Friday, April 16, 2010

What Dog Food Hysterics Won't Tell You

Almost everything said and written about dog food is complete nonsense, a point I have made before.

Here's the bottom line: No brand of dog food has ever been shown to be better than any another brand of dog food despite the billions of dollars a year to be had by being able to prove such a simple claim.

Which is not to say that all brands are entirely equal.

In my opinion, you should probably stay away from small "boutique" brands, as these companies have no manufacturing facilities of their own, have no historical name to protect, and often have no direct source for the ingredients they are putting into their foods.

In fact, most high-priced boutique-brand dog foods are nothing more than a logo tied to marketing puffery, wrapped in nonsense words like "holistic" and "natural."

A large number of boutique brands are touting cocked-up recipes with exotic-sounding ingredients that have never seen a feed trial.

As I note in an earlier post entitled Canned Beaver as Dog Food?:

[A]a lot of these silly dog and cat food companies that have sprung up in recent years. They have nice new-age names like "Natural Balance" and "Blue Buffalo."


Blue Buffalo.

The latest news about this company is that "Blue Buffalo dog food may be linked to serious illness."

I am not deeply shocked, even if I am a slightly amused to hear that some folks have taken this latest development as a sign they should be developing their own canine diets wholecloth based on little more than pop philosophy.

"Look Ma: No feed trials, no degree in diet and nutrition, no knowledge, no nothing!"

And YES, it will probably work out fine nonetheless.

Hope so!

But don't come crying to me if your dog comes down with pancreatitis and uric acid stones. Remember, I've been to a few dog shows and walked through a few malls. From what I can see, most Americans are incapable of properly feeding themselves, much less a dog!

But no matter. Do what you want. Seriously, I don't care, and I doubt it really matters in the larger scheme of things.

After all, if you're like the typical dog owner you did not really research the health of your breed before you got it.

As a consequence, your dog is more likely to die from inherited disease than from any dog food decision you might make today or tomorrow.

In fact, your dog is more likely to be die from the very "defect by design" you once thought made "your breed" so very special and cute.

For certain, your dog is far more likely to die from obesity than from toxicity. But is anyone talking about that? Not many!

Food quality?

That's probably the least of your dog's worries!


Gina said...

Couple things:

1) All those people who can't feed themselves right? They're following the same source of advice they're using in choosing a dog food: Advertising and marketing. They're choosing processed, cheap and convenient over anything else.

I recently had a veterinarian tell me the most important sign of a good dog food is how compact and easy-to-pick-up the stool was.

Funny me: I thought the most important thing was that it provided what the dog needed to stay fit and healthy.

Same with my own diet, which, since I changed it for real a couple years ago (and recently added in a very serious exercise regimen) has let to me being healthier at 52 than at 42, 32 or even 22.

And a heckalot more relaxed about the occasional piece of chocolate, slice of pizza or ballpark braut, too.

2) While I'm sure there are people who after a pet-food scare toss a factory-farmed raw chicken breast into a dish and think they're feeding their dog "the best," you are well aware that isn't the norm among those of us who feed a home-prepared diet, all or in part.

No, we're not "making it up out of whole cloth," we using the same research those big pet food companies use -- and often funded, of course -- to formulate the diets.

We're just using ingredients we source ourselves and can identify and trust for the majority of our diet, and our pets' diets.

And in my case, I'm supporting regional, sustainable true family farms in the process, people I can get on the phone, in large part, and know on a first-name basis.

I'm not thinking I'm hysterical -- I didn't tell my puppy-buyers they had to feed as I do -- and I'm not planning on crying to you about anything. My dogs are fit and healthy, and they seem to be living decent lifespans.

What I feed my dogs is my choice, and it makes just as must sense and has just as much though behind it as your choice.

And because I respect those choices, on our blog we have NEVER, since Day 1 of the 2007 pet-food recalls, made the issue about "you must feed home-prepared," but rather constantly and consistently pointed out that making this about raw-feeding lets the food companies off the hook.

No matter what you choose to feed, you have a right to expect that at the very least it won't make you or your pet sick.

And we continue to make that point.

Viatecio said...

But then why are companies saying that their products are somehow inferior by recalling them because of contamination, even companies (yes, including Blue) that have a good reputation behind their foods?

If it comes down to playing roulette with "Which dog food might eventually make my dog sick because of a 'bad batch'?", I'll just take my chances with making my own diet for my dog.

After all, if dogs can survive on roadkill, garbage, the weak and the sick, and various offal, then surely a raw diet fed by someone who at least does a modicum of research into animal nutrition and networks with other people with the same interests and more degrees of experience shouldn't kill the dog. I'll take my chances with handling raw meat over the possibility that the kibble I might feed would make my dog, and other beings around him, sick.

HurricaneDeck said...

Feeding your dog anything carries risk - here is a good article that covers risks on both raw and kibble:

I know not much research has been done on raw - but I do know that my dogs look fantastic, have lots of stamina in the field, have no allergies, have clean teeth, and, because I am a paranoid Dog Mama with nothing better to worry about - their yearly CBCs come back with flying colors.

Is it for everyone? No. It is alot of work.

I counsel my puppy folks to feed a good kibble with Purina at the top of my list. Face it - not everyone wants to go to the local slaughterhouse with me to pick up tripe.

PBurns said...

Gina, if people are fat and unhealthy, it's not because of anything other than: 1) eating too much, and; 2) excercising too little.

Ditto for dogs.

It's rarely WHAT you eat -- it's how much and how often you excercise.

The line you got from your vet (small stools are the mark of a quality food - HA!) is why I RUN from vets giving advice on diet or training. Vets are generally not competent on either end.

Small stools?

Small stools means a lot of fat and very little roughage -- the OPPOSITE of a good diet for most sedentary dogs and most sedentary people. My dogs are not thin and hard-bodied by accident. I do portion control and they run loose and run long.

And NO, you have NEVER pushed RAW (or any other) diet. Full applause here on that.

Nor do I disagree with you (in the slightest), that ALL food (dog and human) needs decent quality control -- it should certainly should NOT be toxic.

And, as I said, a made-in-the-kitchen diet will probably work.

But of course, the chance of your dog getting salmonella from the food processed in your kitchen is actuall higher than the chance your dog will get salmonella from bagged Kibble. The same is true for humans too; salmonella is far more likely from earting kitchen or restaurant food as compared to bagged "processed" food. Yes, processed food *may* be high in fats and sugars, but that is NOT true for most kibbled dog food made by long-standing dog food companies like Purina.

I notice you don't mention my bit about what a dog is REALLY most likely to get sick and die from.

This year, do you think more Cavaliers will die from heart, neurological and breathing problems or will more from dog food toxins? Will more Flat-coats and Deerhounds die from cancer or from processed kibbled food? Bulldogs? Pekingese? Dachshunds? All down the line, the deaths from disease and defect seem to eclipse diet. In fact, they are not scaleable on the same graph.


Viatecio said...

I've made my peace with how most dogs will die, but that doesn't mean I'm happy with it.

It just means that, aside from how I can try to control how MY dog dies the best I can by getting a mixed-breed, keeping it a healthy weight, not overvaccinating/overmedicating, being careful if I go with a breeder should I desire a purebred, not let me dog run free and get hit by a car or in a dogfight, etc

And even those factors can sometimes just not be enough.

Everything dies, and I'm fine with that, but it's HOW that makes a difference.

I'm sure all the affordable, processed, salty fatty sugary foods that most people on welfare/food stamps eat has nothing to do with the fact that a choice few of them make some bad choices that end with them on the ground filled with a some bullets.

Everything dies, and I've made my peace with that. It's just HOW, and in many cases, I can't say I'm satisfied with some of the excuses. The high rate of cancer in dogs is pitiful, the neurological problems of some breeds is abysmal and the amount of idiots with guns/knives who shouldn't have guns/knives is just frightening.

But that doesn't change how I and others should choose how to feed our dogs, as long as they are healthy and receiving a balanced form of nutrition, bagged or raw. Once the dog is dead, it doesn't matter what it ain't eating no more of it.

HurricaneDeck said...

I've seen two posts today on getting mixed breed dogs. You do NOT get healthier dogs! You cross a CKCS with a Lab and what do you get? You get a dog pre-disposed to cancer, hip dyplasia AND mitral heart disease.

I've seen numerous Goldendoodle breeders' sites who insist that because you are crossing two different breeds of dogs, BOTH who are predisposed to hip dysplasia, that the resulting pups won't get hip dysplasia! WTF? The genes are now doubled up on. There is no hybrid vigor when you breed within the same species.

The reason we think that mutts are healthier is because vets don't attribute specific problems to their breeding - how could they? It's a mix!

PBurns said...

Actually HurricaneDeck, cross-bred dogs ARE healthier, as a general rule, than pure bred dogs and there is a LOT of literature on this as I have noted on this blog in the past (with graphs from the Swedes). Thank to Beverly Cuddy over at the Cold Wet Nose blog, here are the some of the citations from Jemima Harrison's current piece in Dogs Today with the "kicker" line we all want:
_ _ _ _

• B.N. Bonnett, A. Egenvall, P. Olson, A. Hedhammar, Mortality in Swedish dogs: rates and causes of death in various breeds, The Veterinary Record, 1997. ("Mongrels were consistently in the low-risk category.")

