Updated: May 3, 2021
Since getting our little girl Nala, I have grown to have a keen interest in dog food & nutrition. Ultimately, the interest stems from wanting the very best for my dog. You are what you eat and so is your dog. A healthy diet theoritically, should add numbers to their years & sadly, we all know our best friends are not with us forever. A few years ago when I was studying for my Animal Welfare Diploma, I actually researched & did a whole project on dog food. So I guess I could say I had a little background knowledge on dog food i.e. mainstream food is normally pumped full of junk that has little if any nutritional benefits for your dog. Sadly, not much has changed since then.
The dog food industry is a multi-million-pound one and the choices available to us these days can be overwhelming. I remember when we first got Nala, I stood in Petstop staring at all the bags of food scratching my head. I ended up opting for James Beloved as it was advertised as healthy, natural & not by any means cheap so I assumed it was of great quality. Nowadays, we know better & feed her pre-made raw.
There is existing controversy concerning what you should feed your dog, and it can be rather hard to come by non-biased information on what food is best. Few people have actually researched their dog’s food, and most blindly trust the opinions of veterinarians, pet store employees, or whichever price is right. However, rest assured, the cheap tins and bags of brightly coloured food you can find in your local supermarkets, pet stores, and at lots of vets, are not it! Dog food comparison can be overwhelming and it’s easy to fall into the trap of just picking the cheaper option, or the one with the most adorable packaging. Yet there are important factors to consider. The best dog food is always the one with a high meat content.
To break it down, there are a few varieties of food on the market. The most common choices are:
Wet food (jelly tins, pouches etc)
Dry Food (biscuits/kibble)
Home Cooked (made by yourself, veg, meat, rice)
Raw food (can buy pre-made or made yourself)
Like everything, the quality & price varies greatly in all. Everyone assumes raw is amazing, yet you can get rubbish raw food that is full of fatty content. There are many websites online such as www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk that can give you a quick evaluation on certain products. It really is eye opening.
What really is in Dog food?
Normally, on a bag of dog food a lovely juicy chicken and brightly coloured, fresh vegetables are advertised. Yet this can be further from the truth! The pet food industry can be nothing more than a sinister waste disposal for human food manufacturers and a way to profit from its own garbage.
In the USA, the requirements are rather shocking! Although not entirely relevant to us, I'm going to pop it down so you can take a look.
Here’s a short list of some of the apalling materials legally used to make dog food in America:
Slaughterhouse waste (organs, heads, hooves, beaks, feet)
Bread and cereal rejects (cobs, stalks, mill sweepings)
Dying, diseased and disabled farm animals
Road kill (deer, skunks, and raccoons)
Distiller fermentation waste
Spoiled supermarket food
Euthanized cats and dogs
Dead zoo animals
Shocking right!? Luckily, EU regulations have slightly higher standards for us. Yet I would still like to note, commercial dog food is still produced with little oversight and the standards it meets are still low.
There is actually no legislation in the EU written specifically for pet foods. The legislation which is relevant to pet foods is produced for other purposes, mainly livestock feed but includes provisions for pet foods.
Material of animal origin
The use and disposal of all material of animal origin not intended for human consumption are controlled by Regulation 1774/2002. You can read more on the legislation here https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32002R1774
Effectively, the regulation divides all animal materials not intended for human consumption into three categories: Category 1, Category 2 and Category 3. Only material classified as Category 3 is permitted for use in the manufacture of pet foods or any other animal feeding stuff.
So let's take a look.
Category 3 material:
Parts of slaughtered animals, which are fit for human consumption in accordance with Community legislation, but are not intended for human consumption for commercial reasons;
Parts of slaughtered animals, which are rejected as unfit for human consumption but are not affected by any signs of diseases communicable to humans or animals and derive from carcases that are fit for human consumption in accordance with Community legislation;
Hides and skins, hooves and horns, pig bristles and feathers originating from animals that are slaughtered in a slaughterhouse, after undergoing ante-mortem inspection, and were fit, as a result of such inspection, for slaughter for human consumption in accordance with Community legislation;
Blood obtained from animals other than ruminants that are slaughtered in a slaughterhouse, after undergoing ante-mortem inspection, and were fit, as a result of such inspection, for slaughter for human consumption in accordance with Community legislation;
Animal by-products derived from the production of products intended for human consumption, including degreased bones and greaves;
Former foodstuffs of animal origin, or former foodstuffs containing products of animal origin, other than catering waste, which are no longer intended for human consumption for commercial reasons or due to problems of manufacturing or packaging defects or other defects which do not present any risk to humans or animals;
Raw milk originating from animals that do not show clinical signs of any disease communicable through that product to humans or animals;
Fish or other sea animals, except sea mammals, caught in the open sea for the purposes of fishmeal production;
Fresh by-products from fish from plants manufacturing fish products for human consumption;
Shells, hatchery by-products and cracked egg by-products originating from animals which did not show clinical signs of any disease communicable through that product to humans or animals;
Blood, hides and skins, hooves, feathers, wool, horns, hair and fur originating from animals that did not show clinical signs of any disease communicable through that product to humans or animals; and
Catering waste other than as referred to in Article 4.
