Reading pet food labels is more important than the brand of food you buy

Puppy Love with Kate Whitney


By; PuppyGirl Kate Whiney – July, 2010

puppygirl kate whitneyIt’s hard to believe summer is here! I want to share something with you that I do every year. I look through each of my pet’s health records to make sure they are up to date with shots and vaccinations. Also be sure to check your heartworm pills and flea/tick preventative; it’s imperative that these be given at the same time each month to ensure protection.

Something that seems to be on the top of people’s lists these days is eating healthy. I know I am constantly surrounded by words like organic, holistic and fresh. So if we humans are so conscious these days about foods and our diet, what about our pets? Have you ever really stopped to read the label of your dog’s food?

Do you just buy whichever food your vet recommends or whichever food is on sale at the grocery store? I would guess that most of you don’t read the label on the bag and for those of you who might, do you really understand what you are reading?

In the spirit of starting our summer off on a healthy foot, I would write about how to make sure you are feeding your dog (or cat) healthy, nutritious food. I decided to discuss the topic with Justin Pepelis. I first met Justin when I visited Salem Animal Rescue League in Salem, NH. I was there to learn more about the shelter and its programs which I wrote about in one of my past articles.

I noticed Justin walking around with a tool belt on. He looked busy. Not only is he an adoption counselor, he also donates his time at the shelters doing maintenance and lends advice and training tips to anyone who needs help. He has a passion and a respect for dogs that anyone would admire. He also has two adopted dogs, the Boxer I mentioned earlier and a Doberman Pincher (one of my favorite breeds, I grew up with two Dobies.) He’s like a local Cesar Milan!

With so much knowledge about dogs, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to interview him about. I didn’t have to think much harder, though, because right when we sat down, he said ”I know what your article can be about … nutrition and diet.” I was immediately drawn to this topic. I am always wanting to learn about ways to keep my dogs healthy. What prompted Justin to learn more about food and diet, was his dog Mercedes, a Boxer. She had severe allergies and no one could figure out the cause.

There are two types of allergies: environment and food. Veterinarians can only test for environmental allergens, so figuring out what is affecting our dogs can sometimes be frustrating. Some dogs are even allergic to grass! If you have a dog that is allergic to things, I’m sure you go out of your way to monitor what goes into its system. I once had a cat that had diabetes, and I was always on the lookout, making sure everything he ate wouldn’t affect his blood glucose levels in a negative way. For those of us who care about our animals, this is just how we are.

Ok, so should you have a pet that is allergic to some-thing, you first need to look at the ingredients in the food. Look especially at grain ingredients. In order to figure out what the specific cause is, rotate off different foods. Give the animal 2-3 weeks before making any conclusive results. It takes time for the animal’s body to adjust.

There are two especially dangerous things you do not want to see on your pet’s food label: BHA and BHD. These are preservatives that are carcinogens (cause cancer) and are put in food to make it last longer, in some cases the food would last forever. A healthier choice is something called tocopherals. The food won’t last as long, but it’s much safer!

Make sure that corn is no where in the ingredients list. Corn is the worst grain possible. Dogs can’t digest it, it’s the #1 allergen, and it promotes yeast infections in female dogs.

When reading a label, make sure the first five ingredients make up 80%-90% of the food. There should be at least two meat sources, preferably three. The words “fat” and “byproducts” should be nowhere in the first five ingredients.

Wheat and soy can also be harmful ingredients. It’s important to be aware of how each is processed. What I mean by this is that if the main healthy components in each of the foods are used up, and then whatever is left over is put into the dog food, this is not good. You don’t want that left over junk in the food. Justin also pointed out an example of “Dried Beet Pulp.”

He said that this is bad and has no nutritional value. It’s just a filler composed of sugar residue and, just like carbohydrates, it turns into a sugar-like substance that compares to giving your dog caffeine. A few harmful foods that should never be given to dogs are chocolate, grapes (can cause a seizure), raisins, and onions.

So let’s talk a little bit about food brands. Everyone knows the top brands such as Science Diet, Iams, Pedigree, etc. These are big companies that spend exorbitant amounts of money on advertising and some even have contracts with your veterinarians. I know that I would rather have money put back into making a healthy, safe food than spending it on TV ads. I asked Justin what the best foods on the market were.

These companies are smaller, you may never have heard of them. If money is no object, check out these brands: Artemis, Innova, Timberwolf Organics, and Solid Gold. The best value foods (bigger bag for a little less money) are Canidae, Wellness, and Chicken Soup.

If you have questions regarding diet or training and would like to consult with Justin, please email me and I can put you in touch with him.

Kate Whitney is a Boxford resident and owner of the Swingrite Corporation. If you are interested in adopting a puppy or becoming a foster parent to a puppy waiting for a home you can email Kate at