We all want what’s best for our fur babies, and as a pet nutritionist people often ask me what the healthiest pet food is.
So what is the healthiest food for your dog? Let’s discuss.
Pet food marketing
Popular pet food brands advertised on TV or lining supermarket and pet shop shelves do not necessarily deliver top nutrition. Commercial brands, more often than not, contain ingredients that aren’t good for dogs or cats. Some examples are corn, rice, wheat, and animal by-products. It’s impossible to buy 20kg of healthy food for $40 – these foods are cheap for a reason, and likely contains ingredients which would make you feel sick if you knew the truth.
How the kibble-making process destroys nutrition
Dry dog and cat food (kibble), even the premium varieties, are processed using heat and pressure. This destroys the vital nutrients in the food, that are then replaced with synthetic vitamins. Diets lacking in moisture force your pet’s internal organs to work overtime, resulting in conditions such as kidney problems and UTIs.
People also ask if they should allow their dogs to free-feed on kibble. Allowing a dog or a cat free access to kibble is one of the easiest ways to cause obesity or diabetes in animals. Obesity is one of the greatest premature killers of our companion pets, and causes all sorts of joint and health problems.
Dogs that are kept lean live an average of 2 years longer than their overweight counterparts, and veterinary treatment for age-related health conditions can also be delayed for around 2 years when dogs are fed a lean, natural, species appropriate diet.
You can’t count on your vet either, as chances are they’ll recommend a special diet for your dog, which not only will be more expensive, but will still be a kibble full of grains. Don’t believe me, take a look at the ingredients list.
Finding the healthiest food for your dog (or cat)
Here are some tips for finding the healthiest pet food for your best friend:
1. Buy food that’s closest to fresh. Contrary to popular belief, raw fresh, raw frozen, dehydrated pet food or freeze-dried foods are better than canned foods, which are in turn better for your pet than dry kibble. Yes, a good quality canned food is better than kibble! This is because pets need moisture in their diet that kibble can’t deliver. Many people find fresh or raw frozen foods inconvenient, and that’s where dehydrated pet foods can bridge the gap between quality and convenience (although they do come at a cost).
2. Read the label. The first ingredient should be one or more “named” animal proteins for example chicken, lamb, kangaroo or pork. The broad term “meat” can mean anything, and often does. If you have any questions, ring the manufacturer’s toll-free number on the label. Don’t be fooled by labelling trickery either, as a kibble which is meat first and a whole list of grains will in reality have very little meat.
3. Avoid all by-products. These are the parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered animals, including the spleen, brain, blood, bone, fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines. Many would say that by-products are perfectly appropriate to feed our animals, however, this is a cheap, low-quality protein with inconsistent ingredients, and the quality and source of your pet’s protein is important, particularly as they get older.
4. Don’t accept meat meal. Again, this involves the use of bone and by-product as cheap filler, and reduces the quality of the protein you are serving. More often than not, meat meal can be carcass, such as chicken carcass.
5. Reject corn products and gluten meals. Corn and gluten are common allergens. Wheat gluten is used as an attempt to boost protein without the use of meat. Mars brand Advance Dermocare in Australia, made significantly of corn, fell foul to a mycotoxin known to originate from crop disease in corn. This led to a spate of dogs with incurable condition megaoesophagus as well as a number of fatalities.
6. Say no to chemical preservatives (like BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, propylene glycol). Opt for natural preservatives such as Vitamin E or Rosemary instead. Australian pet food labelling regulations allow for ambiguous ingredients which can conceal such chemicals, so avoid any dog or cat food which lists “antioxidants” or other questionable ingredients.
7. Avoid “light” or “senior” or “puppy” or “breed-specific” foods. These variations on pet food are marketing gimmicks, sold at a premium, with little or no real benefit to your pet. As our pets age they become more dependent on the right diet, such as meats rich in protein, yet these fad diets reduce such ingredients under the guise of your old pet is slowing down so doesn’t need the energy from an appropriate diet.
8. “Natural” or “human grade” foods are best. This is because they generally use the best quality ingredients, free from harmful toxins and chemicals. One caveat though, as some Australian brands trick you by saying “made with ingredients from a human grade facility” which doesn’t mean the ingredients they use are human grade, or even “contains human grade ingredients” which only means perhaps one small inclusion is human grade.
9. Variety is great. Feed several types of protein sources, vegetables and fruits your pet tolerates well, and rotate them frequently. We don’t eat the same food every day, and neither should your pet.
10. Buy Australian. By buying Australian pet food you are supporting local growers, producers, and the economy, but you are also ensuring your pet’s food has not been treated or irradiated as part of its importation into Australia. This too comes with a caveat, as without proper pet food regulations in Australia, you need to ensure the pet food you’re buying is in fact good quality.