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Dog Food – A personal quest for the best dog food

I am under no illusion that choosing a food regime for your dog is a simple task.

For those who don’t really think about it or just go for the bargain foods…all I can say is: please, please just become informed about the choice you are making and read the labels.

I am not a vet, nor am I in a pet-related field, and I am certainly not going to preach about whether you should buy the most expensive or organic foods.  I am an ordinary dog (and cat) owner and I want to share with you a few things I’ve learned and my very recent quest for information and why I’ve gone on this journey.

I recently read an article about the ‘horrible’ things that ended up in bags of dry and tinned dog foods.  I was truly horrified, but at the time I was working (more than) full-time + commuting 4-hours return daily to London.  I didn’t have much time to focus on such things, and weekends were filled with trying to just get the basics done around the house.

My animals are my world, and I thought that if I read the labels and ensured a food that had good meat content that would be enough. Sometimes I would find a new food that claimed to be a great organic, super-duper food with a long list of of great sounding ingredients that even I should be eating!

I also tried a raw-food diet.  In theory, this should be the best diet as it’s closest to a dog’s ‘natural’ diet.  This is what the marketing on the bag will tell you.

My dog isn’t really fussy…so he’ll happily eat what I put in front of him…quickly. However, I still felt something was missing in my understanding of what was best to feed him.

So, this brings me to my quest.

Recently, I had an opportunity to take a sabbatical (some time off work), leaving me a lot of time at home for dog walks and taking care of a household.

I needed something to focus on.  As I’d recently had my kitchen renovated and previously not enough time to really use it…I thought that cooking for the dog might save me from making brownies every day…and then eating every. single. one.

I had bought a cookbook some months back called ‘Dinner for Dogs.”

This easy-to-read cookbook is written by the founder of a leading British, organic dog food company. At first I just thought it would be cute to make some of the treat recipes…but when I started actually reading the book I decided to start making my own batches of food.

This was great for a while…but is this sustainable? What do I do in an emergency when I’ve forgotten to take food out of the freezer or have gotten too busy to make a fresh batch (which I have to do usually once a week now). So, back to the drawing board I went…and this time I started reading more about the various types of food.

I needed a dry kibble to have on hand, but how do I choose…there are vast price differences and types.

Here are a few of my considerations:

  • There is a brand of organic Canadian dog food that has a very high meat content, which I once thought was a great idea. Lots of good things in this type of food…but a dog groomer mentioned that the (white) fur under my basset hounds’ chin was turning pink/brown with a bit of an odor to it (caused by a gland issue that was related to the very high rich meat content) and if I switched him to a raw diet then the problem would go away. An added benefit was that I should see some behavior changes which might make him seem more ‘settled.’
  • I switched to the raw diet and this went great. The dog loved it and his fur did go back to normal. The only down side was that he is a medium sized dog (approx. 24k) and he was eating 500g of raw meat a day…which was becoming a bit expensive as I was no longer working.
  • I have tried various other dry foods, as well as some organic tinned food…but I still needed a more cost effective option.

So, I set out on my quest, and with a few hours of research online and based on personal experiences – this is what I understand about dog food and what choices I have made based on what I have learned.

#1  I love cooking wholesome meals for my dog. I find the whole experience rewarding and almost relaxing and I definitely take my time doing it – but I usually do a big batch with enough food to last about a week. This way I can plan a Sunday afternoon or other specific day and know I have to get this done as part of my weekly routine.

When serving the dog purely home-cooked meals for 1-month – I noticed a difference in how soft & shiny his coat was – as well as how healthy he looked and seemed to have more energy – as he is getting older now.

It’s hard to quantify this…I completely understand…but I am now a firm believer that eating healthy works the same for animals as it does for us. Unfortunately, in my house the dog probably has a more balanced diet than I do – something I am definitely working to improve for the humans in the house J

If I am feeding home cooked food, I also add in some additional nutrients in a powdered form by Din Dins.

This helps to make the food a more complete and balanced meal.

