The Most Convenient Food Ever

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Food science is wonderful, and this is truly amazing. Did you know you can purchase 100% nutritionally complete, healthy food, all in a single bag? There are age-appropriate formulas for all life stages, from infant to senior, and you can’t beat the convenience. Just measure out the appropriate amount of bite-sized nuggets and munch away! It’s full of protein, fruits, vegetables, has grain-free formulas for those with gluten intolerance, and even has essential vitamins and minerals added, and a tasty coating to enhance its natural flavor. Doesn’t that sound great?

What? No? It doesn’t?

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Of course, it doesn’t. But that’s exactly what the majority of people feed their dogs. You wouldn’t feed your child or yourself this way, because you’re not an idiot. You understand that a diet consisting solely of highly-processed ingredients, cooked at high heat and dried, is not healthy. You need fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, all in as wide a variety as possible to be truly healthy.

Even the cheapest, most crap-and-filler-laden commercial food carries the “seal of imagesapproval” from the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) as “100% nutritionally complete.” But AAFCO is not the FDA–or a government agency at all. It’s a private corporation, basically the fox watching the hen house. All their “approval” means is the bag contains what it says it contains, and if a pet is fed this particular food exclusively…it isn’t likely to die of starvation or malnutrition. It in no way certifies the ingredients are of any sort of quality.

If you (or your child) ate nothing but dried cereal, ramen, and hot dogs every day, you probably wouldn’t die. But would you be healthy? How much healthier would you be if you ate those things, but also added fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables?

I see it all the time in various dog groups. “What kind of food is best for my (insert breed here)?” They get a range of replies from the most expensive, organic, grain-free brands with exotic proteins like kangaroo or pheasant, to “I feed Crap-In-A-Bag from Costco, and my dogs have always done fine on it.” They choose a brand and buy that same bag, same variety, month after month, year after year.

At the very least, they should change the protein each time. Get beef, then the next time the chicken and turkey, then the lamb, then the salmon. The only variety some dogs get is the occasional pizza crust or tidbit from their people’s plates or what they manage to scavenge from the trash. No wonder they’re garbage-hounds. They’re starving for real food.

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I’m not anti-kibble. I feed about 50% grain-free dry food, because the tree that fell across my fence last year didn’t have $100 bills for leaves and I have two large-breed dogs who like to eat a couple of times a day.

You don’t have to go all-out with a totally raw diet. It’s not for everybody. But no matter which commercial brand you buy, you can make it healthier. At the very least, you can mix in a raw egg, or plain yogurt, or ground beef or turkey, some raw liver, or shredded and lightly steamed leafy greens or sweet potato, or a handful of fresh blueberries. Any or all of these once a day will go a long way to add high-quality nutrition and natural enzymes and probiotics to your dog’s diet.

There are complete frozen raw diets available at most pet supply stores. Not so much the “big box” stores, but your local or regional shops. These contain a range of proteins, bone, vegetables, and fruits, and can be used to supplement kibble. There are freeze-dried or dehydrated foods. I’m currently buying Sojos freeze-dried. I mix that up, then stir in the dry food.

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If raw grosses you out, cook it–but don’t over-cook it. There are all kinds of “stew” recipes out there for dogs. Put it in your slow cooker and add some to your dog’s food every day.

You don’t have to be a food chemist or a chef. Simply put a little thought into what you feed your dog. Just as you eat some processed convenience foods but also recognize the value of whole, healthy, natural foods, do the same for your dog. Convenience is…convenient. But the dog you love deserves more.

PS: While writing this post, I encountered THIS article taking a similar look at “dog food for people.” It was an April Fool’s story, and…It. Is. Hilarious.

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The Dog’s Dinner

The most important decision we make for our pets’ health is what we feed them. If you watch the news or frequent social media, it seems every week there is a new pet food recall. No brand is exempt. Even top-quality foods can receive a tainted ingredient from a supplier, or there could be an error in processing, or something can happen while a shipment is being transported or stored which allows heat or moisture to cause food to spoil.

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The latest story involves several brands of foods manufactured by companies owned by Smucker’s, including Ol’ Roy, Kibbes & Bits, and Gravy Train. Testing has found pentobarbital in the products…the drug used to euthanize animals. While the levels aren’t high enough to be lethal, it’s not permitted in any amount, for obvious reasons.

There are cries of “how is this getting into our pets’ food in the first place?” If you feed these brands, and if you’ve ever looked at the labels, you shouldn’t be surprised. This is less about “OMG, there’s a toxic chemical in Fluffy’s num-nums” and more about “I bought the cheapest food on the market which is made of crap ingredients.”

