DEAR OLD TRAINER: We just adopted “Beatle,” a 6-month-old English sheepdog. We want to make sure he gets the best nutrition. Are leftovers OK? Is kibble healthy? If so, which brand is the best? We want the healthiest food, so any tips are appreciated.
A: Good for you, Mick. All dog owners should study canine nutrition. A year ago I began researching the subject because cancer rates for dogs had skyrocketed and because three of my dogs were having constant skin problems.
It was a long process, and I hope the results will help you do in a couple of days what took me months to complete.
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Before we get into details, leftovers are fine for dogs. They love vegetables, fruit and any other leftovers. If I produced enough leftovers for eight dogs I would use nothing else, but since I don’t I have to use kibble.
So how do you evaluate kibble? Well, here’s the first rule: Never buy kibble in a supermarket. I learned the kibble I used was junk. I added table scraps and meat to the junk, but buying low-grade kibble was a mistake.
The next 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 ambiguous or misleading.
Few of us have the time to do the research required to understand label terminology, so I searched for experts who had already done the work and could explain it to me. The most informative site I found is The Dog Food Project. It provides everything you need to evaluate ingredients at www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=labelinfo101.
I discovered good kibble may cost more, but – surprise – not much more. And because it contains more nutrition, you feed lower volume. Add the fact your dogs are healthier so you have lower vet bills and it’s a bargain.
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 to see which does the best job with my pack.
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 two I like and trust; they explain which ingredients are desirable, rate the brands and provide hundreds of user evaluations:
Dog Food Analysis at www.dogfoodanalysis.com/dog_food_reviews
Dog Food Advisor at 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 like, 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 found a brand packed with nutrition that costs no more than the junk brand I was buying.
My dogs loved it, and I made a couple of other changes. Their skin problems vanished, they are leaner, and their coats are healthy and shiny.
I’ll discuss those changes and some additional nutrition advice next week.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.