Thursday, 30 January 2014

Channel 5's 'The Truth About Your Dogs Food'....

Er, well, it wasn't really was it!

They attempted to cover far too much ground, without giving enough real detail on any subject mentioned. No really useful conclusions drawn and probably a lot of confusion created.

I'll have a go at explaining some of the points raised - I'll be upfront and honest, I am biased, I feed my dogs raw food with the occasional low cereal or cereal free kibble once in a while (holidays usually!).

Commercial Dog Food In The Uk - a Potted (haha) History...


 Up until the 1860's, dogs in the UK ate table scraps, raw meaty bones, and really not much else.
People who didn't have a lot of table scraps and yet still had the money to own pet dogs would buy cheap cuts of meat and often horsemeat to feed their dogs on - those with dogs that could hunt would feed their dogs the bits they didn't want (carcasses).

Along came Mr Spratt, who invented the dog biscuit - not the small kibble we know today but larger flat, hard biscuits much like the Ships Biscuits they were based on. These things were rock hard and crunchy which dogs liked, and would be mixed with left overs, warm water etc to create a softer meal.

Mr Spratt never revealed exactly what was in his 'Patented Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes', though advertising suggested it contained buffalo meat - given he launched his biscuits in London in the 1860's, I would strongly suggest they contained horsemeat, as well as wheat and vegetable matter (you only need to look at how many horses were working in London at the time, and what their average lifespan was to see that there was an incredibly high turnover of the horse population then, working horses started at 2 and were dead before 15 - modern horses work at 4 and live into their 30s now!).

These Dog Cakes would have made use of the waste grain products created by the brewing industry and the flour/milling industry, and by utilizing the one very readily available, cheap meat that was also almost universally shunned by human diners (horsemeat was only eaten by the VERY poor!) Spratt made a product that cost him very little, which he marketed to those owning sporting dogs - those with a fair bit of money to burn!

In the 1930's the industry advanced again with the introduction of canned food, so now not only did people eat tinned meals and found them convenient, but the pet food industry could offer tinned dog food.

Two very important facts become quite obvious from this brief history.

1/ Commercial dog food has ALWAYS been based on combining readily available unwanted meat and grain products and by products, into something dogs will eat and people want to buy.
2/ Dogs have only been eating commercially produced dog food 'en masse' for around 150 years.

It is therefore highly unlikely, in fact to my mind, impossible that dogs have 'evolved' to eat commercially produced dog food based on high grain content flavoured with meat.
Dog food was never invented for the benefit of dogs - it was invented for the benefit of the producers pockets.

Now thats not to say there is anything wrong in making a profit - we all need to live, and money as they say, makes the world go around. But lets not kid ourselves - profit was, and still is, the primary concern of a commercial dog food producer.

The Situation Now...

So fast forward those 150 years from Spratts Patented Fibrine Dog Cakes - we now have a huge range of commercially produced foods available for our dogs.

Those foods are actually produced by only a small handful of huge, multinational companies.

As an example, Mars Inc - famous in most peoples minds for the Mars bar - they own:

Pedigree (formerly Pedigree Chum), Nutro, Royal Canin and Greenies as well as cat food brand Whiskas

Nestle own Purina Pet Care and under that banner, they produce all the 'Purina' brands (Pro Plan, Purina One, Gourmet) but also GoCat, Winalot, Bonio, Beta, Felix and Bakers

The basic principles have not changed - cheap ingredients, tarted up, pretty colours and fancy labelling(and thats not new, Spratt put beetroot in his biscuits to give them a more appealing meaty looking colour!) to command a high price for what is, certainly with all the above brands and product names, a low quality product.

How do I know it is a low quality product. Well, firstly, lets revisit evolution. Dog food has been around for 150 years, give or take a year or so.

Dogs on the other hand have been around for 15'000 years, ish when they split from their common ancestor with what is now our modern wolf (note, modern dog did NOT descend directly from the wolves we have today, they share a common ancestor!)

Do you think it likely that 150 years of eating commercially produced dried dog food and tinned meat has had a significant impact on dogs digestive system, given they have been around for 15'000 years?

