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Canine University 71 Clinton St. Malden, MA

Have a Great Dog!

Natural Health Corner: Learning to Read Dog Food Labels

The dog food industry is a booming business and not very closely regulated. The goal of the myriad of dog food manufacturers is to get you to buy their food instead of someone elseís food, and to this end they put a lot of time and attention into packaging and advertising. Unfortunately for us as consumers, very little of their efforts go into improving the quality of what is in the food...the bottom line is profits in most cases, best achieved by producing food that costs as little as possible to manufacture.

Donít be fooled by dog food labels saying a product is all natural- currently the regulations for claiming a food is all natural are quite loose and almost anyone can claim the quality of their ingredients is better than it is. Remember that dog food in itís processed kibble form has only been around for fifty years or so. Our grandparents and great grandparents fed their dogs just fine without the help of the commercial dog food industry.

I donít think we can claim that dogs lived longer then than they do now, but its gererally accepted that our modern dogs have a lot more cancer and skin problems than the dogs of our grandparents. Maybe the medicine is better, maybe now we are paying more attention than folks did then, who knows. One thing that is clear, however, is that the commercial dog food industry has introduced huge amounts of carbohydrates. Recent research suggests that a diet high in carbohydrates contributes to some forms of cancer. I canít name the study for you or point you to the periodical that makes the claims but I do know as a dog professional that cancers and allergies are epidemic.

Next time you are in a pet store go ahead and take a trip down the dog food aisle and start practicing your label reading skills. The diet that is best for dogs is one that is mostly meat based, not grain based. Dogs donít need artificial colors, flavors, or chemical preservatives and may be allergic to them so avoid food that have these in it.

The protein source and quality is very important and thatís where many people get confused. The protein source for high quality dog food should be meat, and should be listed as a whole food source like lamb, beef, turkey, chicken. Of slightly lesser quality are lamb meal, turkey meal, etc. These are considered high quality protein sources and should be listed as the first two (at least) ingredients on the side of the bag. The ingredients list is by order of weight so the meat being mostly water should appear first or the food isnít worth the price. The third and fourth ingredients should be vegetables (other than corn or beet pulp) and whole grain sources like brown rice. Corn is a cheap filler and not a good source of nutrition for dogs. Pay attention to the grain sources, they are often by-products of other food industries and are fractions of the whole grain.

In the ideal world the first four ingredients in food meant for canine consumption would be meat, with a small amount of grain and vegetables to give the food texture. This isnít possible in the commercial dog food industry because having a higher volume of meat tends to gum up the machinery and slow down production. This means less profits and more production time.

On the whole, it is best to steer clear of foods that use meat by-products. If you must feed a food with by-products, at least choose one that lists the specific source. For instance, chicken by-product is not a great protein source but itís better quality than meat by-product. Meat by-product is a mix of beaks, feet, feathers, hooves, hair, tumors, and other low quality products made into a meat mix.

When looking at the preservatives in dog food, look for foods preserved with vitamin E and vitamin C, sometimes labeled as mixed tocopherols. Avoid foods with BHA, BHT or other chemical preservatives that you canít pronounce.

There is no one dog food out there that is perfect for every dog. The higher quality foods tend to be hard to find and quite expensive, but the money you will save in veterinary bills is more than worth it. Consider doing some research on-line or at the bookstore to see for yourself what dog food is all about. Don't be surprised if the food that you thought was so good for your dog doesn't pass muster. That doesnítí mean that you need to go out tomorrow and change it, but it does make you a more informed consumer and a better dog owner. We all want what is best for our best pals and no one can say definitively that any one food will do it.

My best advice is to educate yourself about dog food and decide for yourself which food is best for your dog. For starters you may want to visit www.NaturaPet.com where you will find a comparison tool which not only lists ingredients for just about every dog food sold in the USA, but also gives explanation of each ingredient. Natura Pet Products makes Innova, and though we sell (and feed) this food and believe it ito be one of the best available, we by no means consider it perfect or for every dog. Selecting the right food for your dog is something that you must discover for yourself, we hope weíve given you the tools to get you started !

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