Pet Food: Why It Is Important to Know the Source of the Ingredients

Desperate Dogs canine behaviorist Penny Miller explains why it's important to know exactly what's in your food.

The British press have been all in a tizzy this week over the inclusion of horse meat, yes, horse meat, in the beef lasagnas sold in supermarkets like Tesco and Aldi. Frozen lasagnas made of "guaranteed 100 percent beef" were in fact composed of up to 100 percent horse meat. Much of these products were made by a major food manufacturer operating in France, where horse meat is eaten more routinely than on these shores or in England.

I remember years ago standing in a bit of a crummy supermarket in the East End of London looking at all the meat in the refrigerator and deciding not to buy what was supposed to be chuck steak because it looked like horse meat. My friend who was with me asked why I wouldn't buy it ..."They're all the same aren't they? They're just ruminants, animals that eat grass...you just don't want that because you think horses are too pretty to eat, like people turn their nose up at rabbit or deer..." Well no, on that count you were wrong, Pippa.

As it turns out, horses are very often injected with a drug called Phenylbutazone, a drug considered extremely harmful if it finds its way into the human body. This was a drug, a non-steroidal anti inflammatory, that used to be used for humans in the treatment of gout and arthritis, however it was withdrawn from human use when it was discovered that it was responsible for the suppression of white blood cells, and aplastic anemia.

Hmmmmm, what does this have to do with my dog, you might ask? Well, some of you may remember, and I mentioned this recently in another article, about the largest pet food recall in history. It took place in 2007 and involved millions of bags of pet food and more than 100 pet food companies. Many, many dogs lost their lives; there were countless court cases where people sued pet food companies for the death of their pets, and, to this day, I know of at least 10 people who aren't sure whether their dog died of kidney failure as a result of the tainted wheat gluten and rice protein imported from China, or whether their dogs were just sick anyway. They will never know, but the pain and loss remains.

In many cases, these pet food companies were buying product that they thought was okay, they never set out to buy tainted food from China, they were at the mercy of their suppliers who instead of buying quality ingredients decided to save a few bucks here and there. The results were disastrous.

I wrote an article last week about the contents of a bag of dog food, and got a tremendous response. Some people asking what I would consider quality food, others asking what's wrong with Pedigree, Iams and Science Diet, Ole Roy etc? The fact is, just as those poor consumers in England who bought what they presumed to be was 100 percent beef lasagna from a huge and trusted company like Findus, or supermarket brands like the giant store chain Tesco or Aldi, today's pet food buyers often have very little idea about the sourcing of their food.

I truly believe you can only know what's in your pet food, and be certain of excellent and appropriate nutrition for your dogs, if you first of all do your research and secondly, consider making it yourself. I like pet food manufacturers that source all of their ingredients within the USA and Canada from local ranches and farms. I like pet food companies that do not use genetically modified ingredients. I like smaller, mom and pop businesses as they are less likely to succumb to the seduction of far lower prices over in the far east.

In response to the many requests that I have had about making your own dog food, I decided to offer out some guidelines that we use here at the ranch. You will want to consult your veterinarian about this to determine what level of protein and the safety of certain ingredients, but on the whole, feeding your own dog food is going to be safer because you are going to buy fresh human grade meat from a supplier that you would use to feed your own family.

We, at the Desperate Dogs boarding and rehab ranch, roughly use the recommendations of esteemed holistic veterinarian Dr. Marty Goldstein of Smith Ridge Animal Hospital in New York. He advises one quarter meat, two quarters grain and one quarter vegetables -- basically, a food pyramid. If your dog is a grain-free dog, you may use carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and white potatoes, quinoa, yams...the list is endless.

We change diets up for the dogs that we have here, as some have higher protein needs than others, some have specific needs like ginger for pain or turmeric for inflammation, yoghurt for probiotics. Think about dogs from years ago, when we were kids, who routinely ate leftovers, and only leftovers, from the human mealtime. They would get meat scraps, bits of vegetables, milk from cereal bowls, the odd piece of sandwich. They all lived generally long and healthy lives and all seemed to have cast iron constitutions, unlike so many dogs today.

If you want to find out more about feeding homemade food to your dogs, there are some excellent recipes in Dr Deva Khalsa's book, "Natural Dog" published by Bowtie books. Also Dr. Marty Goldstein's "The Nature of Animal Healing," and Ann Martin's "Foods Pets Die For."

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Tim February 10, 2013 at 11:38 AM
Very informative article Penny!
Pat Thomas February 10, 2013 at 01:51 PM
"I truly believe you can only... be certain of excellent and appropriate nutrition... if you first of all do your research..." This goes for ALL pets, and for people too! Just because there's a bunny/cat/dog/bird/fish/etc. on the bag, doesn't mean it's good for the animal pictured on the bag. 90% or more of what our rabbits eat is either fresh Timothy hay, or fresh, rinsed veggies you'd feel comfortable putting in your own salad. We never (and I do mean NEVER) give them the "small pet food" crud you see in the big-box stores, although we have gotten hay from those places before. For the record, most of the rest comes from an Oxbow-brand pellet feed specifically formulated for rabbits (primarily made of the ingredients I listed earlier), and then the dried banana and papaya chips our buns love soooo much -- again, human-quality even if it is just dessert.
Sherri Deloach February 10, 2013 at 05:52 PM
Excellent websites are dogfood advisor and dogfood reviews.
Kathy February 10, 2013 at 08:56 PM
After last month's scare of antibiotics found in the chicken jerky products we decided to make our own dog food for our three large dogs. I see a considerable difference in their coats and energy levels and it has only been a month since we started. We use baked chicken, rice, cooked eggs and peas as the base. Takes about an hour and a half to create enough food for the week but totally worth it.
Leslie February 18, 2013 at 12:55 PM
I feed a mix of raw meaty bones and whole eggs I do however feed kibble during the week but I only feed foods such as acana Orijen blue wilderness Fromm etc.... Only 5 star foods recommended by dog food advisor I swap proteins and brands as well as feed raw it keeps my dogs very healthy happy and always looking fwd to supper time as they never know what surprise they will get next :) I also do not over vaccinate my dogs


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