Many people who want to feed their dog a better diet, worry about whether the diet is complete and has all the nutrients needed for their dog to be healthy and thrive. And most certainly this concern is normal, as most of these people are pursuing a new concept on feeding their dog. There are even people who worry about changing from one type of commercial dog food, to another. Everyone wants to feed their dog the best, most affordable diet. But how do we overcome these fears and worries?
The standard trust and belief, of course, is that commercial dog food is complete and contains the best nutrients dogs need. For over 50 years, pet food companies have been stating that their food is ‘complete and balanced’. Their formulas are based on the National Research Council (NRC) guidelines, or the ‘gold standard’ for research and conclusions on canine nutrition. And AAFCO (Association of Animal Feed Control Officials) controls the labeling (as per what can be put on the labels), but AAFCO does not test foods. While the NRC is a Federal Government agency, AAFCO has a board of directors they answer to – many of whom are veterinarians and pet food industry members. It is a private organization that serves manufacturers and their products.
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AAFCO has a list of guidelines for making pet food and treats. It includes licensing, ingredients that can be used, labeling and nutritional labeling requirements, and lists laboratories where food can be submitted for analysis. AAFCO only allows their list of approved ingredients that can be put in pet food.
However, AAFCO doesn’t have to follow the same nutritional needs that are put out by the NRC. It is also important to note that AAFCO is a private organization that has a heavy influence on the big pet food manufacturers that are on its board and the decisions they make.
Some years ago, NRC changed their standards for canine nutrition, however AAFCO refused to follow them. Why? NRC wanted better quality animal protein, less grains and other carbohydrates that contained phytates which block mineral uptake. Frankly, it is just too expensive to make a better quality of food that can withstand months of shelf life in a bag. Plus, the testing for pet food requires a 24-month trial of the food on 8 dogs, which is too costly and rarely, if ever, used today. Now an analysis done at a lab is deemed suitable, where the results simply tell the protein, fiber, fat and moisture content. It doesn’t test for quality, the bioavailability of the protein, or state if it is even animal protein. Please note, a pet food company can change their ingredients at any time and they are allowed a 6 month grace period to change their labels. AND, they only need estimates for the protein and fat content – which can vary from batch to batch – with small variations being acceptable.
So, while the bulk of the public continues to maintain their trust that their dog food contains all their dog needs, please understand that it may not be the case with commercial pet foods. The food is dry, which means it has been heavily processed under high heats and the packaging contains product descriptions and labels that can be misleading or misunderstood by the average consumer. When the labels contain numerous ingredients, it becomes confusing as to just what the main ingredients are. Additionally, the labels don’t state the quality of the meat and other ingredients used, or if they are counting plant proteins as part of the total protein profile. Plant proteins are incomplete for dogs and lack important minerals that dogs need. To compensate for this, dog food companies add powdered supplements such as minerals, vitamins, etc., to try and make the dog food complete. However, in reality, the product is just a heavily processed food that relies on additives rather than the food itself. Most of us know that eating processed foods with additives is not the healthiest way to eat the bulk of our diet. It is the same for your dog!
So, my best advice to those feeding commercial pet foods is to switch brands often, as well as the primary protein source (chicken, beef, lamb, turkey, venison, and fish). I encourage people to add some fresh protein to each meal. This includes fresh meat, occasionally organ meat, plain yogurt, and eggs (boiled or raw). In my opinion, dry dog food uses far too many plant sources in their food – about 40% or more. This includes grains, legumes, vegetables, vegetable fiber, grain flours and even fruit. Dogs are carnivores, and therefore, have no nutritional need for carbohydrates (as stated by the NRC), so these carbohydrate ingredients are just fillers. Adding more animal-based proteins and fats will at least give your dog some quality proteins that include the amino acids your dogs needs for heart, kidney and liver health. Adding some fresh fat helps the skin and coat, as rendered fats found in dry dog food is far less effective in this regard. You can add up to 50% of your dog’s daily commercial food diet with fresh foods!
Next month in part two, I will discuss balancing home cooked and raw diets and dispel the fears you may have on both of these subjects. As a teaser, I will say that dogs are no more complicated than we humans are when it comes to eating and preparing their, however dogs have some different nutritional needs. Dog food companies (and some internet salesmen), however, may want and need you to believe that dogs are far more complicated. I will work through the comments these people may make so you have the confidence to prepare your dog’s meals AND I will show you just how easy it is to prepare your own dog’s fresh food meals!!