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Simple 9 Step Guide To Dog Food Health

I have been involved in developing pet and animal foods since 2009. I have had the privilege of working with some of the top holistic DVM's in the US who have helped mentor and shape my knowledge of animal health.

If you want the best for your pets, than here is a simplified guide to complete pet food health plus my top dog food pick for your specific dog!

This article has been simplified to be short and to the point. 

#1 Digestibility

Seems a bit silly to start with; however, if food (all ingredients micro and macro) is not digestible than it is literally useless. Digestibility of a food stuff can be scientifically measured, it is not a guess. Just because we know scientifically what the best ingredients of most types of foodstuffs (and minerals) are, that doesn't mean companies use the best. Every company in business selling pet food is there to make a profit. Unfortunately cheap foodstuffs generate larger profits.

I could talk for hours about this subject, but let's keep it simple.

Summary: Higher quality ingredients should have a higher bio-availability. This means they are easily digestible and that the nutrients are absorbed efficiently so that your pet may thrive on those proper nutrients.

#2 Gut Health

70% of the immune system is supported through the gut. A healthy gut increases its ability to: digest food properly, improve immune efficiency, fight infections and keep bad bacteria in check.

Summary: A healthy gut improves the digestibility of food and high quality food with a higher bio-availability (digestibility) improves gut health. You should have both.

#3 Micro Nutrients

More and more pet foods are void of essential micro nutrients and trace minerals. The foodstuff used to prepare pet foods, in addition to the synthetic mineral supplementation, is highly processed and often has poor quality nutritional absorption. This simply means; although the ingredient is there on paper, that doesn't mean the body is using it.

Summary: 90% of the time (from observed tests) synthetic minerals, nutrients, and foodstuffs cannot replace the bio-availability of organic (non-synthetic) foodstuffs. Unfortunately you cannot always determine these variables from looking at a package.

#4 Foodstuffs

All food is created equal, right? Definitely NOT! The pet food industry, much like the livestock industry, is fed human manufactured food left overs. Any by-product from human food manufacturing is assessed for any measurable (profitable) value; carbs, proteins, minerals, etc, and sold to these second class (pet food) markets for those values. Pet food companies can create "food" from anything, as long as it meets the nutritional requirements set forth by the AAFCO. Sad :(

To take it up a notch from the worst dog foods available, the trained eye can also spot "marketing" foodstuffs in high end packaging as well. Here is an example: if the first ingredient is chicken and the 2nd, 3rd or 4th ingredient is a high protein "meal" (chicken meal, etc); than this is probably a good indicator that the first ingredient is measured containing its water weight. This is allowed by AAFCO standards. What this means is that, approximately 30-70% of the measured ingredient (chicken) is water. Protein, carbs and other nutrient values are derived from dry-matter; because there is no nutrient value in water. This is a "marketing" foodstuff. And yes it is done all the time.

Summary: Ingredients matter, where they come from matters, how they are processed matters, and how we asses value matters.

#5 A Protein Is A Protein, Right?

Although this principle can be applied to the other measured food values, protein (for me) is easier to visualize.

NO, not all proteins are created equal. Have you ever seen the label on a protein formula body builders use? It doesn't label "crude protein", like other human and pet foods do, it labels every amino acid and it's value per serving. 

So? A protein is not a protein, a protein is a compilation of amino acids that create chains that create usable protein strings (simplified). There are 21 amino acids, each amino acid is required (in some amount) to build a chain. If you lack one amino acid, or are limited because of its availability, you cannot build chains.

Crude protein from a source such as chicken or beef contains high quantities of protein, those proteins are not complete, and require other sources of amino acids to help the body complete a chain. The more processed the food is, often, the more the protein has been diluted of its amino acid profile.

I use protein as a highlight because, well, dogs need protein. Good brands will supplement amino acids with organic or synthetic amino acids to help provide a complete protein. 

Summary: Crude protein, as depicted on the label, is not a true estimate of the complete amino acid profile which are the building blocks for the development of protein chains in the body. 

Here is an article that may explain it better: Amino Acid - The Stealth Dog Food Nutrient

#6 Is Food. . . Food?

I'll make this one shorter. A complete food, like a whole grain, works synergisticly with its' own components. Starch, vitamins, antioxidants, b vitamins, healthy fats, and even some protein make up the whole grain. When left together the grain (seed) literally has all the components to create life. We break the grain down for its nutritional parts and thus devalue its original qualities. Afterwords we add those same values; vitamins, fats, etc, from other cheaper and often synthetic sources. 

Summary: Complete foods are better, both grains and proteins. All foods should work together to improve digestibility and gut health.

#7 Is A Dog A Dog?

I think you know the answer to that. Is it possible that a dog food for "small breeds" can cater to a chihuahua (basically hairless) and a lhasa apso (basically a mop on 4 legs)? I think the answer, at best, is possibly it could cater to both. I think the answer practically is, not really. In order to support the needs of one dog (chihuahua) you will over or under compensate with some nutrient that the other dog (lhasa apso) would need.

To take it further: we have old dogs, bold dogs, short dogs, tall dogs, sick dogs, healthy dogs, sunny dogs, rainy dogs, ocean dogs, mountain dogs, here a dog, there a dog, every dog is unique.

Summary: Why is it so hard to find the "right" dog food for your pup? You pup is unique and requires a diet that they can thrive on.

#8 Treating They Symptom

We treat symptoms as they arise. This is silly and causes a viscous cycle of symptoms. If we treat say, itchy skin (the symptom), with a supplement when we remove the supplement does your pet still have itchy skin? All things must be in balance the best way that we can make it: digestibility, gut health, high quality ingredients, etc.

Summary: Dog health starts with dog nutrition. Healthy, nutritious food supports the gut which supports the bodies natural ability to balance and stay healthy.

#9 Is There One Answer For Every Dog

No, there is not a "one size fits all" answer. The answer is that your dog is unique and requires food to match their individual needs and lifestyle.

My recommendation is to try a customized diet from PawTree. Pricing starts at about $0.65 per day or $19.50 p/m - probably less for dogs under 40 lbs.

You create your pets (dog or cat) profile, include their age, size, weight, lifestyle, allergies, and any number of 40+ conditions your pet may be in need of treating.

Grain and grain-free choices are available from PawTree. Outside of a few cases, grain free diets for dogs are best; however, the carb (grain) substitute used should be researched and monitored. Again, there is not one easy answer.

If PawTree is not for you here is my summary to help you search for the best dog or pet food:

Watch Video - Creating Your Custom Dog Food - Click Here!

  • Minimal Ingredients - this generally means the micro and macro nutrients are available from the main foodstuffs. A laundry list of complex ingredients generally means they are trying to compensate for something.

  • Probiotics - Although not necessary to be in the food, a good nutritional maintenance probiotic is recommended. 

  • Change It Up - Try to give a little variation to the daily routine. Add some toppings, different types of protein (fish, chicken, beef, etc), or other nutritional variables that add to the dogs diet.

  • Stay Away From Preservative Heavy "Treats" - You should change it up but not with pre-packaged junk treats. If it does not add to the dogs health and nutrition than don't add it. Keep a look out for freeze dried treats, this is a much better alternative.

In addition to a customized food regimen, PawTree can help you check off all components on the list above.

Try it today:

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If you are looking for dog food resources I would start with Dog Food Adviser. There information is based on the qualities of ingredients and complete make up of the food, like we talked about in this post. 

This resource will give you a good idea about the quality of each brand and each food within the brand. They do not cover the fact that each dog is different and has different needs and thereby cannot be lumped into a single category.

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