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Dog Food

You would think that it would be simple to choose a dog food. However looking at the shelves in our local supermarket and pet center it becomes confusing, as a bewildering variety of commercial dog foods are stacked on the shelves. Most owners give little thought to this choice picking the cheapest or prettiest bag of kibble. We are constantly bombarded by television and print advertising crafted by Madison Avenue urging us to purchase a specific brand. These ads feature green rolling meadows with frolicking Golden Retrievers or Labradors and bushel baskets full of wholesome fruits, vegetable and plump chickens. We cannot emphasize enough what you feed your Portuguese Water Dog may well determine his/her future health and longevity. High quality dog food provides the foundation for your PWDs long-term health.

Commercial Pet Food Industry Overview
A review of the development of the current commercial pet food industry is necessary to understand why it is important to be a very informed consumer since our PWDs cannot read the ingredients on dog food labels. Prior to World War II there was no commercial pet food industry. Pets were fed table scraps and family leftovers and did surprisingly well on these. However after the war many small regional dog food manufacturers developed. In the last two decades many of these smaller companies have been acquired by bigger companies. Then multinational food and consumer corporations acquired the bigger national dog food producers. Nestle bought Purina and now Nestle/Purina supplies Friskies, Alpo, Mighty Dog, Dog Chow, Puppy Chow, etc. Del Monte acquired Heinz and now sells Kibbles n Bits, Gravy Train, Nature's Recipe, Milk Bone Treats, etc. Petcare a division of Mars, Inc. produces Pedigree, Waltham, Royal Canin, Sensible Choice, etc. Colgate/Palmolive bought Hill's Science Diet (Science Diet, Nature's Best, and Prescription Diets) in 1976. Proctor & Gamble purchased Iams (Iams, Eukanuba) in 1999. P&G purchased Natura (Innova, Evo, California Natural brands) in June 2010. In the later half of 2014 Mars, Inc will acquire Iams, Eukanuba, and Natura brands from P&G for 2.9 billion dollars. Wal-Mart started its own brand named after its founder Sam Walton's favorite bird dog Ol'Roy. Ol'Roy has become the single largest single brand selling an estimated 10% of all dry kibble in the United States. Wal-Mart does not manufacture the food but sources it from Doane a large private brand manufacturer. These four companies distribute 85% of pet food sold in the United States (data from the Pet Food Institute 2004) with Nestle/Purina and Mars Petcare topping 60%. You may ask your self why did these conglomerates arise? The main reason is the pet food industry has become the major consumer of food products and byproducts that are not appropriate or cannot be labeled for human consumption. This allows these large human food processors to use off cuts, rejected parts and entire animals that are not suitable for human use. In essence commercial pet food has become a profitable "dumping ground" by allowing the use of what would have to be discarded. These pet food companies currently generate worldwide over $25 billion a year ($15 billion in the United States). The well-publicized recent massive commercial dog food recalls in 2007 because of the use of Chinese wheat gluten contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid demonstrates that cost cutting can endanger our dogs' lives. These recalls have hastened an interest in home cooked and home prepared dog food. This coupled with increased interest in the use of organic products in our own cooking has led to a rush of publication of pet cookbooks.

Nutritional Content
Standards for nutritional adequacy of dog foods have been established by Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which is a commercial not a government agency. It has become a quasi-official agency as many of its members represent various federal and state agencies that regulate manufacturing, labeling and safety of animal feeds in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture have the ultimate enforcement responsibility for pet food safety as they do for human food. However many states have stricter requirements both for labeling and safety that the FDA. AAFCO assembles animal nutritionists and other academics periodically to establish nutritional requirements for various species. The last panel (Canine Nutrition Expert Subcommittee) for dogs occurred in 1995 and the nutritional profiles were changed to two different minimal profiles: one for growth (puppy) and one for maintenance of adult dogs. In additional to minimal requirements several additives were given maximum levels to avoid problems with excess administration. Modern commercial dog food is formulated by using these standardized nutritional profiles for percentages of crude protein, fat, vitamin and minerals. Low quality ingredients particularly rendered meat protein or corn gluten protein that is created when high fructose corn syrup is made are substituted for high quality and better digestible protein sources.

