Between “super ingredients”, dog food labels, the grain vs. grain-free debate, and the dog food your best friend swears by…is it fair to say that finding the bottom line about dog food ingredients can seem impossible?
To bridge the gap between what you might have heard on the Internet and what’s true about dog food ingredients, we’ve partnered with Dr. Lauren Pagliughi, DVM, who lends her veterinary expertise to Just Right by Purina personalized dog food. In the last segment of this three-part series, Dr. Lauren breaks down the basics of dog food to reveal the surprising things your veterinarian wishes you knew.
Understanding How Dog Food Ingredients Influence Your Dog’s Health
INTERNET SAYS: Ingredients tell me everything I know about my dog’s diet, including the food’s quality.
DR. LAUREN SAYS: If you’re just looking at ingredients, you’re missing a lot of information.
- NUTRIENTS: When most people talk about nutrition, they talk about ingredients because it’s what we’re familiar with. It’s how humans make meals: bread, jelly, and peanut butter creates a sandwich. But your body doesn’t use peanut butter for energy. It uses the nutrients inside – like protein, fat, and carbohydrate – for very specific purposes to help your body function. The same goes for dogs. Nutrients, found in dog food ingredients, are the building blocks of your dog’s body. That’s why you should look at the Guaranteed Analysis section on the dog food label to get a fuller picture of the available nutrients inside your dog’s food.
- QUALITY: Neither veterinarians nor pet owners can determine the quality of dog food ingredients by looking at the product label. You can get steak at a fast food chain or at a fancy steakhouse in NYC. Both ingredient labels will say “steak”, but the quality may be drastically different. Your dog’s food isn’t any different. To know if your dog’s food is complete and balanced (every quality dog food should be), look for the AAFCO statement on the label that indicates the diet is formulated to meet the appropriate nutritional levels.
- HARD-TO-PRONOUNCE INGREDIENTS? They’re not as scary as they sound, and they’re there for a reason. About half of the ingredients in many commercial dog foods (and less than 1% by volume) are vitamins and minerals with hard-to-pronounce names. The FDA requires pet food manufacturers to list each ingredient by its chemical name, which provides a more accurate look at the ingredient’s structure and how it interacts in the body. This is incredibly helpful for nutritionists, but can result in pretty complicated terms for the rest of us. Because of this, even natural dog food ingredients can be a mouthful (we love this illustration!). But that doesn’t mean that unfamiliar names are any less safe or any less vital. What’s the bottom line? When you see an ingredient that doesn’t look friendly, don’t consider it a red flag. Just dig a little deeper.
Many myths about dog food ingredients have trickled down from the human nutrition market. It’s very important to remember that dogs are not human (although, my dog Bruno thinks otherwise). Dogs are certainly part of our families, but we have very different nutritional needs.
Grain or Grain-Free Dog Food?
INTERNET SAYS: Grains are just filler ingredients and aren’t appropriate for dogs.
DR. LAUREN SAYS: The term “filler” doesn’t have a place in the pet food industry. It takes an extraordinary amount of work to formulate the right nutrients in the right amounts for complete and balanced nutrition. It would be a waste of money and valuable space to use an ingredient that has no purpose!
True, uncooked grains are difficult for dogs to digest. But properly cooked grains in dog food are actually highly digestible and nutritious. Grains are an excellent source of carbohydrate, which your dog’s body uses as an efficient source of energy. Grains also contain important nutrients like protein and essential amino acids, fat and essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. When an individual grain is divided up into its components, individual nutrients can be concentrated and used in your dog’s food.
“But wolves didn’t graze on the fields back in the day, so why should my dog eat grains now?” Simply put, your dog isn’t a wolf. Domestic dogs’ digestive systems have evolved to be able to absorb valuable nutrients from a variety of sources – grains included. If your friend wants to go raw, paleo, or gluten-free, that’s her choice. But it may not be the best option for your dog.
On top of the nutritional value they provide, grains are structurally functional. In order to make kibble, a carbohydrate source is needed to make it “puff” up and bind together (otherwise the bag would just be full of dog food dust). In grain-free dog food, another carbohydrate source must be added to get the same kibble texture.
While grains are completely safe and healthy for dogs to eat, dog owners should be able to express their preference for grain or grain-free dog food. Personalized dog food lets owners make that choice. If you choose grain-free dog food from Just Right by Purina, expect to see high-quality substitutes for grains that still provide 100% complete and balanced nutrition.
Dog Food Allergies
INTERNET SAYS: Grains, like corn and wheat, are common allergens in dogs.
DR. LAUREN SAYS: What percentage of dogs would you guess is allergic to grains? 30%? 50%? That’s not what the data says. In actuality, less than 1% of dogs are sensitive to grains.
If a dog has a food allergy, it’s much more likely due to other protein sources like beef or dairy. Even still, only about 10% of allergic skin conditions in dogs are caused by their dog food, and most triggers of allergic symptoms in dogs are flea bites and/or environmental allergens. So why do grain allergies seem way more common than they actually are? (Ever heard of things “going viral”?) You can thank the Internet for this myth. The only way to diagnose a food allergy in your pet is by doing an elimination diet trial under the supervision of your veterinarian.
Better Information for a Better Life with Your Dog
We don’t know your dog like you do, but we do know that dogs can be as different as terriers and Great Danes. So why choose a food that doesn’t support your unique dog in the ways he needs most? With Just Right by Purina, you can create a high quality dog food with ingredients that are tailored to your dog’s nutritional needs and preferences.
Missed a part of the Things Your Veterinarian Wishes You Knew series? Be sure to check out all of Dr. Lauren’s advice!