This month’s topic is nutrition in dogs, and it’s one of the most hotly discussed topics in canine husbandry. It’s such a broad subject that there’s no way to cover everything in this post, but it should give you some food for thought (excuse the pun) and spark off some discussions, questions, and perhaps even some answers! We can tailor future posts to areas that weren’t fully covered or were raised in the comments.
Broadly speaking there are three categories of food to consider: dry, wet and raw. Choosing between these is largely down to owner preference as all three can offer a high quality, appropriate diet. Here are some of the pros and cons of each:
Dry: By far the most cost efficient, practical and commonly used. There are well over 1000 different brands available, and for some brands there are over 300 varieties sub-categorised under that! Historically these have had a bad reputation, and some poor quality options remain (often the major brands!) but with research, you can find some high quality kibbles that rival even the best that raw and wet have to offer.
Wet: Very rarely will a dog turn down wet food. It’s what many of us turn to when our dogs have a poor appetite, either through illness or just being picky! Again, some brands are best avoided, but careful research can produce some excellent options. A brand’s wet food can often be of higher quality than the equivalent dry food. So why not feed wet food constantly? There are a few reasons: the cost is significantly higher, not everyone wants tins of wet food in their fridge, and kibble actually helps to keep plaque off your dog’s teeth more successfully which also helps with bad breath!
Raw: The most controversial. You may have seen programs outlining why you shouldn’t feed raw: the risk of bacterial infections in humans etc. Other disadvantages include the need for freezer space for storage, remembering to defrost the food in time, deciding what to do about food when on holiday, and you must deal with the more messy diet as you prepare it for your dog. So why do owners feed raw? It only takes a quick search on Google to find forums and groups who can justify it! From the digestive process for raw vs cooked, the much reduced waste that you have to bag up on dog walks, to the difference in behaviour and coat shine that you can often see on raw fed dogs, the benefits are clear.
Whichever food type you choose, many of us will soon realise that our dog has an intolerance, dislike or allergy to some ingredients. If your dog is allergic to chicken, you may see itchy skin, red eye lids, hives etc., and you will soon realise just how many foods contain chicken, even if the bag is labelled fish for example. Many of us will find our dogs have soft stools, this would suggest an intolerance. One of the most common causes of this is grain in dog food – often wheat or maize.
Some luckier owners never have an issue with ingredients! So do they need to go grain-free..? Essentially, yes! Dogs obtain very little nutritional benefit from grains, and the benefits that they do gain can be replicated with much more useful ingredients such as sweet potato which is full of attainable dietary fibre and vitamins and is rarely an allergen. Grains are actually used as something called a filler – we’re all familiar with this: you put a nice plump chicken breast in the pan for your dinner, and then you watch as it shrinks, leaking water into the pan. The manufacturer has injected water into that chicken breast, or into those strawberries, to make them heavier and bigger at a much cheaper cost to them. But they can still charge you per 100g when you buy it. Grain in dog food is the equivalent of this added water – it’s far cheaper than meat.
The standard of raw dog food diets is on average much higher than wet or dry, and you’re less likely to find one that uses fillers – in fact you’d probably have to seek one out! So the remainder of this article will concentrate on dry dog foods, but as we said, future posts can cover topics that you’d like us to expand on!
So if foods that contain grain are cheaper because of the cheaper ingredients, and your dog has no allergy or intolerances, what’s the issue with saving a bit of money and buying a cheaper food containing grain? Well in all likelihood, it’s a false economy: if only 30% of the bag is nutritionally useful to your dog, and the other 70% comes out the other end and you have to bag it and bin it, you’re going to need to feed 3 times more of that food than if you’re feeding a grain-free food. So although the full bag may cost half the price of a higher quality bag of food, in the long run, you’re paying much more per day for a lower quality product. There are a few brands which manage to be poor quality and cheaper to feed per day, but in general they are poor quality and more expensive.
There is a tool online that you can use:
This site is completely independent of all shops, manufacturers, dog food brands etc, and so gives an unbiased professional review of every dog food that is submitted. At the time of writing the Dog Food Directory on this site has reviewed 1187 brands of dog food, with multiple varieties under each brand. A word of caution: this site is only the findings of one group of people, so if one food scores 4.8 and another scores 4.5, the realistic difference in quality between them is probably not so important. However when you’re comparing a food that they have rated as 5 out of 5 vs one that rates 0.1 out of 5, that’s a very significant difference and one that’s really worth taking on board. The website does not answer every question you might have, but it will give you a thorough overview of a dog food.
