Monday, May 20, 2013


For a happy, healthy dog like the guy you see in the picture above, proper nutrition is important.

As many of you know, in the not so distant past, I worked for Petco. As part of my job there, I often helped customers decide on the proper food for their dogs. Anyone who has visited one of the big pet retail stores, (i.e. Petco or Petsmart) knows that the choices of dog food can be quite overwhelming.

I will begin by stating that I am not a nutritional expert, but, I have worked with dogs and their owners for quite some time now and I have a great deal of experience with many of the brands of dog food that you will encounter on the shelves of your local Petco, Petsmart, or similar establishment. I am familiar with some of the claims that the manufactures make. I think I can give you a little non-biased information here.

Perhaps a little information on the physiology of dogs is in order here. Again, I am not an expert, but I do have some knowledge on the subject.

Dogs do not have nearly as highly developed sense of taste as we humans do. They have taste buds and can taste but their sense of smell is much more developed. Therefore it is not really the taste of the food as much as the smell and texture that the dogs seem to enjoy.

Chewing does not work the same in a dog as it does in us people. Take a moment and watch a dog eat sometime. The jaws only move up and down not left to right as ours do. Dogs only use their teeth to break the food into small enough pieces to pass down the throat. Saliva is only used to lubricate (in people, saliva actually begins to break down the food.)

This is the reason dogs can eat so fast. My understanding is that their stomachs are more flexible than ours and the stomach acid more potent.

Aside from being interesting, I hope that this information helps you to understand that eating is different for dogs. I come to a few conclusions from this information:

  1. Dogs do not really spend a lot of time tasting food. Therefore they will not really get "bored" eating the same foods because they don't really taste them.
  2. Dogs do like some foods some foods better than others but, I have found that this is due more to smell and moisture content than it is to taste.
  3. While dry foods will be more abrasive on the teeth and therefore could help remove tartar, my personal feeling is that any statement by manufacturers about one kibble cleaning teeth better than another is a little suspect because the simple fact is that the dogs do not chew their food nearly enough to get a large benefit from the abrasive action of the kibble against the teeth. I personally think that dental chews would be much better for teeth cleaning via abrasion. 
Please also remember that if your dog has allergies or you suspect your dog has allergies, your veterinarian can provide much better information regarding diet than myself or anyone at a pet store can regardless of their "training". I went through continuing "training" at Petco. While much of it was very informative, it was also done by computer and was very much influenced by the food vendors.

Remember, only a veterinarian can properly diagnose allergy or any other malady in a dog. Many dog foods claim to make a difference in skin condition. While it is true that skin  and coat condition can be improved  through proper diet, it is also true that not all skin conditions are food related. If your dog has a skin problem, before you address it with supplements or change the food, I strongly encourage you to consult with your veterinarian. 

If your dog has a "sensitive" stomach I would also recommend consulting with a veterinarian before you change the food. There are many things that cause digestive issues in dogs and not all are diet related. Just because the bag says for "sensitive" stomachs, it does not mean that it will cure all digestive issues and changing the dog's food could introduce new problems if he is having digestive issues.

If you have recently visited a Petco or Petsmart, you will notice that the food is arranged in categories and varies very widely in price. 

At Petco the categories were :

