Sadly, there’s an increase of dogs becoming obese, sick, and dying of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc., due to poor quality food and the sedentary lifestyle of their human caretakers. But these can be prevented to some degree by their diet.
Start by feeding your dogs real, clean foods they were meant to eat and they will be healthy and happier dogs, who live longer, in less pain, as well as save you money and heartache.
The practice of buying healthy dog food is same as buying healthy human food. So shop smart. Here are some tips and guidelines I use for my dogs to help you get started on buying healthy dog foods. You can also apply these guidelines to other pets as well.
Look for AAFCO Certification
Unfortunately, dog food is not regulated at all. So terms such as “natural” and “gourmet” have no meaning. But look for this certification, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). Currently, AAFCO membership is voluntary, but it provides guidelines for the formulation and manufacturing of pet foods. Having this label means dog food meets the basic nutritional requirements. Pet food companies who abide by these guidelines tell us they care about their customers, and not just about profit.
Read the Ingredients List
Just like in human food, you need to read to know what is actually in the dog food.
Look for whole food sources at the very top of the ingredient list like “beef,” “turkey,” or “chicken” – one-word descriptions, and not “meat by product” or “meat meal.” Meat and fat ingredients should be identified by species (turkey, beef, fish, etc.). Avoid any formula that uses unidentified sources. As a general rule, the longer the ingredient list, the more potential for filling your pet full of stuff that is biologically inappropriate, probably allergenic, and possibly toxic.
Go Grain & Wheat Free
Dog’s digestive tract cannot handle grain and wheat and it can cause all kinds of discomfort, allergies and serious illnesses. Whole grain such as brown rice (preferably organic) is preferred, but not necessary.
Also, avoid formulas with “grain fragments”- these are non-nutritive fillers. Grain-free formulas will frequently use potatoes as the starch, which holds the food together during processing.
Look for Vegetables & Fruits
Certain vegetables, such as carrots, peas and whole fruits are healthy and palatable for dogs. These should be on the top of the ingredient list.
Avoid Corn & Soy
They are cheap filler ingredients, non-nutritious for pets, and a known allergenic. Soy is estrogenic and wreaks havoc on your pet’s endocrine system. Plus, corn and soy are more than 95% GMO and heavy on the pesticide.
Avoid By Products
They have nothing to do with real meat or food. Many are just fillers and usually chemically ridden. The unspecified by products could contain parts of beaks, feathers, feet, hooves, hair and even tumors that have been ground into the mix during processing.
Avoid Artificial Colors, Flavoring, Sweeteners, & Preservatives
Studies have shown that these unnatural things can be carcinogens and some dogs have died from it. In dog food, these usually go by the names BHT, BHA, ethoxyquin and propyl gallate. When considering foods containing fish, look for manufacturer assurance on the label that states the formula contains NO artificial preservatives. Look for foods preserved with vitamins E and C, often called tocopherols. Luckily, there are many dog foods these days that offer cleaner food, free of these and they have become affordable.
Find the Freshest Package of Dog Food.
Once you have picked out a type of food, you need to make sure that the food is still fresh. Check the sell by (or best before) date on the bag or container. Dry food in particular is sprayed with fat on the outside to increase palatability. Fat will eventually go rancid with time and exposure to air and light. Heat will increase the chance of rancidity. Pet stores will place the oldest food on the top of the stack or the front of the line for the sake of inventory turnover. Ask if they have the freshest bag.
Although it seems like you are saving money buying a 40 pound bag of food for your 10 pound dog, you are better off with a smaller bag for the sake of freshness, unless you store it in the freezer nicely wrapped up to prevent moisture contamination and freezer burn. Once you’ve opened your dog food, place it in an air tight container and put it in the refrigerator. It will keep it fresh and last longer.
Cook for Your Dogs
It’s not as hard as you think and you don’t have to cook separately.
Simply incorporate some of your healthy foods into your dog’s diet. It will save you money and keep everybody in your family, including your pets healthy and happy.
For example: when you cook quinoa, farro, oats or brown rice, or meats, such as chicken, beef, salmon (preferably organic), set some aside for your dog before adding marinade, oil, or spices, salt and pepper.
Potatoes: Dogs also love potatoes and sweet potatoes. You can bake them in the oven and cut them into pieces and give it as a snack or puree them into their meals. Make sure you don’t add any trimmings. You can also buy canned organic sweet potatoes or pumpkin, which are both tasty and healthy.
Broth: Add organic beef or chicken broth to your dog’s kibble to make it more paletable.
Organic Mixed Veggies
Grab a frozen bag of organic (pesticide and GMO free) mixed veggies that have peas, carrots, corn, beans. Thaw, rise and mix it in with their kibbles and/or organic meat broth. Quinoa and peas are a complete protein, so you are assured they are getting enough protein and other nutrients.
Eggs are affordable, healthy, and easy to prepare, but make sure you cook them. Hard boiled or steamed eggs mixed into dry dog food with some quinoa makes a great meal.
Avoid These Toxic Foods
Onions, grapes, chocolate, anything with caffeine and high amount of processed sugar, artificial anything, dairy, preservatives, and GMO.
Avoid Table Scraps
Although it’s okay once in awhile, these table scraps are what is making many pets obese and unhealthy. So minimize, and make sure you rinse off any salt, sauces, and spices to make it a bit clean and healthy before you sneak some under the table.
Put Pets Away at Meal Time
It’s good practice to have your pets away from the dining table when you eat. Put them in a separate room where they cannot see the food, you or your family. It will be less torturous for everyone.
Exercise & Play
In addition to a healthy diet, dogs, just like people need exercise. So walk and run with your dogs. Countless people have lost weight, become healthy and happy just by regular walks with their dogs. Take them to an off leash park or the beach and let them run around free. It’s what they were meant to do and it feels great to see them running around with their tongues hanging out.
Dogs love to play! So throw some balls, let them chase after stuffed animals, or play tug of war. It will keep them healthy, trim, and loving you longer.
There are also agility, obedience, and puppy play classes where dogs can learn and socialize. It’s also a great way for like minded people to get together and make friends as well, so it helps you too. I love dog people. They’re great!
Just like people, dogs need affection, warmth, and love. So show plenty of it. It’s not hard to do. Just look at their eyes and faces. Pet them, give them hugs and kisses, and lots of positive reinforcements. They can’t understand the language, but they can pick up on all your emotions.
It can be confusing to figure out the relative quality of a pet food in the beginning, but with practice, you can become an expert on understanding labels and the nutritional value of dog food easily, and it will become automatic in no time, and you’ll be ahead of everybody else in keeping your dog healthy and happy.
Remember, they’re not here with us for long, so make sure you look out for your very best of friend and an “angel by our side.”