Pet Doctor: Cutting through pet food hype

By Dr. Chris Duke

At times, I can only shake my head at some of the print, television and online marketing that I see from those peddling dog foods. There has always been a fair amount of the "we're better than them" advertising in this, but I believe that the digital age has brought the dog food market competition to another level. Not only do corporate manufacturers push the envelope in their opinions, but bloggers (many uncredentialed) jump in the fray as well. An unfortunate outcome is that a consumer may respond to the last, loud voice that they heard prior to purchase.

Today I'll tone it down to a hopefully rational discussion of how to choose a good dog food. Keep in mind, I have no affiliation with any particular dog food brand.

First, let's talk about the all-meat and raw diet market. Recently I visited family in Charlotte, N.C., and walked into a local pet store. The total concept of their food stock could be summed up in two words that really don't match up well: natural and meaty. Along with a freezer that they stocked with raw meat products, this store (I kid you not) carried dog food brands that included words such as "wild," "primal," "natural" and "origins." Why can't anyone simply say "it's a well-balanced dog food" rather than naming the food after one of the two-word current dog food trends? Sure, a meat protein is nice to be included in a dog food, but we'll sum up more of that in the food allergy discussion.

The anti-grain trend is another bandwagon that many dog food manufacturers have jumped on. Bloggers just about outright claim that wheat, corn, rice and barley are the root of all evil because they cause all the skin allergies. While it is true that a dog that has been allergy tested might react to a given grain, these are not proteins. Protein sources are the majority of what dogs test positively for when testing is done. And the big clincher? According to most veterinary dermatologists, only 15 to 20 percent of all dog allergies originate from food. My personal opinion is that many "people" consumers relate to the anti-grain (particularly wheat) trends from their own diets, and want their dogs treated similarly.

The "we're the best dog food for every dog" mentality simply won't wash. Dr. Andy Roark, a veterinarian with his own blog, states this very well, when he shares that in search of the best dog food for our pets, we may avoid certain allergies but run headlong into others by trial and error. For example, a dog allergic to pork and beef may not benefit from switching off a food (that he or she may be doing well on) that contains chicken and -- egad! -- grains. So, the bottom-line answer is that the best dog food for your dog is the one that they thrive on well.

Allergy talk aside (see your vet for this), there are many other attributes we use to judge dog food compatibility. Hydrolyzed proteins also are a popular option when clients of mine opt out on allergy testing. A dog's body will not respond with an allergic response from hydrolyzed proteins the way they would normally respond to a conventional protein source in their diet.

My simple questions amount to this: Does your dog like the taste? How are the skin coat, musculature and other subjective observations about your dog going? And finally, how is it coming out the exhaust pipe? If these all have affirmative responses, keep calm and keep feeding what you're feeding.

Dr. Chris Duke, a veterinarian at Bienville Animal Medical Center in Ocean Springs, encourages questions for this column. Write to South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach, MS 39560, and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.