There are some old wives tales around about dry dog foods being high in protein and causing kidney disease, and many people will inadvertently deprive their dogs of what they crave for in fear of damaging their health.

To understand protein you could think of it as building blocks for body tissue, organs, enzymes, hormones and antibiodies, and roughly half of the dry body mass of a dog consists of protein. With this in mind, it is easy to understand that growing puppies need protein to grow and both adults and growing puppies constantly need to replace and rebuild protein.

The body will recycle amino acids to some extent, but some of them need to be replaced. Protein is processed in the liver and any waste materials are filtered and excreted by the kidneys. High quality protein does not generate large amounts of waste that need to be removed from the body, but poor quality protein, which is difficult to digest, does, and thus puts stress on the kidneys.

The liver needs water to process protein and as a medium to carry waste products to the kidneys, where they are filtered out and most of the water is reabsorbed. The less concentrated the waste products in this primary filtrate are, the easier it is for the kidneys to filter, and that is why is believed to be unhealthy to feed solely dry dog food but it is critical that dogs fed on a diet of dry food alone, drink extra water.

Dogs who eat mostly canned food, or a home prepared diet, will automatically take in more moisture and do not need to compensate as much by drinking. Contrary to what is thought, and what pet food companies claim, dogs do not know how much additional water they need to drink to make up for what is lacking in dry food. This is why it is recommended that water is added to the kibble at feeding time.

Commercial dog food has only been widely available in the past 60 years or so, and we are still learning how much damage certain aspects of it can do. Things have improved but the majority of pet food manufacturers still produce bad foods from poor quality ingredients. Protein in dog food comes from either plant or meat. Plant sources are the cheapest, especially corn gluen meal, which is the most popular cheap protein booster and is a by product of the human food processing industry, left over from the making of corn starch and corn syrup. It has a crude protein content of 60%, and theoretically, even if your food recipe contains no other protein sources at all, you could make a food with a 20% crude protein content by mixing 1:2 with some cheap carbohydrates. The term ‘crude protein’ is used in the guaranteed analysis, which means there is no statement as to its digestibility.

Protein comes in many forms, even leather, chicken feathers or cow hooves have a fairly high crude protein content, but the body is only able to extract and process very little of it. Due to the labelling issue, the percentage of protein in a food by itself doesn’t say anything about the quality. Ingredient lists are not straight forward, nor are they truthful, but you can guage the quality of protein.

As an example, take two foods, which have the same percentage of protein, fat, carbohydrate, fibre and moisture. Food A contains 25% protein that is 60% digestible and food B contains 25% protein that is 85% digestible. That means that of food A, the body will be able to utilize 15% of the protein content, but with food B, 21.25%. Logically, to meet the body’s requirement of protein, you woul dhave to feed more of food A, than of food B, and the body of the dog eating food B will have to work less to utilize it.

In simple terms, you could compare to the car engine, and the type of fuel you use. Because you use a high performance fuel/oil, it doesnt mean that it needs it, and its not going to do any damage, but if you use a poor quality fuel/oil, there will be a buildup in the engine that will hamper performance and will eventually lead to damage.


Reading your pet food label can determine the quality of the food you are feeding. The ingredients and the guaranteed analysis ie: the amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fibre and other nutrients are included on the food label

Dry food is generally more economical, and the larger the bag the lower the price per kg, but you should calculate the price per kg in comparison to other foods together with recommended daily amount to be fed per day, as with lower quality foods you generally need to feed more and it may not always be cheaper. However, some of the higher priced foods, especially foods sold only through specialised suppliers and vets, may not be as good as the less expensive more easily obtainable food.

Any ‘By-product’ is an ingredient produced in the course of making a primary food ingredient; a secondary or incidental product. Feathers are a by-product of poultry meat processing. Feathers which are removed from a carcass during production of poultry meat are then hydrolyzed (pressure cooked with steam until they are an edible gel) which makes them an acceptable feed grade ingredient. To help you determine what may be in the pet food you are now buying, listed below are the definitions of some words that can be found on most pet food labels today.

Meat being the clean flesh of slaughtered animals (chicken, cattle, lamb, turkey, etc.). The flesh can include skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, fat, nerves and blood vessels.

Meat by products are the clean parts of slaughtered animals, but does not include any actual meat. Other than lungs, sometimes spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, and stomach and intestines.

Poultry by products are the clean parts of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, and internal organs (like heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, abdomen, and intestines).

Fish meal is the clean ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, with or without the oil extracted.

Fat derived from beef usually called ‘tallow’ and an animal fat with titer above 40 degrees Celsius .

Ground corn is the entire corn kernel ground or chopped.

Corn gluten meal is the by product after the manufacture of corn syrup or starch, and is the dried residue after the removal of the bran, germ, and starch.

Brewers rice is the small fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from larger kernels of milled rice.

Brown rice is the unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.

Soybean meal is a by-product of the production of soybean oil.

BHA: BHA is butylated hydroxyanisole, and a fat preservative.

Ethoxyquin is a chemical preservative that is used to prevent spoilage in dog food.

Tocopherols (e.g., vitamin E) are naturally occurring compounds used as natural preservatives.

Barley which should be 80% sound barley and 20% other grains

Beet Pulp being the dried residue of sugar beets

Chicken Meal is chicken that has been ground or reduced in particle size

Turkey Meal, the ground clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of turkey or a combination of.

Poultry By Product Meal consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices.

Dehydrated Eggs, dried whole poultry eggs freed of moisture by thermal means.

Dried Kelp, dried seaweed. If the seaweed has been prepared by artificial drying, it may be called “dehydrated kelp”

Dried Milk Protein which has been obtained by drying the coagulated protein residue resulting from the controlled co-precipitation of casein, lactalbumin and minor mild proteins from defatted milk.

Lamb Fat obtained from the tissues of lamb in the commercial processes of rendering or extracting. It consists predominantly of glyceride esters of fatty acids and contains no additions of free fatty acids.

Liver, the hepatic gland

Rice Bran, the pericarp or bran layer and germ of the rice, with only such quantity of hull fragments, chipped, broken, or brewer’s rice, and calcium carbonate as is unavoidable in the regular milling of edible rice

Vegetables and vitamins as listed.

Ensure the food you choose is appropriate for your dog’s stage of life. A puppy will not get the correct amounts of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals he needs for proper growth if he is fed an adult food. Vice versa, an adult dog should not be fed a puppy diet as he is likely to become overweight. An older dog may need a senior food that is more easily digested. When it comes to nutrition, one size does not fit all.

The amount of food required will change throughout your dog’s life. Most weight problems in dogs develop slowly, and will often begin when a dog goes through the transition from puppyhood to adult. An adult dog’s appetite is often greater than his need. As a dog gets to his senior years, his activity level decreases, and he will require less food.. By performing periodic weight checks, you can avoid overfeeding during the various stages of your dogs life.



When changing your dog’s food it is important to switch gradually, as it is easier on the dogs digestive system, and reactions to the new food will generally be less severe. It is recommended that you gradually increase the amount of new food over a two week period which will help avoid digestive upsets.

Complete Diets:

A good complete diet provides all the nutrients your dog needs without any supplementary or complementary products. Choose Premium Brand dog foods instead of Economy Brand dog foods . The cheapest ingredients are rarely the healthiest ones. Often, low quality dog foods will list a meat ingredient first, which will be followed by several by-products and fillers . In this case, although meat is listed first, there are actually MORE fillers. However it comes down to trying to find the best food to suit your dog that fits your budget.

Flaked Food : a type of complete dry food which is a mix of separately cooked meat and cereals mixed together.

Home-made diets

Opinion is divided on what foods are ideal for a dog’s ‘natural’ diet. Most vets will recommend a complete prepared dog food in order to guarantee a nutritional balance; however, it is possible to feed dogs on a home-made diet. But it does take effort.

The first rule for a home-made diet is variety. Raw green tripe is excellent food for most dogs, but a diet of tripe alone will lead to nutritional deficiencies. Dogs are natural scavengers and hunters, before domestication they would have eaten a variety of meat (both fresh and slightly rotten), fruit , roots, herbivore dung, and nuts.

Rule two is fresh is best. Pre-prepared or preserved (human) food items not only lose some nutritional value, but may contain additives and chemicals unsuitable for your dog (even foods labelled ‘natural’ can contain these, so read the label very carefully). You can feed your dog raw meat, but not raw pork. Keep in mind also that raw sheep and rabbit meat contain tapeworm, and that liver and kidney in particular should be organic: they are excretory organs and toxins can concentrate there.

There are few breeders who would feed their dogs on a completely home-made diet, but many will supplement prepared dog foods with meat.

Consider this – If you wouldn’t eat it, your dog probably shouldn’t eat it either. (Think animal fat and added salt or sugar.) But there are some things you would eat (such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, white flour and onions) that are NOT good for your dog. Don’t make the mistake of thinking all human food is appropriate for your canine. Canine and human nutritional needs and likes differ, such that what is appropriate and appealing for your dog may not be something you care to eat.

