Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dog food

I have a growing pack of Airedale Terriers at my farm, and they're useful in all sorts of ways.  There is nothing better than a dog to help move the sheep, for instance, or to chase down a pig that is doing something that it shouldn't be.

The problem with a large pack of dogs is what you feed them.  There are lots of choices for dog food, and most people feed their pets a dry food that comes in a bag, and they don't think much about it.  In fact, here's a snipped from a dog food commercial that shows the ingredients that are added to their dog food:

Now those are some healthful, wholesome ingredients!  Man, that corn looks GREAT, doesn't it?  You feel good feeding your dog that.  Wow.

But I think we all know that what goes into dog food probably doesn't look like those pristine ingredients.  Lets look at a little more detailed view.  Unfortunately the audio is in German, but you get the idea.

Most commercial dog food is a mix of corn, rice or other grain, and a protein source, which is sometimes plant-based, soybeans, and sometimes animal based, which both of the videos show.  No matter what the ingredients are, they are all cooked, which kills any harmful stuff in the feed, and are basically shelf-stable, which makes it easy to feed to your pet.  

But in the last few years there have been a number of pet food recalls -- one of the largest being in 2007, with over 10,000 pet deaths reported.  

Pet foods are held to a lower safety standard than human foods, and a lot of consumers base their purchase of pet foods on price.  What this inevitably means is that there is tremendous pressure on pet food manufacturers to keep their prices as low as possible,and from that, to pay as little as they can for ingredients.  

So you can buy cheap stuff, and hope that there's nothing bad in it, or you can buy more expensive stuff, and hope by paying more that you don't get any bad stuff.  Unfortunately, if you look at the list of brands that got recalled in 2007, you will see all sorts of premium dog food brands.  Price alone doesn't protect you.  

My solution for my own dogs is to feed them a raw diet that consists primarily of ground pork, from animals that for on reason or another aren't market-worthy.  The best pigs go for human consumption; the grade "b" pigs go for dog food.  If we have a sow we have to put down, but there's nothing actually wrong with the meat.   In fact, it's pretty common for farmers to feed their culls to their dogs.  Michelle Canfield says, in the comments section of this post:  "...This year, my dogs are getting a lot of Old Ram, too!"

Not everyone has a herd of animals that they can feed to their dogs, so here's a few guidelines that may help you pick a better brand.
Guidelines for picking pet food

Look at the ingredients.  They're listed in order, with the largest amounts first.  Generally speaking, if the first two or three ingredients are corn or some sort of vegetable ingredient (wheat middlings, soybeans, etc) this is usually indicative of a low-quality food.  While it may feed your dog just fine, a better quality food might be worth paying a little more for.  

The ingredients should specify the animal any meat is derived from.  Avoid dog food that lists "meat meal" or "meat by products", pick one that says "chicken" or "beef".   "meat" covers a lot of ground, and my opinion is that if they can't keep track of which animals they're throwing into the grinder I don't want to feed it to my dog.   Avoid generic terms.  

If you have a favorite brand, do an Internet search to see if there have been recent recalls or problems associated with that brand.  One of the super-premium brands that I feed my dogs got caught in that 2007 recall.  

Roll your own
Many people choose to make their own dogs food, and chicken is a popular choice for the protein source.  Most folks who do this feed the chicken raw, and many people report that they get good results from the raw diet.

  I made another blogger pretty mad when I pointed out that nearly half of grocery story chicken tested positive for all sorts of contamination; she's been feeding her dogs raw chicken for 9 years with good results -- maybe dogs aren't as susceptible to the contamination as we are.   I sure do know that my dogs eat all sorts of disgusting stuff.  

Personally, I'll stick with meat that I produce personally, with the odd bit of kibble.  


CraftyJeweler said...

I was planning on doing this with my sheep vittles. Are there any organ meats you avoid giving your pets? (I plan on cooking mine simple because it would last a little longer)

Unknown said...

An Airedale terrier is a really very useful pet. It is in their nature to have a lot of drive, stamina and energy, making them prone to barking, digging and chasing things around incessantly. I agree that feeding dogs is quite a challenge because the owner should consider several things first, like the size of the dog and his activity level. There are numerous products in the market today, which makes it challenging for pet owners to choose the best for their beloved pooches. It’s a great idea to make your own dog food. It’s more practical, and I assume, more affordable. But yeah, not everyone’s got the resources for that, so it’s best to choose wisely and carefully so you can ensure your dogs will get the right amount of nutrients they need.

Alejandro Newman