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Are All Dry Dog Foods The Same?

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A lot of people believe this to be true, but it is a bit like saying that all tinned custard or frozen steak and kidney pies are the same.

Manufactured or processed foods are made in many different ways. Some will use more of one thing and less of another. It is no different with dry dog food.

Over the years, dog owners have tried many different dog foods. In most cases dogs seemed to like them, but we are talking about the same animals that have no problem in consuming sticks, an old sock, soil or plastic toy.

Dogs have taste buds just like us but around one sixth the number that we do.

Ours are at the front parts of the tongue and tell us the difference between sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes. But a dog's taste buds are not thought to be so well developed. Tasting food is not so important to them and with their taste buds located at the very back of their tongue, they don’t taste the food until it’s right at the back of their mouths.

As food passes the taste buds it will register different sensations like acidic or salty flavours before being swallowed. So it would seem that taste is not as important as something like the aroma of the food. If it smells good to a dog, then there is usually no problem in them hoovering it up.

Unlike humans, salt is not an essential ingredient in increasing the palatability of a food. For us it is all about seasoning, but for a dog it is not that high up on the list. Now sweet is another story. Our feline friends don't get turned on by sweet things at all but dogs seem to love them. Of course, too many sweet things (and especially chocolate) should not be on the menu.

A fair few dry dog food manufacturers do use salt in their recipes and some even list it as sodium chloride. It is used mainly as a flavour enhancer and although it is an important mineral in most cases there is really no need to add it, as salt can be found naturally in the raw ingredients of the food. And, of course using salt excessively can have health implications for dogs - too much salt should be avoided.

Finding a dry dog food with not too much salt in it can be tricky, as not all manufacturers show the quantity of salt in the food. It is true that salt is essential in our diet and dog's need it too, but how much do dog's actually need?

Well, salt is required to help transfer nutrients in the body and also aids in removing waste products. So, with this in mind it is important for there to be an element of naturally occurring salts in the food but probably not when it is added salt. Also, going back to my previous point about dogs not seeing salt as an ingredient to make food more palatable, surely there is no need for excess salt to be there if enhancing flavour by using salt is not that important to a dog.

Our advise is to keep an eye on the salt levels to make sure they are within reasonable measures and ask the manufacturers, supplier or distributor about the ingredients before you buy.

Remember that a dog needs many different things in their diet and it is sometimes not as easy as just selecting any product on the shelf.

For our boy it was all about selecting a dry dog food that ticked all the boxes and this needed to meet a key set of criteria. One thing we noticed about our dog was that he had some negative reactions to certain foods. He seemed quite sensitive to darker meats and some richer fish. We tried him on things like duck, beef and salmon with mixed results. A key indicator was the consistency of his stools.

Sometimes this would be runny and other times quite firm. We also understood that a dog's poo can also change depending on the dog's mood. If they are sensitive (like our boy) then a change in surroundings or even a different event can cause a change. Of course, you can obsess about things like this and be over cautious, but the point is that you should certainly take lifestyle or event changes into account here.

We also worked out that our dog was sensitive to certain grains and wheat. I know all about wheat allergies as I have an intolerance to it. It turned out that he also suffered at certain times of the year and we linked this to allergens and days when the pollen count was high.

His sensitive condition did improve when we gave him antihistamines in the form of Piriton. In fact, our vet recommended this brand (or an alternative) as long as it had Chlorphenamine Maleate in it. But you should always check with a vet before giving any medications to your dog.

Another consideration for us was meat content. We wanted enough protein from a meat source but this needed to be a good balanced diet as well. A lot of people think that dogs need very high levels of protein in their diet no matter which source it comes from, but I don’t believe this to be true.

They need a good balance of fats, protein and carbohydrates and I believe the protein should be from high quality meats and fish, which dogs can digest easier and get the most nutrients from.

It is unnecessary to give them high levels of protein and in some cases this can do more harm than good. You need to choose a dry dog food that has high protein levels from meats and fish and not high protein levels from cheaper proteins such as Wheat, Potato, Corn/Maize and vegetables - as non meat proteins are harder for the dog's body to digest. This can also cause dietary intolerance levels such as wheat allergies.

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Protein is also a dense, high calorific component, so foods with very high proteins can pile on the pounds. The best thing to do is chat to an expert about the best proteins based on your dog type.

For example, a small dog that has moderate exercise will require different protein levels than a large working dog.

Finally, dry dog foods will often have a rather generic ingredient called 'animal derivatives.' This can be anything linked to any part of an animal.

European law defines 'meat and animal derivatives' as "All the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals, fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment, and all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcass or parts of the carcass of warm-blooded land animals". But this doesn’t really help the buyer of the food to know which parts of the animals are in certain foods.

It is easier for manufacturers to use this term as a lot of the time it relates to parts of the animal where quality cannot be assured and this includes offal and parts of the body including feet, head and guts. As you can see it is better for the manufacturers to use this generic term, rather than list each item individually. These derivatives are sometimes not consistently high quality and I would look for a food that uses high grade meats (for human consumption) instead.

It’s important to choose the best food for your dogs need, based on the breed, level of activity, size and age. And making sure it at least states what animal the meat comes from. This is especially true if your dog is prone to food intolerances.

In the end we opted for a higher quality food that has decent levels of protein but also offers a balanced list of other ingredients and is grain free.

The meat contents is the highest form of protein and it has sweet pototo (a high quality carbohydrate) instead of grains and white potato, which means there is less starch and more fibre as well as a great source of vitamin A, B6 and C.

It was also well researched and tested and they had high values when it came to where the ingredients were sourced and how it was made.  

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