Hmmm... Still doesn't sound too appetizing to me & keeping it rather vague with the term 'animal by- products'.
How dog food is made
Canned dog food almost always contains meat of some sort, usually as its main ingredient. Common types of meat include beef, pork, chicken and lamb. Premium dog foods use high-quality meat, often good enough for human consumption. Many of the less expensive dog foods use meat byproducts, something that’s usually low quality. Byproducts can also include chicken feet, beaks, skin, horns, fur, ground up intestines and lungs. The next main ingredient is filler. Filler is a way of making a lot of dog food without having to use a lot of meat. Its main purpose is to keep the cost of the product as low as possible. Common types of filler include beet pulp, brewer’s rice, corn, wheat and soy. It’s not unusual for dogs to develop allergies to fillers, especially because these products are also used in most dry dog foods.
Ingredients are blended and cooked before being vacuum sealed into their containers. They are then heat sterilised. The temperatures and durations of both cooking and sterilising can vary considerably but typically sterilisation involves temperatures in excess of 100 oC for periods of up to 90 minutes. Raw feeding advocates believe that such high temperature levels are likely to damage some of the natural nutrients contained within the food. The vacuum sealing and sterilisation do, however, ensure a long shelf life without the need for any added artificial additives.
Wet foods, naturally, contain much more water than their dry counterparts. For some this makes wet foods a more 'natural' choice. The high moisture content might also be beneficial for dogs that don't drink very much or those with a history of urinary problems. The high water content does, however, mean that you have to feed much more of a wet food than you would of a dry which often makes wet foods a relatively expensive option.
Some examples of low quality wet food (nutritional content of 0%-40%)
Winalot (29% - 39%)
Some examples of standard wet food (nutritional content of 40%-70%)
Hill Science plan (50%)
Some examples of high quality wet food (nutritional content of 80%-100%)
Lilys Kitchen 90%
Natures Menu 92% - 96%
There are multiple ways that dog food companies cook their products, but one of the most common is through extrusion.
Ingredients normally include:
Meat Meal made from rendered meat by-products (livestock, seafood, horses and other dead animals)
Cereals, Grains, Corn (except grain free kibble where carbohydrates like potato are used instead)
Fruit & Veg (sometimes and mostly powdered from China)
Preservatives, Stabilisers, Gelling Agents
Synthetic vitamins and minerals
Palatability Enhancers like yeast, fat, sweeteners or concentrated flavours
Once all the raw ingredients are collected, they’ll be ground down & mixed together to create a dough or paste. Extrusion is a process where these mixtures are pushed through a machine so that it can be formed and cut into multiple pieces of the same shape. As the dough is forced through the machine, it’s exposed to extreme pressure and extreme temperatures that cook the mixture before it is cut off into identical pieces. This process allows companies to quickly produce large amounts of dog food. However, these efficiencies come at a cost. The high temperatures and pressures needed for extruding dog food may damage the key nutrients found in the ingredients, which means your dog might not benefit as much as you’d expect because of the particular way the food is processed.
In addition, animal fats are sprayed on the final product, to make them palatable to dogs even after sitting on a Tesco shelf for years. Vitamins are also added, to try to make up for what was lost during the cooking process, and artificial colors are added to make sure it still looks ‘good’ to the humans buying it. Preservatives are also sprayed on top, and the whole thing is packed in a big bag so can be shipped around and eventually arrive at a store near you!
Some examples of low quality dry food (nutritional content of 0%-40%)
Tesco Dry food (2%)
Pedigree Adult (12%)
Earls complete (17%)
Hills prescription diet (28% - 34%)
Royal Canin (23% - 36%)
Some examples of standard dry food (nutritional content of 40%-70%)
Eukanuba (56 - 73%)
Burns (55% - 77%)
James Beloved (67%)
Some examples of high quality dry food (nutritional content of 80%-100%)
Seven Grain (80%)
With home cooking, you can completely control what goes into your dogs food. It should be a balanced selection of fresh ingredients, cooked and packed in trays or pouches. With fresh ingredients and a low level of processing, fresh complete foods are likely to retain a high proportion of their natural nutrients, at least compared to conventional dry and wet foods. However, since no preservatives are added and since the food hasn't been sterilised like standard wet foods, fresh foods don't stay fresh for as long. For this reason, fresh pet foods need to be kept refrigerated even when sealed. You can also freeze the prepared food and have it defrosted before feeding.