We know that their digestive system is no different to that of the modern wolf, and of the Dingo, both of which still survive eating raw meat, bones, semi digested vegetable matter and anything else they can get hold of.

So given that information - if  all these companies had at heart, the best interests of dogs first and foremost, and profit secondary to that - why does a small sample of the ingredients listings for these foods contain huge amounts of cereals, fibrous filler, sugars and colourings?

Food Labels - but those are confusing as heck!

Absolutely they are, and one of the chaps on the program wasn't entirely devious when he pointed out that in part this is because there is no different legislation in the UK certainly, for pet food, as opposed to livestock feed. It all falls under the same rulings about how it can be labelled and what can go in it.

Lets have a look at a food label from one of the above mentioned brands.

First of all, Pedigree, one of the leading brands in the UK and advertises itself with tag lines like:

"Every dog deserves leading nutrition:"

I chose Pedigree Vital with Chicken for medium sized dogs.

Meat and Animal Derivatives (including 4% Chicken)
Oils and Fats (including 0.2% Fish Oil, 0.2% Sunflower Oil)
Derivatives of Vegetable Origin (including 2% Dried Beet Pulp)
Minerals (including 0.7% Sodium Tripolyphosphate)
Antioxidants, Preservatives

 So first of all, it says 'with Chicken'. You may not know this, but the wording even within the name of the product has to conform to certain laws. You couldn't call a dog food 'Chicken Doggy Bits' if it only had 4% chicken in it. You COULD call it 'Chicken Flavour Doggy Bits' if it actually had NO chicken in it.

This one says 'with Chicken' so it has to contain a min. of 4% chicken. It could contain more but we will never know and likely the quantities will change from batch to batch.


Next, the actual ingredient list - well it might be 'with Chicken' but we know that only  means a min of  4%... and hey presto, here's the first whammy - the first ingredient is 'Cereals'.

One labeling directive manufacturers must comply with is that they have to list the single largest ingredient first - so that first ingredient in the list is really, the main content of this food.

This food just states 'cereals' - this is because they are then free to change the exact make up of 'cereals' as it suits them (as it suits their profit margins).

So if one year wheat is incredibly cheap, and maize isn't - in goes the wheat. If next year actually oats are cheap and maize is costly - in go the oats.  This lumping together of ingredients here means the exact breakdown of cereals can change.

Meat and Animal Derivatives (inc. 4% chicken).

Now that to most people sounds grim - and yes if you saw what it is, it is pretty grim - it is all the bits of human grade meat and animal 'stuff', that we wouldn't want. Bear in mind, this is the stuff that is too crap to go into sausages, cheap burgers, hotdogs, etc. Despite the nice man from the pet food companies on the TV saying 'well its whats left after we take the nicest bits for people' giving you the impression its just the scraggy bits... no,  its quite a bit yuckier than that. This is mush, its connective tissue, gristle, fat, skin, hoofy bits.

Now thats not necessarily a bad thing - dogs are after all the consummate scavenger, they are well evolved to make good use of the bits no one else wants.

The real reason that this is not a good ingredient is that again it is a 'lumped together' ingredient. Only 4% of this is chicken... what is the other 96% of this particular ingredient?

Like the cereal content, this is going to vary from batch to batch, based on what can be sourced most profitably (ie, cheapest, and not as the man from the PFMA stated, 'due to supply').

For most dogs that might not be a problem but if your dog IS sensitive or intolerant or allergic to some ingredients, you have absolutely no chance of identifying exactly WHAT meats are in this food, and the nutritional value of it will change from batch to batch, some times more hoofy feathery blech, sometimes a bit more fat and connective tissue (still blech but nutritionally more valuable to the dog).

Oils and Fats (including 0.2% Fish Oil, 0.2% Sunflower Oil)

Oils and fats are necessary to the dogs diet, yes. But only 0.2% is fish oil and 0/2% is sunflower oil. What then, is the rest?

We don't know, and we won't ever accurately know, but this will be another variable ingredient, produced from rendered carcasses, recycled from the human food production industry... I actually wouldn't delve too deeply into what exactly is in these fats and oils, even writing about it brings back the horrific olfactory memory of slowly, so painfully slowly, passing a rendering plant on a canal trip some 20 years ago! At 2 miles an hour it took us about four hours to get out of smelling distance of the place!

