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Top Dog Tips - What Ingredients Should You Look For in Dog Food?I can't believe it's the middle of October already! Fall is well underway here in Maine and everyone is busy preparing for winter. We're getting our yard and home ready, but we've got to prepare our dogs too. They need extra supplies in the winter like coats and boots. Did you happen to catch my column last week about the best dog supplies according to some experts in the field? 

This week I've been reading about commercial dog food and which ingredients you should be looking for in the kibble that you feed your pet. I also found some great resources about the ingredients that you should try to avoid.

Ideally, we want ingredients that are USDA organic certified, FDA approved, human grade and free of all kinds of additives and artificial things. There's been research of the pet food market done, and only very few companies actually manufacture that type of dog food. It has been covered in an article called “What Is the Best Holistic Dog Food Brand?

The first ingredient you should always be looking for is the meat that is in the pet food you are purchasing. The protein source should always be the first ingredient. It will greatly improve your pet's health if you spend a little extra money and supply him with a quality dog food. Dog Food Advisor shares some great tips for pet parents on how to recognize dog food that is made with low quality meat.

  • Meat by-products are simply slaughterhouse waste. They’re what’s left of a slaughtered animal after all the striated muscle cuts have been removed. So, with the exception of hair, horns, teeth and hooves, they can include almost any other part of the animal. Of course, animal by-products can provide satisfactory nutrition. However, by-products are considerably cheaper. So, be sure you’re not overpaying for your dog’s food.

The Dog Food Project offers a much more extensive article on identifying the best dog food products. They discuss the importance of selecting a quality food and how long you'll need to stick with the new diet before you begin to see results. They also break down the ingredient groups to give you details on what you should be looking for and what you should try to avoid.

  • The “best” food will not do if your dog either can't tolerate it or won't eat it. Don't be afraid to select more than one brand and see how they work out for your dog. Give it enough time though, it takes 4-6 weeks at the very least to see results. Unless symptoms of intolerance surface, 3-4 months are a more reasonable time frame.

While browsing that website I found another article that offers one of the most comprehensive lists of ingredients to avoid. The list gives the AAFCO definitions of the ingredients that require it, and it tells why you should be avoiding them.

  • AAFCO: Obtained from the tissues of mammals and/or poultry in the commercial processes of rendering or extracting. It consists predominantly of glyceride esters of fatty acids and contains no additions of free fatty acids. If an antioxidant is used, the common name or names must be indicated, followed by the words “used as a preservative”.Note that the animal source is not specified and is not required to originate from “slaughtered” animals. The rendered animals can be obtained from any source, so there is no control over quality or contamination. Any kind of animal can be included: “4-D animals” (dead, diseased, disabled, or dying prior to slaughter), goats, pigs, horses, rats, misc. roadkill, animals euthanized at shelters, restaurant and supermarket refuse and so on.

Juliana Weiss-Roessler wrote a blog for Organic Authority about the five commercial dog food ingredients that she recommends avoiding. I like that she points out that reading the advertisements and the words on the bag are not reliable ways to figure out the quality of the ingredients inside.

  • Even with words like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ in the product’s name, the food can be anything but. If you’d like to be sure your pet’s food is organic, verify that it has been certified as organic by the USDA.

Shopping for pet food is a great option, but you can purchase it online as well. Whatever you do, make sure to research the brand that you're going to buy. It's hard to narrow it down at first, but you'll find that there really aren't a lot of top quality dog food brands on the market. If your dog has a special diet it will limit your selections even further. This article from Optimal Pet Foods lists some ingredients that you should avoid.

You'll notice at the end of the article there is a list of some of the most common brands and what ingredients they use. I was surprised by a few of these, and you may be as well.

  • Yet, most people do not fully appreciate what goes into these pet foods. Pet food manufacturers place images of fresh cut chicken breast, fresh fruits and vegetables and wholesome grains on their packages, yet this is rarely what is actually inside the bag.What's the truth? Chances are you are feeding a pet food which contains more than one of the ingredients discussed below. The pet food industry has a broad range of unsavoury options when it comes to what substances may be used in pet food and freedom to print enticing pictures, however misleading, on their packaging.It is only when our pet's health begins to degrade and eventually fail, that most people begin to question why. After all, a healthy body can only be as good as what is put into it.

Now let's talk about the ingredients that you should be looking for. Sara Tan wrote a quick list of the eight most important dog food ingredients for mom.me. Proteins topped her list, as I figured that would. She doesn't just list the ingredients, she also explains why they are so important for your dog's overall health and well being.

  • Protein can come from a variety of sources, from chicken and beef to salmon and rabbit. Some commercial dog foods are made from meat “meal,” which is either the original fresh meat product dried to remove moisture, or ground-up animal parts, such as hearts, livers, bones and feet. It should not be thought of as inferior to the fresh meat component. When identifying the protein in your dog's food, be sure to check the ingredients list. The most nutritious kinds of dog food will have the name of the meat as the first ingredient and then list it again before it lists the fat source.

The Whole Dog Journal always has great information, and I really like their columns because they usually include some interesting facts that I don't find other places. That ws the case with this article by Nancy Kerns. She discussed looking at the best by date on the dog food that you purchase.

I think pet parents typically just assume that the dog food they buy is fine, but did you realize that it has a best buy date just like human food products? It's just as important to check the date on dry kibble as it is to check it on raw food.

  • A “best by” date that’s at least six months away. A best by date that’s 10 or 11 months away is ideal; it means the food was made very recently. Note: Foods made with synthetic preservatives (BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin) may have a “best by” date that is as much as two years past the date of manufacture.

Carbohydrate sources are almost as important as the protein source when it comes to dog food. ConsumerSearch.com explains it very well:

  • The quality of the carbohydrate sources also matters. High-quality grains, such as rice, provide good nutritional value, but other grains deliver less of what dogs need in their diet. Corn, in particular, is the target of some scorn among pet-food advocates. Mike Sagman at DogFoodAdvisor.com looks at the pros and cons — mostly cons — of corn in dog food. Glutens are another group of ingredients that experts say don't provide much nutritional value to dogs and are a particular concern since 2007's massive recall of pet foods tainted by contaminated wheat and rice gluten from China.

Lastly, I'll leave you with an article by veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker. She has written a very in-depth article about the things that pet food companies don't want consumers to know. It's a great piece to read before you settle on a dog food brand for your FIDO.

  • As I’ve discussed in other articles, very little regulation of commercial pet food quality exists in the U.S. Neither the USDA nor the FDA gets involved in what is fed to the majority of companion animals in this country.And while it’s true AAFCO has established minimum nutritional requirements for domesticated dogs and cats, it is not concerned with the quality of ingredients pet food producers put in their formulas. Meeting pets’ basic requirements for life and providing optimal, species-appropriate nutrition are two entirely different goals….Further, there’s nothing to stop manufacturers from producing and selling pet food that doesn’t meet the nutritional guidelines AAFCO has established.

I hope you got as much out of these readings as I did. Providing a good diet is the absolute best and most important thing that you can do for your dog. A proper diet will add to his longevity, increase his quality of life and foster his overall health and well being. If you find some other great reads in your travels, please be sure to share them in the comments below.