Choosing the best dog food

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A savvy guide to feeding your dog

With all the different categories of dog food on the market, it can be tricky to know what to feed your pup! This guide will make the decision a little easier.

A healthy dog starts with a healthy diet. But with so much to choose from when it comes to dog foods, how do you decide where to start? Knowing something about the different categories of dog food available today will help you make the best selection for your best friend!

Kibble

Dry food is a favourite with many dog owners because it’s so convenient. After all, what could be easier than pouring kibble from a bag into a bowl? Once upon a time, most kibble products for dogs weren’t great – they were high in empty carbs, low in quality protein, and loaded with all kinds of artificial additives and fillers. But thanks to consumer demand for healthier pet foods, and improved manufacturing technologies, many dry dog foods have made big strides in recent years and are much healthier and more nutritious than they used to be.

Shop smart!

Poor quality kibbles do still exist, so you need to be a smart shopper to ensure you’re getting something that will keep your dog properly nourished. Read product labels. The better dry diets will contain ingredients such as real meats, fish oil, fresh veggies, fruit and herbs, and few to no grains, soy, cheap by-products or fillers. Red flags include vague terms like “animal fat” and “poultry by-product meal”, which can cover a wide range of often questionable ingredients.

Superior ingredients

Many of the better kibbles are also free of all those synthetic colours and flavourings — because they don’t need them! They also have a higher nutrient density and are more digestible; and because they contain fewer cheap ingredients like corn gluten, they are lower in Omega-6s, which when consumed in high quantities can contribute to inflammatory problems such as allergies and arthritis.

Last but not least, a growing number of these newer and better dry foods source their ingredients more carefully, turning to domestic farms rather than importing from countries where food quality standards are much lower than they are in Canada. Some even go a step further by ensuring their ingredients are GMO-free, organic, or humanely-raised.

Cooked just right

Most kibble is manufactured using an extrusion process. Newer methods help retain more of the ingredients’ nutrient value than in the past. Traditionally, companies used very high temperatures when producing pet foods, which meant a lot of the nutritional value of the ingredients was destroyed, necessitating the addition of synthetic vitamins and minerals. However, more pet food manufacturers are now cooking their dry foods at lower temperatures and for shorter periods, so vital nutrients are preserved while harmful bacteria are killed.

Canned

Canned wet foods are probably the second-most popular dog food choice after kibble. Like dry foods, they’ve been around for decades, and they’re almost as convenient. As with kibble, the quality of many wet foods has improved exponentially in recent years, so if you buy the right product, it’s a great option for your dog.

Stews or pates?

Most canned dog foods are available in two forms – stews or pates. Stews are chunky, with visible pieces of meat, veggies and gravy, while pates are paste-like mixtures of ground-up ingredients. You can also buy wet dog foods whose ingredients have been minced or shredded.

Stews may seem superior because you can readily identify the ingredients, such as pieces of beef or chicken, sweet potatoes or carrots. Pates, meanwhile, are a uniform colour and texture, so it’s hard to see exactly what they’re made of. But if you’re buying a quality product, one form isn’t necessarily better than another.

Which you choose will depend on your dog. If he’s picky about veggies, for example, stews might not be the best, since he may leave his peas and carrots behind. In this case, a pate would be better, since he won’t be able to separate the vegetables from the meat! Dogs that like texture and gravy, on the other hand, will probably be more enthused about eating stews than pates.

What about BPA?

Wet dog food often comes in cans that have been lined with BPA (bisphenol A), a chemical used to make plastics and resins. BPA forms a protective barrier between the metal of the tin and the food inside it, helping reduce the risk of food-borne illness. On the down side, BPA can leach into the food and cause health problems by disrupting the animal’s hormones.

The good news is that recent publicity about the dangers of BPA has led to safer alternatives among responsible dog food manufacturers. Some canned foods are now sold in Tetra Pak cartons, which are lined with a food-grade polypropylene layer. Other companies have switched to lining materials made from modified acrylic, polyester or plant resins. Looks for “BPA-free” on dog food labels; if you’re in any doubt, don’t be afraid to contact the manufacturer and ask them what they use to line their tins!

Lightly cooked

Lightly cooked food represents the best of both worlds for those who don’t want to handle raw meat, but want to ensure the food maintains as much of its nutritional integrity as possible. Many nutrients and beneficial bacteria are destroyed when foods are cooked at high temperatures. Light cooking, however, preserves an optimal number of these important nutrients while killing off potential pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella.

