Like all dog owners I want my pets to be healthy and enjoy a long life as members of our family. My first puppy, Samanatha, was the joy of my life and it came as a painful shock when she died abruptly at just over 12 years of age.
It was not long enough and I wondered why she died so young.
In retrospect I remember buying the cheapest possible dog food and commercial treats, and giving her things to chew that were chemically treated. I later learned about harmful chemicals used in processing dog food and treats and it sent chills down my spine.
I mourned her loss for years and the tears still roll when I dwell on it.
Charlie was our next dog and I provided him with the best quality products I could find. He was nearly 15 years old when arthritis finally required euthanasia, and Jake was almost 16 when his life came to an end. Those guys live a long life as Labradors.
Reading labels can be confusing, especially when chemicals are listed. Many foods have substances that are harmful. I doubt anyone but a chemist would likely know that ethoxyquin is one artificial preservative to watch for because it is also used as a pesticide and a hardening agent for making synthetic rubber. (1)
Several years ago dog foods produced in China were contaminated with a toxic chemical that artificially boosted protein measurements. I slowly learned of it through national media reports after thousands of American dogs became sick or died. I told a friend about the contamination and she found the dog food her Labrador was eating was on the list of toxic brands.
A web search will reveal many accounts of such contamination spanning several years. I do not suggest that all products imported from China are unsafe, but the track record has been worrisome. (2) Let the buyer beware!
Puppies are especially vulnerable to unsafe ingredients. Manufactures put beautiful photographs of happy dogs on their packaging, with colorful bits of kibble that appeal to the human eye. None of that benefits your dog, or mine.
I recently read the label of a an American-made popular puppy food and saw 40 ingredients. Half of them were chemicals. The first several ingredients were grains. There was not a single source of animal protein, though imitation chicken flavor was added. So were three artificial colors and two chemical preservatives. That is a brand that I do not purchase.
“What’s in the bag?”
In commercial products I look for something like Fromm Pork & Applesauce Formula Dog Food. The first ingredients are pork and pork meal, followed by several vegetables and fruits, cheese, salmon, vitamins and other healthy things. There are many other healthy dry dog foods to choose from too.
The Whole Dog Journal is “a monthly guide to natural dog care and training” and consists of a paper magazine and digital resource. Experts in canine nutrition, veterinary care, training and behavior submit practical and helpful articles.
My favorite dog treat is whole animal protein I buy on sale at the grocery store, such as pork or beef. For around seven dollars I buy 100% meat and boil it. The broth is saved to add to dry dog food. I cut the meat into about 600-700 pea-sized cubes and keep them in the freezer until I use them for training rewards, or to sprinkle on dry dog food.
Dog Food Adviser offers comprehensive information about commercial food and treats. On the home page click links in the left column to find the best dog foods and search for brands from A to Z.
For current notifications of dog food and treat recalls visit the VIN Dog Food Recall Center and sign-up for email notifications. On the home page look to the upper left and click “Subscribe to recall center feed” to receive timely notifications of unsafe products before putting them in your shopping cart.
Now that you know what to look for you can keep your pet healthy for years to come.
Daniel H. Antolec, CPT-A, CPDT-KA is the owner of Happy Buddha Dog Training. He has membership in Pet Professional Guild, Force-Free Trainers of Wisconsin and Association of Professional Dog Trainers. He also sits on the Board of Directors for Dogs on Call, Inc. and is Chairman of Pet Professional Guild Advocacy Committee.