Jack Haskins: Dog owners should evaluate what they feed their pets

theoldtrainer@gmail.comMarch 21, 2014 

D ear Old Trainer: We have Zack, a 1-year-old German Shepherd. You have written about getting dogs to eat, but I haven’t noticed you ever discussed nutrition. We want the healthiest food for Zack. Which kibble is the best?

SIENNA

Dana Point

Dear Sienna: Great question, one I wish I had asked myself years ago. I go to extremes to make sure my own diet is healthy, but had just fed my dogs whatever was convenient. When I realized how lax I was in caring for my pack, I made big changes.

I spent the last month researching brands of kibble. First thing I learned is, good kibble costs more, sometimes twice as much, as low quality. But, because it contains more nutrition, you feed lower volume. Add the fact that your dogs are healthier so you have lower vet bills and it is a bargain.

I was embarrassed to learn the kibble I used was literally junk food. I added table scraps and meat to the junk, which improved the nutrition, but I know now buying low-grade kibble was a mistake.

My advice to all dog owners is to evaluate the food you are currently using and determine if you can improve your dog’s nutrition. The information below will help you do in a couple of days what it took me a month to do.

The first step is learning to interpret the list of ingredients. We can all read them, but it’s impossible to understand what they mean unless an expert explains it. Almost every word on the label is – purposely – ambiguous.

Few of us have the time to do the research required to understand label terminology. My solution was to find experts who had already done the work and could explain it to me in terms I understand. The most informative site I found is The Dog Food Project. It provides everything you need to evaluate ingredients at: http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=labelinfo101.

That site taught me to understand labels, but I still had a long way to go. There are hundreds of brands of dog food and it would take years to try them all with my pack to find which does the best job.

I don’t have years, so I searched for an objective (meaning no company is paying to get their product rated) website to do the work for me. Here are the two I like and trust. They explain which ingredients are desirable, rate the brands and provide hundreds of user evaluations:

Dog Food Analysis at http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com/dog_food_reviews.

Dog Food Advisor at http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-reviews/brand.

Explore the information on those sites. If your current brand of kibble ranks as low as the one I was using – the lowest possible rating – check the top-rated brands. Find one you think is best, buy a small amount, and try it for a few weeks. If your dog doesn’t prosper on it, try another one.

I doubt there is one kibble that is best for every dog. I picked a brand packed with nutrition and will feed it to my dogs for a month. I will report back in a few weeks on what effect changing to a top brand of kibble has on my pack.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.

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