Manufacturing Processes
Canned or wet dog food should never be used as the sole feeding for any dog because all dogs need to chew firm materials to maintain their jaw muscles and to maintain dental hygiene. After eating dry kibble almost all dogs will drink water, which washes the residual food debris off their teeth and gums. Wet dog food contains almost 75% water by volume and almost always has sugar and salt added to make it more palatable. The high water content that causes dogs not to need to drink after eating coupled with the added sugar creates mouth conditions that cause premature dental decay. The current epidemic of severe canine dental problems can be directly attributed to the increased feeding of wet dog foods. Using dry kibble supplemented with small amounts additional meat is a much more healthy regimen.
Manufacturing dry kibble can be accomplished by one of two techniques extrusion or baking. Extrusion requires that raw materials are fed through an expander and then hot steam is added and the dough is popped into kibble. This is a heat intensive process that denatures many naturally occurring oils and vitamins. Once the kibble is processed and dry oils, vitamins and other micronutrients are sprayed on and fat stabilizing chemical preservatives such as BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydrotolulene) or Ethoxyquin are added. BHA/BHT are known carcinogens and can also cause liver and kidney failure. Several European countries have banned both as human food additives and do not allow importation of these compounds. Ethoxyquin causes an increase in renal and bladder cancers and is actually labeled as a poison by its manufacturer Monsanto. Oven baking kibble is a more expensive process because it is slower and is only used by super premium dog food producers. Baking is superior because the kibble is slowly baked so no denaturation occurs and the only preservatives required are naturally occurring tocopherols (Vitamin E) and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).
The cost of super premium dog kibble should not be a concern as a number of kennel studies of feeding large number of dogs demonstrate that a much greater volume of the least expensive food is required. The cost per feeding is essentially the same as the super premium kibble. This cost equivalence coupled with firmer and much lower volume of stool clinched this research's recommendation to feed premium or super premium kibble. REMEMBER THE LOWER COST OF CHEAP KIBBLE IS DUE TO USE OF LOWER QUALITY INGREDIENTS, CHEAPER PROCESSING TECHNIQUES, AND THE LIBERAL USE OF POTENTIALLY CARCINOGENIC PRESERVATIVES.

Ancestral (Evolutionary) Diets
Dissatisfaction with modern commercial dog foods have generated great interest in what our modern dogs ate as they evolved along with their human owners. Conventional and mitochondrial DNA analysis confirm that our modern dogs descend from wolves. Early human hunters thousands of years ago domesticated wolf pups to assist with many tasks. Studies of modern wolf diets provide the details of the ancestral diet of our canine companions. Our dogs today will be genetically adapted to thrive on this type of diet. Slow evolution combined with the dog's genetics has determined the need for specific nutrients. Diets based on this concept of what wolves eat have been termed a canine "evolutionary diet".
What do wolves eat? A number of studies of wolf scat (feces) demonstrate that wolves are primarily carnivores and in the wild killed prey or carrion was their principal source of protein, fat, and calories. Small amounts of carbohydrate were also consumed primarily berries. However in lean times more carbohydrate was consumed indicating that a wolf is more accurately an omnivore (capable of eating both plant and animal material). This single fact has let many animal nutritionists who are employed by pet food companies to substitute vegetable protein for animal protein because of the tremendous cost savings. However the breakdown of vegetable protein in the canine intestine is totally different and actually deficient. This is because the short canine intestinal tract does not allow adequate cellulose digestion. It really makes no sense to use large amounts of grain protein as corn and wheat played no role in the ancestral wolf diet.
Dr Ian Billinghurst an Australian veterinarian popularized the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet after nearly a decade of clinical research. His book Give Your Dog A Bone published in 1993 created a sensation in Australia and in the next four years book tours first in the Great Britain and then the United States created enthusiasm among many breeders for his raw food and bone diet. Dr Billinghurst based his diet on his analysis of the ancestral canine's diet. Raw bones and meat are fed with raw bones being a major component just as early carnivores would ingest. It is estimated that nearly a million pet owners in the United States have switched to a raw diet. The recent pet food poisoning caused by melamine contaminated wheat gluten has accelerated raw diet use.

