You are what you eat!

It was Dr Gillian Mckeith who famously coined that phrase about humans with her TV show, but the same is true for our pets. Feed your dogs cheap dog food, packed out with filler ingredients and they’ll be climbing the walls like a kid on blue smarties. For a racing dog this sort of high energy buzz, might seem useful, but just like kids on a sugar rush, this energy source doesn’t last long and provides no long term development for muscles or bones. Not only that but the comedown can make dogs tired, hungry and bad tempered. Ask any behaviourist and one of the first questions they ask, when assessing dogs is ‘what do they eat?’

I’ve owned dogs for over 31 years and in that time have used ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of the dog food world. I’ve taken vets advice, listened to those with more experience than me and have fed raw, dry food and a mix of both in the search for the best for my pets. With 3 decades of trial, error and research I’ll try and pass on my experiences and thoughts.

We all want to do the best for our dogs, but our lifestyle, budget, etc all plays a part when choosing dog food. Dry food is definitely the most convenient way to feed your dog, but is it ok to feed?

Firstly ignore the hype and compelling TV adverts. The supermarket shelves are full of dog food, all claiming to be the best. The proof is your own dog or those dogs that you can see or who you know thrive on their food. I’m sponsored by Trophy Pet Foods, but my sponsorship comes from doing well, so my dogs need the diet of champions. I also wouldn’t compromise my dogs’ health for the sake of a bag of food, my guys are too important for that and I also want to be in the medals, that won’t happen on a poor diet.

The first thing to do is check the ingredients and that includes raw.  My guys need a high protein diet, so lets’ start with that first. Protein in dry pet food can come from many sources, meat, meal, or plant based and each vary in their nutritional value. Pet foods must label their products by weight, so a food that lists a high protein content, but puts cereals first and meat lower down the ingredient list would mean the primary protein source came from plants and not much from the meat.

Dogs need protein to function daily as well as keep good condition and muscle mass. I feed Surf & Turf from the Premium Working range and has a protein content of 25%. The protein meat sources are named and are beef meal and salmon with their minimum protein content percentages shown, that gives me a pretty good idea of how much protein comes from meat or plant based. There’s no generic animal derivatives, so I know the protein meat sources and have an idea of their quality.

Meat meal is a term used on dry dog food labels and is basically a meat concentrate, a dried end product that has been rendered. Rendering is basically cooking a meat stew, where the water is boiled away and then baked until you get a highly concentrated protein powder or meat meal.

In this chart you will see whole chicken contains 70% water and 18% protein, yet after the rendering process, the chicken meal is 10% water and a staggering 60% protein…..that’s nearly 4 times more protein than in the whole chicken.

But meals are not all equal as it depends on the content of the stew. Throw in some low grade materials like slaughterhouse waste, spoiled meats, diseased cattle or battery chickens (who have little muscle) and your stew doesn’t look too good. A better quality meal will name the meat source and it’s percentage.

I fed raw before switching to dry food and with mixed success. I used frozen, complete meals which were comprised of 80% meat, 10% bone and 10% offal, which is the recommended mix. I was under the impression that 80% meat would mean a super high protein content, but I wasn’t looking at the moisture percentage, which is as a minimum 60% for most meats, significantly reducing the protein amount. This meant I was feeding way more than expected to get the protein levels I wanted and literally shovelling the food into them. The boys always seemed hungry and I was feeding 3 times a day.

I used one supplier for my raw experience and with some of the meats the dogs would get upset stomachs. Having dogs you become a bit of a poo expert, as that’s the first sign that there could be an issue. Sometimes they would have very sloppy poos and at other times they struggled to go. I realised the poos when they struggled contained more bone content, which does firm things up. I have no scientific proof to my theory, but can only conclude that sometimes the bone content must have been higher than stated. This started to worry me about how the completes were made and what went into them.

Salmonella bacteria

The dogs would also turn their noses up at some mixes, in particular the fish and rabbit, which made them physically sick. I just put this down to it being too rich a food or something similar, but whatever the reason I ended up binning some mixes as the dogs wouldn’t touch them. The final nail in the coffin came when I got an email about product recalls, after salmonella was discovered at the factory after a routine inspection. I threw away multiple meat mixes with contaminated batch numbers and this went on for several weeks as the factory failed every retest and even more bacteria was discovered. At that point my journey with raw food ended, I wasn’t going to risk my dogs in any way, shape or form. All I can sum up is that the same as dry food, not all raw food is equal or of the same quality.

I did research the company before taking the plunge and spoke to them in depth, as discovered an issue in the press from years ago. I explained that I competed and as such my dogs could be drug tested, so I would need to know the meat sources and that it didn’t come from animals on antibiotics and the food had to be top notch. I was given promises and reassurances and I will give anyone a chance, but I do feel let down and feel their promises were empty. Travelling and going away for several weeks for training and competitions was also difficult, trying to keep the mixes frozen and transporting cool boxes worth of meat was an issue, especially going abroad and taking meat with me.

Luckily along came Trophy to the rescue. I liked the ingredients and more importantly the dogs liked it. I was worried that having fed raw changing to a kibble the dogs wouldn’t be interested in this non-meat, looking biscuits, but they wolf it down and the bowls are licked clean. They have bones or filled kongs sometimes and I add Trophy Whole Body herbs to their food daily. Once a week I pop an egg over their kibble an when on snow or in periods of intense training and racing I will dribble some oils over their kibble to up the fat content.

Their energy levels are superb, they’re flying in training, always raring to go and we’re picking up medals at every race. Their coats are soft and shiny, their breath doesn’t smell, they have no allergies and have excellent muscle tone. All the things raw fed dogs are supposed to have better over our dry fed canines, like I said at the beginning don’t believe the advertising hype. I will accept that their is slightly less poo with raw fed dogs, but no more constipation from a meat mix with too much bone. Kibble dogs are supposed to have more tartar, so combat that with a bone or teeth cleaning chew to chomp on and that argument soon fades away.

Photo courtesy Matthew Shin

The bottom line is dog food is not one size fits all, which is why there are so many varieties out there. What works for mine or didn’t maybe different for your dog. Do your research, talk to people and see for yourself. I’ve found Trophy to be an honest and ethical company whose food does what it says on the packaging. They have great customer service and respond quickly to questions, etc. My food arrives promptly and I’ve never had a product recall. The best placed critics however are my dogs, who’ve never turned their noses up at a Trophy meal, never been sick from a Trophy meal and are performing on the trail with Trophy food fuelling them. That’s good enough for me.

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