Dog Food Basics
Dog food is manufactured food meant for canine consumption and specifically designed for such consumption by canines and other similar canines. Dogs, like people, are categorized to be carnivores with a primarily carnivorous diet. In contrast to the common conception that a cat has a solely vegetarian diet, felines are omnivorous. Omnivorous means, in fact, that they eat both plants and animals as well as other forms of protein, although the proportions vary from animal to animal. It should also be mentioned that domestic dogs are not the same as wolves in terms of what they eat.
In their natural environment, dogs were designed to live on a diet consisting primarily of meat and plant material and only a small percentage of carbohydrates. Today’s dog food manufacturers have managed to create foods that closely resemble the natural diet of our ancestors. Dogs were meant to hunt and kill prey; the ingredients used in dog food to help them do just that. Virtually all commercial dog food available today contains meat as a primary ingredient and provides adequate protein for the proper building and growth of the bones. Plants provide fiber and energy and have other nutritional benefits.
However, because commercial dog food is primarily made with meat meal, a by-product of poultry production, it provides very little energy density. The energy density in dog food is measured on a diet by weight, much like human food. If a food has more than what is needed for a balanced diet, the manufacturer uses filler to cover the lack of dietary fiber and calories. The filler is usually corn or soybean starch. This allows the manufacturer to use less chicken and beef fat to create the food. At the same time, they are able to use a greater amount of corn or soybean starch as a filler, thereby creating a more energy-dense product than would be possible if the diet was solely based on meat.
Many people feed their dogs commercial kibble made with water, wheat, corn, and other grains that are not regarded as complete proteins. Feed grade ingredients are those derived from cattle and sheep that meet the requirements of the AAFCO Animal Feeding Trials, which set maximum acceptable protein intakes for dogs. In a nutritionally balanced diet, AAFCO trial dog food meets or exceeds the needs of an average adult dog without posing a health risk to the dog. Commercial kibble used to be the only commercially manufactured diet for dogs. Nowadays, dogs can be fed both kibble and dry food and both contain important nutrients necessary for good health.
One problem with commercial pet foods is that they are typically made from a preservative, BHA or Ethoxyquin, which is a petroleum-based substance. While BHA is approved by the U.S. FDA, veterinarians believe that continuous exposure to it may cause health problems in animals over time. Another problem is that most commercial pet foods are still only allowed to carry a trace amount of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that prevents free radical damage and is believed to be critical to the health of humans. Free radicals are formed in our bodies every day through exposure to environmental irritants and pollutants, such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, pesticides, UV light, chemicals, and excessive heat, and the body’s natural defense is to neutralize them. However, excessive consumption of free radical-containing substances is believed to contribute to degenerative eye diseases, cancer, heart disease, and certain forms of arthritis.
Many owners switching to a vegetarian dog food diet are concerned about the lack of meat in the product. Vegetarians do not want to give up convenience, so they substitute soybean meal for meat. Soybean meal (byproducts of soy beans) is a complete protein with all eight amino acids and is also available in pelleted, powdered, or tablet form. It is lower in fats and carbohydrates than meat, and has been shown to increase energy levels, cholesterol levels, and immune system function.
Another concern for pet owners is the lack of essential vitamins and minerals in commercial pet food. Dogs are not carnivores; they are omnivorous. Their food needs include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. While there is evidence that a vegetarian diet lowers blood pressure, there is no evidence that it provides adequate vitamin and mineral intake and may actually cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Some dogs do not like vegetarian foods. Puppies and kittens should never be fed vegetarian foods because they can develop allergies to the grains used to make them. While dogs may occasionally suffer from bloat, it usually occurs at the wrong age, when the animal is not growing rapidly enough to consume as much food as he would normally have. Bloat makes a dog choke and may result in serious injury or death. Malnutrition may result from a shortage of vitamin B12 or folic acid. There are other concerns besides inadequate protein and fat that pets may be prone to, including allergies to wheat, corn, eggs, and dairy products, and infections that occur from a lack of proper hygiene.