The Feeding Minefield
The second article in a five part series by Steve Hutchins. Steve considers the minefield that is choosing the best brand of food for your dog.
So what brand of food do you buy for your dog ?
Following on from the last week's article feeding your dog it seems that Science and Technology coupled with a more than generous helping of Marketing & Promotion have taken over as the prime forces in the selection of food that we buy for our beloved canine companions.
The search for greater market penetration and a better bottom line by the accountants and financial departments within the dog food multi-million pound industry has meant that all types of aggressive business decisions have been made to cut costs and increase profits.
Some of these decisions are probably quite correct on a financial basis but on closer scrutiny, I feel that maybe the sourcing and standard of products which go to make up the particular feed and the fact that a large number of "Brand Name" foods are actually NOT made directly by the manufacturer, but by a third party mill, can therefore possibly compromise the quality of the food.
The obvious problem in circumstances such as these is one of QUALITY CONTROL where the BRAND NAME MANUFACTURER is reliant on the quality control procedures of the mill that makes the food on their behalf. Also the sourcing of materials is often left to the same mill. I am not saying that all mills are poor or complacent in their working practice, but it is basically "management at a distance" and the quality of the foodstuffs produced and the subsequent reputation of the brand manufacturer is held firmly in the hands of the mill !
I myself had primarily used one particular brand of semi-moist dog food for many years with excellent results. The company in question are very small but with superb food. Unfortunately they do not have the financial muscle, the volume of staff, or indeed the management or promotional skills to "take on the big boys" within the industry. As a consequence they have to struggle to survive in the increasingly competitive market with creditors snapping at their heels.
The food was always made for them by one mill that took pride in the quality of the product and worked hand in hand with the owner of the company. However nowadays due to financial pressures, the product is made by a variety of mills and the divergence in actual and perceived quality is enormous. Quality control by the owner of the dog food company is therefore a constant nightmare and the increasing levels of foreign bodies that appear within the feeds, begin to make one wonder about not only the quality control techniques employed, but the possibility of deliberate competitor sabotage, especially when one finds out that a whole range of different BRAND NAME products are made at the same mill !
So many choices
So how do we as dog breeders, kennel owners or simply a family with one pet dog know what food to buy ?
Well the short answer is that we donít !
Over the last few years there has been a distinct shift in the buying patterns within the pet food market, increasingly moving away from expensive tinned foods and moving on to dry and semi-moist foods. This market itself has now sub-divided into three basic levels:
- Bottom End
Cheap, often inferior food made with cheaper ingredients and which is generally targeted to the public with little money to spend.
- Middle Range
Made up of average, good and some very good products indeed (like the product that I personally used) but as I previously mentioned, who often do not have the funds or the ability to allocate to effective advertising and promotion or have the distribution network to cover a sufficiently wide sales area).
Geared for the more discerning buyer with highly processed food, which is far more expensive than its counterparts but to a greater or lesser degree, uses less product per feed due to the stated higher digestibility and therefore needs less to be given for each meal. These products are aggressively promoted just like designer label clothing.
I have to say that I feel sure that some of the premium products are excellent, but equally Iím sure that some are forced upon us by an effective, creative, large Marketing & Advertising budgets and are little more than middle range foods with excellent promotional techniques designed to lighten our wallets.
Now that the prime players in the dry and semi-moist foods are gaining more and more of a strangle-hold on the industry they are forcing the standards higher and making the trading conditions even harder, thus making it difficult for the bottom and middle end of the market to survive.
As a consequence it seems clear that the bottom end will effectively disappear, the middle range will then become the bottom end, the premium range will become the middle and the top end will become a "NEW BREED OF SUPER FOOD" already designated the SUPER PREMIUM RANGE and these foods will most certainly take the top places within the pet food industry with the associated kudos and enhanced profits !
To achieve and maintain this status requires not only a large marketing budget, but also a different thought process as to the real and apparent benefits of different foods, the digestibility, palatability, cost effectiveness (re: volume usage) preservative usage and types and a whole range of other nutritional aspects, which in turn requires the market to upgrade its thinking specifically to PET FOOD SCIENCE with state-of-the-art production technology and laboratory facilities, research into the use and effects of chemical preservatives on a pets health and the subsequent usage of vitamin E & C as alternative natural preservatives. With this new thinking should hopefully come a new standard of ethics to run alongside the monetary factors involved in this multi-million pound industry.
It has long been recognised that different dogs need different foods, depending on their lifestyles, work rate and indeed their breed and metabolic rate. This gives rise to an ever increasing marketplace for the manufacturer and buyer alike with seemingly a dog food product to fit every eventuality !
Essentially however the range can be split into 5 main areas:
Puppy or Growth Food
Growing puppies and young dogs have special dietary needs and the feed formulas are designed to provide the best possible start, with a higher protein ratio and often with added milk pellets to build strong tissue, provide energy and to generally enhance development.
It does however seem ludicrous to me that so little is done in the very early stages at weaning, when it is expected that a puppy will have to make that quantum leap from Motherís milk into a hearty solid meal.
- Maintenance Food
These are formulated to provide proper nutrition to support the natural activities of an adult dog, including play and exercise up to approximately 7 years of age. A whole range of food products are on the market to cover this area and with a normal dog, it SEEMS that he will thrive on most of them.
- Endurance Food
For very active adult dogs requiring optimum protein and fat to support a strenuous lifestyle, whether this is as a result of the dogís regular daily work or as a sporting dog. These foods are also used for younger dogs who need extra calcium and phosphorus within the diet.
The danger of this however is that recent studies have shown that if large breeds grow too quickly, or get too much calcium, they are much more prone to develop bone and joint problems. Large puppies will obviously eat more than small puppies but the calcium and energy levels their diet actually need to be significantly lower.
- Light Formula
Illness associated with older or overweight dogs can often be avoided with the proper diet. The correct balance needs to be achieved in providing the proper levels of nutrition, whilst lowering the intake of Protein, Fat, Sodium, Calcium, Phosphorus and Calories.
So these are generally formulated with reduced protein, fat and calories with no salt addition and are designed for the older dogs and those who may also be overweight or have a slower metabolism or simply just slower !
- Sensitive Formula
More and more dogs are now seemingly showing signs of food allergies, which I find is a very worrying trend. Whilst most food allergies in dogs show up in reactions in the skin and coat, there are often other symptoms which are not so easily detectable.
A complex stress situation with the immune system breaking down occurs when the dog is battling against a food allergy, which requires a whole different approach to feeding to overcome and break down the allergy syndrome to allow the body to effectively settle and heal itself.
This is a financial goldmine for the dog food industry moneymen who aided by the Advertising & Marketing agencies capitalise on our love of animals which magnifies in intensity, as they not only become older, but more importantly become seemingly allergic to the various foodstuffs, components and additives opening up a vast market sector for the special individual dietary needs.
Making your Choice
When it comes to our animals and especially our pets money is often of no concern, so which food should you choose ?
The best advice I can give is to talk to your vet about a suitable diet and try not to be swayed by expensive and persuasive advertising. Think about what is right for your dog, not the exaggerated claims made by some dog food manufacturers designed solely to relieve you of your hard earned money !
However be warned that many vets have an alliance with certain well known dog food companies and receive a substantial "mark-up" on the sale of their products.
Next in the Series - Pay Your Money and Take Your Choice
Previous Article - Feeding Your Dog