  • Essential
    • These are foods like Iams, Beneful, Purina Dog/Puppy Chow, Purina One, etc.
    • These are considered ,by the Pet food stores, the very low end of the line. The unspoken feeling seems to be that these foods may not kill your dog but they are not good for them at all.
      • I have a real problem with that kind of thinking. These foods are not, in themselves, harmful to dogs. They contain no fillers. They are however, brands that you can find at most grocery and big box department stores.
      • While they do not contain fillers (fillers have no nutritional value), they do contain by-products and artificial preservatives and in some cases, dyes.
      • They also contain, as a major ingredient the dreaded corn.
        • Contrary to what you may have been told, corn does provide nutritional value. I will explain this in more depth in a future post.
        • The problem with the corn based foods is that the stool is often larger.
    • My advice to customers (not the Petco line) was that if your dog has no allergy or digestive issues and is otherwise healthy and not overweight, I see no reason to take the dog off this type of food.
  • Premium
    • The premium foods are generally much more expensive. 
    • Brands such as Purina Pro Plan, Eukenuba, Royal Canin, Hills Science Diet
    • Most of them have a recognizable protein source in the first few ingredients (i.e. chicken, beef, etc,)
    • They do not contain by-products
    • Many of them address certain breed specific or life stage specific issues through supplemental additives.
      • (i.e. Large Breed, Senior, Small Breed, Toy Breed, Sensitive Skin, Sensitive Stomach, Weight Control)
    • There are some good foods in this class however, if your dog does not have a specific issue addressed by these foods, again, I am not certain that the benefit is worth the added cost. This is a decision that you will have to make. The cost is not such a big issue with a small dog because they do not eat so much but a large dog could be very expensive to feed on these foods. 
  • Natural
    • These foods contain all natural ingredients. When preservatives are used they are natural.
    • All the ingredients are generally recognizable. 
    • There are many very expensive brands in this class ( Halo, Merrick, Avoderm, Inova, Nature's Valley, Natural Balance, Nutro Natural Choice)
    • There are also some moderately priced brands (Nature's Recipe, Whole Earth Farms)
    • There are also what I call gimmicks within this category. 
      • Grain-Free
        • There is probably a small percentage of dogs that are allergic to grain however, my thinking is that this type of food is so popular and marketable at a very high price because people are aware of gluten sensitivity in people and project that on their dogs.  A real positive is that Grain-Free Foods do seem to produce less flatulence in dogs. I am not sure if it is worth the extra price to you to have a dog that is less flatulent. But if it is, there ya go!
      • Raw
        • This is basically adding freeze dried raw pieces of meat to the food to increase the protein content.
        • This is quite the fad now and many people love this. But again, I really perceive it to be more about the people than the dogs here.
        • But if you want to pay much, much, much (I mean exponentially) more it is very good meat. To give you an idea of price, we carried a bag of this stuff that was a little over 20 pounds in weight and cost about $80.00 retail. And believe it or not we sold about two of these a week!
  • Holistic
    • This is really a sub-category of natural foods
    • All Holistic foods are natural but not all natural foods are Holistic
    • Holistic foods are part of a Holistic approach to Dog Health.
    • I do not disagree nor do I find fault with this approach however, I will admit to knowing very little about it.
    • The foods in this category are generally a higher priced version of the Natural Foods. They often (though not always) have a mixture of protein sources (i.e. Chicken, Duck, and Salmon)
    • Brands include (Blue Buffalo, Holistic Select, Solid Gold, etc.)
Okay, perhaps you are really confused now because of the large amount of information I just provided. Here is my advice:

If you adopt an adult dog ( or a puppy for that matter), if the dog seems healthy and is not overweight, keep him or her on the food they were on before they moved in with you. In other words , don't fix what ain't broke. If you can not obtain the food they were on for some reason, use one of a similar quality (use the ingredients on the bag for comparison.)

I will be writing a post later on overweight dogs. Food is not always the problem here. Many times it is more exercise than food. However if your dog is obese, consider using one of the Premium brand  weight control foods until you can get the weight off.

As for me and my dogs, this is what I do:

When I worked for Petco, I got a pretty good employee discount and was always getting coupons. So, I bought whichever adult natural food I could get the cheapest. I keep a large plastic container and mix this food together to feed my dogs. It works well because none of my pack has digestive problems.

Now I use any food that does not contain fillers and use the same method. My dogs are healthy and they are not overweight due to overeating.

So, my advice is that if the dog is healthy and you are satisfied with the price, why change?

If you are having problems selecting a food for your dog, please contact me, I will be happy to help you decide.

Till next time

William Moore 
William Moore Canine Training

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