Checking the safety of dog food has become a widening concern over the past decade, especially after the 2007 news regarding numerous recalls on China-sourced dog food. Dog owners have become more savvy consumers who carefully read labels and want to know where their dog food comes from (even when it’s made in America) and its contents.

What did we learn?

A positive consequence of the China-sourced dog food debacle resulted in experts joining together to discover what matters most to dog owners. Food safety was at the top of the list. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets and maintains standards for the appropriate ingredient levels in pet food while the quality is measured by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But there are no guarantees.

What should we avoid?

There are ingredients to avoid when you buy dog food. For example, avoid products whose label contains “meat” and/or “meat meal.” Just like in human food, you would select the specific term “beef” over the generic term “meat.” As unappetizing as it may sound, so-called “rendered” food or “meat” can be made from spoiled meat or dead, diseased animals.

Use your noodle

Marketers like to make dog food look appealing–not to your dog, because he or she doesn’t care, but to you. That’s where chemicals and dyes come into play. Dogs need a significant amount of protein followed by fat, fiber, nutrients, and moisture. While some experts claim the breakdown should be 30 percent protein and 18 percent fat, others say each dog should be treated individually. Everyone agrees dogs have no need for wheat or corn fillers. With dog obesity on the rise, grain-based ingredients may contribute to obesity as much as overfeeding. Chemicals, dyes, and other artificial ingredients can lead to serious health issues in your dog, perhaps even death.


Whole foods are best

Bad dog food ingredients can lead to digestive issues, including bloat, an impacted colon, and inflammatory bowel disease. Unprocessed, whole foods are best for you and your pet. Avoid purchasing dog food with high amounts of grain and corn. These two offenders can cause food allergies, manifesting in rashes, bald patches, and poor digestion. The jury is still out on beet pulp, a binding agent found in several brands of dog food. No studies have confirmed whether or not beet pulp is bad for your dog, so avoid it.

What do the experts say about dog food?

Dog trainers and other experts believe that a poor diet can lead to behavior problems. Too much grain, which is basically sugar, or allergies to fillers, can cause mental health problems. When reading the label, avoid artificial coloring, additives, chemicals, and fillers. Foot-long words you can’t pronounce are probably bad. In addition, just like bad food in children, bad food in dogs can cause lack of focus and hyperactivity. Experts also say having the appropriate combination of ingredients matter, too, but they have not reached full agreement on the numbers. For example, while protein is very important in the dog’s diet, it is not healthy for old dogs or one’s with liver problems.

Keep in mind

All dry dog food with a Nutritional Adequacy Statement will be safe and meet minimum nutritional requirements from AAFCO. Always seek out high-quality protein listed as the number one ingredient. If grains are included, go for quinoa and oats, rather than wheat, corn, and soy, which are known allergens. Avoid gravies!

Dog food

A dog’s life

Your dog’s age and stage of development are important when deciding his or her food. Puppies and older dogs need less calcium than a young adult dog. When in doubt, always ask your veterinarian for advice on your individual dog. Breed type might not be as important as size and level of activity. For example, smaller morsels are better for smaller dogs, while large dogs might choke on them.

What about cost?

It’s probably no surprise that the highest quality dog food with the most healthful ingredients is expensive. You have to decide how the best food for your dog fits into your budget. There are hundreds of dog foods on the market with good ingredients and the proper levels of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and nutrition.

Written by Lexi Watkins