If you decide to go ahead and home cook for your dog, be aware that certain foods are toxic to them. Onions, grapes, raisins, chocolate, the sweetener Xylitol and other common foods must be avoided. Always research prior. I would also never give my dog a cooked bone as there can be many hazards assosiated with this.
Here are some basic ingredients to create a well-balanced, home cooked meal:
Meat (ground turkey, beef or pork; chicken breast; or jack mackerel and sardines)
1 or 2 cups goats milk, cottage cheese or yogurt
Organ meat (beef liver, pork kidney, chicken hearts, etc.)
Brown rice and veggies (carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, peas, spinach, etc.)
Raw feeding is a natural diet for your dog which is free from processing. A raw food diet typically consists of :
Bones, either whole or ground
Organ meats such as livers and kidneys
Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and celery
Apples or other fruit
Some dairy, such as yogurt.
There is big controversy surrounding raw feeding. You only have to google it before seeing many conflicting articles, & thus it can be difficult to find any true answers. In fact, many large dog food manufacturers such as the popular Hills, actively knock raw feeding. I do wonder is it perhaps, raw feeding poses a big threat to these large corporations, as more dog owners wake up to what is really best for their dog?
My view on raw feeding? It makes sense to me, to feed biologically appropriate food to dogs. Dogs descend from wolves, and internally all dogs have the same anatomy as that of a carnivore. From my experience, Nala has never been so excited to eat her food and to me, that speak volumes. She has never got excited for dog biscuits, she did enjoy wet food but she LOVES her raw food.
Rather than get too in depth with raw feeding (I feel I could easily write an essay), there is a great article explaining why to feed raw which can be found on the Paleo Ridge site here. I would definitely give it a read if you are interested in learning more https://paleoridgeraw.uk/why-feed-raw
Some of the potential benefits of raw are:
Increases energy and vitality
Clean, tartar free teeth
Supports a strong immune system
Helps eliminate itching & licking
Improves stiff joints and reduces inflammation
Supports strong healthy muscles
Smaller pellet like stools and less wind
Stools are odourless or much reduced in smell
Encourages optimum internal organ function
Lessens anal gland issues
Chewing meat and bones releases endorphins that make your dog happier
Pancreatitis is often easier to manage on a raw diet
Other conditions often improve and require less medication
Potential risks include:
Threats to human and dog health from bacteria in raw meat (good idea to wear gloves when preparing the food)
An unbalanced diet that may damage the health of dogs if given for an extended period (pre-made complete meals eliminates this risk)
Potential for whole bones to choke an animal, break teeth or cause an internal puncture (cooked bones found in pet shops are far more dangerous)
Some popular pre-made raw foods that I would recommend are:
How a dogs diet affects their behaviour
Are you currently experiencing behaviour problems with your dog? Has anyone mentioned to you that it could be your dog food causing these problems? When looking at a dog's attitude or behavior, the first step is to examine what he eats. Cheaper foods tend to have more filler grain products, which are the primary culprits for allergies. If your dog is irritable because of allergies, it will certainly affect his attitude. Attitudes like aggression and hyperactivity have been associated to dog food quality and ingredients. The better quality food he is eating, the better his physical and mental health will be.
It has been found by veterinary surgeons and leading dog behaviourists that diet-related allergies definitely have an affect on dog behaviour, these consequences are very individual to each dog but there has not been enough significant research carried out to suggest that any specific ingredients are the culprits.
Some indicators of possible diet related behaviour may be:
Lack of concentration when training
Restlessness, difficulty settling down and relaxing
Excessive itching and scratching especially at the top of the tail
Eating grass, fibre based destructive tendencies such as toilet rolls and tissues
Coprophagia (eating faeces)
Digestive problems (constipation or diarrhoea)
Allergic reactions on the skin
Inconsistent motions and increased or decreased activity levels.
These behaviours individually are not necessarily indicative of a diet problem and can be present for many other reasons, however the more of these behaviours present, the more likely a diet deficiency should be considered.
If you are having problems with your dog I would definitely recommend looking at the diet they are on and do some research on the ingredients and manufacturing process that produces the dog food you buy. I would go so far as to recommend a change in diet maybe, to see if there are any positive effects on behaviour.
Making the Right Choice
With so many options available, it's easy to see why pet owners are confused by it all. Every type of food described above has its own pros and cons and no one category is 'best' for all dogs or all owners. While you will certainly encounter all sorts of opinions about what you should feed, the final decision has to come down to what's best for you (personal preferences, budget, convenience, ethical considerations etc) and your dog (their individual health and their personal preference).
I would look for brands made by conscientious manufacturers who take pride in producing quality products — those designed to enhance and extend the life of your dog.