Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Dog Food Freak Out

I've known something has been "off" with my dogs for a while.  When they went in for their annual check up all of the dogs on Acana had anal gland problems and all of them had been having abdominal difficulties - if you know what I mean.  My lone dog on a different brand of dog food (Wellness) had none of these issues.  

Being a take charge kind of person I went into the local dog food store to switch brands.  Only to be faced with such a wide variety of dog foods that I truly did not know where to begin.  As a label reader I compared brand after brand.  While Tessa's Wellness dog food has limited ingredients for dogs with allergies, it also causes constipation.  (Tessa gets her dog food, Metamucil Coarse Fibre, Cod Liver Oil, topped off with a bit of water as her meal.)  The constipation factor, along with the fact it's a ridiculously expensive dog food, caused it's removal off my potential feed list for the other dogs.  (When feeding as many as I am money does eventually factor in!)  I tried different brands both cheap and expensive, mixing some of the cheaper brands with the very high end brands to combat constipation issues.  

With a Maremma and Border Collies I tried to figure out what the difference between large breed and normal adult dog foods.  I tried to figure out the virtues of meat vs meat meal vs meat by products.  I pondered the differences between chicken, turkey, lamb, fish, and bison.  I faced dog food store clerk heckling as they tried to sell me their propaganda.  I scrolled through Internet site after Internet site searching for research, anything that would tell me the magic answer.  Telling me what I should be feeding my dogs.  

Based on information from the Edmonton Rehab Clinic, who do a lot of blood work on dogs, I was avoiding grain free brands as they found the puppies who came in and were on those brands had low blood sugar.  As a farm person I know dogs will eat darn near anything they can - ranging from berries off the patch to corn off the cob to cow turds to dead creatures.  (They are omnivores.)  But how does this translate into dog food?  What exactly should a person be looking for in their dog's food?

After a particularly humiliating and patronizing experience at a Pet Store I came unglued.  This morning I drove into the vet clinic, and cornered my vet.  Frustrated, I explained I needed to know how to choose a dog food.  She looked at me and explained she probably wasn't the one to ask as she's not a "dog food nazi" meaning as long as the dog is healthy she doesn't care what they are being fed, but I insisted that I wanted an unbiased opinion.  At the very least a starting point.  I told her that Reba was molting in the strangest manner and I was not impressed with the dog's body conditions.

I learned that By Products are not necessarily bad - just because I don't want to eat lung doesn't mean it's not a good source of protein for my dog.  This is something I'd judge on the quality of the food - if it cost $5.00 a bag the by products are likely not quality ones.  I learned that most high end dog foods are too high in protein and don't have enough fibre.  High protein + Low fibre = constipation.  I learned that Eukanuba and Science Diet have completed field trials and SHARE the results.  I learned that some of the very popular brands do not share any of their so called research.  Most importantly I learned to look for a protein level in the +/- 23% range, to look for high fibre and if needed add Omega 6 (fish oil).  I also learned that dogs are opposite humans and need more Omega 6 than 3.  Who knew?  I learned that filler often is fibre and not always a bad thing - based on the types of filler (beet pulp is good).  And I found out once my large breed dog is fully grown its not such a big deal for them to be eating regular adult dog food!  (At one point I was buying four different brands - so this is good!)  Of course this is my retelling of what my vet said and I'm not including all the details, so please, speak to your vet and get their opinion.

With focus and on a mission, my aunt and I went to the largest pet supply store in the area.  On the drive in we had decided we would start with Eukanuba.  The options within the brand were slightly mind boggling so we began comparing labels.  We eventually settled on Eukanuba Naturally Wild North Atlantic Salmon & Rice formula for the following reasons: 1) It was lower in protein than the Maintenance formula. 2) The fibre/protein ratio was better than the Maintenance formula.  3) It had higher fats/oils and Omegas.  4) I wanted something different than the chicken based protein sources I had been feeding. 5) Added bonus - it was cheaper than the other formula.

The trial now begins.  The vet did say to pick something and stick with it and if we need to tweak individual dog diets we would do so.  

For those of you who may be curious how my outside dogs (Eukanuba) and Tessa's (Wellness Whitefish and Sweet Potato) foods compare here are the labels.

Eukanuba Wellness
Crude Protein Minimum:  23.0% 22.0%
Crude Fat Minimum: 14.0% 12.0%
Crude Fibre Maximum: 04.0% 03.0%
Moisture Maximum: 10.0% 11.0%
Omega 6 Minimum: 02.1% 02.7%
Omega 3 Minimum:   0.4% 01.1%

Incidentally, Wellness is around $20 more a 30 pound bag than Eukanuba.

I think one of the things I found the most frustrating about the whole experience is the lack of reliable information.  I like to research and make choices based on facts.  I do not like making blind, misinformed decisions.  The entire dog food debate is highly opinionated which makes it challenging to get quality information.  In fact, most pet food clerks are educated by the people supplying them with dog food, who of course want you to buy their brand.  Which, in my mind, makes the people in dog food stores unreliable sources of information.  Leaving most pet owners either scratching their heads in confusion or buying into whatever the latest trend is.

All I wanted was to be able to make an informed decision.  And now, finally, the dog food debate, debacle and freak out is concluded.  I've made a decision and I'm going to stick with it!


Adventures of a Horse Crazed Mind said...

I will try to keep this short because I could write a book on how insane the pet food industry is. I've come to the very firm opinion, after years of reading and asking every vet, breeder, handler, etc. I know that there is NO ANSWER!! Each group will swear up and down that their opinion is based on scientific fact and each can list you a hundred stats as to why their chosen dog food is the best but I've never met a single two people that can agree on the subject no matter how educated. It drives me INSANE! I've had Hawk on every diet known to, not quite but his allergies and weight issues (as a result of his back issues) have led me to try many different types and brands of dog food. I've fed food that is $110 for a 35 pound bag...I've fed all the top name brands plus some lesser knowns.... and I finally found a food that is working... at the GROCERY STORE!! Purina One! A food I'm embarassed to admit that I feed but that seems to really work for Hawk!


We are talking about dog food right? Not rocket science. Grrrr!

Country Girl said...

Are you kidding me?! I'd be escatic to not have to spend $300 a month on dog food. lol Hey, if it works don't change it! Mine wasn't working and that was the problem. And yes, it is sooooo frustrating. Once I found one that worked for Tessa I stuck with it!

My other three however, after one week on the new food - they have visibly nicer coats and better poop - so no complaints here. And I'm very happy it's cheaper too!

Oh don't feel too bad - Purina One is one of the ones I tried. lol