What is complete and balanced dog food

What really is “Complete and Balanced” dog food?

Promotional words and labels are not only used for the food that we buy for ourselves at a store or a restaurant, but what we feed our pets as well.

This promotional language can be extremely misleading, especially when it comes to phrases like “complete and balanced.”

The truth is, many brands’ products and ingredients are not complete nor balanced and include fillers that decrease the chances of your pet being healthy.

Here are some tips to consider the next time you take a trip to the store to buy food for your pet – what should you look out for in the ingredients and why is it so important to your pet’s health?

Why ingredients in dog food are so important

Your dog’s health is very important to you, is it not?

We know how food and diet can have a tremendous impact on our health, and it’s the same for your dog.

To ensure that your dog is eating healthy, you should check (at the very least) the main ingredients of your dog food. These are always listed first on nutrition labels, which are usually on the most obscure part of the packaging.

Make sure you don’t rely on the photos on the front of the package as these mislead you. Instead take some time to read the back.

The images on pet food packaging and other marketing efforts by most pet food brands are extremely misleading. You can’t argue they’re “false claims”, but they definitely do their best to convince you a dog food is much healthier than it probably is.

When it comes to regulations – especially in Australia where there really aren’t any – once a dog food meets certain minor requirements, such as ingredients, analysis, and meeting very loose terms for a formula name, they can then be very creative with their marketing.

For example, you may see some glorious looking meat on the front of the bag for a dog food made almost entirely of corn.

When you see complete and balanced this doesn’t mean much either. It means a small part of the formula meets minimum standards to use these words – standards set by the American standard “AAFCO”.

You see, once a dog food manufacturer has used a vitamin mix (usually from China), and ticked boxes for protein, fat, etc, they can fill the rest of the formula with whatever they like – whatever is cheap and makes the most profit.

Even with those minimum ingredients to make a dog food complete and balanced, there’s a huge spectrum in terms of quality.

An expensive dog food may have human grade chicken fat, or a cheap dog food can have tallow from a big pot of rendered animals of all shapes and sizes, likely with some tumours and other nasties in their to boot. Both allow a manufacturer to meet AAFCO requirements.

What should your dog really eat?

Dogs and cats in particular need plenty of protein. If you have a cat you’ll know they’re a carnivore (meat eater). Do you think your dog is more like a cat, or more like us with our blunt omnivorous teeth?

Meat such as chicken, fish, lamb, beef etc are what our dogs should have as the main part of their diet, inclusive of organs.

Your dog food should definitely list meat first, but watch out for ingredients which have meat first followed by a whole load of grains and other stuff – this merely waters down the meat in the food.

Keep an eye out for grains, vegetables, healthy fats and oils. The key to a healthy of diet is plenty of variety based on the food pyramid, but with the emphasis on animal (or prey) ingredients.

But grains are bad for dogs I hear you say.

Are grains bad for dogs? You may be wrong…

It’s not quite right to say grains are bad for dogs, but it’s what you’ll come to believe from social media and the big wide Internet full of “experts”.

Some grains are good for dogs in moderation.

Grains like oats and barley are actually very nutritious and good for the gut. Other grains (or shall we say “cereals”) can be left over rubbish, hulls and husks, of bargain basement standard.

If you’re feeding your dog one of the many dog foods full of “cereals” then this definitely isn’t moderation, and will very likely harm your dog – eventually.

What types of dog foods to avoid

Since protein is essential to your dog’s diet, any dry food with a top ingredient that is not meat should be avoided. Or one with meat first then a load of grains.

Avoid anything with cereals or wheat. Definitely if they say cereal or wheat by-products.

Some dog foods (even expensive ones) will use corn or meal by-product as main ingredients. Be wary of these, especially in excess. You can argue corn has some nutrition, but it’s a cheap protein substitute for what your dog should really be eating – meat.

One brand of very well known dog food in Australia was made mostly of corn. It was discontinued around 2018 after it was linked to the deaths and sickness of many Australian dogs. Guess what the problem ingredient was? Corn (or more namely mycotoxins in corn).

If sugar is listed in the ingredients list, that is another red flag.

Because dog diets need a variety of different ingredients – just like our diets – make sure the brand has a healthy balance of ingredients with Vitamins A, B, and E.

When I studied pet nutrition I was taught a dog should be fed a variety, but a variety of formulas from the same brand. I was taught switching brands was a bad idea. I.e. you should stick to Royal Canin, or stick to Hills.

But when you realise most dog food “recipes” are mostly the same formula but with different branding, it means this is a fallacy.

I find most dogs only suffer the symptoms of switching from one brand to another if the dog was fed the original brand for a long period of time.

How to improve your dog’s diet

If you feel that your dog’s current food brand is still not enough to keep them healthy, you can add some extra ingredients to enhance their health and diet.

As an additional treat, cook some fresh meat or chicken – great for dogs and cats. Organs too! And meaty bones!

(Appropriate bones that is – research if you’re unsure what type and size, but no weight-bearing bones and definitely no cooked bones)/

Even some organic fruit or cooked vegetables for dogs can be healthy for them, but keep in small portions.

Red, orange, and yellow coloured produce are the best for animals, but you may have to blend, cook, steam, and even juice different products because animals are unable to fully digest and process the skin or the outside of some fruits and vegetables.

With avocados do not feed the skin and keep the pips away from your dog – poisonous. That’s why we don’t eat the skin and pips (not that we would like the taste), but avocadoes are very nutritious.

Consider adding the following produce items to your next dog’s meal:

  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Pumpkin
  • Celery
  • Green beans
  • Spinach
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Cantaloupe
  • Avocado

In addition, sometimes dogs do not drink as much water as they should. Cats are a nightmare with drinking – big problem given renal failure is so common. With small pieces of fresh fruit, they will take in water along with essential vitamins.

Is your dog’s diet complete?

What else are you feeding your dog, cat, or another pet in addition to store-bought food each week?

Tell me in the comments below!

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