See this link for some home cooked recipe ideas.


Common sense goes a long way towards preventing obesity. Pre-cooked or prepared human foods contain lots of saturated fats you dog doesn’t need in order to feel special. Some raw tripe and/or vegetables will be better (and as appreciated) than half your beefburger or bag of biscuits/crisps!

If you dog is gaining weight, cutting down on his food intake will help, but all the experts agree that the best way to fight obesity is more exercise.

The raw/barf diet

A raw/barf diet is sometimes recommended for dogs with certain medical problems such as skin conditions or immune problems. Sometimes it helps, not because of any magic of raw food, but because the key ingredients to which the pet is sensitive are eliminated. This same thing can be accomplished with carefully chosen commercial foods, getting all the nutritional advantages of teams of nutritionists while avoiding the risks of parasitism and food poisoning.

A food allergy is a very common component of itchy skin in dogs. Chicken, beef, lamb, corn, soy, wheat, egg, and dairy products are common ingredients which induce these allergies, but, whether they are raw or cooked, the immune system looks at them the same. The key to choosing a food for skin problems is to pick one that does not include any of these ingredients, is preserved with vitamins, and preferably is supplemented with fatty acids (fish oils). Most large food companies now have their own versions of these foods. They are usually sold as prescription foods but are not significantly more expensive than over-the-counter foods of equivalent quality.

With the wealth of foods that are available to help many different conditions, there is a lack of evidence that raw food provides any advantages.

A study performed by staff of the Colorado State University in conjunction with the USDA was published in the Feb 2006 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association . This study evaluated 21 different raw meat diets which had been obtained from 3 different locations. This study found that over 50% of the samples contained E. coli and over 5% of the samples contained Salmonella. E.coli and Salmonella are both bacteria which can be responsible for severe intestinal diseases in dogs and people. This same study detected that 99% of the raw meat diets, almost all of them, had some type of contamination. The study concluded that “owners feeding their pets these diets should be concerned about their pet’s health as well as their own health.”

The debate surrounding these frozen dog food diets and BARF or raw food dog diets will continue. Those involved with both sides of the issue feel very strongly. As a dog owner, if you are contemplating feeding one of these diets to your dog, you will need to weigh the risks and benefits of the diet and decide for yourself whether a frozen diet is right for you and your dog.



The new puppy

Before you collect your new puppy, make sure you find out from the breeder what type of food the puppy is used to, and buy enough to last you for at least the new few weeks. If you want to change to a different brand or type of food, make the change over gradually to avoid stomach upsets. Bear in mind that if your puppy has diarrhoea, he’s probably having too much food. If there is blood in the faeces, or if your puppy seems lethargic/off colour, take him to your vet for a proper examination.

As a general rule, puppies are fed four meals a day which can be reduced to three months at five months and two meals at six months. At 12 months of age, it is down to owner’s own preference as to whether dogs are once or twice daily. Remember fresh clean water should always be available for all dogs.

Apart from a complete puppy diet which includes all the nutrients and vitamins a puppy needs, some owners prefer to feed two meals of a complete food and two meals including foods such as Weetabix, rusks, rice, pasta, goats milk, boiled chicken/fish, scrambled egg, rice pudding, natural yoghurt and even cooked vegetables.

It is worth bearing in mind that feeding a poor quality diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as potential behavioural problems. Cheap ingredients are less efficiently digested, in addition you generally need to feed more, thus producing more fecal waste. Too many carbohydrates can lead to bloating, an upset stomach, constipation and/or too many stools.

Meat proteins, the best proteins, are comprised of organ or muscle meat and are the closest to human quality meat protein. Animal proteins can be made up of any part of the animal – hair, hoof, lips and even eyelashes. Crude protein comprises of all animal and grain source proteins.

Vegetable or grain proteins – soy or gluten meal – should be avoided. These are unusable proteins and can stress the kidneys.

Adult dogs

Adult dogs require sufficient nutrients to meet energy needs and to maintain and repair body tissues. The amount you feed should be based on his or her size and energy output. Activity levels vary dramatically between pets, and will play an important role in determining caloric intake.

As a responsible dog owner, one of the most common pitfalls you’ll have to watch out for is overfeeding. Attempts to shower our dogs with love by means of big meals and tons of tasty treats are sweet, but misguided. In dogs, as with humans, extra weight can lead to health problems.No single food is right for every dog. Base the amount you feed him on how he looks. Not by how hungry he acts. Dogs are con artists. If they can make you think they’re hungry or need more food, they will.

