Pay Your Money and Take Your Choice

2nd May 2012 - in Health

The third article in a five part series by Steve Hutchins. Steve explains how to evaluate the various brands and manufacturers of dog food.

In previous articles on nutrition I spoke about Feeding Your Dog and compared aspects of the buying of tinned foods to dry and semi-moist complete diets and the merits and demerits of your choice. I also discussed the well used statement of the importance of a balanced diet and the nutritional requirements needed to not only satisfy your dog but to enable it to develop and flourish into a healthy and fit animal.

In a follow-up article I then discussed The Feeding Minefield and the distinct shift in the buying market away from tins, towards complete dry & semi-moist foods, which subsequently gave rise to a whole new generation of different brands, types and qualities of foods which were formulated, packaged, promoted and priced in a variety of different ways to maximise profitability and relieve you of your hard earned money.

As I previously mentioned, the market was basically split into the bottom and middle range with an enormous variety of choice and pricing levels, which coupled with the wonderful claims as to the benefits of feeding a specific food, caused great confusion. But the ever increasing desire to maximise the profits of the bottom line then gave rise to the birth of the premium end of the dog food market and now even this has been overtaken by the super-premium end. With excessively high prices these products are exceedingly well marketed and promoted to entice us to only buy the best quality foods for our dogs and steer us towards these particular high priced brands.

The food products are subdivided into the life stages of the dogs from puppy to adult and through to veteran which facilitates greater customer choice, which then subsequently evolved into an even greater choice, with companies formulating and producing an extensive range of foods to suit all dietary requirements such as for example, not only puppy, adult and veteran, but those dogs that are hyperactive, aggressive, overweight, or who suffer with allergic reactions such as skin, coat or digestive problems, or who have a dietary intolerance to maize, meat, gluten, dairy products for example and are subject to diarrhoea and colitis. A range of products are also formulated for lactating bitches or those in whelp or dogs who suffer with diabetes, through to older dogs that may have kidney or liver degeneration.

Huge Range

The range expansion is ongoing and seemingly limitless, which gives rise to a vast expanding market that can at the very least confuse us and at worst trick us into paying high prices for average quality products. Most companies hopefully operate in an honest and ethical manner and spend vast sums of money in continuing research and development into producing better and better products, whereas a few are seemingly more concerned with the marketing and promoting the product to achieve optimum profitability.

As we are all aware, the need for accurate labelling to inform us of the ingredients is now law, but the manner in which the ingredients are described on the list is open to clever marketing tricks to comfort us and persuade us to buy a particular brand.

When we see the bright shiny packaging stating 'Chicken & Rice' for example, do you visualise the tender white meat of the chicken breast from your Sunday roast? It may surprise many of you that the chicken actually used to make the food can contain: feathers, beaks, feet, heads and even the guts.

After all the feathers in particular are a very high source of protein, the problem is however not the level of protein, but its quality and if and how it is digested and used in the body that matters.

The main function of dietary protein is to provide amino acids for the animal's own protein synthesis. A high quality protein is one that is highly digestible and has a good balance of all the essential amino acids. These essential amino acids cannot be synthesised by the body and must be found in the diet.

However many people just look at the protein levels on the bag and do not look any further at the other components and certainly do not know about the sourcing of those ingredients. One component that is frequently overlooked is the fat or oil content and how this links in with the overall formulation of the particular product being used. Essentially the fat/oil is the main source of energy and promotes a healthy skin and coat. But it also affects the metabolism.

So for example: how do you feed a dog that needs a better skin and coat, that is hyperactive, eats copious amounts of food, produces loose motions and still looks like a skeleton with no body. Go to the vet I hear you cry! Well the particular dog is as fit as a flea and is 100% healthy and produces great stock as a stud dog.

Unbiased Advice

So where can you go to get unbiased help and advice? Do you go to your pet shop or supermarket and ask an assistant or cashier, ask a friend or your dog’s breeder. Or do you go to your vet, who is obviously skilled in veterinary matters, but not necessarily privy to ongoing nutritional advances within the industry and may well wish to sell you what food the veterinary practice stocks !

This is where you need the correct information from a dog food company that is genuinely committed to producing the very best food that it can and freely offers expert help and unbiased advice to ensure that you and your dogs obtain the correct diet for each specific animal.

