A week ago, I was blessed to meet a wonderful 13 year old Weimaraner, Moose, in the front seat of his car of all places ... I was at the Desperate Dogs "Paint Your Pet" night out and a lady called Kelly came in and asked me to pop out and meet her dog.
This beautiful dog has many of the same characteristics prevalent in Weimaraners today -- separation anxiety, lumps and bumps all over his body and binge eating to name a few. Poor Moose though, has "exploding" lumps on his legs. Commonly, these are just sebacious cysts that, when they get knocked, open up and exude sebum. In some cases, these can actually be mass cell tumours, and so your dog must be checked by a veterinarian if any lumps or skin changes occur.
Moose also has regular ear infections and "runny eyes" as he had when I saw him the other evening, and I explained to Kelly that this was mostly due to his diet.
Your dog's behaviour, his health, his happiness, his skin, longevity -- in fact every single aspect of his life -- are inextricably intertwined with what you feed him. Feeding a dog a healthy fresh or holistic diet where all of his key nutrients are being delivered in a way that the dog can metabolize them is obviously going to be far more beneficial than feeding some nasty mass-produced dog food.
In Moose's case, the food in question is Pedigree. Today, I thought it might be useful to unpack what's in Pedigree's list of main ingredients so that we can see how Moose's needs might be being met, or not, as the case may be.
The way the average bag of dog food is designed, all the pretty pictures on the front will make you think that chicken tenders are falling out of the sky into the bag and that there's more of that in there than anything else ... the truth couldn't be further away. The biggest ingredient in any food is always first on the ingredient list, and so in this case, there's more corn in this food than anything else. Now corn is not only the poorest and cheapest form of protein available to dog food manufacturers, it's also harmful to dogs as it decreases the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin, as you may be aware, is the neurotransmiter responsible for controlling mood, arousal, sensitivity to pain, and, when it is deficient, is one of the key elements in anti social behaviours, impulsivity, aggression and learning problems to name but a few. Quite an important thing to be having around wouldn't you say?
The next ingredient is "chicken by-product meal." Most consumers read the word chicken, and don't process the word "by-product." In this case, by-products of chicken are the necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines and possibly small amounts of feathers ... basically the nasty bits you wouldn't eat yourself because they're gross and have no meat on them. I'm not talking about organs, it would be lovely if they were included as they are rich in nutrients, however they are not by-products and so don't find their way into the dog food bag as they are more valued in the human food chain.
Meat and bone meal...AHH SIMPLY DELICIOSO! Meat and bone meal is the rendered [blasted with high pressure water hoses to get it off the carcass] pieces of hoof, hide, hair, blood, stomach contents etc. that have really no nutritional value at all but cost the pet food manufacturer next to nothing as they are the bits that no one else wants, and because they are of animal origin, allow them to classify these parts as animal protein..thus making it seem as though there's valuable protein sources in the food. The nonspecific use of the term "meat and bone meal" is also a big concern in dog food as it doesn't specify the animal from which it came. If a company were using rabbit, chicken, pork or beef, they absolutely would say so. Because they don't specify the animal origin, it's questionable as to whether they are using sources we would be happy about.
In the book "Food Pets Die For- Shocking Truths about Pet Food" by Anne Martin [NewSage Press 2008], the author states that if the term "meat meal" is listed as an ingredient, there is no guarantee that euthanized cats and dogs have not been used in the food. I can hear you gasping in disbelief. Yes, I really did say that. It is a common practice for thousands of euthanized dogs and cats to be literally delivered to rendering plants at some pet food companies daily to become part of this "unspecific" ingredient. I'm afraid that that's not good enough for my dogs, they're not cannibals, and I abhor this practice. I hope that you do too, enough to stop feeding foods that list this ingredient.
The next ingredient is rice. Now brown rice is good for most dogs, it's packed full of B vitamins and is a major help in skin conditions and stress. This however, is not brown rice. Its just rice, which means it has been bleached and has no whole grain in it, in which case it is pure carbohydrate, a filler to satiate appetite at best. Carbs are essential for some dogs, but to even the most energetic dog, too many carbs are harmful as they turn into sugars which can lead to diabetes. Dogs don't process carbs as well as we do, for optimum health, they need protein to be the major part of their diet, and good quality protein at that.
