“Variety is the spice of life,” as the saying goes. This is especially true for dog food when it comes to what you feed your dog in a health way.
Should Dogs Eat The Same Food Every Day?
Animals should eat a range of foods, according to common sense. This is true for all animals in the wild, albeit one or two favorite items may make up the majority of the diet. Lynx, for example, like to eat snowshoe hares, although they won’t turn down other prey.
It’s not like our dogs’ wolf forebears were solely interested in eating deer. Elk, bison, moose, beavers, hares, rats, and even fish are among the animals they hunt. They may also consume a large amount of vegetation, like as fruit, if it is available.
The veterinary literature is full of cases of nutritional deficiencies or toxic excesses. Almost every time, the problem arose (or was discovered) because the pet ate a single food for a long time.
Cats have most often been the unintended victims. Taurine, thiamine, copper, vitamin E and potassium deficiencies have occurred in cats fed one food as their sole diet. Dogs, whose omnivorous metabolism is more adaptable, haven’t had as many problems. But zinc and fatty acid deficiencies have arisen with certain poor-quality foods. Keep in mind, though, that all those foods met the nutritional standards in effect at the time.
Why “Complete And Balanced” Isn’t Guaranteed in Dog Food ?
But wait… how can a complete and balanced food cause such problems?
Even for the best of pet foods, there are several places where the food’s nutritional value can go astray before it gets to your dog’s bowl.
1. The AAFCO standards aren’t perfect.
Pet nutrition is an evolving science, and we don’t know all there is to know about it (as if we ever will!). The particular nutritional needs of a species often become known through cases where they aren’t met.
Cats have been on the short end of that stick more often than not. [Dow 1992; Edinboro 2004; Pion 1992] The AAFCO standards are designed to prevent deficiencies, not to achieve optimal health.
2. A particular ingredient’s specific nutrients may be unknown or incorrectly provided.
Based on past investigations, a batch of plant materials might be assumed to have a specific nutritional content.
However, the exact quantities of each nutrient may vary according on weather, soil conditions, fertilizer kinds, and other factors. Crops are significantly less nutritious than in previous decades. Some of the fault can be attributed to modern farming practices and agricultural pesticides. However, many modern high-yield cultivars are just less healthy. [Davis, 2004]
3. Each pet food is made up of several different providers.
The major pet food firms have manufacturing sites both in the United States and abroad. Ingredients are frequently sourced from local vendors. Darling International, for example, has a number of different rendering factories.
Many pet food manufacturers rely on it for animal goods. Each of them gets their basic ingredients from local suppliers. The quality and nutritional value of rendered meat and bone meal from a Texas factory versus one in Oregon might be vastly different.
4. Unknown ingredient quality.
A vitamin-mineral premix purchased from an outside supplier may guarantee certain levels of each item. But if the quality control on that product was poor, the finished food will compound the error.
5. For most nutrients, AAFCO profiles provide minimal amounts but no maximum limit.
There’s always a chance that one or more nutrients are in excess. Some minerals might have negative side effects if consumed in excess. Crops cultivated in specific sections of the nation, for example, are high in selenium.
Animal goods including animals that consume local crops will contain significantly more. A small amount of selenium in a mineral combination can cause the finished product to become hazardous.
Over time, many nutrients deteriorate. The food must fulfill the manufacturer’s guaranteed analysis up until the expiration date. This might be months or years down the road. As a result, vitamins and minerals are supplemented at a rate of 300 percent to 400 percent over the essential minimum.
Manganese is one of the minerals that is oversupplied. In humans, it has an extremely restricted safety range. At levels significantly lower than those seen in many dietary supplements, it may constitute a health risk. There have been no equivalent investigations with dogs. Manganese, on the other hand, has no upper limit in any pet food.
6. Processing changes nutritional values in dog food
Dry dog food is subjected to heat four times during its manufacture; canned foods are heated twice. Heat processing alters many ingredients, some for the better and some for worse.
Carbohydrates are made much more digestible by cooking. Proteins can be denatured, vitamins destroyed, and fats damaged by heat. Pet food manufacturers are aware of changes that occur during processing. They compensate for heat-sensitive ingredients by adding supplements. But alterations in proteins and fats are not necessarily accounted for.
7. The pet food manufacturer can make mistakes.
This is one way that feeding the same food from the same manufacturer all the time can cause problems for your dog.