I owned and ran a successful breeding and show kennel and over the years have used various foods for my dogs, but have stayed loyal to one brand of food for just under ten years, after achieving good results with it. Unfortunately the company was bought by another food manufacturer and I have to say the quality and consistency is less than desirable. This prompted me to go out into the marketplace and talk to other manufacturers with a view to changing my choice of food.

Apart from being involved with dogs for over 50 years and having a breeding and show kennels, my formal qualifications are that of a scientist and before I decided to devote my life to my dogs, I used to run an Advertising, Marketing & P.R. Company, so am well placed and skilled to evaluate the exaggerated claims made by many of the dog food companies. I therefore conducted measured trials on an extensive range of different brands, ranging from the tried and tested bottom end of the market, through to the premium and super-premium end and I have to say that I was amazed at the results that I obtained.

The general public is well aware of household names within the industry with vast sums of money being spent on publicity and or course many of the products that they market are excellent quality at sensible, albeit expensive prices.

I trialled the market without favour or prejudice and found that many products that are exceedingly well promoted and marketed and sell at vastly inflated prices, were not even worth gracing your dustbins with, let alone feeding it to your dogs !

The range of products that suit the differing requirements of the buying public are vast as are their available budgets. After all many people still wish to buy a sack of dog food and still have change from £10. At the other end of the cost scale I trialled many of the expensive complete foods and I have to say that I consider that many failed, despite the extravagant claims as to needing to feed minimal amounts, palatability and acceptability by the dogs and the supposed high quality with all the associated benefits, etc., etc.

But it also comes down heavily on the correct advice as to what to feed your dog depending on its type, particular lifestyle, activity level and specific dietary requirements.

For obvious legal reasons I cannot state brand names but after my trials, I would certainly think very carefully before I parted with my hard earned cash, especially when you are close to the grass roots of the industry and hear some of the tales of woe and the problems and claims resulting in court cases from feeding some of these highly priced products which are nothing more than an extremely slick marketing operation.

One of the premium dog foods in particular has an excessively high protein content, across the range, which causes me much concern and goes totally against my findings and the industry norm in that they state that they believe that high protein levels has no adverse affect on behaviour, aggressive tendencies, hyperactivity, or kidney & liver degeneration which is patently incorrect.

Don't be Fooled

So the moral of this missive is: Don't be fooled by flashy packaging, extravagant claims, artificially high prices set to fool us into thinking the product must obviously be of higher quality. Seek expert, help and advice, conduct your own trials, think carefully about the specific requirements and then make up your own mind.

Remember it is your dog's health and well being that is the issue, not the profits of the manufacturers.

Next in the Series - Natural Feeding

Previous Article - The Feeding Minefield

  • 4th May 2012 20:57 - Posted by : Sally England

    It would be nice to know what measurments/percentages we should be looking out for in dog food. I would like some advice on which foods you think are good as I've got a puppy that is nearly 4 months old and want to be really careful in what I feed her, as my last dog died at only 9 1/2 years!

  • 10th May 2012 06:07 - Posted by : Mark F

    Really enjoyed the article.Whist I fully understand the reason for not naming the products I would still have found it very useful when considering feeding options.

  • 9th May 2013 06:34 - Posted by : Caroline, N Ireland

    I'm so confused what is the best food for my dog within a v reasonable price range. My chocolate lab is 8 an I'm not happy with her coat, it lacks shine an she has dandruff. Her colour is between a brown an blonde with lovely brown face an legs but no1 can tell me why she's not chocolate all over as she was as a pup. She now on yumega to help but with nonresults at the min. Can some1 please help!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 5th June 2013 12:46 - Posted by : linda hodge

    Hi, although I`m far from being a dog expert, I can only advise what I used to feed my (now deceased retriever) dog was based on tips from others in the dog world. I fed him (15 yrs ago), branded tinned meat mixed with biscuits but once per weak added an oily ingredient for shine on his coat as well as giving a much needed omega acid additive, e.g. butter mixed in food, olive oil (teaspoon only) tinned tuna in brine etc. As for the coat colour changing this may be a `hereditary` thing somewhere down her ancestors. I`m expecting a new puppy (golden retriever) in 4 weeks but plan on feeding a mixture of dry food mix but also giving some different nutrition. i.e. raw food, fish & some veg with bone as well. I can only try as what works for 1 may not suit another. hope this may be of some help.