#2  Raw food diets are great, but this does take some careful planning (as with cooking the meals), because the raw food has to be purchased frozen and defrosted…unless you are just buying pure mince from the store. Mince alone would not necessarily constitute a ‘complete’ diet for the dog so you would need to supplement the meal with something…maybe a kibble as part of a ‘complete’ meal, or research what other veg, spices, herbs and nutrients you needed to add each meal time to obtain the same result as a ‘complete’ food.

There are also concerns with Raw (aka BARF) diets, due to the potential of contamination of the meats etc. I understand this can be a real problem, dogs can get food poisoning (like salmonella) just like we can – so if you do choose to go down the raw diet route – please take care in the food storage and prep areas including hand washing as you would in prepping food for your own table.

#3  A lot of dog food (dry & tinned) contains a lot of fillers that you need to look out for and many ingredient labels – most you won’t recognize. Some ingredients may be fine ‘in theory’ for the dog to eat – but they may struggle with digestion of those ingredients (like peas and the skins of potatoes for example).

In reading the ‘Dinner for Dogs’ book – it explains very easily how to read the dog food labels and what to look for. Essentially, like human food…the less expensive foods are often full of the equivalent to sugars and fats and in many cases is like feeding your dog candy bars for dinner. Of course they will eat it and they love it – because they love the fat (like we all do).

#4  In terms of cost, it is comparable in price to cook the food at home vs buying dog food from the store – depending on your budget and how thrifty you are when you shop. There are ways to cut the price of the home-cooked meals by just being a bit savvy. The costs also go down if you are cooking at the end of the week and design your own recipe around the food you haven’t had a chance to use during the week (like extra carrots, broccoli, spinach, or potatoes/sweet potatoes, squash etc). This way, you can reduce food waste and protect the wallet at the same time (bonus!).

I should be very clear here to state that using these fresh ingredients to cook for your dog does not mean that you have carte blanche to give the dog all the left-overs – and there is a very good reason why you should not do this: A lot of the food we eat has salt, onion sugar or artificial sweetners etc. Each one of these things can be VERY harmful to your dog and are actually poisonous to them. So if you are going to cook for them – know what you are feeding them and what goes in the bowl.

#5  If you are looking for a good dry dog food – I would highly recommend the Eden range of dog foods – the brand is very highly rated, has a good ethos for it’s products and is also considered holistic and 100% natural. When I feed my dog the dry food, I also recently switched his bowl to one of these crazy looking bowls pictured below – it is a great solution for dogs who tend to eat their food too quickly – this is like a puzzle and makes the dog work a little for the food. My dog is 9-years old and we just introduced this new bowl in the last few months – I only use it for the dry food and we absolutely love it. The cat is thankful too – she has longer to eat her food before the dog invades her meals and has his ‘dessert’ when I have my back turned ;)

Dog Dining

Green Interactive Feeder

In conclusion – my current regime is to cook the dog’s food as much as I can – to keep to my weekly food prep schedule and to supplement this by using the Eden dry food kibble to make the home cooked food go further or for those times when when we run out of the home-cooked option. I personally find this the best combination as I can be assured he is getting what he needs from the ‘complete’ dry food but also knowing that I have personally selected the ingredients and prepared the cooked food with healthy options. It does take preparation and organisation when doing the shopping and planning your week – but the reward is a very happy and healthy dog and potentially a happier and healthy DH!

On a side note…the dog now camps out in the kitchen in the hope that he gets to lick the spoon J

If your budget and/or time don’t allow for either of these options – please check out these resources I’ve listed below to ensure you are making at least the most informed decisions about your pet food. That’s the very best you can do – healthier foods can also mean less in vet bills as they will (hopefully) suffer less from things like kidney/liver problems…not to mention less ‘clean-up’ on walks (you just have to trust me on this one).

Even though my research was primarily around dog food – the same approach should be taken for the cat food – although as I understand it – cats don’t need nearly as much variety of nutrients as dogs so they should be easier to prepare food for. Their diet is 97% or more meat with very little vegetables or grains.

Lead On Dog Shop has also posted a few healthy dog snack recipes HERE

References and Articles of Interest: – Delivery free in the local area which is very convenient! 

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