If you’re still reading, give this directory a go now - compare your dog’s food against other brands. Simply un-tick the “All Brands” filter within the Dog Food Directory, then click on the brands you would like to compare. You can then tick up to 5 specific foods to compare side by side against each other. Once you’ve done that, have a look at some interesting comparisons. We all know about brands such as Pedigree, Bakers, Iams or Tails – we see their adverts constantly. But, for example, if you compare Bakers Complete Meaty Meals against Eden Dog Food, you’ll see the Bakers scores 0.1 out of 5, and although the full bag is cheaper, the daily feeding cost for a 15kg dog is £0.91. For Eden it scores a full 5 out of 5, and astonishingly comes in 20p a day cheaper than Bakers to feed the same dog!
Of course, even amongst the high quality foods there are some differences to note; Lily’s Kitchen for example is a good food scoring around 3.5 to 4 out of 5 for the dry food and 4.3 to 4.7 for the wet food, but you could be paying up to and over £4 a day to feed your dog! A possible advantage to Lily’s Kitchen is that it has a lower meat content than Eden for example, so if Eden proved to be a bit rich for your dog, moving to a less rich food could help. Another brand to consider would be Canagan, which again is less rich in meat than Eden and tends to suit these dogs. Canagan scores 4.6 for the dry food and 5 for their wet food, but comes in at a much more wallet friendly 87p a day, still beating Bakers for price!
There are also considerations outside of cost and quality – Orijen is a brand that we’re very often asked about as it has a really great reputation, and rightly so! It again scores 5 out of 5, comes in at 90p a day, and is an 80/20 dog food (80% meat/20% fruit+veg), the same as Eden. But Orijen is made in Canada and shipped over to the UK. Eden is made in Stoke-on-Trent and so supports our own UK economy and has a far lower carbon footprint. There are also things to consider like puppy food, adult food and senior food, versus an all-life-stage food. The advantage of an all-life-stage food is that you don’t have to swap your puppy on to a new food as it grows up, and they benefit from the joint supplements included in these foods for senior dogs as puppies, which can help to ease joint problems as they get older.
Finally, a few myths to bust!
There is no need to stay on a particular food because your breeder or rescue told you to. Some of the high profile brands donate large quantities of food to rescues knowing that as a new owner, you’re likely to feed the same food that your new dog was fed at the rescue. They also give heavy discounts to Veterinary professionals, trainers and breeders, knowing that if your breeder gives you a bag to take home, you’ll most likely keep your new puppy on it. Similarly, if your Vet suggests it, you’re likely to put your dog on it. But you are completely free to research your dog’s diet, and to compare these high profile brands against others to see how expensive, yet poor quality they really can be. We highly recommend that everybody does this because choosing which food you feed your dog is one of the most important decisions you will make as an owner. You have a right to know the marketing that goes on behind the scenes of the pet food world. Once your new dog or puppy has had a little time to settle in, you can change its diet to whatever your research has led you to – you don’t have to wait until they’re a year old for example. Another common question we’re asked is ‘If my dog is now 8 years old, is it possible to change their food?’ They’re never too old to be fed an improved diet and the number of people who come back to tell us their dog has been given a new lease of life due to them doing so is just fantastic.
Another myth is that if you see a particular brand being sold in lots of places, it must be good. The marketing of big brands is really great, but when you look at the ingredients, you realise there’s not much meat in them (sometimes as little as 4%!), and the meat that is in them may be of poor quality. These brands are prime candidates for using fillers and other low quality ingredients with little nutritional value. The steep profit margins this gives them allows them to market the foods heavily, and, unfortunately, at a pace the honest and good foods are not able to keep up with. To really highlight this, we can even tell you that we get sales representatives in the store most weeks from these types of brands, and some have even offered to pay us annual fees to stock their food, with increased fees paid to us if we stock more lines. Is this a good reason for us to choose a brand of food? Not in our opinion. We will always stick to our core values and only offer what we know to be honest and good, and turn down the large corporate companies that use money to muscle their way into stores up and down the country. Simply put, if we wouldn’t be happy to feed a particular food brand to our own dogs, you won’t see it for sale at Ginger&Browns.
A final myth to dispel is that there really are thousands of dog food brands. Did you know that Purina actually own Pro Plan, Bakers, Winalot and Bonio? Mars (yes, as in Mars Bars) own Pedigree, Whiskas & Sheba, Cesar, Chappie and of course, Royal Canin. Even brands that you might believe are small/independent/family-run businesses have been bought out by larger corporations: James Wellbeloved, for example, is a subsidiary of Mars. In reality, approximately 75% of pet food brands in the UK are owned by just 3 companies.
As you can see, this is such a broad topic that this first post was always going to be long! Please comment below with any questions, comments or future topics you’d like to see discussed!