Specific PWD Dietary Requirements
Portuguese Water Dogs developed in the Algarve area of Portugal and their digestive systems evolved eating the typical diet of that area. Fish was the major source of protein with fresh or dried cod being most used but sardines, salmon, sea bass, sole, octopus and squid. Other animal sources were pork sausage and chicken. The major oil used is olive oil. The principal seasoning is garlic and PWDs seem to love anything with garlic. Potatoes and rice were the major carbohydrate sources and fresh and dried fruits particularly citrus and figs were abundant on the Iberian Peninsula. While at sea dried or salt cod, fresh fish, and dried figs would have been their primary diet. Over the centuries our modern PWD's intestinal tract adapted to the traditional fisherman's diet of Southern Portugal and it makes sense to use this diet as a basis for designing a complete home cooked diet or supplementing a dry high quality commercial kibble. We add fresh or canned fish with oil to our dog's dry kibble at least twice weekly and if we are having coat and skin problems we will add additional fish and fish oils because of the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids present in fish. Sardines, jack mackerel (Atlantic), herring, salmon and anchovies are what we usually feed. Tuna, shark and swordfish have relatively high levels of mercury (neurotoxin) so we usually avoid them. If you want to use canned tuna use light (skipjack) tuna not white (albacore) tuna that has much higher levels of mercury but only once a week. In the United States only albacore tuna can be labeled as white tuna while in other countries including Mexico yellowfin tuna can be labeled white tuna. We would avoid any tuna in pregnant bitches and puppies because of the neurologic effects of mercury ingestion. All shellfish are naturally low in mercury but are usually too expensive to use on a regular basis. Several pet food companies now produce a canned dog food made with Salmon and Sweet Potato and Wellness makes a Salmon, Whitefish and Herring canned dog food. These fish-based wet foods can be added to dry kibble to entice finicky eaters. Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance produces a Fish and Sweet Potato canned and dry dog foods which we have also used successfully. Wellness also produces a Whitefish and Sweet Potato dry kibble but it does contain barley and rye.

Bottomline
What do we recommend feeding Portuguese Water Dogs? We have used a grain-free kibble for nearly ten years and have noted a real benefit in all our dogs. We feed our puppies Blue Buffalo Freedom Chicken Puppy kibble and usually start switching at 5-6 months to an adult grain-free all stage (adult) kibble. We have no problem with a raw diet or home cooked dog diets and know many excellent PWD breeders who use it but it is time consuming and with our numerous dogs it has been simpler to use a commercial dry kibble that we add supplemental fish to several times per week. We also supplement their kibble with nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. Become an educated consumer and read the labels on all ingestible products for your PWD. AVOID WHEAT, CORN, OATS AND SOYBEAN PROTEIN AT ALL COSTS EVEN IN TREATS.
We prefer grain-free low carbohydrate adult foods but if you feel you must give carbohydrates select a dog food that uses barley, brown rice, potato, or sweet potato as the carbohydrate source. Remember that dry kibble has a shelf life and high quality kibbles use only naturally occurring preservatives such as tocopherols that are not as potent as the chemical preservatives that you want to avoid. Shop at a pet food store that has a rapid turnover and only buy a two-three week supply of kibble at a time. Always check the use by date on the bag you purchase. If you switch foods it is much better to do it gradually mixing ¾ of the old food with ¼ new food then after several days ½ and ½. etc. A rapid switch of foods will lead to diarrhea. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT US IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ON DOG FOODS AND FEEDING AS WE SUBSCRIBE TO SEVERAL JOURNALS THAT EVALUATE DOG FOODS ON A CONTINUING BASIS.

References:

General
http://www.dogaware.com/diet/commercial.html#select
www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=main

Dog Food Analysis
www.dogfoodanalysis.com/about.html

Interpreting Pet Food Labels
www.fda.gov/cvm/petlabel.htm

Food Standards AAFCO
www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?cls=2&cat=1661&articleid=662

Whole Dog Journal Yearly Review of Dry and Wet Dog Foods
http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/

Donald R. Strombeck. Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative. Iowa State University Press ISBN 0-8138-2149-5.

Created April 2007
Modified December 18, 2011 and August 9, 2014