While nearly every dog owner goes to the supermarket to buy dog food for their pet and most are assured they are nutritionally balanced, commercial pet foods may not be in your dog’s best interest. Like human ‘ready meals’, they can contain ingredients that shouldn’t have any place in the diet and they just aren’t as good for your dog as fresh food.
Why you should avoid dry food
Dry food is by far the worst type of pet food to give your dog and the problems start with the manufacture of the product. The food is made with a machine called an extruder and a computer system to ensure all the ingredients are combined correctly and contain the right amount of nutrients. The extruder requires starch and only small amounts of moisture in order to function correctly so dry ingredients become the main bulk of the food (by-product bone meal and rendered meat and bone meal and grains). Once mixed together the preparation is pushed into a nozzle to determine its shape and cut to size. Finally it is coated with fat and flavorings to make it edible for the animal. Some types of canned pet ‘meat’ is made using the same method and because there is very little real meat in it, it is filled with additives and colors to make it attractive to pet owners, who would probably not want to purchase it if they could see what it actually looked like. It is also easier for dried pet food to become contaminated during production because even though it can be heat treated and the ingredients sterilized, when the food is sprayed with coatings, there can be bacteria present that is capable of making your dog sick.
Recalls of dry pet food and the risk to YOUR health
Dry food and pet treats have been recalled several times due to potential contamination with salmonella because of the inability to properly sterilize the food and it isn’t only your dog who is at risk from the food poisoning bug, but you and your children too. Humans can pick up salmonella just from coming into contact with dry pet foods and treats, so it’s really important that anyone handling the food should wash their hands afterwards. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in a two year period between 2006-2008, almost 80 people (including 32 babies under the age of two) were infected with salmonella that they had caught directly from exposure to dry pet foods.
The adverse health effects of preservatives
The preservatives in dry pet food can present even greater risks than that of food poisoning. According to Nagoya City University Medical School in Japan, the preservatives BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin that are contained in dry pet food can be a hot bed for cancer growth and other diseases. In tests of the additive ethoxyquin, it was found to trigger kidney, stomach and colon cancers and to worsen bladder cancer in the animals who ingested it. BHA also caused stomach and bladder cancers and other carcinomas in hamsters and rats. BHT could also cause thyroid cancer. Ethoxyquin is added in as an anti-oxidant to try to make a ‘junk’ food healthy enough for animals to eat. Unfortunately artificial nutrients are not without their own side-effects as they can affect the availability of naturally acquired vitamins, leaving the animal deficient in vitamins A, E and selenium, a deficiency that can result in an under active thyroid. Along with their human counterparts, our canine friends are developing the same array of diseases that affect modern man, including arthritis, allergies, skin eruptions, gastrointestinal disorders and seizure disorders, conditions some vets say dramatically improve once the animal no longer eats commercial pet food and is given the natural diet they evolved to eat.
Phenobarbital in dog food
The most disturbing aspect about the pet food industry was the discovery of phenobarbital in dog food. Phenobarbital is given as a lethal injection to destroy animals yet it was found to be present in dog food in an analysis of products tested in 1998 and in 2000. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say that levels are not harmful to dogs and that it must have got there through contamination of rendered meat from cattle or horses. However, cattle are not normally slaughtered in this way and scientists from the American Journal of Veterinary Research, who the FDA obtained their information from, failed to find any equine DNA in any of the samples they tested. They wrote:
‘Cattle are only occasionally euthanized with pentobarbital, and thus are not considered a likely source of pentobarbital in dog food.’ They concluded that they didn’t know where the phenobarbital had come from.
What should I feed my dog?
This is a contentious issue among animal experts with polarizing opinions on either side. The CDC don’t recommend giving your dog a raw food diet because of the risk of certain food-Bourne illnesses to you and your dog, but wild dogs eat prey animals and they eat the flesh and bones raw. They are primarily carnivores but they do eat a little vegetable matter. There is no place for any grains in your dog’s diet, yet these are added routinely as ‘fillers’ in commercial food and they may be the source of your pet’s ill health. A dog naturally evolved to eat raw meat.
Some vets and animal welfare groups (like the RSPCA, Australia), recommend:
- Including human-grade raw meat in their diet, together with raw bones. Bones that are raw don’t splinter like cooked bones sometimes do and they are good for your dog’s teeth and gums. Always make sure the bone you select is too large to be swallowed whole (to minimize choking risk).
- You can offer tinned fish meant for human consumption (watch out for tiny fish bones).
- If you give your dog vegetables, make sure you don’t give him onions as these are poisonous to dogs.
- Don’t give him processed meat like sausages and burger as these contain other preservatives that may harm him.
- Allow him access to an organically grown lawn – dogs eat grass as a vegetable matter and nutritional source. It’s important it’s organic as pesticides sprayed on the lawn can harm your dog.
- Have your dog weighed regularly and see a vet if you have concerns about his weight.
- If you aren't sure what to buy your pet or how to prepare it, you can buy raw dog food, that is, dog food that is ready prepared like canned dog food, but all the ingredients are raw. This is an excellant choice for those pet owners who want to feed raw food but don't have time. The downside is that this type of dog food is more expensive than the kibble you can buy from the supermarket.
Ethical pet food - Another Choice
If you aren’t sure if you could take the plunge with a raw diet or you are worried about food poisoning, you could opt for the next best thing. Now, there are ethical pet food companies who sell homemade dog food, comprised only of real meat and vegetable matter (no rendered meat, additives, flour or grains). Some ethical pet food companies manufacture dry foods with real meat and added botanical herbs to aid digestion and urinary function. Some brands have added fish oils for omega 3 and probiotic yoghurt to help build his immune defences. This is a good choice for any owner who would like to know that the pet food they feed their dog is actually meat. It is more expensive to provide your dog with this diet, but you may see a reduction in illnesses and vet bills so it will be worth it for both of you.