Totally confused about what to feed your pets? Don't know whom to trust anymore? You want to give the best possible food, but how do you know what is good for them? What are good ingredients? What are bad ingredients? Is it all just chemical gibberish on the back of the bag? You're not alone. Here are few helpful hints about what you want and don't want to see listed on that pet food bag. (Obviously at this point in time I would suggest staying away from wheat gluten, rice protein, and corn gluten.)

They say, oh your dog can eat anything. It's a dog after all. Well, actually a dog's intestinal tract is pretty short, so it doesn't have a great amount of time to absorb nutrients. So we want to have food that is easily digestible with nutrients that are highly bioavailable for our dogs.

Oven baked ingredients vs. extrusion

You want to look for food that is oven baked. Baking changes the hard-to-digest molecules of "raw" starches into easy to digest dextrines. This process acts as a "pre-digest" of the kibble food, resulting in less strain on the dog's digestive system and produces a greater degree of food absorption. A dog's intestinal tract functions in the most efficient manner when the food is concentrated and can be quickly digested.

Lower quality pet food uses a cooking process called extrusion. This process involves rapidly steaming the food, then extruding it under extreme pressure through a metal die. This process expands the food with air (air?! yes, air) and does not produce the highly digestible food that your dog's system requires. This extruded food, because it is cooked in a very short time is usually almost "raw" and requires the addition of chemical preservatives (ethoxyquin, BHA, and BHT, see below) to maintain a reasonable product shelf life. These altered proteins may contribute to food intolerances, food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease.

First couple of ingredients on the list

You want some kind of meat whether it is chicken or lamb. You do not want the first ingredient to be corn or some grain or a by-product. (We all know what happens when we eat corn. It tends to not be digested too well, because we end up seeing it again, don't we?)

Human grade meat v. non-human grade meat

Pet grade meat is meat not fit for human consumption. Well what does that mean? What is in there that might make me sick? I don't know, but I sure don't want my girl eating it. It could include the diseased-ridden (e.g. salmonella-infected) rejects or the dreaded 4D animals (dead, dying, diseased, disabled). They were only recently banned for human consumption and are still legitimate ingredients for pet food. How scary is that?

Meat and meal vs. by-product and by-product meal

By-products are just that -- the excess that is left when the entire usable product is taken. They are ground, rendered parts of the carcass of slaughtered animals, such as necks, beaks, feet, udders, heads, hooves and intestines. Yes, that is all technically protein, but very low quality and is all unfit for human consumption.

Ethoxyquin, BHT, and BHA vs. natural tocopherols.

The USDA lists ethoxyquin as a pesticide. Need I say more? BHT and BHA are carcinogenic. Need I say more? But I shall anyway! These chemical products may also be associated with dry skin, allergic reactions, dental disease, poor health and degenerative organ dysfunction. What you do want is to see the food preserved with natural tocopherols.

But it's so much more expensive!

I use the analogy of a consuming a small power bar versus a whole fast food meal. High quality pet foods are so densely packed with good bioavailable nutrients that you feed your pet a fraction of what it would eat of lesser quality food. And a bonus to this to those who clean up after our babies. Less going in means less coming out. Their little bodies just suck in all the good stuff, that there is not much excess that is left over. And it smells less too!

What about this Raw diet?

Honestly, I've never tried it nor do I know anyone personally that has, but I must say the thought of feeding my girl any raw meat makes me a little queasily nervous. Weren't we always taught that raw meat was a breeding ground for bad bacteria (salmonella, e. coli, etc)? So it may be okay for others, but not for me.

Okay, great. But which brand of high quality pet food do I buy? There are quite a few out there.

I feed my fifty-five pound female lab mix Wellness (Senior Dry Formula). Just look at the ingredient list. It looks like a grocery list: human grade whole chicken, apples, blueberries, tomatoes, spinach, etc. There is nothing you cannot recognize; nothing chemical, all natural and healthy, and everything is geared to be ultra highly digestible so your pet gets every bit of nutrient assimilated into his body.

The list includes a veritable rainbow of powerful antioxidants. They add chelated vitamins and minerals. Wellness takes the extra step to chelate them because that process makes them highly absorbable. They've got a beneficial ratio omega 3 and 6 fatty acids (flaxseed).

Wellness is also one of the only dog foods to include probiotic bacteria (healthy gut bacteria), which aids in digestion and helps to inhibit the growth and activity of disease-producing organisms.

Oh, here is a nice thing for us humans - they add yucca schidigera. A plant extract that while providing a healthy environment for good gut bacteria in your pet, it binds to ammonia thus reducing fecal odor and gas, which makes it a lot more pleasant cleaning the yard. My husband loves that!

The senior formula I feed my girl is a thoughtful blend of ingredients that support the special needs of older dogs. They reduce the fat and phosphorus so aging hearts and kidneys don't have to work as hard. They also put in natural glucosamine HCL and chondroitin sulfate from New Zealand Green Mussel and Sea Cucumber which helps maintain cartilage in aging joints.

They also have quite an array of other formulas including a Whitefish and Sweet Potato for very allergic dogs.

Wellness is oven-baked and human grade, and it never contains corn, wheat, wheat gluten, dairy, egg, ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT, by-products or anything artificial.

I wish I ate this healthy! My girl is eleven, and everyone thinks she is two or three!

Where can I buy the stuff?

You can run around checking the local pet stores to see if they sell it or… You can click on the link below and you will discover as we did an amazing company that not only sells Wellness pet food but can customize and pack pre-measured single serving dog or cat meals with your pets name on it AND pack the exact single dose of whatever medications or supplements your pet needs! This simplifies feeding time for your kids, the sitter, and you! And it makes traveling with your companion a breeze! Check them out! And get this¦ they only charge a flat rate $6.95 for shipping no matter what you buy (yes, even dog food!) and no matter how much you buy, whether it's one bag of dog food or twenty bags of dog food. Unbelievable. My girl loves it and I swear by them!

May all your four-legged children be healthy.
And remember, no chocolate, no onions, no raisins, no grapes, and one I just learned about is no avocados.

Author's Bio: 

Patrick & Katie Moran
Pet Food & Supplements

Patrick and Katie have been around dogs all their lives. Patrick is an ex-musher from Canada who has had to turn dogs into four-legged athletes. Katie has always lived surrounded by 4 or more dogs at a time. Dog nutrition is an important factor to fewer vet bills and longer life for your pet.