Manufacturers will screech with indignation if you suggest they use protein sources contaminated with high levels of antibiotics, steroids, or delicious, delicious pentobarbital. Sure, technically, they don’t knowingly buy euthanized kittens in a back alley and toss them in the processing vats. “No, we absolutely do not use euthanized animals in our food. That would be very, very wrong. Must be the supplier. We had no idea.” (Yes, they did.) This is plausible deniability.

So, how does it get in there? I remember years ago, a local rendering plant had a broken boiler. It took a long time to repair, and bodies of animals awaiting processing were piling up outside the building. Photos clearly showed livestock and roadkill–and even the carcasses of domestic animals.

High quality foods use proteins from facilities designed to process animals in clean, safe conditions, and in some cases, even meeting human-grade food processing standards. An ingredient list would show beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, or other named, single-source items on the label, and if you ask, they should be able to tell you the specific source.

Let’s look at the ingredients in Ol’ Roy dog food.

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There are so many barf-worthy ingredients, I barely know where to begin, but let’s look at the proteins first.

Meat and bone meal is the second ingredient. Okay, Roy, define “meat.” Any time you see this, or the fifth ingredient here, “animal fat,” or “animal by-product meal,” that’s a huge red flag. Those non-specific proteins are exactly the sort that come from these rendering and processing plants, where animals of all sorts are tossed in the vat and boiled, extruded, dried, and shipped off to substandard food manufacturers.

Think about what kinds of animals would end up in those facilities. Quality food producers, whether for humans or pets, harvest healthy animals and process them in sanitary conditions. In a rendering plant, producing these generic protein sources, you’ll find what’s known as the 4 Ds–Dead, Dying, Diseased, or Disabled. Awesome, right?

You don’t euthanize healthy animals. For pentobarbital to be in pet food, you don’t have to think very hard to realize a dying or diseased animal, which needed to be “put out of its misery,” is in that bag or can. Is that what you want to feed your animal companion?

“Natural flavor” is usually some sort of blood slurry, from any and every animal being processed. Yummy!

This food also contains BHA as a preservative. The primary use for this chemical is as a preservative in makeup and moisturizers, as well as in low-quality food. It is a suspected endocrine disruptor and possible carcinogen.

Ground yellow corn is the first ingredient. Hey, it’s cheap, so they can make a low-cost food. There’s also corn gluten meal (when you need even more corn and only have odds and ends left) and brewer’s rice. Brewer’s rice sounds good, right? Nope. It’s the tiny milled fragments left over when whole grain rice is processed. Basically, it’s the sweepings off the floor.

I’m not anti-kibble. It’s an economical, convenient option for most pet-owners. I feed my dogs half grain-free kibble and half raw food, and have for years.

Why grain-free? Dogs and cats are not built to digest or metabolize grain-based carbohydrates. Rather than being utilized to build a healthy body, most of it ends up on the other end of the pooper-scooper. If a wild canine gets grain, it’s typically from the digestive tract of a prey animal, and already partially digested. If a coyote invades your farm, it’s going to eat your chickens or goats, not graze in your corn or wheat field.

Grains are also a key source of allergens in pets. If Snoopy has chronic itchy skin, hot spots, anal gland problems, or ear infections, it very well might be a food allergy, and the source is much more likely to be a grain than a protein. So I don’t feed my dogs any grains, ever, not even in treats.

Ol’ Roy also has chemical color additives, added salt, soy (another allergy trigger for many dogs) and so many things I can’t pronounce that it boggles the mind. If you’re feeding this, your dog is better off if you simply feed him your leftovers, excluding things that are harmful to dogs, such as onions.

I get it. Quality pet food is expensive. Not everyone can afford $70 a bag. I’ve found Earthborn Holistic is an economical, good-quality, grain-free brand, and there are many more from which to choose these days. It’s an investment in your pet’s health. Spending a little more for food will save you a lot more in veterinary expenses down the road.

Sadly, in most cases, you have to do the homework. Veterinarians are given very little education on pet nutrition in school, and what they do receive is sponsored by large pet food manufacturers. Unless your vet has taken the initiative to educate themselves, they don’t know much more than the average pet owner about pet food.

We all have specific needs, a budget, and time constraints. But don’t look at the bouncy puppies on the pet food commercials, or look at the AAFCO certification on the bag (which means absolutely nothing beyond your dog won’t starve to death), or blindly accept what your vet tells you to feed. Learn to read labels. Learn what the ingredients mean. Subscribe to Whole Dog Journal.

It’s unfortunate, but the burden of deciding what to feed your pets rests solely on your shoulders. You (probably) wouldn’t feed your child a diet of nothing but generic mac and cheese and bologna, because while they wouldn’t starve to death, they certainly wouldn’t be very healthy, so don’t feed the animal equivalent to your pet.