As I mentioned in my New Years post, a good way to determine the quality of your pet's (and your own) food is by taking a long, hard look at the ingredients label on the package.
The quality of your pet's nutrition takes on even more significance if, like most dogs, your pet eats the same food every day. Imagine, same food, same tastes every day...besides a little boring, it would become even more important that the daily grub was a high quality concoction, designed to enhance vitality and health, no??
Ignore the packaging, pictures of savory meats and veggies, happy dogs and look at the ingredient panel. Chances are, if you get your pet's food at a grocery store, generic pet shop or large discounter that sells everything, the food isn't great. (Sorry, I know that this is exactly what no one wants to hear in this economy.)
Look at the first ingredients. The first ingredients tell you what the bulk of the food is made up of. Bad ingredients = corn, by-product meal or meat meal. Dogs are carnivores (OK, technically, omnivores, but with a carnivorous bent).
So, a food made of mostly corn?? Unhealthy. Ground corn is a cheap filler used by many inexpensive dog foods to keep production costs down. Corn gluten meal is used as a weed killer (yum) and is actually one of the by-products of the high fructose corn syrup industry (one of the worst ingestibles for us humans!!). Corn gluten meal is a really cheap way to up the protein ante in dog food to meet American Association of Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) standards. This is the source of many a food allergy and other ailments which develop over time. This is a bad ingredient.
Next, look for your first meat source. Is it chicken, turkey, vension, beef or some other scrumptious whole meat?? Hmmm, why not??
Are you seeing the dreaded words, 'animal fat'? If so, do not walk, run that food to your nearest trash dump. Animal fat is rendered fat from dead, diseased, disabled animals, often euthanized from shelters or zoos, roadkill, rancid resturaunt fat, supermarket meat that's past its sell-by date and a host of other goodies. Any meat listed with the words 'by-product' are meant to describe what is left after the rest of the animal has been pillaged for human consumption...i.e. feet, heads, ect. which are rendered together to make that awesome by-product.
I am going to assume it goes without saying that animal fat and by-products are not going to provide optimum nutrition.
Sorry, I know that was so disgusting, that you, yourself have likely lost your appetite for the forseeable future. I am not trying to gross you out, just give it to you straight.
Other common, (but BAD) ingredients are wheat gluten (the 2007 Pet Food recall, anyone??) added colors like, Yellow 6 or Red 40, sorbitol (sugar) and other chemistry experiments...
Sure, the AAFCO allows these foods to be marketed as 'complete' nutrition, but then, this is a multibillion dollar industry, with loads of political and financial influence affecting what is considered 'acceptible' in the animal feed industry. Clearly, the 2007 Pet Food Recalls, demonstrated that lax standards and government policy are not enough to protect our pets. Animal guardians must do their own research.
One more thing...If your dog's food doesn't have an expiration date, isn't that cause for concern? If the food NEVER goes rancid, what the heck kind of wierd stuff is in those hard lumps of 'food' that make them eternally fresh?? Would you eat something with no expiration date? That has possibly been on sales shelf for who knows how long?? Didn't think so!!
What are some good ingredients?? Whole meats! Whole, unprocessed grains! Whole vegetables! Instead of a host of chemicals, you should find digestive enzymes and probiotics, aiding in your animal's health and ability to maximize the nutrients being offered.
Chances are, these high quality foods are available at a local pet store, whose aim is the health of your pet. These shops often tout themselves as holistic and natural. The sales people are often knowledgable and can help point you to a brand of food which is ideal for your pet. Many of these better dog foods offer samples so Fido can taste test a few and see what appeals to his pallette.
Cancer in dogs is now prevalent at higher rates then ever, allergies are more common, immune deficiencies are becoming the norm and our pets are clearly suffering as a result of being fed the equivalent to a McDonald's Happy Meal every day for the duration of their lives. Reference Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. It's no wonder our dogs are obese and dying of deadlier, crueler diseases then ever!
Higher quality food means a healthier dog (read: less expensive trips to the vet), so where there is a cost factor, its often offset by the health and vitality of your pooch.
P.S. The same criteria exists for treats. Don't treat your dogs with junk food. Would you give a toddler cotton candy and Ho Ho's every time she did something good?? Right. Thought so.