It so happens that one of the most common questions we get from our pet sitting clients is about which food they should be serving their dogs. We turned to J.J. Diaz, the enthusiastic and knowledgeable purveyor of our own dogs’ special pet food, Miami native, and owner of Animal Crackers, for advice. He’s been a huge help in alleviating our Shar-Pei’s chronic skin allergies, reducing costly vet visits, and eased us into the process of buying higher quality pet food. I’m sure you’ve encountered as much information out there as we have, and might be as confused as we once were. We’ll be offering J.J.’s tips on choosing the “right” food for your pet with our series on nutrition on our blog.
The Right Protein is Key
J.J.’s first tip is to look for good, digestible protein in your dog’s food. Protein is an essential part of your dog’s diet because it delivers life-sustaining amino acids. These amino acids must come from real food and not be synthesized. Dogs can digest most protein in muscle meat, but did you know they have trouble getting these amino acids out of other, less savory animal parts? We’re talking hair, horns, and beaks- not very appetizing. Poultry by-product meal seems to be particularly hard to digest.
J.J. takes a simple approach to the matter. “Byproducts are pretty dense. Hair is already dead cells, so how much nutrition can you extract from it? Technically, if it was meant for us to eat, we’d eat it, and it’s not. So what are we doing? We’re feeding it to dogs, because it’s just a filler, and a way for us to cheaply make food. They’re absolutely not getting any real source of nutrition from that, that’s why you see a lot of dogs doing one of two things: they look skinnier than they should be from lack of good nutrition, or corn overtakes them and they look extremely bloated which is that filler aspect.” And the pet food industry is, for the most part, dedicated to being cost-effective. They are running businesses, after all.
J.J. breaks labels down for us
The first ingredients should be at least two different kinds of high quality meat- not a “meat byproduct”, so make sure to read your labels carefully! It’s important to find out your dog food’s digestibility. The kind of protein used will be listed in the ingredients list in descending order according to weight. For example, if chicken is the first ingredient listed, the food has more chicken by weight than any other single ingredient.
“The first five ingredients listed on the label are the main ingredients,” explains JJ. “The food needs to start off with a meat source. The best thing to do is to find something with the top three ingredients being meat- ideally, your dog needs a second or third meat within first five ingredients. In any really good dog food you’re going to have 2 meat sources within first five.”
Rotate Your Dog’s Food
Contrary to popular belief, your dog does not need to be kept on the same kibble in perpetuity. As per J.J., “It’s really bad to stick to one flavor of dog food. It’s better to rotate on protein courses, for various reasons. First, it keeps the dog excited. Second, we’ve noticed that prolonged exposure to one protein will pull an allergy and you will end up having a lot more problems finding a food to feed him that will not show allergies,even on the good foods.”
In fact, a lot of these high-quality foods are formulated to be easily switched out without stressing your pet. For example, companies like Fromm’s Four Star Nutritional offers five different flavors of food formulated in such a way that you can switch flavors for your dog and not shock his system. “The problem is that myth that everybody threw out there back in the day, when food was such crap for dogs that if it worked for you they didn’t want you to switch it because they were scared you were gonna you know either find something better or it wasn’t going to work if you tried another flavor and started buying elsewhere. They marketed it great- they had everybody scared; it’s almost like the myth that canned food is worse than dried food for your dog, which is not true. Marketing will getcha. Marketing will get you good.”
We’ve been lucky with Animal Crackers in that J.J. allows you to sample different kinds of dog food for free. J.J. holds the philosophy that people are willing to change when you allow them to try new foods slowly with your dog, to see how they react and eat towards something that tastes better. How does he know? J.J. gives a sly look. “I’ve tasted it so I know it tastes better.” That’s remarkable dedication in our book, and we love anyone that dedicated to dog nutrition and health!
If you like what you’ve read so far, you can always step into J.J.’s shop in the downtown Miami area to consult with him. Check out the Yelp reviews first, if you like, and remember to always consult with your trusted veterinarian when considering a change in diet!