Manufacturers that specialize in lightly cooked pet foods use a combination of lower temperatures and shorter cooking times to partially cook the food. These products give dogs most of the benefits of a raw food diet, without the risk of bacterial contamination – a good compromise for those whose canine companions may not do well on all-raw food.

Lightly cooked dog foods can often be purchased through pet food subscription services that deliver them in frozen form right to your door, similar to the food subscription boxes that many people use for their human families – how convenient is that!

Freeze-dried/dehydrated

Another rapidly-growing category is freeze-dried and dehydrated foods. Both these processes preserve raw food without jeopardizing its flavour or nutritional integrity.

Freeze-drying

With freeze-drying, the raw food is first frozen. It then has the moisture removed from it while it’s still in the frozen state. Simply put, this is done through a process called sublimation, which involves transforming a solid (in this case ice) directly into a gas (water vapor), while bypassing the liquid stage. To achieve this, frozen food is placed in a vacuum which vaporizes the water in the food and draws it out before it can turn into liquid.

Dehydration

As with freeze-drying, the goal of dehydration is to remove moisture from the food while preserving its nutritional content. This is achieved by exposing raw unfrozen food to low heat for a long period of time. Because such low temperatures are used, dehydration doesn’t negatively impact the nutrients, enzymes and amino acids found in the food.

Some companies use air-drying to make their foods – this process is similar to dehydration, and can be done using either warm or cool air. The cooler the air, the more nutrients are preserved.

Lightweight and easy to store, or to pack if you’re travelling, freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are very convenient – all you do is add water and voila – your dog has a tasty and nutritious meal! Some foods absorb water better than others, though, and consistency can range from thick, soup-like meals to chunkier varieties, so do some taste tests to determine what your dog prefers.

Raw frozen

You probably know some fellow dog owners who feed their canine companions a raw diet. Maybe you’re also considering this option for your own pooch. In the wild, your dog’s carnivorous cousins eat all their food raw, and it’s true that the canine digestive tract has evolved to handle and benefit from consuming raw meat.

Prepared frozen raw diets offer complete and balanced nutrition todogs. They’re are also easy to feed – they come in a variety of forms, from patties to medallions, so all you do is thaw and serve. No chopping or mixing needed.

In most cases, raw-fed dogs thrive, and maintain a healthy weight into the bargain. It’s a good idea, however, to consult with your veterinarian before switching your dog to a raw diet, since it may not be suitable for canines with immune system problems.

Concerned about hygiene?

The biggest concerns most people have about raw diets involve hygiene. Many dog parents don’t like the idea of handling raw meat, and are worried that either they or their dogs will get Salmonella or some other yucky bacterial illness. However, a healthy canine digestive system is equipped to digest raw meat, and safe handling and storage practices reduce the risk of sickness in people. Just use the same cautions as if you were preparing a meat-based dish for your human family – make sure you wash and disinfect your hands, as well as work surfaces, bowls and utensils.          

Shopping list

Amore – Cool air-dried pet foods made from a variety of natural protein sources, including beef, chicken, lamb, rabbit, salmon and kangaroo, plus fresh veggies.

Champion Pet Foods – Orijen and Acana lines of biologically-appropriate foods made from fresh, raw and freeze-dried regionally-sourced ingredients.

Formule Raw Frozen raw and freeze-dried recipes made from natural locally-sourced ingredients.

Grizzly Pet Products – Dehydrated and oven-baked recipes made from Alaskan wild salmon along with organic coconut meal and quinoa.

Happy Go Healthy – Dry food topper supplement for joint and skin support; ingredients include Icelandic marine algae, prebiotic fibre and salmon oil.

Heed Foods – Meat-first kibbles with freeze-dried fruit and veggie toppers. Blends include ingredients such as turkey, cod, apple, sweet potato and more. heedfoods.com 

Loyall Life Pet Foods — Premium dry foods made from chicken, beef and salmon, including grain-free recipes and diets for puppies and large breeds.

NRG Pet ProductsCooked and raw dehydrated foods featuring wild-caught salmon, free-range chicken and range-fed beef.

NuloOffers a range of quality high-meat kibble, freeze-dried raw, canned pates and shredded and minced recipes.

Oven-Baked TraditionSlow-baked kibbles made from premium ingredients that include chicken, fish and lamb with fresh veggies and fruits.

Petcurean – Premium dry and wet food recipes made from fresh, natural ingredients such as turkey, cod, chicken, salmon and duck.

Petguard – High quality wet and dry foods free of artificial ingredients; choose from eight different canned formulas, or a chicken and brown rice dry recipe.

Raised Right – Lightly-cooked human-grade foods for puppies (beef) and adult dogs (turkey); offers customized meal plans and home delivery.

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