Which is the best healthy food for dogs? It’s a question that gets asked time and time again, and it seems like every inquiry gets a different answer. From veterinarians to breeders to lifetime dog owners, everyone has their favorite dog food to recommend, one that they’ve had good experience with. Good experience with a dog food doesn’t make it the best choice, however. Sometimes, not even the one recommended by the veterinarian is the best choice.
Now hold on there! Veterinarians know the most about proper feeding, right? Any diet recommended by a veterinarian will be the best diet for your dog… right?
Well… not necessarily.
Money Talks, Even to Veterinarians
Most times, asking a veterinarian for best dog food advice is a conflict of interests, simply stated. The reason for this is two-fold: lack of actual nutritional training in vet school, and the “perks” received from major pet food companies.
Although it may seem surprising, most veterinarians only get a handful of nutritional training in vet school. One of the reasons for this is because those major pet food companies mentioned above are also huge sponsors in the veterinary industry. They provide funding for veterinary research and make donations to some “notable” humane associations. Even the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) receive support funding from some of the biggest pet food brands. These companies get a say in vet school curriculums, when it comes to nutrition at least. Related? There’s a very high possibility.
Why would major pet food brands – Hill’s, Royal Canin, Iams, Purina and a few others – want anything to do with what a vet learns in school? Great question, the answer to which should annoy pet owners. Not at their vets – it’s not the veterinary student’s fault – but at the corporate system that is behind the production of pet food to begin with. The reason why is because without exposure to the “right” knowledge, those just getting out of vet school, and whom are just learning the ropes, are frequently found to be very impressionable.
Impressionable and very busy! Major brand pet food company to the rescue! Well, why not? Impressionable = more money for pet food companies, after all.
By providing educational material, plenty of free samples and lots of propaganda explaining how their diets are superior, these companies get most vets wound right around their little fingers. By offering bonuses for selling product, they get whole practices wrapped even tighter. Lunch and learn for the entire staff every 6 to 8 weeks to “learn” about the new diets? Nutritional seminars for veterinary staff to learn how to “prescribe” the right diets? You bet! All of that. Might seem like a good thing, and it could be, but it isn’t always.
It should be fairly easy to see at this point why it is that these companies do take an interest in getting to the vets to “teach” them proper nutrition before they have to figure it out for themselves. Lots of product sold, regardless of the quality of the diet. Funds flowing into veterinary practices, which usually have a high overhead in comparison to the amount of money brought in. The food is edible, and initially can end up being a big step upward from what the pet is already eating; improvement in diet usually provides noticeably better health (even if not the best), fooling owners into thinking they are feeding the best.
So when Mrs. Jones or Mr. Smith inquires at Fluffy’s yearly checkup which dog food he should be eating, 9 times out of 10, that customer is leaving with a bag of food from the vet’s shelf, whether a regular diet or a prescription one. Those who do not sell the regular diets usually tell the clients to buy dog food sold by the brands that are supporting their practices. Money ends up being the first consideration here, with the health of the pet second. Thankfully not ALL veterinarians allow themselves to be manipulated this way, but the number of those who do is pretty high. Because they do not actually investigate the long-term effects that these diets can cause, they may also feel as if they are doing nothing wrong.
Big Brand Dog Food – Good, But Not Great
While most semi-premium, big name dog foods are adequate, and do provide enough “nutrients” to the dogs that eat them, what they do not provide is the right nutrition. Based mostly in either corn or wheat, this is completely opposite of what dogs – carnivores – actually need. Because these ingredients are inexpensive to buy however, the big brands have come up with diets that utilize all types of things that do nothing for the health of a dog, and only fill its belly. Surprised?
Feeding this way won’t hurt them, not at first, but there is something to be learned about that before thinking that it’s ok to feed this way. Dogs will eat just about anything, so it’s not likely there will be a complaint from the dog. In the meantime, manufacturers know very well that these diets are not ideal nutrition for dogs, but they have built fortunes around misleading the public into thinking their foods are superior. What they are is better than supermarket varieties, but they are not superior by any means. Sound familiar? Most big food corporations producing food for people have this same philosophy.
Through huge advertising campaigns, lots of perks and bonuses and providing very attentive “support” to veterinarians and their staff, these companies have everyone fooled. They get away with it because not enough vets do their homework and actually learn about what it is that they are recommending, and that grain-based foods are not healthy for dogs or cats. Most will argue that it is just fine, but this comes with the brainwashing of not knowing anything else. It is not just fine. History has already begun to prove that.
I will mention again, these brand, semi-premium foods are not bad foods by any means, and they are highly preferable over cheap, supermarket variety foods, but they are not ideal for the long-term health of dogs. Unfortunately, most dog owners do not know this, usually because their veterinarians don’t tell them for one reason or the other. The “advisors” at pet superstores are just as brainwashed; they only know what the dog food reps tell them.
