Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The dog food game

Ask ten dog owners what they feed their dogs and why (even folks well versed in canine nutrition) and you're likely to get ten very diverse, very opinionated and very emotional responses. Some of these same people feed their children McDonald's chicken nuggets several times a week but are careful to feed their dogs only organic raw - the disparity is not lost on me. I too am guilty of very carefully considering my dogs' diet and then happily tossing them gobs of cheap oscar mayer hot dogs...As an aside Teller is very fond of the cheese filled hot dogs - I only buy them for trials but they are just about the highest value treat we've found yet.

Over the last few years, I've done rotations of commercially prepared raw food (Oma's and Bravo). I briefly (emphasis on the briefly) ground my own raw food, I've cooked stews (one version for Teller and one version for Murphy) carefully packaging and freezing a month's worth of dog food at a time. As good as I felt about knowing exactly what my dogs were eating, there had to be a balance between spending entire Sunday afternoons cooking for my dogs while toting Lean Cuisine frozen meals for my own workday lunches (and dinners many nights).

In between these rotations I've gone back to various brands of kibble. Rotating both protein sources and manufacturers - hoping to balance nutrient packs and the effects of any one nutrient pack over time. I've dodged some of the scary pitfalls of the dog food scares - melamine, salmonella, aflatoxins, etc. I won't feed foods with corn - period. I avoid rice if possible. I've tried various versions of grain-free foods with limited success. I've reached the point where I just can't feel good about feeding my dogs kibble - of any brand. I do like some of the dehydrated foods on the market now though.

So my basic criterion in selecting foods for our rotations are
  • No corn and no fillers - again easy with commercially prepared raw diets.

  • Easily digestible both from a nutrient standpoint but also on the output side of the equation.

  • Availability of novel protein sources - and even better single protein source foods. Thankfully this is easy when choosing a commercial raw product - nearly all of them are single protein (exceptions are the Primal mixes that do adulterate proteins).

  • Portability. Its hard to travel with multiple coolers - one for raw food and the other for cooked bait, soda, yogurt, etc. I have not found tupperware yet that will truly stay water-tight in a cooler filled with ice. My compromise is to buy raw in sizes that are one meal. A one pound factory-sealed, leak-proof 'brick' of raw will feed my two one meal. It costs more but it's convenience.

  • Both dogs need to be able to eat the same thing. I don't want to have 3 or 4 kinds of foods around here at any given time. Teller as an intact and active young lad needs significantly more calories than Murphy does while working his best impression of a couch potato.

    Back when I fed kibble, both Murphy and Teller had trouble with the Innova Evo line. Murphy was itchy on both versions of EVO (regular and red meat). Teller did really well on the standard Innova kibble, but Murphy had to be cut back to less than a cup of kibble a day - which does not make for a happy Murphy.

    Our last rotation has been Honest Kitchen's Keen with the addition of extras like raw or cooked chicken breast, raw or cooked eggs and steamed veggies. One of the least objectionable kibbles available locally used to be the Eagle Holistic line - Eagle Pack tends to be digestible for most dogs. I can't recommend the Eagle Pack foods following the corporate change with both Wellness and Eagle Pack falling under the new Berwind/WellPet Industries. Bigger is not better and as a consumer bigger makes me worry about quality control and quality oversight. I just don't feel comfortable recommending it anymore.

    The Honest Kitchen foods have been a godsend for Teller - he's finally holding his weight more consistently on the dehydrated raw food. Honest Kitchen travels well and smells wonderful. The ingredients are sourced in the US and I feel like I can trust the company. I don't like some of the messages that Honest Kitchen puts out there around the touchy-feely concepts of "Pet Guardianship" and "Pet Parents" (not getting into that slippery slope here) but they produce a quality product. Ingredient for ingredient it's not that different than a premium kibble but the source is a known quantity and batches are small. What is not small is the price tag - another part of the balancing game.

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