Last weekend I was minding my own business, scrolling through my facebook feed when an article caught my attention: 12 facts you need to know about dog food, or something like that. Of course I clicked on it and even though it was obviously written by a dog food company I am always willing to learn as much as possible about what I should feed my dogs. (Should I be concerned that the internet knows I have dogs?)
Many of the facts listed were things I already knew but there were a couple of warnings that stood out. There is a wide range of food available and there is also a wide range of ingredients used. I’ve seen the 4 d’s highlighted before (dead, dying, diseased and decaying) which prompted me years ago to do extensive research to find the most healthy food for my dogs. I’ve been using the same food for years and it has worked well for us, but every couple of years there seems to be a new brand that is getting lots of hype and I will compare foods again to see if it’s time to make a change.
I recently did this just before we brought Winn home. She had been eating a different brand with her breeder so I was trying to decide if I should keep her on that, transition to our brand’s large breed puppy formula, or switch everybody over to this brand. Maybe it was better than what we’ve been using.
I’m not a nutritionist, medical professional or breeder. I simply have my own experience to draw from, other people’s opinions to consider, and research and articles available to refer.
As I read through this list of facts, one of the warnings was about meat with the word meal, and that it was bad. I quickly opened another window and brought up the ingredient list of our dog food and holy s**t the first ingredient is chicken meal! Oh no, I looked further down the list and also saw whitefish meal. I have tried so hard to do right by my dogs and now I’ve somehow been duped into giving them crap food for over 15 years!
As my heart was racing, I opened another window and pulled up the ingredient list of the food her breeder was using. It’s a brand I’ve heard other Newfoundland owners recommend and I knew it was considered to be a high quality food. The first ingredient was duck, then chicken meal. I took a breath, and concluded that I needed to dig a little deeper to figure out what was good and what was bad.
I found a website that has product reviews on almost every food on the market. They evaluate the ingredient list item by item, give explanations of these items and make recommendations based on their findings. With my head spinning from information overload, I was relieved to see our food was on the best dry dog food list (4 1/2 stars, should I switch to 5 stars?) but most importantly, I was finally able to understand why the ingredients chosen were important and what the deal is with meat meal.
Not all meals are alike and this is an easy to understand explanation:
Meat meal is a dried end-product of the cooking process known as rendering. Rendering is a lot like making stew — except that this stew is intentionally over-cooked.
With rendering, you start with a meat stew, cook away the water and bake the residue. And you end up with a highly concentrated protein powder — or meat meal.
Of course, not all meat meals are created equal. Some are of very high quality while others are positively awful.
It all boils down to the stew’s contents — the raw materials. And one critically important principle…
No meal product can ever be better than the raw materials that were used to make it.
Better meals are typically made from the meat of clearly identified sources. Low-grade meals come from anonymous materials like slaughterhouse waste and spoiled supermarket meats — even diseased or dying cattle — or dead zoo animals.
In other words, you want to see meal that is animal specific such as chicken, lamb, beef, venison, ect. Avoid dog foods that include the words “by-products” next to the meal or fail to name the source of the meal. Examples include: meat meal, chicken by products meal, animal meal or meat and bone meal.
If you are curious and want to read about your food of choice or are looking for a recommendation here’s a link to this website: Dog food advisor.
Here’s my own list of helpful hints:
- Choose foods that are protein rich and avoid foods that use corn and corn germ meal, especially at the top of the ingredient list. Corn is an inexpensive ingredient that is low in nutritional value.
- Wash your dog’s bowls after each meal and provide lots of fresh water.
- Be aware of human foods that your dogs can and can’t eat and keep the phone numbers of poison control and the nearest emergency vet handy.
- Trust your instincts. You know your dogs better than anyone and you also know when they have an upset stomach.
- Spoil your dogs, in a healthy way!