Speaking of Pets: Do you actually know what’s in your dog’s food? | VailDaily.com

Speaking of Pets: Do you actually know what’s in your dog’s food?

Joan Merriam
Speaking of Pets

Editor’s note: This is the first of the HighLife’s recurring “Speaking of Pets” column by Joan Merriam. It will cover topics related to canine and feline care.

Before I became owned by a dog, I never really thought about what was in dog food. I mean, it’s kibble, right? And kibble is, well, dog food. What more does a person need to know?

A lot, it turns out. And it turns out what you don’t know can, at best make him very, very ill. At worst, it can be deadly.

Pet Food Companies

The $25 billion pet food industry is big business, dominated by bigger and bigger companies. The bigger the company, the harder it is for those at the helm to control quality. Plus, economic pressure can lead to taking shortcuts and substituting inferior materials because they’re cheaper.


Many inexpensive commercial dog foods are low-quality and contain questionable and sometimes unwholesome ingredients including animal byproducts such as beaks, feet, bones, eyes, intestines, brains, and even offal. That’s not to mention large amounts of grain and starchy vegetables that provide inexpensive filler calories.

But in fact, dogs don’t need carbohydrates. When dogs were wolves, their carbohydrate consumption was around 14%. Today, however, many commercial dry dog foods have carbohydrate levels closer to 75%, because carbs are plentiful, stable, and cheap.

Good dog food brands usually have an identified meat (for instance, “beef” or “chicken,” not “meat”) as the very first item on the ingredient list.

Dog Food Recalls

We can’t talk about dog food ingredients without also mentioning the increasing incidence of dog food recalls that have sickened and killed thousands of pets. Recalls have hit big companies and independent manufacturers alike. In the past two years, 42 recalls have been issued for brand names including Science Diet, Evolve, Nature’s Promise, Merrick, Gravy Train, and Kibble ‘N Bits.

Educate Yourself

The best thing is to stay educated. Read dog food labels. Always feed your dog the best food you can afford. Subscribe to email recall notices from the FDA and nonsponsored sites such as Dog Food Advisor. Publications such as Whole Dog Journal and Bark, and organizations like the Humane Society, are also great sources of information. In the end, that kind of knowledge can make you a more responsible caretaker of your beloved companion.

Joan Merriam is a freelance writer who lives in Northern California with her golden retriever, Joey, and her Maine coon cat, Indy. She emphasizes that she’s not a veterinarian or animal behaviorist — just an animal lover who’s been writing about pets since 2012. In future “Speaking of Pets” columns, she’ll be covering a wide variety of topics about both dogs and cats, and everyday issues involved in living with these companion animals. You can reach out to Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com.

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