Feeding the Best Diets for Dogs
Since canines are carnivores, the best thing for them to eat is whatever they would have eaten in the wild; meat, some bone (although pet dogs should never, ever be fed bone at all), and perhaps the small amount of vegetation that may have been in the stomach of prey when it was killed, but not much else. This wild diet provides all the necessary vitamins, minerals, amino acids and moisture that dogs need for optimum health. It provides protein in a form that canines can readily digest and actually gain nutrition from, unlike the plant-based proteins in grain-based foods, which do not digest well at all.
A raw diet for dogs of fresh meat and the right supplements daily (since domestic dogs should never get bones, they need calcium and some other minerals added to their diets in the form of multivitamins made just for dogs) would be the perfect meal for any dog, but not many people want to feed raw. This is quite understandable.
Raw feeding is not as easy as it may seem, with lots of room for error including poor nutrition from poor quality meat, the potential of contracting parasites that normally would be killed in the processing for dry or canned dog food, and the potential for fresh meat to very quickly go rancid. Most veterinarians discourage owners from feeding raw, and these are the main reasons why; not because there’s anything actually wrong with feeding this way. Imbalanced diet, contaminated and/or rotting meat will do much more harm than any raw diet will do good.
So, what are the other options?
In determining other feeding options, dog owners must initially understand what they should be feeding in the first place when they can’t feed a wild diet. The most important qualities for a dog food in that case are:
- Main ingredient is protein derived from animals, not plants;
- Moisture content of at least 70% and preferably 75-78% which is ideal, and the same moisture content as fresh meat;
- Added necessary vitamins and minerals specific for dogs, especially niacin and calcium, to create a complete, balanced food;
- Contains NO grains at all, although small percentages of potato, sweet potato, peas, green beans or other vegetables or fruits are fine, as long as the main ingredients in the diet are meat and moisture (water).
That’s all. A dog food comprised of these three things is a healthy diet for almost any dog, and especially so if it is organic as well.
The next option after raw feeding is frozen diets prepared as a complete dog food, and freeze-dried dehydrated diets, which get mixed before feeding. Prepared/served according to direction, both foods provide all the nutrition that canines need, in a low-processed form that they will gain the most benefit from. These diets are easy to use, but they are also fairly expensive, which is a problem for some.
Continuing down the list, the next preference is grain-free canned dog food. Canned dog food is prepared with all necessary nutrients for a balanced diet by itself, which is all any dog needs. If feeding grain-free canned food, the best recommendation is to feed only canned food, which provides the optimal amount of moisture and all nutrition to keep dogs healthy.
Dry food for dogs is the least recommended dog food – even if grain-free – but the most fed because it is convenient, inexpensive compared to all the other options, and easy to store. Unfortunately, it is also the most highly heat-processed, causing a significant reduction in important nutrients. Additionally, dry dog food is just that – dry. The recommendations above have hopefully indicated a trend by now, which is that dry dog food is a poor choice for good, long-term health.
Water – The Most Important Ingredient in Any Healthy Dog Food
High moisture content is essential for good health in canines, because the natural diet is high in moisture. Even though dogs have been eating dry dog food for decades, it has only become understood in the past decade or so the fact that in this time, the incidence of kidney and renal failure, and various cancers, in dogs has increased dramatically.
Today, kidney disease is one of the most prominent causes of death in dogs. Many researchers now believe that this increase in kidney disease related deaths can be blamed on the drastic increase of dry food that today’s dogs consume. Without enough moisture in the dog food, this creates a bodily environment that causes the kidneys and liver to work much harder than they should be to rid the body of waste. These are studies that never make it to the public, however; big brand pet food companies make sure of that.
Many people think that because their dogs have always been fine eating dry food, that there is nothing wrong with a dry diet. In reality, it just means they have had healthier dogs that were not as harshly affected by the lack of moisture in their food. That could change any day, though. The number of dogs who are affected by the lack of moisture in their diet continues to increase. Dogs were not meant to eat dry kibble, and it is taxing on their organs.
All of this probably sounds foreign to many pet owners, but it is the sad truth. It is even sadder that many vets will deny these facts in order to save face, or to be able to keep selling the food on their shelves. A holistic veterinarian will explain the truth behind this, however, as holistic medicine is health through body wellness and disease prevention. Appropriate diet is one of the main ways to prevent many different diseases in dogs, and in people as well.
To recap, it cannot be stressed enough how important moisture is in every dog’s diet, and how inappropriate regular dry dog food is. Getting off dry food and switching to one of the other mentioned feeding programs is much healthier and less taxing on the body and organs. In situations where it is impossible to feed anything other than dry dog food, soaking kibble with as much warm water as it will soak up is a big help, even if it’s not ideal. Dogs should never eat anything that does not contain a high percentage of moisture. Do the research yourself if your veterinarian refuses to be honest with you.