Feeding our dogs well requires some study on our part as consumers so we will know truth from hype. We need to remember we normally exert total nutritional control over our pets unless they are supplementing their diet with prey. Dogs are scavengers and are designed to eat a wide variety of foods and carrion. They have survived well off the refuse of our tables until the last 80 years when dog food was invented. Since then we vets and our clients have been convinced by the marketing geniuses employed by the dog food industry that we just feed their “scientifically” developed fare. The fact is our pets were not designed to always be fed the same dehydrated over-cooked cereals with the taste of meat day in and day out. We think that if the first two ingredients are meat the kibble is a good nutritious product. Not necessarily. The law is that the foods should be listed in order of magnitude. If a product has 11% chicken, 10.5% beef, 10.25% corn gluten, 10.2% wheat, 10% white rice, 9% corn, 8.5% brown rice, 8% barley, 7.9% oats, 7.5% sugar beet pulp, 7.15% millet, this would make what you think is a dog food that is 21.5% meat and 78.5% grain and fiber. There is also the interesting fact of whether a product is listed as chicken or chicken meal, beef or beef meal. If it is listed as chicken or beef then the meat portion of the product can be 70% water as opposed to 5% water if it is a meal. So this fantastic dog food, with meat as the first two ingredients could in reality only be 6.45% dry weight meat protein, not anything like we are led to believe! I would also like to point out that this formula contains no vegetables or grasses that a dog would get if he ate the stomach/intestinal contents of its prey as it does in the real world.
Another factor to keep in mind is the cooking and extrusion temperatures to which the food is subjected. Most all dry foods are subjected to an extrusion process to make it into the shapes we are familiar with. One of the requirements of the extrusion process is that there be a large percentage of carbohydrates which are not really natural for a dog or cat. A better, but more expensive process is freeze drying which damages the ingredients much less. Years ago I had a client of mine who was a nutritionist at Vanderbilt get me information on the extrusion process to which almost all dry dog foods were subjected to at that time. Most of the studies were praising the process as time-saving. I only found one article out of a three inch stack that checked for damage.
Forty percent (40%) of the lysine (an important amino acid in our immune system) is denatured at 218 degrees Fahrenheit in our breakfast cereals. Most dog foods are cooked at much higher temperatures, many from 300 – 400 degrees F.
So what damage is done to the protein and is this altered protein more allergenic? I hold the theory that the more we alter a substance from its natural state the more allergenic it becomes. We should really require those from whom we are seeking nutritional advice for our beloved companions to be nutritionally current and able to defend their recommendations. Making proteins not source identifying as Science Diet did with their z/d low allergen food, by hydrolyzing the proteins and making the low molecular weight components not source identifying is a good idea. However, it just doesn’t seem to work as well as the theory. I do not know where the failure is, but we have had to treat numerous dogs whose diet had been changed to the expensive z/d without success. Maybe our bodies are just too smart for Science Diet or the body later developed an allergy to the low molecular weight protein hydrolyzed mush.
This Fall we had two cases where lawns were treated with a “pet friendly” substance to which the dogs became very allergenic. Was it a poison? No, but produces serious conditions in the animals from their intense allergic responses. It may have been just fine for other animals, but there was something about the protein that caused the intense allergic response.
Have we gotten off the subject? Yes, but I am trying to encourage you to avoid bad situations for your beloved friend by feeding less allergenic, more natural foods. I have the theory that the more unnatural the diet the more likely we are to develop an allergy to it, all things being equal. We see a lot of allergies to chicken. This is because most foods contain chicken as an acceptable meat source and I believe that the chicken in our dog food in our supermarkets least resembles natural, free-range chickens. This is because of what they are fed and the hormones given to increase growth, especially breast tissue. If you are not an avid label reader you might think you are buying one protein source when in reality three or four other meat protein sources could be in the food including chicken fat. You can’t go by the big print on the front of the bag, you must turn it over and read the small, fine print to find out that the meat protein buffalo and venison flavor that you think you’re buying is in reality 50% chicken to which your dog has developed an allergy.
We find dogs allergic to supermarket beef that are not allergic to our grass-fed organic beef. I believe that cattle, even in a feed lot situation toward the end of their productive life, are not as changed as a chicken who is fed the growth promoting feed his entire life. Most cattle have spent the majority of their life on pasture.
My wife was appalled one weekend when we had gone to visit my mother. No, this is not a mother-in-law joke. She had forgotten to bring along dog food. The local small town grocery store had a large aisle with dog and cat food, but as she read the labels she was astonished to find that on every single bag of food the number one ingredient listed was CORN… ground yellow corn, ground whole corn, corn gluten meal. Was this natural corn like was raised 50 years ago or the genetically modified variety our bodies may not know how to process? What are we feeding man’s best friend, our dog?