Dog food is crap. There. I said it. Iams? Crap. Eukanuba? Crap. Hill’s Science Diet? Crap. If you’re feeding your dog one of these “quality” or “veterinary-formulated” foods and think you’re doing right by your beast (I used to be one of them), your bubble needs to be burst.
But, don’t just take my word for it; read any modern book on natural dog care/nutrition such as Paleo Dog, The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, or Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats. Experts all seem to agree on one point–the higher-end foods are better than most other commercial brands, but they can’t approach the nutritional quality of a canid’s natural diet. Not even close. Think of them as the lesser of two evils. This should not come as a revelation if you a) have any idea what wolves eat, and b) have ever read the ingredient label on your dog food. Feral canids are of course by nature almost exclusively carnivorous, while many commercial dog foods are comprised primarily of corn, rice, oats, or other grains. Feeding your pack good food does not require a degree in veterinary medicine or any specialized knowledge; all it really requires is a bit of common sense, i.e. “why would I feed a carnivore who is physiologically-designed to thrive on raw meat a bunch of refined grains?” Answer: I have no idea, and I don’t know why I did for as long as I did. Your body did not evolve to subsist on grains, and your dog’s body sure as hell didn’t (wild candids do come across incidental grain/vegetable content from the stomachs of their prey, but this is not a primary component of their diet, and it is partially digested and masticated before it ever enters their mouths [dogs are extremely ill-equipped to process raw plant matter, and so are you, FYI]).
While the issue of the deleterious effects of grain/carb/plant-based diets on both you and your four-legged mate is one entirely unto itself, I think we can summarize this point for now with the elementary statement “meat=good, grains=bad”.
The next big beef (pun-intended) I have with the pet food industry is the quality of the meat used in their food, and here it is–there is none… quality, I mean. There is no quality. Put simply, the “meat” in your dog’s food is:
a) Factory-farmed. This means the livestock were probably treated inhumanely and subjected to deplorable conditions while alive, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, and fed an unnatural grain-based diet, which inverts the natural ratio of omega 3:6 fatty acids. Animals raised on natural grass, hay, and forage will produce fat containing a proper balance of omega 3:6 fatty acids, as good as 1:1, which is ideal. Grain-fed animals, on the other hand, produce meat with an unnatural 3:6 ratio, because grains contain much more omega 6 than 3 (we really are what we eat–dog eats cow, dog becomes cow… so, what was the cow?) This is why the virtues of fish oil are so heavily extolled in the western world; it’s not because omega 3 is so much better than omega 6 (they are both essential); it’s simply because grain-based diets so common in the industrialized world provide a terribly lop-sided 3:6 ratio greatly in favor of 6, which is widely known to be a contributing factor to a litany of chronic inflammatory maladies in both K9s and homo sapiens, from arthritis to atherosclerosis/heart disease.
b) Rotten/diseased. Even on a good day, most factory-farmed meat has no place in an optimally healthy diet. If the issues listed above aren’t scary enough, consider the fact that dog food-grade meat is often comprised of animals that died from god-knows-what before being slaughtered, or diseased/infected body parts. You’re also likely to get some roadkill and euthanized pets in the mix! This is all considered unfit for human consumption, so why would you feed it to an animal you presumably love?
c) Cooked/processed. This is a pretty straightforward point: Dogs bodies are designed to utilize raw meat. Taking very poor-quality meat that is then cooked and processed under high temperatures, likely denaturing much of the protein and nutrients, then putting what scarce viable nutrients are left through the gastric system of an animal equipped with extremely strong digestive acids and enzymes leaves very little actual nutrition left for your poor dog. This is why so many dog foods are heavily “enriched” with synthetic vitamins and minerals; there is very little nutritional value to the actual food. However, if you fed your dog real food…
I think you get the point, but I will reiterate to further beat this dead horse: The best commercial dog food in the world is poor nutrition compared to a natural, raw meat-based diet.
In my personal experience with my own pack since ditching the Iam’s for real food, I’ve noticed measurable improvements in their health. While my senior border collie’s frisbee days are behind him, his raw meat diet took him from “husky” to a slim, natural physique. Even better is his increased energy, vigor, and better mobility with his arthritic joints. Real food has done better for him than glucosamine chondroitin and fish oil ever did.
And, while my hyperactive mini doberman/chihuahua hybrid (pictured tearing apart the spare rib above) certainly doesn’t need any more energy, he slimmed down to a more natural weight since going grain-free as well.
Start with nutritionally-dense, ideally grass-fed offal such as liver, kidney, and heart. These are among the first cuts consumed by a pack of wolves on a fresh kill for a reason. Raw eggs with shell and raw bone (be sure to monitor them initially) are also great additions due to dogs’ high calcium requirement. You can also start the process by adding some raw meat to their dry food and gradually ween them off. This is an especially good tactic for elderly dogs who may have more sensitive systems.
If you’re considering making the transition from dog food to real food, I highly advise checking out the books listed above, and if you feel the need, consulting with a holistic veterinarian. While the process may seem intimidating to some, just remember why you’re doing it. I don’t know your dog (he could be a total dick for all I know…) but, I do know he deserves the best health and food possible.