Next ingredient? Corn gluten meal....ah, that old chestnut! This is just dried residue of corn after it has been removed of the starch and the germ. The pet food manufacturers label it differently to plain old corn so that they can make you think that its an extra ingredient, whereas its really just MORE CORN however you look at it.
Animal Fat... notice it doesn't say chicken fat, turkey fat or beef fat, just animal fat. That's because either they don't know and can't specify which animal it came from, or because they know you won't like it if they do. Think about "meat meal" as discussed above.
Natural poultry flavour...... Hmm, if they were using real poultry, would they need to add poultry flavour? This is to disguise the smell of the ingredients and to fool the human consumer that there is real chicken in large quantities in the bag.Dried beet pulp....... This is added for fiber, but is really just sugar. Beware of this ingredient in dogs with diabetes and older dogs more prone to develop the disease. Salt.....I never saw a wolf with a salt and pepper shaker. Ever. Wheat mill run.......This is another way of saying "the scrapings off the wheat mill floor." What are they doing feeding wheat to dogs anyway? Answer: it's cheap, it's filling and most humans don't understand that dogs shouldn't eat too much grains.
One of the other ingredients creeping in to dog food, as it is on this bag, is caramel color. It's listed as a carcinogen in the State of California, although other States find it innocuous. Something you will commonly see in cheaper dog foods, as with this bag of Pedigree, is BHA [Butylated Hydroxyanisole] and BHT [Butylated Hydroxytoluene]. These are the preservatives that give your pet food endless shelf life even under the harsh lights and heat of pet food stores and stop any fatty contents from becoming rancid. Leading veterinarians have stated that these chemicals can cause birth defects and liver and kidney damage. It is also used in the human food chain [look at your sausage when next you buy it] although, because we don't ingest it at every meal as some poor dogs do, it's hopefully not as disastrous for us. Hopefully...eh?
This article wasn't written with intent to make you want to vomit; it was written with intent to make you angry. I firmly believe that you want better than this for your pet. I believe that you adore your dog and want him to live a long, happy, healthy life and that you never for one moment thought that people could get away with this kind of thing through clever marketing. Well, I'm here to tell you that they can and they do.
So, to bring it all back to Moose, what does this all mean for him? Moose has had very poor nutrition when you look at all of this, but the good news is that it's never too late to make a change. Just as we, when we change our diet as humans, notice dramatic changes in our bodies, our strength and mental acuity, so it is for dogs.
I would suggest a holistic dog food, with a high percentage of well-sourced protein, white fish, chicken or turkey for digestibility but as he's an older dog, perhaps just one or two protein sources, not more than that.. with some low GI carbs, like sweet potatoes, or even white potatoes as they are full of vitamin C and so are a useful anti-inflamatory. Some fruits to bolster the vitamins and beta carotenoid value of the food [don't just stop at apples and pears and tomatoes, think blue and red fruits also as they are rich in these], herbs for digestive health [dogs in the wild use herbs for digestion every day], probiotics to help break down the food more efficiently and thus help it to get where its needed for cell renewal and repair. Brown rice for a big whallop of B vitamins which would help this boy with some of his stress issues. Flax for linoleic fatty acid which is so useful for skin health and wound healing. Garlic to block cancers and inhibit the production of tumours...the list is endless in all honesty.
There are some great dog foods out there, and also we can make our own dog food using good quality fresh meat and vegetables, fruits and spices. As many of you know, the food we use here as a base food at the Ranch, is Acana single protein food; we use mainly the lamb and apple blend or the chicken and potato, duck for dogs who need an unusual protein as they have food allergies. To this we add our own dog food..a blend of beta carotenoid rich foods [anything brightly coloured in the vegetable kingdom is rich in beta carotenoids] from the 'safe for dogs' food list, fresh meat or fish, yogurt for digestive health, some seeds and lentils on occasion, fresh turmeric for arthritic dogs..to name a few ingredients.
Really checking out what goes into your dog, not only affects his physical health but greatly affects his mental health too, so read those labels and don't be fooled by cheap marketing ploys and pretty pictures. If it doesn't sound like it would come from your kitchen, why give it to your dog?