, but there shouldn't be too large a percentage of fat. Look at where your fat comes from too, we want a good quality fat maybe from an animal or single source vegetable.
Vitamins and minerals
Cooking food breaks down the vitamins and minerals, some of our dry dog foods are cooked up to 5 times as part of the manufacturing process meaning a lot of the original nutritional value is no longer there. In order for them to meet the criteria of a complete meal it may be necessary to add vitamins and minerals back to the food, but these may be synthetic. In order to preserve vitamins and minerals food should be lightly cooked or poached.
There is loads and loads of research on how colourings can affect human behaviour, can be toxic and carcinogenic and some dry dog foods use to contain a lot of these...They aren't necessary, I'm pretty sure the dog doesn't look at it and think 'ohh that's a pretty pink colour'.
Sugars & Salts
Sometimes labelled as sucrose adding sugar to a food can increase it's calorific content and (like with humans) is appealing to dogs, but also (like with humans) isn't necessary or that healthy and something you may not have considered may be added into your dog food. Salt is needed within a diet, but usually enough is present in raw ingredients to meet these needs, but because dogs (like humans) like salt often more is added. This may be listed as salt or sodium. Be aware of the salt content of your food particularly if your dog has a history of high blood pressure or heart problems.
More and more research is available on canine diets, so if you are really keen get geeky! For those that have a little less time there are several dog food comparison sites that can help you make informed choices about your dog's food www.dogfoodadvisor.com or www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk