|This article was written for the August 2009 issue of Dogs Today.
For example, most dog food debates are about quality rather than quantity. And yet, quality hardly matters as most dogs (even most working dogs!) can easily have their nutritional needs met by grocery store kibble or carefully selected table scraps.
Which is not to say that everything is fine in the world of dog food. The problem, however, is not too low a quality of food; it's too high a quality of food, and too much of it too.
Fat dogs are not only losing years off of their lives, but they are also costing their owners billions in unnecessary veterinary bills.
Most of the problem is that people are over-feeding their dogs out of guilt for spending too little time with them.
Another factor, however, is that many modern dog foods are packed with calories which means "just a little more" may end up putting on real pounds. Add in chronic lack of exercise, and you have the same prescription for fat pooches as for obese humans.
It's not just too many calories. Modern dog food is also loaded with vitamins and calcium, and this triple combination means many large-breed dogs are growing up faster than God intended, and as a result they are suffering from increasing amounts of nutrition-related dysplasia.
Are canine web sites and list-servs abuzz about the need to feed dogs less in order to keep them in proper weight?
They are not.
It's estimated that 35 percent of the dogs are over-weight and obesity is the number one killer of dogs and people in this country, but that conversation tends to strike a little too close to home.
Put three people in a room and talk about obesity as a health issue, and at least one of those people is going to cop an attitude: Are you talking about me??!
Which circles us back to the issue of dog food. When people ask me what I feed my own dogs, I tell them grocery store kibble. What brand? I feed Purina at the moment, but what brand does not really matter so long as it is the proper amount. There is no research -- not one whit -- that shows that one brand of dog food is better than another.
Nor, might I add, is there any research to show that corn in commercial dog food is bad for dogs, or that pumpkin, millet, barley, deer, beaver or any other exotic mix is good.
Why do I feed my dogs kibble? Simple: Kibble has been treated with fire.
While cooking does not cure all ills, it cures most, and that is especially important with meat. The more you know about meat -- any kind of meat -- the more likely you are to order your steaks "well cooked."
Whatever brand of kibble you choose to use, one thing is almost guaranteed: your dog will end up eating better than you do.
Not only is most grocery store dog food balanced for proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, but it has probably been tested in the real world with scores of thousands of dogs thriving on it for many years.
Can most dog owners say that about the food they eat? I think not!
As for dog food being full of snouts, lungs, udders, and shin meat, it most certainly is. It also has chicken feet ground up in it, as well as bones and beaks, and pieces of tail, testicles and cow privates.
All of this is excellent food, and most of it was "human quality" until very recently.
Of course, in the English-speaking world we mostly turn our nose up at such stuff. We demand that all meat be the very choicest cut served on a white napkin placed on top of a foam plate. The meat must be dyed the right color to make it pleasing to the eye, and the whole thing must be shrink-wrapped, dated, bar-coded and placed in a cold packing crate in the super market. Only then will we buy it.
Blood and guts? Testicles and snout? Entrails and feet? Most people shudder at the thought of eating those parts of a pig or cow that nurtured their grandparents not so long ago. Go overseas into the markets of Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia, however, and people are still eating everything, including the squeal. Ox Tail soup? Bones for Ossobuco? Udders, stomachs and lungs for sausage? Testicles for breakfast? All good food.
What is laugh-track funny are the folks who pop up in every dog food debate to talk about the diet of wolves.
You see, whether wolves are chasing caribou in the Arctic, pulling down wild boar in Russia, or stalking buffalo in Kansas, they are all doing the same thing: they are looking for the young, the sick, and the infirm.
A downer cow? To a wolf that's the dinner bell ringing.
Yes, that's right: The preferred diet of the wolf is not cooked backstrap from the pride of the herd, but raw flesh ripped from the diseased rectum of a downer cow.
Funny how that fact never makes it into all these conversations about "natural" dog foods.
Nor is it ever mentioned that wolves eat a lot of rabbit, deer and rats riddles with round worms and other parasites. Disease? A wolf likes nothing better than a diseased animal; they are so much easier to catch.
Unlike your kibble-fed dog, wolves are not eating flesh from healthy animals that have been given vaccines, regular vet checks, dosed with antibiotics, and given unlimited amounts of high-quality feed and clean water.
But that's what our dog food is made out of.
And then, to make it even better, we stir in corn, rice, and wheat in order to increase fiber and add carbohydrates. We also add in vitamins and micronutrients, as well as preservatives to keep the whole thing fresh. Then we grind it all fine, cook it, extrude it, fire it hard into bite-sized nuggets, and put it in hermetically-sealed stay-fresh bags.
Poor dogs! If only they had quality foods!
Bottom line: Relax about what you are feeding your dog.
You are not a bad owner because you feed your dog a commercial kibble bought at the local grocery store.
Nor are you a better owner because you pay a lot more for an expensive product made from exotic ingredients.
Just remember this simple rule: A well-fed dog is never fat. If you truly love your dog, you will never over-feed it.