Barney was wagging his tail and smiling, but the look on his bleary eyed owner’s face gave a better picture of the woe they both had been suffering over the past evening. Apparently out of the blue Barney had developed diarrhea and had proceeded to awaken everyone in the household every 15 minutes all night long because he needed to race outside to relieve himself. This all started after he had been switched from the food he had been eating perfectly well without any problems to a new food that had been suggested at the pet store.
Barney’s owner told me that when she went to the store to buy dog food there was an official-looking woman at the dog food aisle who had stopped her and asked her what she was feeding her dog. After a brief conversation this woman had conveyed the idea that the type of food that Barney’s owner had been using was essentially indigestible poison, as were all other dog foods except for this amazing brand of food that her company just happened to market. It was clear that Barney’s owner had the choice to continue to pump toxic waste into her dog and bring about his untimely demise because of her lack of concern for his health or she could fork over twice as much money and assure perfect health in all aspects for the rest of his life. It is no wonder that people who love their dogs succumb to this kind of emotional blackmail fairly frequently.
Pet food companies have really stepped up the intensity of their marketing over the past several years. If we were to buy in to all their claims they would be happy to insist we need to be feeding gold plated nuggets of freshwater scallops that have been hand selected by Tibetan monks residing on the slopes of mount Everest. The reality is that dogs are omnivores--meaning that they get their food sources from eating both meat and vegetable matter (with the occasional non-food items thrown in for fun) and they are designed to absorb nutrition from many different food sources.
Commercial dog foods all have to undergo testing to assure that they provide complete and balanced portions of the five basic nutrients excluding water--namely proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. (In China there have been episodes where manufacturers have tried to cheat the protein test by substituting melamine, a toxic substance that reads as protein on tests) Even foods like ‘Ol Roy from Wallmart, the traditional flagship for the lowest quality ingredients that can be used in food, still meet nutritional requirements.
Recently it has become quite trendy to assert that grains, and corn in particular, are either devoid of all nutritional content, or somehow horribly harmful to a dog’s health. The reality is that grains, and corn in particular, are good sources of carbohydrates, amino acids, and other important nutrients. Yes, it is true that an extremely tiny segment of the canine population is reactive to corn or wheat or some other grain. Those animals would do best not eating foods that contain substances that they don’t tolerate, but an equal small number of dogs are reactive to chicken and beef, and in reality any ingredient could be a source of intolerance to some individual somewhere. Saying no dog should ever eat corn because this one dog was reactive to it makes as much sense as insisting that nobody should ever eat bread because your neighbor has a wheat allergy.
I am continually asked what is the best brand of food for dogs. My answer is that there are a lot of good brands out there, and different foods may work better for different individuals. More expensive does not necessarily translate to better quality either. I do recommend keeping in mind that a lot of the information presented by the marketing machinery of any particular dog food company is in large part pseudoscientific hype. When you hear claims that death and destruction are the inevitable result for all dogs unless they eat brand x you might want to consider taking that nonsense with a grain of salt or you too could end up cleaning up food-change related diarrhea all day the next day.