Derivatives of Vegetable Origin (including 2% Dried Beet Pulp)
Minerals (including 0.7% Sodium Tripolyphosphate)
Antioxidants, Preservatives

The rest of this is basically about making your dog produce poo rather than liquid slurry - thats what the dried beet pulp is for by the way, this is whats left AFTER the livestock feed trade has removed the beet pulp that still contains some nutritional value once its finished being made into sugar for us.

To put that into context, this stuff has already been processed several times before it ever gets to the dog food factory - once for sugar for us, then for animal feed (and the food they give horses and cattle has to be higher grade as they are going to enter the human food chain (potentially for horses, definitely for most cattle), and once its turned into dog food it will be processed again!

Minerals, Antioxidants and preservatives are added so that the product will still contain sufficient legally required minerals even if you feed it right before the use by date, and so that it doesn't go off on the shelves.

So - despite the manufacturers claims to provide 'leading nutrition', its blatantly obvious that this food does not actually offer high quality ingredients, nor does it provide the pet owner with an accurate and useful list of ingredients, because the main ingredients are lumped together and can vary fairly wildly.

This food is on sale for £31.99 for 15kg

Maybe its just that one thats horrible?

Ok then: Royal Canin Medium Adult

Dehydrated Poultry Protein, Maize Flour, Maize, Wheat Flour, Animal Fats and Oils, Dehydrated Pork Protein, Wheat, Hydrolysed Animal Proteins, Sugar Beet Pulp, Fish Oil, Soya Oil, Yeasts, Minerals, Hydrolysed Yeasts, Antioxidants

Dehydrated Poultry Protein is the first ingredient, single largest ingredient first remember - so yes thats marginally better than 'cereals', but how much? Well we still don't know from batch to batch exactly what the 'poultry' in question is! Is it chicken, turkey, duck, who knows!

Now look for the cereals, there is Maize Flour, Maize, Wheat Flour and Wheat in this food. Given that Maize Flour, Maize and Wheat Flour are the second, third and fourth ingredients here, its highly likely that if they had just listed 'cereals' (particularly if you note that Wheat is listed further down too) there would have been more 'cereal' content than 'dehydrated poultry protein' content.

This is a clever trick that some brands will use to list a meat product higher than cereal content - it LOOKS on the label as if there is more meat in here than there are cereals, but thats not likely to be the case.

This does give the manufacturer less wiggle room to change the cereal content, but not much, bearing in mind that this product is a premium priced brand in their line, unlike the previous one which actually isn't. It is worth it then to sacrifice that leeway to save money on cereal content, but be able to list a meat product higher on the label.

The rest of the ingredients will make up a much smaller proportion of the food and are there to bulk up the protein content to that necessary to keep dogs alive, and to produce firm poo and a shiny coat.

Again, there are no top quality ingredients in this food, and yet this will cost you £52.99 for £15kg

How about a good food, surely there are some?

There are indeed now, some quality dried foods around, and that sector of the market is growing.

Here's a good one.

Orijen Adult Original


Fresh Deboned Chicken (22%), Dehydrated Chicken (15%), Fresh Liver (4%), Fresh Whole Herring (4%), Fresh Deboned Turkey (4%), Dehydrated Turkey (4%), Fresh Turkey Liver (3%), Fresh Whole Eggs (3%), Fresh Deboned Walleye (3%), Fresh Whole Salmon (3%),  Chicken Heart (3%),  Chicken Cartilage (3%), Dehydrated Herring 3%, Dehydrated Salmon (3%), Chicken Liver Oil (3%), Red Lentils, Green Lentils, Sun-cured Alfalfa, Yams, Pea Fibre, Chickpeas, Pumpkin, Butternut Squash, Spinach Greens, Carrots,  Red Delicious Apples, Bartlett Pears, Liquorice Root, Angelica Root, Fungreek, Marigold Flowers, Sweet Fennel,Peppermint Leaf, Chamomile, Dandelion, Summer Savory, Rosemary, Enterococcus Faecium

The first thing that strikes me is, wow thats a big list, and it is, and probably a lot of what is in there isn't strictly necessary, and probably a fair bit isn't actually all that useful because its in such tiny quantities.

