I spend a lot of time telling dog owners the good ingredients to look for on the bag of a dry dog food to help them decide whether or not to buy it. But just as important as what you hope to find in your dog food (starting with a named protein source with one word like “lamb,” “chicken” or “salmon), there are also three major ingredients that you don’t ever want to see on the label of a dog food. A simple and clear way to distinguish a high quality dog food from a mediocre one is to look for these three Red Flag words: corn, wheat and soy. I remember how easy PETCO made it for their customers in the new natural section of their stores, which opened the year I was their spokesperson in 2010. There was great big signage on the wall above all the brands they had gathered in the special section of the store that spelled out the message in a very few words: NO CORN, NO WHEAT, NO SOY. I always thought that said it all!
1. NO CORN: One problem with corn is that it is a carbohydrate with a high “glycemic index” (which is why diabetic people have to avoid it because of the way it affects their blood sugar). While corn can provide calories, it doesn’t possess the nutritious qualities of lean meat protein or vegetables. However, it is relatively cheap to use, which explains why foods that use it can be so much less expensive than their super-premium counterparts that feature real meat protein. Because corn is in such abundant supply in our food chain, and is a relatively inexpensive ingredient, using various forms of corn in the recipes of lower quality dog foods allows a pet food company to keep their prices low. However, you are getting what you pay for: because there is such an abundance of corn used in the production of food for people, what often winds up in pet food is the waste products that are left over after human foods have been made with the actual whole nutritious corn.
2. NO WHEAT: The problem with allowing wheat in dog food is that it is known to be an allergen. Many people are diagnosed with bowel problems and some are identified as having celiac sprue disease and told to eliminate all grains from their diet. While celiac sprue is uncommon in dogs, they too can also become sensitive to wheat in their food—often resulting in skin or digestive issues—therefore wheat is best avoided.
3. NO SOY: Studies have shown that some dogs are not able to digest soy as well as meat proteins. Soy can cause digestive disturbance in some dogs, and is also not believed to be naturally “bio-available.” This means that a dog’s body can have a hard time digesting soy or absorbing it, so her body cannot use it effectively as fuel for energy needs.
All you have to do is remember those three words as they appeared on the wall of the PETCO natural food section and avoid corn, wheat and soy. You know by now that a top quality dry dog food will have a named protein at the beginning of the recipe; it will also contain nutritious and digestible grains like oats, rice, or barley. Potatoes are a substitute carbohydrate you’ll see in many pet foods, but there is a glycemic index issue there, too. White potatoes should be used in moderation. Sweet potatoes are a better choice as a carbohydrate ingredient, but they are also more costly. So yet again we can see that “you get what you pay for” and to make our choices accordingly since food is the most important thing we can do for the health of our dogs every day.