I thought I'd use this blog to tackle a subject that affects almost every dog owner in ways they don't even realise - your dog's diet. But firstly, I have a confession to make.
Before I entered life in the Pet Industry, I had NO idea about dog food. Generally, there was less awareness and information about nutrition for dogs - something that has changed drastically in the last 20 years. But it was also just the "done thing" to buy whatever was on special at the supermarket in the pet food aisle back then. That, in conjunction with table scraps and the odd bone, was considered a royal diet for a dog up until the late 90's and early 2000's... and dogs being dogs, would certainly never complain about it!
Fast forward to 2006... I was applying for various graduate jobs after University and ended up doing well at MARS Petcare: the largest pet food manufacturer in the world. Between my interview and the factory tour, I remember having a conversation with one of the Senior Managers who asked me what I fed my dog, and I can't remember what my answer was, but it obviously wasn't satisfactory. I remember him telling me how much healthier and happier my dog would be on a higher quality diet - and in retrospect, perhaps this is why I didn't get the job after all! Anyway, together with a lifelong love of dogs, this was what piqued my interest in pet well-being and kicked off my career in the pet industry.
Following this experience I was fortunate enough to land a job at MARS' rival, Nestlé Purina, by which time I had upgraded my dog's diet to something much more respectable! As part of my role I learnt about pet nutrition, but over the years I have researched this personally and discovered the adage "you are what you eat" applies to dogs just as well as it does to us.
At Heads & Tails, we've worked with countless dogs on every diet you can think of, from the budget variety through to the ultimate gourmet fare, and in doing so we've been able to draw some really solid lines between dietary intake and other health factors that many people don't know about. Whilst we won't have time in this article to go into a full breakdown of pet foods, ingredients and recommendations, I wanted to give you an understanding of some simple, tangible things you could expect to improve if you upgraded your dog's diet to something even a little more premium.
Bear in mind this article isn't just for the economy-feeders. Some of the more expensive brands on the market (e.g. over $100/bag) are nutritionally disappointing - so you could absolutely be spending a lot of money on pet food right now and losing out on value in areas you don't even realise. The point is, no matter what you're currently feeding, there is almost certainly something better available, be it a superior product, or something more tailored to your dog and their needs. The trick is in finding out what that is.
And just a heads up, we haven't included raw diets in this article, as this is an entire post unto itself!
+++ 3 Major Benefits of a Diet Upgrade +++
1. Your dog will poop less!
Have you ever wondered why there's just SO much mess to clean up in the backyard? Or why you go through 3-4 bags on every walk?
One of the most obvious differences we see between dogs' on various diets is their "output". Without getting too scientific, this variation is largely due to the amount of fillers present in the food each dog eats. Fillers are ingredients like wheat and corn which make dog food cheap to produce for manufacturers. Because fillers have very low nutritional benefit for dogs, they aren't well-absorbed in the body, which means they become waste (i.e. dog poo!). They also tend to burn up very quickly compared to high quality ingredients such as meat, leaving your dog feeling less satisfied. Fillers aren't just used in budget brands - you can be buying "super premium" or even "prescription" dog food and be paying for mostly fillers that are simply packaged by popular brand names.
To move away from fillers, you generally need to consider a more expensive food, but the expense isn't as big as you think. When comparing the cost, bear in mind that cheaper foods containing fillers offer a false economy. You need to feed your dog a substantially higher volume of lower-grade foods to meet their intake needs because, basically, most of it ends up on your lawn. In a truly high quality food, most of your dog's meal is absorbed into the body, meaning they produce much less poo, and far less often. Everyone's a winner!
2. Your dog will smell better!
I'm sure that nearly every dog owner out there can relate to the displeasure of a gassy dog, and certainly in our place there have been occasions where our dogs have caused us to leave the room!
In conjunction with a product's ingredients, one thing that can affect dogs' digestion (particularly in the flatulence department) is the format in which this food is prepared. And although any "complete and balanced" dog food is required to have all the vitamins and minerals your dog needs to survive... obtaining those things from a lower-grade dog food can be really hard work. Not only is the gut overworking attempting to digest fillers, it also goes into overdrive trying to extract the nutritional goodness from something that is highly processed and refined. The upshot of this is often some seriously nasty turbulence!
Done gradually, a diet upgrade will see a drastic reduction in dog farts, as the gut will be under less strain digesting higher-quality ingredients and potentially also in a more digestible format (depending on what you switch to). So you can chuck those nose-pegs away and breathe a sigh of relief!
3. Your dog will shed less hair!
Unless you have a curly-coated dog like a Poodle, you'll be on the same page as us when it comes to the nightmare of prolific shedding. At times throughout our dogs' lives, vacuuming has just about become a competitive sport in our household. Sometimes there have been weeks where our dogs have shed what seems like an entire dog's worth of hair and we wonder how they have any hair left. Also, how does it get into cleanly-washed socks?!
We made a diet upgrade earlier this year, and one of the moments I can pinpoint that we decided to do this was during a doggy Physio assessment for our dog, Ralph the Labrador. Given, Ralph had a little back massage from his therapist during the session, and this would cause a bit of disruption to any coat. But we left SO much hair in the consult room during our appointment that the Vet nurses had to go and grab a vacuum before the next patient went in...!
More than the inconvenience of hair loss, what was of great concern to us was what the hair loss was saying about our dog's health. We'd just had clear blood results back on Ralph a couple of weeks prior, so diet seemed the logical cause, and after we altered this we noticed major changes in his coat. Not only did the shedding significantly lessen, but his coat became sleek, soft, and shiny. Triumphantly, our vacuum is also now bored and neglected!
Whilst there a number of factors at play here (e.g. we changed from kibble to a freeze-dried food), we put it down to the fact that the food we switched to contains much higher-quality ingredients. We weren't using a budget food beforehand; in fact it was super-premium grain-free performance food. But it was also much less expensive, and we rationalise the quality of the ingredients must have been considerably lower. Unfortunately this is very difficult to determine when pet food labelling is so ambiguous - not like human food labelling. Whilst a canine product says "chicken" on the front, shoppers can't know things like how much chicken it contains, what parts of the chicken are included, where the chicken is from, or whether the "chicken" is simply chicken flavour. There's more omitted from a dog food label than there is included, and reading between the lines is something even Vets can have trouble with.
We did a lot of research before we made the switch, but one big clue we can offer is to look at top-dollar products and work backwards - then you'll have a much better idea of what you are/aren't missing in the less expensive brands. There are also some handy analytical tools online which can help you gain an understanding of your dog's food and how it stacks up. And just remember as you consider those more expensive options, that aside from benefiting your dog's health, you will also probably recoup some of the cost in other areas, such as your cleaning, grooming, and Vet bills!
This isn't an exhaustive list of benefits to better diets - there are some other massive factors scientifically-proven to be affected by food intake, such as overall health, behaviour, and even lifespan. But certainly the above points are things you'll notice on a daily basis, which many don't even realise can be influenced by what they put in their dog's dinner bowl. Now you know!
If you enjoyed this post, and you're interested in knowing what foods we use, get in touch with us on Facebook. And if you're one of our treasured clients who needs a recommendation for your dog - please sing out. We're here to help!
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