However, this is a premium priced food, in fact this is probably the most expensive food on the UK market!

The first thing you'll note once you get over the shock of the list is that the meats are named, and you are given a percentage for each one.

This food is definitely going to be 37% chicken, if you combine the first two ingredients alone. Add it up and its around 74% meat/poultry/fish based.

The remaining 26% (ish) is pulses, vegetables, fruits, herbs... a small amount of which is there to create some roughage for decent poo consistency,  yes (pea fibre, alfalfa) but not much.

There is NO grain or cereal content in this food - not a single scrap of it. The meat content is all stuff you would recognise as food if it were put out on your table - ok the dehydrated turkey, chicken and fish might not look too appetising, but it would still resemble food.

Of course, 13kg of this will set you back £67.99, but does that actually accurately tell you how expensive this is to feed on a daily basis?

The incredibly useful website helpfully breaks down how much each food listed will cost you, given your dogs weight, per day.

I'll use a medium sized dog between 15 and 20kg.

Pedigree Vital with Chicken:  53p per day - 248  grams per day
Royal  Canin Medium Adult:  73p per day - 208 grams per day
Orijen Adult Original              78p per day - 150 grams per day

As you can quite clearly see, the price per pack is not a good indicator of how cost effective a food actually is.

Whilst the low quality Pedigree is the cheapest to feed, you will need to feed nearly 100 grams a day MORE of it than the highest quality food!
The ingredients in the Royal Canin food are only marginally better quality than those in the Pedigree, however that  costs almost as much to feed per day as the Orijen, and still, you  need to feed over 50g per day more of it!

Where is all that extra food going? It isn't pretty, but the answer is, in your yard, on the pavement and if you are a responsible owner, into a baggy and into the bin. You are paying for poo.

The reason you can feed the same sized dog only 150g of Orijen per day, but need to feed that dog 248g of Pedigree per day, is that so much MORE of the pedigree food is not actually digestible, nutritious food - it is going to come out the other end!

I can vouch for this myself, as my dogs occasionally eat Orijen and produce on average, two poo's per day. Other similarly sized dogs on a diet similar to the Pedigree listed, produce five or six or more poos per day, (and larger ones at that!).

So what do I feed my dog?

I can't really answer that for you. I feed my dogs a raw diet, which is the most cost effective way I can feed six dogs on a tight budget and still provide what I consider (after over a decades practice and research) a premium quality diet, on a par with the quality of foods like Orijen.

What you CAN do is feed the very best quality food you can afford - and note, I say afford, not 'justify', there is a difference.

Most of us, me included, baulk at paying nearly £70 for a sack of food, but I can justify it, because now that I know how dog food works, and how to read and understand the labels sufficiently, I can make an informed decision about where my money goes.

Learn to read the food labels and find out exactly what you are feeding, and where your money is actually going - if you are feeding a very low cost food such as Pedigree or even cheaper (Vitalin, Wagg etc), then whilst you might appear to be saving money short term, because a bag of either of the latter two costs under £15, you might NOT be saving money in the long term.

How much of that food is going into your poo bags? Does your dog have cruddy teeth, horrid breath, itchy skin, pongy smell, anal gland problems, rashes and allergic symptoms?

Does your dog leave his food and only eat it at the end of the day when there really is nothing else on offer?

In my experience some foods can have a detrimental effect on a dogs behaviour, for example, I won't go and see a clients dog if they are eating Bakers Complete, because time after time, I see dogs eating that who are also dogs who are bouncing off the walls and struggle to learn - change the food and the dog improves!

If you answered yes to even some of those questions, the chances are that your dogs diet could be improved - if your dog is actually fit and healthy and doing fine on a low quality food, thats fine, dogs ARE brilliant survivors and scavengers, but in my opinion, feeding the best quality we can afford means saving money on vet bills and other long term costs, and a happier dog.

Have a look through the Which Dog Food site, and cost up some of the alternatives, as I have demonstrated here, a higher quality diet may well NOT be such a dramatic financial outlay as you think!

1 comment:

Peter Thomos said...
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