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PetPourri: Good Eats for Canines – The Dish on Dog Food

By Hana Haatainen Caye

As intelligent human beings, we usually know when we’ve eaten too much of the wrong thing. And when our doctor tells us the long term consequences of our binges, we can make an informed decision to eat more nutritious meals and less of the bad stuff. Our pets don’t have that luxury. After all, Rex can’t read labels or shop at Whole Foods. That means he’s counting on you to fill his bowl with meals that’ll keep him healthy, happy and functioning at the highest level possible.



Fido is What Fido Eats

Like humans, dogs need vitamins and minerals, proteins, fats, carbohydrates and water in amounts that vary according to their weight. Plain and simple, most commercial dog foods, particularly low-cost economy brands, do not meet all the nutritional needs of all dogs. It is the over-consumption of these low-quality foods that leads to malnourishment and a laundry list of associated problems. Chronic infections, diseases of the digestive tract, arthritis, diarrhea, vomiting, bad smelling feces, loss of fur, allergies, circulatory problems, low energy levels, periodontal disease, stress and anxiety are among the many ailments associated with a poor diet. However, because most of these issues have several other causes, malnourishment can be tricky to diagnose. One should always consult with a vet to rule out any other possible causes before making any dietary changes.

It’s also important to note that, while emaciation is a strong indicator that a dog is malnourished, being overweight doesn’t rule it out. A portly pooch is just as likely to be suffering from poor nutrition and is doubly at risk for degenerative joint disease, diabetes, orthopedic problems and respiratory troubles. In order to avoid such life (and quality of life) threatening conditions, it’s absolutely vital to ensure your pet is eating the right kinds of food.

The Price of Premium

Unless you’re making well-researched meals from scratch, the best and simplest way to get your dog the nutrition he needs is to switch to premium dog food. Premium and super premium dog foods are specifically designed to provide a balanced meal with mostly organic, all-natural ingredients and no harmful fillers. Yes, premium is generally more expensive than economy brands initially, but it pays for itself in two very important ways. 

First, the more nutritious the food, the less your dog needs to consume. According to a study done by Nan Weitzman and Ross Becker on the website www.petcaretips.net, the suggested feeding for a 40 lb. dog is 6 cups per day of economy brand food, compared to 3 ¼ cups per day of premium food and 1 ¾ cups per day of super premium food.  That means you’ll have to buy over twice as much economy brand food in order to satisfy your dog’s nutritional needs. Secondly, your dog’s health will thrive when it is not being compromised by poor nutrition, which means fewer costly visits to the vet.


Nutrition 101

Not sold on premium? Healthy alternatives are out there; finding them just takes some nutritional know-how. Start by familiarizing yourself with your dog’s specific nutritional requirements by consulting with your vet. Resources like Better Food for Dogs: A Complete Cookbook and Nutrition Guide, by David Bastin, Jennifer Aston and Dr. Grant Nixon, D.V.M., which contains a comprehensive chart that can help you determine your pet’s exact nutritional needs, can also be invaluable.

Once you know what your dog needs, choosing wisely is a matter of reading labels carefully with an eye for quality ingredients. The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Office) has made this job easier for you by insisting that all dog food ingredients be listed by their common name and in order of weight. They also require that the guarantee analysis, feeding directions and calorie statements be included on every label.

Where’s the Beef, Barley & B12?

While there is a movement toward feeding dogs a vegan diet, this is generally not advisable. There are no complete proteins in plants, nor is there any vitamin B12. Plus, dogs need foods that are easily digestible and plants do not meet this criteria. A balanced dog food should have a specific meat listed as the first ingredient, followed by whole grains such as brown rice, barley or rolled oats. These are excellent sources of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and protein. You’ll also want to look for niacin, preformed vitamin D and the amino acid Arginine.

Just Say No

As important as your dog’s needs are, it is equally important to pay attention to what your pup does not need. Fillers like beet pulp, for example, are believed to cause gastric torsion (potentially fatal bloating) in Bloodhounds and similar heavy-chested breeds. Other ingredients to avoid include:

  • Synthetic Preservatives: Usually found in low-cost, low-quality foods, artificial preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), tert-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), propyl gallate, and ethoxyquin have been linked to cancer in animals. Look for natural preservatives such as Tocopherol (vitamin E), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), citric acid and rosemary extract.


  • Meat Meal and/or Bone Meal: According to Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph. D. and Elizabeth Renaghan in the book Earl Mindell’s Nutrition and Health for Dogs, if the meat on the label is not specified as lamb, beef, chicken, etc. and is not marked human-grade or USDA, there is a possibility it came from diseased, drugged and decaying animals.


  • Fish Meal: According to the U.S. Coast Guard regulations, all fish meal not destined for human consumption must be conserved with ethoxyquin, a substance that can be poisonous to animals.


  • By-Products: Ingredients like hulls, crushed peanut shells, crushed corn cobs and mill run are unnecessary fillers. They offer no nutritional value and are difficult for animals to digest.


  • Cellulose: Another filler with no nutritional value, cellulose is the pulp from fibrous plant materials, usually wood. 


As you read labels, make sure you also check the expiration or processed-on date. Dog foods with no synthetic preservatives typically have a shelf life of no longer than six months. A complete list of ingredients to avoid can be found at www.dogfoodproject.com, along with a detailed explanation on what to watch out for on food labels. 

Feeding Time


Regardless of the food source, be sure to abide by the feeding directions on the labels. A pooch that is overeating premium food is going to end up with many of the same weight-related issues as his overweight, economy brand-eating cousin. Dividing food up into 2-3 small meals per day, depending on your dog’s weight requirements, is advisable. A handy online calorie counter to help you determine how many cups of food your dog should be eating daily can be found at www.the-puppy-dog-place.com.

The way to a dog’s health is through his stomach. It may take some adjustments to get your dog on the road to good health through nutrition, but the long term effects are plentiful. Choose wisely. It will be worth every extra tail wag!

The Top 10 Premium Dog Foods

According to www.the-puppy-dog-place.com


  1. Innova Evo: Made with high quality meats and has the highest protein content of any meat-based dry food.
  2. Orijen: This ‘biologically-appropriate’ food is composed of 70% meat and 30% fruits and vegetables.
  3. Canidae: All natural and holistic, only human-grade ingredients are used in Canidae’s line of grained and grain-free formulas.
  4. Solid Gold: Eight ranges of dog foods are packed in special ‘foil barrier’ bags, eliminating the need for preservatives or flavor enhancers.
  5. Blue Buffalo: Gluten-free recipes developed by holistic veterinarians and animal nutritionists. Size and age-specific formulas are available.
  6. Natural Balance: Dick Van Patten’s brand made it on the list with organic, hypoallergenic and reduced calorie varieties.
  7. Nature’s Variety: Another holistic brand that is 100% free of corn, wheat, soy, chemicals and artificial colors and preservatives.
  8. Timberwolf Organics: Contains high levels of animal-based protein, multiple grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds and herbs.
  9. Wellness: Offers a wide range of holistic offerings, including the Simple Food Solutions line which is perfect for pups suffering from food allergies or sensitivities.
  10. California Natural: Another good choice for dogs with allergies, this brand offers high quality, nutrient-rich, chemical-free formulas that are age and size-specific.

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