In our last post, we discussed four tips to help you navigate the pet food industry: (1) Do your research, (2) Price does equal quality, (3) Consider country of origin, and (4) Know your canine’s needs. I specifically wrote the post from a neutral standpoint because it is an industry needing clarification and is already filled with opinions, false statements, varying “safe standards” and even research with opposing results.
So, you have done your research… still feeling lost? Did you jump onto DogFoodAdvisor.com and see the hundreds of different food listed and think: How will I ever know what is right?
Below, we will discuss each section listed last week as a whole – using my particular viewpoint as the base for examples so that you can see the research process in action. Finding the right food isn’t too overwhelming, but it is about reading labels and making informed decisions when choosing the optimal nutrition for a new or existing canine family member. Knowledge is power and the effectiveness of our decision is based on the time we spend looking into product.
1. Does the canine have any pre-existing medical conditions, such as allergies or gastrointestinal limitations, that require us to immediately refine our search based on key ingredients, or ease of digestion, etc.? For some, our adopted canines don’t come with this information so carefully watch their eating and “business” (poop and pee) habits to give you some insight into this area. Do they already have coarse fur, dry skin and lots of dander, or maybe itchy paws? It can be as simple as a hygiene fix, but for others these are signs of an allergic reaction and are indicators that a change is necessary.
2. Then, I start with DogFoodAdvisor.com. Begin by looking through the products listed under the 5-star rating. There are lots to choose from, but you will then see what brands keep showing up and the specific products they order. This is your starting point. Why?
In general, the five star rated foods will be more expensive (large bag between $65-80 CAD), but these producers know where their individual ingredients are being sourced from; they will have higher standards for their finished product, check their quality more frequently and offer, in general, a product with “available nutrition” for the dogs being the primary driver – pushing fillers and less nutritious items much further down, or completely off, their ingredient list. There are a few outliers that have managed to produce products that are fairly nutritious and more cost effective and these will fall into the 4-star range (e.g. Kirkland Dry Food), HOWEVER, these products have ingredients sourced from multiple locations based on the size of their corporations’ reach and the cost effectiveness for them in doing so. But remember, not all countries follow the same rules and standards, etc. Unlike Petco, Costco still sells food products from China, which as we discussed last week, have been found to make dogs very sick and even kill.
3. Write a list of a few brands and specifics types (e.g. chicken, beef, fish, or lamb) that you think will suit your canine best. Now jump online and go to their individual company webpages. Look at areas such as their mission and mottos. While they will (of course) want to look as favorable to potential consumers as possible, the companies that really care about their products will tell you all about how they source their ingredients, how the food is prepared and why (listing benefits), and will sometimes give you a more in-depth nutritional breakdown and ingredient list. Still can’t decide? Contact your veterinarian to see what products they endorse and add that to your information gathering (NOTE: some veterinarians are sponsored by companies to promote their products so while they are a wealth of information, if they only sell one brand out front you might want to contact a variety of veterinarian offices to see what they might recommend).
4. Call your local vendors to determine availability and price point. You don’t want to necessarily pick a food that is hard to find, or one that always needs to be ordered in. If they don’t carry it and instead offer you an alternative or two, write those brands down and do a little more research before committing.
5. Start with small bags, a few cans or a couple weeks of a raw food diet. Transitioning to new food takes time, so transition to new products slowly over two weeks, by gradually incorporating larger proportions of new-to-existing kibble for each meal time so that, by the end of the transition, they will just be beginning to eat only their new kibble. Then, try the new diet on its own for an additional 1-2 weeks to determine if it is working for your canine (through obvious and less obvious signs such as energy level, stool analysis, etc.).
Always consult your veterinarian or canine dietician when it comes to your canine’s nutrition. Many veterinarians have acknowledged the role nutrition plays in our canines’ lives and have kept up with the rapid changes that have occurred in the dog food industry. However, the more knowledgeable you are going into that discussion, the more specific your questions can be about your own canine’s needs, and the more confident you will feel leaving the vet’s office.
It’s a great feeling to know that the time you spent researching food for your canine will help them live a happy and healthy life, free from the impacts that a less nutritious diet can have on their mental and physical health. Have any more questions? Contact me and I’ll be glad to use my resources and colleagues within the pet food industry to answer your questions as best I can.
Happy Kibble Hunting!