In the first blog in the series we looked at the ingredient list of your dog food, how they are constructed and what tricks and marketing tactics the manufacturers use to get you to choose their product over their competitors. Part two explored protein and how to identify good quality protein in your dog food.
This post looks at carbohydrates, fibre and fruits and vegetables. Again you're going to need to look at the ingredient list in more detail.
The carbohydrate in most commercial dog food generally originates from wheat, barley, oats, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, peas etc.
Some claim that carbohydrate in your dog's food is nothing more than filler to bulk up the product without adding much cost. This, of course, is nonsense. Although dogs don't have a specific requirement for carbohydrates, they spare protein from being used for energy, which can then be used for more important tasks.
So whilst the requirement, tolerance of amounts and types of carbohydrate may be an individual matter, your dog's body functions much better when carbohydrates are included in the diet. Some do better with more carbohydrates than others and some do better on grain-free foods that may be inappropriate for others. It's about finding the right carbohydrate, in the right form and quantity for your dog.
When it comes to carbohydrates, grains are often vilified online or in the media. The argument here is that dogs can't digest grains so adding them is pointless but this is not true. Properly cooked, grains are highly digestible and a good source of energy and other nutrients.
Look for whole unprocessed grains which contain the entire grain kernel. Examples include 'whole wheat', 'brown rice', 'oats', 'corn', 'barley', 'millet' and 'bulgur'. Avoid products that contain refined grains. Refined grains may have the same amount of calories as their whole grain counterpart but they have been highly processed which means they provide little nutritional value. Your dog's digestive system will process refined grains quickly, resulting in a more immediate impact on blood glucose levels. Examples of refined grain products are 'white flour', 'degermed cornmeal' and 'semolina'.
Corn is another carbohydrate source that has a bad reputation as an ingredient in dog food. Again this is not strictly fair. While it's certainly not acceptable as a main protein source, as a carbohydrate source it is no better and no worse than other grains in terms of nutritional value and digestibility.
If you'd like to see a comparison of nutrients in corn and rice, please click:
So while I do not regard grains as a 'bad' ingredient. That said, I certainly wouldn't encourage you to purchase a food with grain as its sole carbohydrate source but we need to be realistic about the ingredients used in dog food and not necessarily assume they are bad for our dogs.
Fibre is the part of carbohydrates that can't be digested by your dog.
Although indigestible and most types of fibre have no nutrient value, it still plays an important role in digestive health. The ideal fibre content to look for on a dog food label is somewhere below 8 percent. When your dog is receiving the right amount of fibre he or she will produce small firm stools.
If your dog is producing very large stools, it's highly likely there is too much fibre in his diet. Ultra-high fibre diets are incredibly cheap to produce but they are not good for your dog because they inhibit digestion and absorption of many vital nutrients. A fibre-deficient diet will cause diarrhea or constipation so getting the balance right is essential.
Depending on the inclusion of ingredients that are naturally high in fibre such as 'whole grains', 'oats' some fruits and vegetables, a dog food may also include specific, isolated types of fibre such as 'beet pulp' or 'psyllium'.
Beet Pulp is another ingredient that has an undeservedly bad reputation. It is actually a very gentle, beneficial source of fibre that is not only generally very well tolerated, but also has specific properties that make it suitable as a source of nutrition for the beneficial bacteria that reside in your dog's intestinal tract.
Fruits and vegetables
While fruits and vegetables may offer certain health benefits such as antioxidants, phytonutrient etc. they are not necessary for your dog's health. In fact, overfeeding either is likely to cause diarrhea so these foods are usually added sparingly in even high-end dog foods.
If a brand of food contains high quality sources of protein, carbohydrate and fat but no fruits or vegetables, it's still a better choice than one with poorer quality main ingredients with a few blueberries, peas or carrots thrown in to make the ingredient list look more appealing.
TIP: Feed fresh fruits and vegetable treats to your dog rather than being overly concerned with seeing them on an ingredient list. Sharing some of the fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables you eat yourself will add much more nutritional value to your dog's diet. Cook and mash them or pulverize raw vegetables in a food processor or juicer. Just don't include onions, grapes or raisins. If you're unsure what fruits and vegetables, you can safely feed your dog download my app - Doglicious - Can my Dog eat That.
The final blog in the series will help you to decipher fats, oils, vitamins, minerals and other supplements as well as what preservatives, flavourings and artificial colours to should steer clear of.
Kristina is certified in Advanced Canine Nutrition. Her journey into canine nutrition started out of love for an old rescue dog who was not responding to traditional medicine.
She provides consultations on general canine nutrition and home prepared diets working closely with a wide variety of vets. Kristina also write articles on canine nutrition and care for many publications. You can visit her at: Elmoskitchen.com
In 2014 she launched her very first App for all dog lovers called Doglicious which allows users to look up over 220 'human' foods to find out whether they are safe or harmful to their dogs