Dry food is the most popular type of pet food in the United States for its convenience, economy, and reliability to provide your dog with 100 percent of the necessary nutrients.
Itching is probably the number-one complaint from people about dogs and their food, and the finger of blame is usually pointed toward an undiagnosed food allergy. When I ask people what food they feed, I often want to cringe, because they’re feeding a bargain food with more grains in it than meat. Commercial foods that rely heavily on grains are “complete and balanced” as far as scientists are concerned; but if your dog fails to thrive on them, the food is not doing its job. It’s not always a true allergic reaction; sometimes it’s just poor-quality food. On the other side, people often go overboard by saying that dogs shouldn’t have any grains. There is a middle ground. What if we just didn’t select foods that were predominately grains, especially corn?
One of my Dog Stew customers has a beautiful Lab named Paddy, who was breaking out in hot spots and itching like crazy. Paddy was being fed a pretty good commercial dry food that I once had Jackson eating. When we transitioned Paddy to fresh food, he was eating all three of my basic recipes, which included rice, barley, or oatmeal. When his owners called me after one week of Paddy’s being on the food, they were extremely excited about his improvement. I didn’t believe the change could happen so quickly, so when I delivered the food the following week, I inspected him for myself. His hot spots were improving and the incessant itching had stopped. It wasn’t just having grain in his food that was causing problems; it was the quality and quantity of the grains. As my clientele expanded, I had opportunities to feed other dogs who were on the same exact dry food with the same conditions. I still fed them grains, and their skin problems all cleared up.
If you have a concern about allergies, ask your veterinarian to recommend a specialist. But also look carefully at the food you are feeding and question whether it measures up.
Dogs often develop skin conditions and become bored with their dry food. Although the common mantra is fed one food for life, it makes more sense to try rotating through different foods to provide variety and simply avoid digestive upset by gradually introducing new dry foods. This will also prevent dogs from developing allergies from being fed one food for life, as often happens.
When shopping for commercial dog food, take a few minutes to review the ingredients panel. The first half of the label should list quality foods that you can readily identify because these will make up the bulk of your dog’s diet. Often when particular ingredients are listed it’s by scientific names, so definitely ask the staff at your local pet store to help you understand the ingredients panel. If the staff doesn’t know, then they should be able to easily look it up. If they can’t look it up, try another pet store.
How to Read a Label
Ingredients are listed according to their predominance by weight; the higher the item is on the ingredients panel, the more your dog is depending on it to provide nutrition. Just like you, nutrition for your dog is best sourced from whole foods rather than by depending solely on vitamins thrown in at the end. Don’t be surprised that there are so many vitamins and minerals added; manufacturers want to cover all the bases.
The first example is the food that I use to supplement the home-cooked meals for my own dogs.
Meat is the first ingredient, so we’re off to a good start. Chicken meal is next, and then shortly after that come turkey and fish meals—that’s a good amount of meat. The only caution about this food comes in early; three sources of protein may aggravate dogs with allergies. Dogs with allergies should stick to a single source of protein. For dogs without allergic conditions, this food supplies more diverse proteins and can be a healthy choice.
Oatmeal is pretty far down the list, with flaxseed and a smidge of barely being the only other grains included, so grains make up a small amount of this food. Carrots, sweet potatoes (whole, not just the skins), blueberries, and cranberries are all great additions to your dog’s meal.
This second example doesn’t fare as well, and it wouldn’t be surprising if your dog didn’t do so well on this food.
Corn is the first and third ingredient, leaving your dog depending on grain for the majority of nutrition. Corn does provide some necessary nutrients, but it’s a lot of bulk without a lot of punch. Corn is valued for its high linoleic (omega-6) acid content in comparison with other grains, but
a ¼ teaspoon of flaxseed oil contains almost as much omega-6 fatty acids as a cup of ground corn and a better proportion of omega-3 oils. In the United States, corn is quite inexpensive, so it’s easy on the manufacturer’s budget, but it’s far from a high-quality ingredient.