• P.D. McGreevy & W.F. Nicholas, Some Practical Solutions to Welfare Problems in Pedigree Dog Breeding, Animal Welfare, 1999. ("Hybrids have a far lower chance of exhibiting the disorders that are common with the parental breeds. Their genetic health will be substantially higher.")

• A. Egenvall, B.N. Bonnett, P. Olson, A. Hedhammar, Gender, age, breed and distribution of morbidity and mortality in insured dogs in Sweden during 1995 and 1996, The Veterinary Record, 2000. ("Mongrel dogs are less prone to many diseases then the average purebred dog.")

• A. R. Michell, Longevity of British breeds of dog and its relationship with sex, size, cardiovascular variables and disease, Veterinary Record, 1999. ("There was a significant correlation between body weight and longevity. Crossbreeds lived longer than average but several pure breeds lived longer than cross breeds, notably Jack Russell, miniature poodles and whippets”.)

• G.J. Patronek, D.J. Walters, L.T. Glickman, Comparative Longevity of Pet Dogs and Humans: Implications for Gerontology Research, Journal of Gerontology, Biological Sciences, 1997. ("The median age at death was 8.5 years for all mixed breed dogs and 6.7 years for all pure breed dogs. For each weight group, the age at death of pure breed dogs was significantly less than for mixed breed dogs.")

• H.F. Proschofsky et al, Mortality of purebred and mixed breed dogs in Denmark, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 2003. (Higher average longevity of mixed breed dogs. Age at death when split into three age bands: mixed breeds 8,11,13, purebreds 6, 10, 12.)

• Marta Vascellar et al, Animal tumour registry of two provinces in northern Italy: incidence of spontaneous tumours in dogs and cats. BMC Veterinary Research 2009. (“In both dogs and cats, purebreds had an almost two-fold higher incidence of malignant tumours than mixed breeds.”)

• Agneta Egenvall et al, Mortality in over 350,000 Insured Swedish Dogs from 1995–2000; Breed-Specific Age and Survival Patterns and Relative Risk for Causes of Death. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 2005. (No difference overall, but mongrels low-risk for locomotor problems and heart disease.)


Viatecio said...

We just got the short end of the mutt stick...our first was a Lab/golden mix. And we didn't know we were dealing with breeds that were the poster children for things like hypothyroidism and cancer (check, and check). He died at 10.

The neighbor's purebred, over-furred heavy-boned Golden is still hobbling along at 12 (his time is short though).

So yes, mutts are generally healthier and they'll always hold a spot in my heart, but I can see where HurricaneDeck is coming from. The one experience is not enough to make me an unbeliever with mixes.

HurricaneDeck said...

Thanks for the info - I'll have some of my college buddies with access to full articles send them over to me!

Mailey E. McLaughlin, M.Ed. said...

I've seen two posts today on getting mixed breed dogs. You do NOT get healthier dogs! You cross a CKCS with a Lab and what do you get? You get a dog pre-disposed to cancer, hip dyplasia AND mitral heart disease.

But what about the majority of mutts? Actual mixed-breed (NOT crossbreed) dogs? The ones whose Mama was a Shepherd/terrier/spaniel setter/Doberman/Chihuahua (add more breeds here) and Daddy was a pointer/Rottweiler/Pyrenees/Manchester terrier/Staffy/Porty (add some more breeds here)?

Isn't that where the hybrid vigor comes from? Most of the dogs in shelters aren't crossbreds, they're true mixes. And the DNA testing that has been done on shelter dogs backs up the idea that most mixes contain way more than 2 breeds. However, I don't have much faith in those tests, I admit.

PBurns said...

See the citations already given.

Also, I believe most dogs in U.S. pounds today are cross breeds.

True Heinz 57 to Heinz 57 crosses are getting pretty rare due to spay-neuter. But even here, the cross dogs are healthier as insurance records and rates have made clear.


Bóxer Urkabustaiz said...

I agree that dogs do not need to eat exotic meats and vegetables like some of the fancy -and outrageously expensive- newer dog foods include.

But having said this, I do not agree that any and all dog foods are similarly good. For example, the supermarket (and cheaper) brands very often produce bad effects (gas/soft stools/lots of stools/dry skin/dander/itchiness) in many dogs of various breeds and mixes, while these problems rarely occur with the better (and more expensive) foods like Eukanuba, Royal Canin, etc.