When you're wondering what the best dog food is, the healthiest dog food, you probably mean, "Which brand of dry (kibble) or canned?"
I'm glad you're thinking about which brand, because there are SO many bad brands. In a minute we'll talk about the key ingredient that makes the best dog foods stand out from the crowd.
But first I want to warn you that NO dog food found in a bag or can can truly be considered safe to feed your dog. You simply don't know what else might be in that bag or can, besides food. I'm talking here about all the pet food recalls, where one manufacturer after another is forced to recall their kibble or canned food because it's contaminated with something bad.
After we talk about dog food safety, we'll talk about the actual ingredients that make up dry kibble and canned dog foods, and why you must look closely to find a healthy dog food.
Contaminated pet food: is your brand safe?
An ongoing series of pet food recalls has shocked owners into taking a second look at their pet's food.
Over 60 million pet food products have been recalled, including Hill's Science Diet, Iams, Eukanuba, Nutro, Purina, Alpo, Mighty Dog, Diamond, Triumph, Authority, Award, Best Choice, Natural Balance, Natural Life, Big Red, Blue Buffalo, Grreat Choice, Food Lion, Laura Lynn, Hill Country Fare, Cadillac, Ol' Roy, Royal Canin, and many more....contaminated with (among other things) an industrial chemical called melamine.
In a major recall in 2007, over 3000 dogs and cats died, and over 14,000 were sickened, many of whom are now fighting kidney disease. Grieving owners demanded answers. How could so many different brands get contaminated with the same thing?
The answer turned out to be that those "different" dog food brands were not so different. Most pet foods, it turns out, are assembled on the same central assembly lines – using the same ingredients from the same sources. In fact, MOST canned dog foods are made by just one company, whose name you would never recognize. This one company makes the food for many familiar brand names.
So when one thing goes wrong at the central plant, hundreds of brands and millions of bags and cans of food can be affected.
And things DO go wrong, because most dog food brands are owned by mega-corporations – like Proctor & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive – that focus relentlessly on their bottom line, which means squeezing every last cent of profit from every bag and can. And the cheapest ingredients come from foreign countries whose food safety practices are (at best) suspect and (at worst) nil.
The dubious ingredients that make up commercial pet food are trucked into gigantic warehouses and shoveled together. You've probably seen the exposé documentaries revealing what the insides of food processing factories look like. It's gross, and if you feed your dog any brand that comes off these assembly lines, there's no way you can know if it's safe. And most brands come off those lines.
Of course, the argument can be made that meat and veggies from the supermarket can also be contaminated. While that's true, the inspections and regulations protecting our human food are lax or non-existent when it comes to dog food. So we dog owners need to be more careful about what we serve our pets.
You can improve the safety of your dog's meals if you buy from dog food companies who get their ingredients from local ranchers raising grass-fed livestock and free-range poultry.
Using local sources means fewer chances for things to go wrong....and if something does, it's not going to be a deadly industrial chemical from China that's only supposed to be in plastics and countertops, and not supposed to be in millions of cans of dog food.
What your dog needs to eat – and why it's not provided in most kibble and canned diets
Good dog food must have meat as the main ingredient. Not only muscle meat (ground beef, chicken breast), but also organ meat (heart, liver, kidney) and bone (or bone meal). Also note the bulleted list (on the left) for what a good dog food SHOULDN'T have.
To keep your dog healthy, you should be feeding him meat. Your dog's digestive tract is designed for eating meat. That's why the main ingredient of all acceptable brands of dog food is meat.
And meat is expensive.
Which is why pet food companies go light on the meat and heavy on everything else, such as.....
- Grains and cereals (corn, soy, wheat, etc.) don't belong in pet food. Dogs can't digest them or extract their nutrients. Feeding grain and cereals to dogs leads to all sorts of chronic health problems.
- Junk fillers and unrecognizable food substitutes such as beet pulp, rice flour, brewer's rice, wheat middlings, gluten meal....honestly, raise your hand if you've ever thought of feeding your dog gluten meal.
- By-products or digest. "By-products" is a catch-all term that can include beaks, feet, hair, manure, and other waste, while "digest" is a by-product treated with heat and water to form a slurry. Sounds tasty, yes?
The ingredients on the list above don't belong in your dog's food. Whenever you see these ingredients on a bag of dry dog food or canned food, you should know that the pet food company is cutting corners with inexpensive ingredients – which your dog cannot digest properly. He will not be getting the nutrients he needs to stay healthy for a lifetime. In fact, these inexpensive ingredients can result in chronic health problems and a shortened lifespan.
Inexpensive is good for the pet food company's bottom line. Inexpensive is good for your budget, too. Unfortunately, inexpensive is not good for your dog's health.
Are there ANY dry or canned dog foods that provide lots of meat,
no grains, fillers, or unrecognizable ingredients,
and aren't manufactured on the risky mass assembly lines?
There are a few, yes. Unfortunately, even these fail the final test for a proper doggy diet, which is to check how the meat is prepared.
Is the meat:
- raw (ideal)
- lightly cooked (acceptable)
- cooked at the highest heat levels, which kills the valuable enzymes and antioxidants your dog needs for optimum health (bad)
ALL kibble and canned diets are (c). Which means there is no kibble or canned dog food that you should use as your dog's DAILY diet.
For his daily diet, you should feed homemade dog food and/or a prepackaged frozen diet made of muscle meat, organ meat, bone, and veggies. I like these frozen diets. They're easy to defrost and feed. You can feed them raw, which matches (a) in the list above, or you can cook them lightly, which matches (b).
Of course, as you might expect, not all frozen diets are good for your dog, no matter how delicious their marketing makes them sound! There is one brand I like best and a couple of others that are pretty good, too.
Choose the best dry dog food and feed an occasional meal.
An occasional meal of kibble is fine
You can certainly feed a kibble meal now and then! Dry dog foods are great on a day when your schedule is tight, or when you don't feel well, or when you're traveling with your dog.
But it should be a dry dog food that's heavily meat-based with a small amount of vegetables and other real foods....and NO grains or fillers or unrecognizable ingredients at all. It should be made by a smaller company that only buys from safe local farmers, not made by a huge corporation with dubious international sources.
There are only a handful of such kibbles.
For years, I recommended Innova, but Innova, sadly, has been acquired by Proctor & Gamble, which means quality and safety will almost certainly be subordinated to the corporate bottom line. So Innova is out, as far as I'm concerned. It took me quite awhile to find a replacement. On the plus side, I'm actually happier with the replacement....so maybe it's true that all things happen for a reason!
Variety. I feed homemade meals, prepackaged frozen meals (convenient, and almost as good as homemade), and occasionally a kibble or canned meal.
In the feeding chapter of my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, you'll find step-by-step details for feeding your dog balanced, healthy meals. You'll find main ingredients, supplements, and directions for preparing homemade meals, as well as what you might freeze in individual doggie-sized servings for easy daily use.
You'll find brand names for prepackaged frozen meals, and the occasional kibble meal. You'll find out what to do if your dog only wants to eat "junk" food that isn't good for him, and more....everything you need to know to change your dog over to a healthy diet.
I hope you'll read it and get some of this healthy dog food into your dog, too!