Specialty foods for pampered pooches were once as far-flung an idea as putting a man on Mars – chances are the dog you grew up with made do with whatever leftovers you scraped off your dinner plate, with perhaps a handful of generic dog biscuits thrown in. Nowadays you can select from canned or bagged, fresh or frozen, raw or cooked; if it’s edible, chances are it’s out there with your dog’s name on it. And while this may translate into a veritable shopping playground for experienced fanciers, it makes a bewildering and mind-numbing experience for the first time (or first in a long time) pet owner. Where do you begin to look, and just what are you supposed to be looking for? And how do you even know you’ve found it? This little primer should help guide you through the “where’s,” and if you’ve made the right decision, your dog will let you know the rest!
PET FOOD AT THE SUPERMARKET:
Handy, convenient and cost-effective, this is where many owners head when their pet’s dinner supply dwindles. The advantages are several. Chain stores with large distribution centres wield considerable buying power with wholesalers. This enables them to pass significant savings onto the retail customer. Also stock turnover in such outlets is consistent, which translates into less stale food on the shelves. Choices, however, can be limited to one or two generic selections from any given product line, and it’s doubtful that retail staff have knowledge specific enough to deal with any concerns you may have.
PET FOOD RETAILER/GENERAL SUPPLY:
Consider yourself in a buyer’s market. Virtually every pet food company worthy of the description can be found here, all promoting different lines geared to various stages in your dog’s life. And this isn’t necessarily manufacturer’s hype – your pet’s nutritional requirements will vary significantly in its travels from clumsy puppyhood to dignified veteran. Many name brands also feature items for a specific clientele, such as slow-growth puppy foods for “giant” breeds, or high-calorie “performance” products for canine athletes or others with a high-stress lifestyle.
PET FOOD FROM VETERINARIANS:
This is serious stuff. Generally speaking, your vet will only carry diets that have been developed to alleviate and/or manage specific medical conditions. These disorders run the gamut from simple food allergies to life-threatening diseases such as intestinal lymphangiectasia and certain limited cancers. The foods you will find offered here are by necessity ingredient-restricted, and often are aimed toward life-long palliative care. As a result they may not necessarily be a good long-term choice for a dog with no pressing medical concerns. Instead consider them a form of medicine that you won’t find in other “over the counter” venues.
MAIL ORDER AND “HOME MADE” PET FOOD:
Many pet owners have come to question the ingredient quality and content of commercially prepared foods. This concern is one of many reasons behind the comparatively recent – and rapid – influx of “designer” diets into the pet food market. Generally advertised through various species-specific publications, choices may be made from dehydrated, freeze-dried, frozen and fresh, with some companies offering the added incentive of home delivery and custom mixes. But both availability and cost will vary. Expect to pay more for food containing organic fruits and vegetables and non-medicated meats and poultry. Pre-packaged, single-serving frozen dinners are sometimes carried by larger supermarket chains and pet supply outlets, while bulk variety items are often mail-order only. This is to ensure freshness – often these products are completely preservative-free, so it makes sense to check both the date of manufacture and the shelf life.
BARF VERSUS KIBBLE:
If you think politics and religion are the only topics that make lousy bedfellows, then guess again.
The commercial diet/BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones And Raw Food) debate is a dicey one.
In its simplest terms, BARF involves the feeding of raw, meaty bones such as chicken necks and backs, supplemented with various items like raw vegetables and vitamins. The goal is to mimic the diet of a wild canid, and avoid any possible over-processing. Proponents of the diet claim pets fed in this fashion demonstrate increased vitality, resistance to disease, and general improvement in overall health and physical appearance. Detractors point to problems associated with improper handling of raw meat and poultry, nutritional imbalances, and maintain that feedlot animals raised for human consumption still contain levels of growth hormone, adrenaline, and various antibiotics. The answer isn’t a simple one, but if this type of feeding appeals to you, then research, discuss, and ask questions. Remember, an informed decision is an educated decision – and isn’t that what we all strive to make for our pets?
Dawne Deeley has written numerous articles and regular columns for a variety of dog publications including Dogs In Canada, and is an owner and breeder of World, International and Canadian Champion Carelian Bear Dogs.
Reprinted with permission from The Pet Directory – British Columbia Edition.