How to Feed My Dog: The Starting Block

All of this research for the right way to feed your pet sent me into a tailspin. Corn is “safe” for pets, but it’s not giving the right nutrients that a dog needs and causes allergies. Grains are good for digestion, but should not be one of the main ingredients in their food. It feels like my research has only just started.

Luckily, from what I’ve found, you don’t need to know everything. There are people out there just waiting for you to walk in and ask them what they need. Veterinarians, pet-loving store owners, dog groomers, they all want to help. But first, let’s start with the basics.

Know your sources. My last post described what most commercial dog food brands use, and how/why it’s usually the cheapest. All dog food packaging have a phone number where you can call and ask up-front where they get their ingredients from and how they are manufactured. There are plenty of websites like this one who review and find the best dog food brands available. Find a brand that doesn’t use “by-product” or “meal” in their protein sources, which leads me to my next point:

Know your labels. The ingredients list is ordered from highest ratio to lowest, meaning that the first ingredient on there is the main ingredient. Look for named ingredients, so “meat” doesn’t count, but “chicken by-product” is worse. You’re looking for “chicken”, “turkey”, etc. Most commercial dog foods will have “corn” or “corn by-product” as the first ingredient, which is not something you want to buy. Avoid artificial anything when possible, and be wary of “enriched” or “added” nutrients, which shouldn’t be needed if the ingredients are unprocessed.

Know your alternatives. Dry dog food is not your only option, especially if your dog is not getting the right nutrients. Raw feeding has become very popular, and there are many brands available for all kinds of dogs. They will usually come in the form of frozen meat patties, which are thawed and served right away, or there are plenty of do-it-yourself recipes which you can make with the ingredients in your kitchen. Supplements are a great way to customize your dog’s food according to what they need, which brings me to my last and most important point:

Know what your veterinarian knows about your pet. If they need specific nutrients in their diet, your vet will know exactly what they need and how they need it. Never be afraid of asking multiple vets for their opinion, and always make sure the vet knows if there are any changes to their diet.

Making sure your pet has the best food available to them is the #1 way to prevent illness and disease, but finding the right food can be overwhelming. I’ll be going further into detail about each point I made in this post, but for now, I think I’ve got a good starting block to find the right dog food for my soon-to-be fur-baby.

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Pet Food: My Startling Revelation

Since Barry’s passing, I’ve invested a lot of time into reading books about pet care. My house is in the middle of a remodel, and its not exactly ready for a new addition to the family. Its been about a month since he died, and I think I could use a new friend, but I’m realizing everyday that I have a lot to learn about how to truly take care of a loved pet.

I read Natural Pet Care: How To Improve Your Animal’s Quality of Life by Gary Null, and he painted quite a picture in the first chapter about the pet food industry. He says around the 1940s, the food industry was trying to find a way to dispose of its “wastes” – rejected animals or parts of animals from the meat packing industry. When you see a can or bag of dog food and it says “byproduct”, Null says, “what you are likely to find … are the contaminated or condemned remains of ‘4D’ animals—that means dead, dying, diseased, or disabled livestock.” Most byproducts are made in “rendering plants”, which could also include dead animals from shelters and even veterinary clinics who dispose of dead pets.

Wow.

"By the way, when he dies, I'll be sending the carcass to a rendering plant so he can be processed and eaten by other dogs. Sign here?"

“By the way, when he dies, I’ll be sending the carcass to a rendering plant so he can be processed and eaten by other dogs. Sign here?”

I’ll be honest, it seemed a little too extreme. The reference article he uses is an Animal Protection Institute report from 2000 called What’s Really in Pet Food?, and an article from The Toronto Star called “Pet Food or Poison?” from 1998.

I wanted to find a newer resource that talked about this, which I found in the Dogs Naturally July-August 2014 issue. According to the article, there are two kinds of meat in the pet food industry: Mechanically-separated meat and Denatured meat. And I quote:

“So what is mechanically separated meat? And how is it separated? This is a process used both in human food production and pet food production. The left over carcass is ground down to a paste-like product, then put through a high pressure sieve to extract the meat from the bones. Any bone particles should be caught by the sieve. With this process there are tendons, veins, and arteries that are ground up as well.”

The article made a note that nowhere in the AAFCO guidelines is there a reference to where the meat comes from. However, in order to make the food more “appealing”, they add “artificial colors and flavors… and to make it bacteria free, the meat is treated with ammonium peroxide.”

This is a photo of what they call "pink slime" after washed in ammonium hydroxide. McDonalds uses this. I'm not even kidding.

This is a photo of what they call “pink slime” after washed in ammonium hydroxide. McDonalds uses this. I’m not even kidding.

What the hell. This just can’t be right.

Denatured meat, if possible, sounds even worse. This is the kind of meat that Gary Null was referencing when describing meat that is not intended to be eaten by humans. Apparently, there are no rules about pets. Chemicals are used to “denature” these meats, such as crude carbolic acid, cresylic disinfectant, charcoal, and about 25 other things that I definitely don’t want my dog around, let alone in his stomach.

Amy Budd, the author of the article, describes an experience while trying to buy meat from a USDA facility, and was not allowed out of the plant with the meat after the facility realized she wanted to use it for pet food. The meat they had sold her was inedible for any animal, and had to be denatured before feeding it to dogs. Pet food companies are not required to put on the label which kind of meat they use.

"So let's take a look at some of the good stuff we use in our recipes." -Actual quote from Pedigree's website

“So let’s take a look at some of the good stuff we use in our recipes.” -Actual quote from Pedigree’s website

Budd also talks about how the food is labeled, saying that “there is no such thing as ‘hormone free’ or ‘antibiotic free’ meat”, that the labels are only allowed to say that there are no added hormones or antibiotics. She ends that article with her “ugly truth”: pet food manufacturers simply don’t care about quality materials, only their profits. But our loved ones are paying the price. You can read Dogs Naturally’s online article about it here.

I fed Barry Pedigree wet food and Rachel Ray’s brand dog kibble. Pedigree’s website says chicken and meat byproducts, and a bunch of stuff I can barely spell. Pedigree has a 1-star rating on this dog food analysis website, and there is a less than glowing review on Pedigree on petfoodtalk.com. I also found an article about Pedigree’s Adult Nutrition recall for “metal fragments” found in their food. That was this last August.

Even though Rachel Ray’s pet food got a marginally better score (3 stars), the review says it has too many fillers, and many dogs have allergies to the corn and ground wheat flour. The primary ingredients in the food. /facepalm

In case you didn't know what a face palm was.

In case you didn’t know what a face palm was.

I’ll be talking about corn and soy later, otherwise this might turn into a novel.

Among this list of dog food recalls were Purina, Iams, Eukanuba, Nature’s Recipe, and several other brands that I recognize. They’re sold everywhere! I see them every single time I go to the grocery store. On the other hand, I can’t recognize a single one of these brands, and these are supposed to be the top rated pet foods available.

Look at all our denatured, disgusting cans of poison! Buy some for your dog!

“Look at all our denatured, disgusting cans of poison! Buy some for your dog!”

I’m in shock. I can’t even believe that I was feeding this to my dog! Well, enough’s enough. Settle in everyone, I’ve found a new category for my blog here: Pet food that our dogs deserve.