|By Becky Turner||Visit The Sheltie Forums|
What is the best dog food to give to your beloved Shetland Sheepdog?
Is it safe enough to give him kibble only or should you be giving fresh foods as well? And what is all the fuss about dog food scams - should you be worried?
At one end of the scale, you have the dirt-cheap supermarket dog food. You may think you're catching a great bargain, but it's not so great for the health of your dog.
What is the best food for your dog?
Consider this: it's impossible for a 40lb bag of kibble sold at $9.95 to contain quality protein and grain. The cheap ingredients used are definitely below par. If you see cheap ingredients like corn, soy and meat by-products at the top of the label then your Sheltie is almost definitely undernourished.
At the other end of the scale, you have dedicated dog-lovers who only ever prepare fresh dog meals from scratch - food fit for kings! (Well, fit for humans at least.) This approach is fantastic for your dog BUT it does take more careful planning to ensure you get all the essential nutrients into your Sheltie's diet. It is also more expensive and time consuming, even if you prepare a few days' worth and freeze it.
So what's the best solution? What is the best dog food within practical limits?
The best solution, for most dog owners, is to find a healthy balance somewhere between the two. If you currently buy the cheapest kibble you can find, try to identify a premium quality kibble that contains decent meats and grain in the right proportions. I'll explain how to interpret dog food labels in a moment - and I'll show you two of the best dog food brands recommended by other Sheltie owners.
Dogs thrive on raw meaty bones
Alternatively, for a little more effort but a lot greater reward, give your Sheltie a diet of raw meaty bones from the butcher (about 15-20% of the dog's bodyweight per week) along with some table scraps (namely vegetables) plus a little flaxseed oil or fish oil. This will give your dog everything he needs to live a long and healthy life.
Fresh water is an obvious essential for any dog's diet, so make sure your Sheltie has an available source at all times.
If your dog is primarily eating kibble, make sure you buy a decent brand of dog food. It's no secret that many supermarket pet foods now contain some very dubious sources of meat in their dry kibble food. As sickening as it may sound, these sources include euthanized pets and road kill. They also use any kind of slaughterhouse by-product, including animals treated with hormones and other drugs which are not destroyed by the cooking process. This could be harmful to your dog.
The other major issue with kibble is the amount of meat vs grain. For the last decade, a lot of pet food manufacturers have turned to cheap grain ingredients to form a large part of the mix. In turn, the meat and protein content is reduced. This is very bad for your dog. In the wild, dogs eat mostly raw meat and bones, with a little vegetation found in the belly of their prey. In domesticated dogs, we should try to replicate this diet where at all possible - a mostly grain diet is woefully inadequate.
When browsing the dry dog food brands, don't make your choice based on price alone. Here's a list of ingredients to avoid like the plague:
What's really in supermarket dog food?
Meat and bone meal - If you see beef meal, lamb meal or poultry meal this is GOOD. It simply means the meat has been ground up. When listed early on in the ingredients, it's usually a sign of a higher quality pet food. However, if you see the term meat and bone meal - run. You're looking at dog food which legally includes animals euthanized at the vet's office as well as road kill. If they were wearing chemical flea collars or had been treated with antibiotics or steroids before they died, those get ground up and added too. So does the plastic bag around the carcass.
Meat by-products - This refers to any part of a slaughterhouse animal not deemed fit for human consumption. By-products include intestines, chicken heads, duck bills, fish heads, chicken and turkey feet, hides, feathers and bone. The problem with by-products is they can include diseased and contaminated slaughterhouse meat and even dehydrated garbage. Some vets claim that feeding such slaughterhouse waste to your dog increases the risk of getting cancer and other degenerative diseases. What's more, the harsh cooking process also destroys the natural enzymes and proteins that would otherwise nourish your dog so it is of little benefit anyway.
Poultry by-product meal - This consists of ground and rendered parts of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, mostly exclusive of feathers. Poultry by-products are not required to include actual meat, and can include diseased and contaminated meat and harmful chemical additives.
Propylene Glycol - This is a synthetic preservative used to keep the kibble moist and has been identified by some vets to cause red blood cell damage in cats. There is little research into its toxicity or safety into the chronic use in pet foods.
Ethoxyquin - This is another chemical additive, listed as a pesticide by the Department of Agriculture. It is banned from human food because it is known to promote cancer of the kidneys, bladder and stomach. Yet it is still used in some commercial pet foods to this day.
BHA & BHT - These are additives used by numerous American pet food manufacturers, though they are banned by most countries in Europe. BHA and BHT are known to cause liver and kidney dysfunction, plus bladder and stomach cancers. Quite alarmingly, manufacturers are only required to list the ingredients THEY add to the dog food, so BHA and BHT added earlier in the manufacturing process can go completely unreported. In their defense, producers say these preservatives are used in very small amounts - but there is no denying the build-up over many years.
Mineral oxides or sulfates - Lastly, trace minerals in the form of mineral oxides or sulfates can't be digested by animals.
The ingredients on dog food labels can be confusing but your task will be a lot easier if you focus on the top five (as these are the most plentiful). Good ingredients are:
Beef, lamb or poultry meal - This is good quality, ground-up meat and there should be at least one at the top of the ingredients list.
Vitamin E or C or Tocopherols - These are more natural preservatives which help retain the fats in the dog food.
Trace minerals in a Chelated form - This enables the minerals to be easily absorbed by your dog's intestinal tract and bloodstream.
There are numerous dog food brands which will provide your Sheltie with good quality nutrition. Here are two recommended by Sheltie Planet readers who swear by them - and they check out against our list of quality dog food ingredients.
If you don't want to feed your Sheltie processed dog food at all, you can create a fresh and natural dog food diet yourself. That way, you know exactly what quality of ingredients your dog is eating and that they haven't been subjected to harsh cooking processes which destroy the nutritional value. However, just be aware that you still run the risk of under nourishing your dog this way, since YOU are now entirely responsible for providing all the nutrients they need.
As mentioned before, the three components of a healthy dog's diet are:
Visit your local butcher for some raw meaty bones. They will keep your Sheltie entertained for hours and the chewing will help clean their teeth, preventing tartar build-up and bad breath. Good quality kibble is still a viable option - provided you read the label carefully - but when it comes to replicating a natural diet, raw meaty bones are a great staple.
Solid Gold Flaxseed Oil - Rich in Omega 3 and 6 as well as B vitamins, potassium, lecithin, magnesium, protein and zinc. It improves the skin and coat and protects against degenerative diseases and illness. This is the ONLY flaxseed oil product on the market that doesn't contain hexane, to which dogs can be highly allergic.
PetAg Taurine Tablets - This is an amino acid found in animal proteins, and a taurine deficiency can cause blindness and heart disease in dogs and cats. Most cat foods now contain a source of taurine but only a few high quality brands of dog food like Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula contain it.
For more information, check out Dog Food Quality, a site by a Sheltie owner in New York which details all kinds of helpful info about choosing the best dog food.
Becky Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, Peter, and their son, Fox. Becky is 100% owned by Howard and Piper Woofington Moon, the Shelties who inspired this site. Visit them on Facebook or The Sheltie Planet Forums.