  • A highly active dog will need more food, or a higher-protein food, than a couch potato dog.
  • Small dogs have higher energy requirements than large dogs and need a dense, nutrient-rich food.
  • Even dogs who are the same breed or size may eat different amounts.
  • Feeding requirements can vary by as much as 30 percent in dogs who are the same age, breed, or sex, so it’s easy to feed one dog too much while feeding another too little, even if both get the same amount of food.

Senior dogs

As dogs get older they slow down and so does the body’s ability to process its food. Therefore, dogs older than seven years, which is the age dogs are generally considered to be seniors, require diets that put less strain on the kidneys and are that lower in fat.

Often due to arthritis and lower energy levels, senior dogs tend to put on weight. In an elderly dog being overweight will increase the pressure on the joints, it makes them have to work harder to get anywhere, it predisposes them to diabetes and a whole host of other diseases. Keeping your senior dog fit and maintaining a healthy weight is the single most important thing you can do that will increase his quality of life.

Some dog food Companies offer ‘senior’ complete diets which tend to be lower in calories, ie the protein and fat content are lower and the fiber content is higher. You can opt to switch your dog to senior or light diet or to keep your dog on its adult formulation and just reduce the quantity he gets daily. Some owners find that reducing the quantity of adult dog food means their dog ends up hungry all the time, and they bulk up the meals with vegetables. Fibre is essential in your senior dog’s diet as it prevents constipation. A supplement of chondroitin and glucosamine is also helpful in alleviating arthritic symptoms as a dog increase in years.


Symptoms that your dog may be allergic to his food include: ear infections, hair loss, paw licking, face rubbing, head shaking, diarrhoea, excessive gas, sneezing and vomiting. Hypoallergenic diets use a single protein source – lamb, venison, rabbit or fish, which are generally not found in traditional dog foods. These foods also use a single carbohydrate, generally rice.



Below is a rating system for pet foods that may be helpful in showing you where your current brand lies and what are considered quality ingredients.

Start with a grade of 100:

1) For every listing of “by-product”, subtract 10 points

2) For every non-specific animal source (“meat” or “poultry”, meat, meal or fat) reference, subtract 10 points

3) If the food contains BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin, subtract 10 points

4) For every grain “mill run” or non-specific grain source,subtract 5 points

5) If the same grain ingredient is used 2 or more times in the first five ingredients (i.e. “ground brown rice”, “brewer’s rice”, “rice flour” are all the same grain), subtract 5 points

6) If the protein sources are not meat meal and there are less than 2 meats in the top 3 ingredients, subtract 3 points

7) If it contains any artificial colorants, subtract 3 points

8 ) If it contains ground corn or whole grain corn, subtract 3points

9) If corn is listed in the top 5 ingredients, subtract 2 morepoints

10) If the food contains any animal fat other than fish oil,subtract 2 points

11) If lamb is the only animal protein source (unless your dog is allergic to other protein sources), subtract 2 points

12) If it contains soy or soybeans, subtract 2 points

13) If it contains wheat (unless you know that your dog isn’t allergic to wheat), subtract 2 points

14) If it contains beef (unless you know that your dog isn’t allergic to beef), subtract 1 point

15) If it contains salt, subtract 1 point

Extra Credit:

1) If any of the meat sources are organic, add 5 points

2) If the food is endorsed by any major breed group or
nutritionist, add 5 points

3) If the food is baked not extruded, add 5 points

4) If the food contains probiotics, add 3 points

5) If the food contains fruit, add 3 points

6) If the food contains vegetables (NOT corn or other grains), add 3 points

7) If the animal sources are hormone-free and antibiotic-free, add 2 points

8 ) If the food contains barley, add 2 points

9) If the food contains flax seed oil (not just the seeds), add 2 points

10) If the food contains oats or oatmeal, add 1 point

11) If the food contains sunflower oil, add 1 point

12) For every different specific animal protein source (other than
the first one; count “chicken” and “chicken meal” as only one protein source, but “chicken” and “” as 2 different sources), add 1 point

13) If it contains glucosamine and chondroitin, add 1 point

14) If the vegetables have been tested for pesticides and are pesticide-free, add 1 point

Food graded ‘A’ is the best quality with ‘F’ grade being the lowest.

94-100+ = A
86-93 = B
78-85 = C
70-77 = D
69 = F