8. Variable nutritional needs.
Consider all the different kinds of pet food on the market. When I started veterinary school, there were only two kinds: adult, and growth-pregnancy-lactation. “Light” foods were brand new. (It was a long time ago!)
Why Designer Diets Are Pointless For Dog Food?
Designer diets are now available for sensitive tummies, itchy skin, excess weight, various breeds and sizes, a range of lifestyles, and a few (mostly imaginary) life phases. (“Foods for all life stages” fulfill growth norms.) There are also a variety of “veterinary” diets available.
What’s the matter with this image? What makes these dishes so distinct from one another? They all have to satisfy the same dietary requirements: adult maintenance or nothing. Regular and specialty foods have comparable, if not identical, ingredients and guaranteed analyses on their labels.
All breeds (and endless combinations), every lifestyle, and each dog’s specific metabolism have yet to be determined. It’s also not knowable… at least not with today’s technology.
Pet Food Recalls
The dreaded pet food recall seems to have become more frequent over the years. For kibble, aflatoxin (a poison made by certain mold) is one of the most dangerous causes. Hundreds of dogs have been sickened, and more than 100 killed, by aflatoxin. Moldy grain is expected to become a more common problem in coming years due to climate change.
Recalls are frequently caused by bacteria, notably Salmonella, especially in commercial raw diets. Although the FDA has a “zero tolerance” policy for Salmonella in all pet foods, inspectors appear to focus on and test raw foods more frequently. Dry goods, on the other hand, have caused greater disease from Salmonella infection, particularly in people. Listeria and Campylobacter are two more germs that frequently cause recalls.
Formulation problems (too much or too little vitamin D), stray elements like plastic or metal shards, and, in a few extreme cases, contamination with the death chemical pentobarbital are also more prevalent causes (and now, most recently, dog DNA found in a celebrity pet food).
Variety is, once again, the best defense. If your dog isn’t eating just one food, the chance of harm from a recalled food is greatly reduced.
Food Allergies and Intolerances in Dog Food
Another pitfall of feeding a single food is the potential to develop an intolerance or allergy. A dietary intolerance is a reaction to something in the food. A food allergy is a reaction by the immune system. Both food allergies and intolerances can show up as symptoms in the digestive tract. But food allergies more often produce skin problems.
True food allergies are uncommon in pets. However, it’s finally occurring to veterinarians that most, if not all, cases of inflammatory bowel disease relate to diet. [Glasgow 2002]
Food Intolerances of Dog Food
Food Allergies in Dog Food
Protein allergies are the most common. Animal products, of course, provide protein. However, legumes are high in protein. Maize meal (sometimes known as “ground yellow corn”) contains 9% protein. Protein content of soybean flour is 37%, while wheat flour is 10%.
An allergy normally develops after months or years of exposure to a meal. When Buster discovers an allergy to a meal he’s been consuming for years, people are astonished. However, that is precisely the time when you should expect to experience an allergy!
Some pet feeds are made at the lowest possible cost. The components for these may vary from batch to batch. “Meat by-products,” for example, may come from a cow feedlot one week and a hog slaughterhouse the next.
“Fixed formula” foods always use the same ingredients. Depending on ingredient quality, such a food may be a better pick. But even fixed formula foods that use the same ingredients all the time may periodically change flavorings or other additives, resulting in rejection.
Habits and Tastes
The final major reason to change dog food frequently is to avoid picky eating habits. Pet food manufacturers are experts at producing appetizing food. While cats are more commonly associated with being picky, dogs are as deserving of the title.
Any other food may be rejected by a dog that has only been fed one type of food. This isn’t always the case. Elvis, a Husky mix for whom I frequently dog-sat, enjoyed his prepared meals — except when he had to travel. He’d only eat basic McDonald’s hamburgers after that. He would have benefited from expanding his culinary horizons.
Even if you buy the same food, a new can or bag may be different enough that your dog may refuse to eat it. What if you’ve ran out of her favorite food and can’t go to a pet store straight away… but you can get to a convenience store? Offering an unfamiliar cuisine might spark conflict (not to mention stomach problems)! If you leave your dog at a kennel, she may be fed whatever the kennel serves (even if you bring her own food, kennel staff can make mistakes).
It’s best if your dog is willing to eat everything you put in front of her.
For all these reasons, I urge you to feed a wide variety of meats, food forms, brands, and flavors. Rotating dog food will help protect your dog. A problem with any one food is much less dangerous if you’re not feeding it exclusively.