I have spent a lot of time researching dog foods lately. Loads. The information search began in order to educate myself on the specialized foods I would need to carry in my store. It didn't take long for my grocery store brand (and Iams is one of the best that can be found in grocery stores) to be permanently banned from my house and the search for a high quality diet for my precious pups began.
I have always thought that perhaps food was an issue. Maggie has mild allergies and scratches herself more than the average dog. It's a behavior related to both health and stress but started out fairly mild and seems to be getting slightly worse as she ages. It's now at the point where I feel that it's time to take action before it gets any worse - and by action I do NOT mean giving her a benadryl every day! Our vet told us that it was likely seasonal allergies but it seems to transcend the seasons nowadays. My vet also told me last visit that "some dogs just do better on lower quality foods". Um...no, dogs do not "do better" on lower quality foods. Different dogs react differently to proteins, grains, fat content, carbohydrate content, etc. Some foods may have ingredients or a combination of ingredients that cause either temporary or lengthy digestive issues and may not be appropriate for that specific dog. But they are NOT healthier animals on low quality diets. Don't get me wrong - I love our vet. But that has got to be one of the dumbest things she's ever said.
I am on a quest to find the right combination of foods for my girls. I used to subscribe to the one food for life idea. But as I started doing some research, it got me thinking. In what logical world does it make sense that an animal can have a healthy, balanced diet that provides them with all the nutrients they need if they eat the same exact thing every meal, every day of their lives. I wholeheartedly believe that the food I eat impacts my long-term health. Why would it be any different for my dogs? And when I started reading statistics like 25% of dogs will develop cancer in their lifetime, which increases to 50% after the age of 10, I knew that food had to be a major part of the cause for that alarming statistic.
So I have started exploring the food options out there. Continue with kibble, raw diets, homemade? For now, raw diets are out primarily due to the high cost and also because I'm still slightly squeamish about raw. I know that dogs are not as susceptible to salmonella-type bacteria as we are. I know that there are many processes that the food is treated with to eliminate those types of bacteria. But I also worry that an all-protein diet may not provide them with the full scope of nutrients that they need. And I find it hilarious that supporters of the raw food diet have come up with the moniker BARF. While it stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods, well....BARF seems to be appropriate to me for other reasons!
I have eliminated moving to a home-made diet, which I simply won't always have time for. I am and will continue to supplement their diets with a little leftover meat and veggies from our table (never given to them as we eat but for breakfast the next day - don't want to encourage any begging!). I usually prepare their meat separately from ours if I'm cooking it in a sauce or with butter. My little Sadie-kins is about five pounds overweight. A friend referred to her as a sausage recently. I couldn't argue.
I've narrowed my dog food philosophy down to the following:
-There is nothing wrong with changing up the brand and/or protein source occasionally. I intend to settle on 3-4 different kinds of food that we rotate between. Unless either of them show a sensitivity to a particular ingredient, I will make sure they get chicken, lamb, beef and/or fish. These will be paired with rice, barley and oats mostly as the main ingredients.
-I will research brands online, read ingredient labels and ensure that I pay special attention to the first five ingredients. There should be several whole food ingredients and preferably two protein sources. Chicken is a whole food ingredient. Chicken meal is not. I will make sure that the protein content is around 20% and that the fat content is no more than 12%.
-It's completely OK to supplement with "people" food so long as it's healthy, does not encourage begging and is mindful of the foods that cause health issues (stay away from those onions!).
Over the next six months or so, I will be trying out different types of foods with my girls and seeing how they do on each kind. They will only get leftover people food a few times per month so as not to interfere with my unscientific dog food study. I have a monthly budget of $60 (one 30 lb bag of food lasts my two girls about a month). I'll be paying attention to the quality of their poo, bad breath, stinky farts, quality and shine of their coat, whether they enjoy the taste, and if it helps Maggie's itchiness while not causing my little Sausage Sadie to gain more weight.
In case you don't believe Sadie is a sausage, here's a picture of her guarding her bag of food (she does this every time we buy new food). In fact, I have purposefully left the unopened bag in the mudroom for several days to test how long she will sit there. Verdict: hours. Once the food is put away in its storage container, her obsession disappears. Back to normal doggy. Weird.