How did you choose your dog’s food?
Did you look critically at theories about the food eaten by her ancestors and make your best-reasoned judgment about what she evolved to eat? Did you sift through data and crunch numbers to determine how many daily calories she needs? Did you unearth studies that link certain ingredients to specific canine health conditions? Did you identify a food that meets your dog’s nutritional demands without also pumping her full of surplus calories and “non-food” with no nutritional value whatsoever and addictive sugary additives and ingredients with proven links to dangerous health conditions and all the other utter crap that’s in so many mass-marketed dog foods?
Not if you’re like me you didn’t.
If you’re like me, you chose your dog’s food because it was sold to you. Plain and simple. An advertisement or a self-interested retailer or a few compelling claims printed in BOLD TYPEFACE on a package told you a story that resonated with you on an emotional level. Maybe it was a story concocted to make you feel proud and happy or maybe it was one designed to make you feel guilty or scared or jealous or whatever. But in any event it caused you to let the skeptical part of your brain take a coffee break and allowed you to ride your emotional feelings straight into a buying decision (one that quickly became a habitual behavior).
If you’re like me — despite what you may have told yourself at the time — you didn’t really use your thinking brain to pick the best food for your dog, you just wandered aimlessly out onto the tracks and got flattened by the Pet Food Industry Marketing Express. Splat.
I recommend that you not beat yourself up about this.
Not because the consequences of this mistake are minimal or because what your dog eats isn’t all that important. (To the contrary, if you want your dog to live a long and healthy life, food choice is a very important issue.) The reason you shouldn’t feel guilty for “being sold” is it’s a really easy mistake to make when you live in America in this day and age. Someone’s always going to be trying to sell you something that you don’t need (and usually shouldn’t even want). And that someone is going to know a lot about how your brain works. They won’t have your best interests in mind. They’re going to try to deliberately take advantage of your weaknesses for their own gain. And most of the time they’re going to succeed.
We’re all out-manned and over-matched, and the deck is stacked against all of us. There’s absolutely no shame in having been a victim of this system. So rather than fret about the bad decisions that you’ve made in the past, spend your time thinking about how to make better decisions in the future.
When it comes to making better decisions about what to feed your dog, a great place to start is www.dogfoodadvisor.com, a website published by the “Dog Food Advisor” himself, Dr. Mike Sagman. (I have absolutely no affiliation with Dr. Sagman or his business, but kudos to you if you felt a twinge of skepticism about my strong recommendation.)
The Dog Food Advisor website presents visitors with a wealth of free “unbiased” information (I see nothing on the site that indicates any affiliation with any dog food manufacturer) to help you feed your dog better. There is a lot there: From articles about the nutritional needs of dogs, to a serving-size calculator designed to help you determine how much food you should be feeding your dog, to hundreds of detailed reviews of different dog food products, to resources to help you de-code confusing pet food labels, to forums for discussing specific products and other issues with other pet owners. One aspect of the site that I’m particularly fond of is that most of the informational content features citations so you can check the Dog Food Advisor’s sources and verify for yourself that what he’s saying has merit.
If you’re willing to admit that there were big flaws in the decision-making process that lead you to your dog’s current food, if you can appreciate that optimizing your dog’s nutrition will in all likelihood extend her life significantly, and if you’re interested in making a fresh, healthy start, then one weekend afternoon on the Dog Food Advisor would be a great place to start. Begin with the articles about the general nutritional needs of dogs (and the studies cited therein), build in specific information about your dog using the serving-size calculator, and then browse the product reviews to find one that looks like it will work well for your dog. It really couldn’t be easier.
– Coach Dan