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How Dog Food May Affect Your Pet’s Health

After starting a business focused on healthy dog products Distinctive Dog (, a new world opened up regarding the state of dog nutrition and what manufacturers do not tell consumers.

There is much debate when it comes to dog food, treats and pet nutrition. In the wild, dogs inherently hunted and consumed animals and plants. Their digestive systems were designed to break down raw meat while the enzymes present in the meat aided the digestion process.

Today, most domesticated dogs eat processed kibble containing primarily grains and refined protein sources. Once the meat source is removed, the remaining ingredients are mostly unnatural for the pet. Wheat, barley, rice, corn and oats are all man-raised crops that a dog would never eat in the wild. So how have dogs adapted to a diet consisting mostly of grains and processed protein sources?

To begin with, dogs are highly allergy prone animals. Wheat, corn, soy and barley are common culprits of allergies in dogs. The most interesting factor here is that most of these substances are not contained in the dog’s natural food chain.

Corn is an inferior protein source and some experts contend that the dog’s liver must work overtime to extract useable protein, which in the process produces excess nitrates. These nitrates place extra strain on the liver and as some veterinarians will say, is one cause of premature aging.

Wheat, soy, barley and white rice have very little nutritional value and are used by manufacturers to squeeze more profit out of their products. As a fun experiment, place your dog’s dry food in water for about 10 minutes.  If it swells dramatically, it probably contains high amounts of these grains.

There are a variety of theories on the affects of processed dog food and dog treats on our pets. Veterinarian John B. Symes writes and speaks on the affects of gluten, casin from cow’s milk, corn and soy on otherwise healthy dogs. He is a “recovered” celiac and believes these substances are blocking nutrient absorption during the dog’s digestion process.

Many of these ingredients are used as filler in commercial dog food and when mixed with water, create a sticky substance. Symes points out that the dog’s digestive tract is not designed to break down these materials and the resulting partially-digested sticky material coats the intestines, blocking absorption of essential nutrients.

“Imagine that a German shepherd puppy begins eating a wheat, barley, corn, or soy-based diet from the moment it is weaned. If inadequate levels of calcium and vitamin C are absorbed, what are the chances that its hips, elbows, spine, and other cartilaginous structures are going to form properly? I would say "Not good". Most people familiar with dogs know that this breed has a reputation for horrible hip dysplasia. But, they also have serious allergies and other immune-related disorders. This, of course, is no coincidence. Once it is understood that the allergies form in the area of the gut that is being damaged or coated by the ‘glue’, it is easy to see why the trouble breeds like the German Shepherd, Cocker Spaniel, Shih Tzu, and others have their ‘genetic’ tendencies such as allergic skin and ear problems, orthopedic abnormalities, intervertebral disc ruptures, and cancers,” contends Symes.

Another way dog food and treat manufacturers cut costs is through the protein sources. Most dog foods contain protein sources labeled as “meal”, “digest” or “by-product”. These ingredients contain meat sources that are deemed unsuitable for human consumption. Rendering plants process dead animal and other matter for animal feed, and yes pet food. With virtually no government regulation, these often contaminated protein sources pass as our dog’s dinner.

One regulation on the books was written in the National Research Council’s 1974 publication, The Nutrient Requirement of Dogs. It states that all mammals (except humans) are legally allowable “meat” for rendering as long as they are not decayed. Some states have passed an additional standard excluding dying, dead, disabled, or diseased tissues.

Deborah Lynn Dadd in her book The Nontoxic Home and Office: Protecting Yourself and Your Family form Everyday Toxins and Hazards states, “Each year about 116,000 mammals and nearly 15 million birds are condemned before slaughter. After killing, another 325,000 carcasses are discarded and more than 5.5 million major parts are cut away because they are determined to be diseased. Shockingly, 140,000 tons of poultry is condemned annually, mainly from cancer. The diseased animals that cannot be sold are processed into animal feed.

Now, there is no way to substantiate the claims but I do know that there is no real way to truly know what these ingredients actually contain. In addition, the food is processed at extremely high temperatures during the rendering process which kills much of the nutritional value that may have been present.

When we begin to examine our dog’s diet, one only wonders why dogs are prone to allergies and health issues. William D. Cusick, author of Canine Nutrition & Choosing the Best Food for Your Dog states that nations with generations of dogs raised on commercial pet food have experienced canine longevity decreases up to 50 percent. In addition they have recorded increases in cancers, reproductive complications and other health issues. Hypothesized reasons include environmental pollution, pesticides, vaccinations, urbanization, fluoridated water and commercial pet food.

Cusick furthers his point by stating that in identical environments, humans have increased life expectancy while dogs have decreased. Moreover, in countries where commercial dog food is unavailable these decreases have not been documented. This point cannot be overstated. It points to the dire need for structured research to substantiate the empirical evidence and governmental regulation within the pet food industry.

Today there is no way to concretely determine the health consequences of commercial dog food and grain based diets. As a result of these concerns, many people choose to feed their dogs a Bones and Raw Food diet (BARF). These holistic diets provide a diet closest to what dogs eat in the wild. Our pet’s stomachs are designed to process raw meat and they receive live enzymes not present in cooked food.

Another option is home cooked meals. This can be a tricky option because some human food can be toxic for our pets. A good book on the subject is Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: the Healthful Alternative by Dr. Donald Strombeck. Dog nutrition is different than human nutrition, so I recommend you check with your veterinarian before considering either a BARF or home-prepared diet.

At the very minimum, read and understand pet food labels and ingredients. Ingredient labels are listed in order of quantity. Locate products with minimal levels of wheat or wheat by-products, corn, soy or barley. These are fillers that can adversely affect your dog’s digestive system and if your dog is allergic, they can cause itchy and flakey skin, dull coat and hair loss. These grains should never be listed as the primary ingredient in your dog’s food. Also, understand protein sources and ensure that the protein sources you are providing your pet are high quality and not from rendered sources.

As a general rule of thumb, do not look for quality pet food at your local grocery store or pet store chain.  Specialty pet stores often have greater expertise and can help you find the right food for your pet. If you are looking for healthy dog treats, many companies including Distinctive Dog Bakery (, offer home baked dog treats free from wheat gluten, soy, corn and other harmful ingredients.

Lastly, consider supplementing your dog’s diet with enzymes and probiotics. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that help in digestion and the absorption of nutrients. They prevent harmful bacteria from growing and causing problems including gas, diarrhea and vomiting. Enzymes help complement probiotics during the digestion process. Adding an enzyme-probiotic mix to your dog’s diet can improve digestion, create better hair coats and increase immune function.

As co-owner of (Distinctive Dog Bakery), Andrew Johnson works to promote healthy living and nutrition for dogs and owners. Johnson began the business in 2007 with his wife, Tamra. Their goal is to provide dog bakery treats and snacks free from harmful ingredients. They also strive to provide information to help consumers make better decisions for their pets.

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