Hey! My boyfriend and I are both gardening enthusiasts (this is my first post here) and have recently adopted a puppy. My job is working with pets and their owners in trying to find the right kind of food for their dog at a small, family owned pet health food/product store, as well as identifying the source of possible skin problems or digestion problems. All of us employees go through pretty extensive and in depth training, updated and retrained ever month or so, on many types of dog foods, including their benefits and downfalls, and I talk to many owners every day about their experiences with these different foods and supplements. I've also tried many of these foods myself. It's my job to know what every ingredient in a bag of dog food does for a dog and how to pick a specific dog food for a specific type of dog. All dogs are not made alike and each dog will require a certain diet to make it the healthiest it can be. However, there are some things that are universal and some bits of information that every dog owner should know. Here are a few broad points that I tell all of my customers:
1. If your dog is having skin problems, itching, or signs of allergies of any kind, it is most likely caused by grains and/or chicken in their diet. Of course, dogs do develop allergies to other meat proteins or plant products but the most common allergy is to grains and chicken. The chicken allergies actually come from the fact that most big-box pet foods contain chicken as their main protein source and over time, dogs will develop an allergy to over exposure to this protein (which is often found as chicken by-product, which is whatever is left over from human food processing). Switching your dog to a limited ingredient diet, a raw diet (which can be found in some pet stores), or a grain free diet can often solve these issues. Signs to look out for are itchy ears, dry skin, hair loss, eye discharge, and runny nose.
2. You'd be surprised how poor the quality is of supposedly "premium" foods, which sometimes are recommended by vets! The reason a vet would prescribe these poor foods is that often, the vet office will have signed a contract with the food company and will make a huge profit margin - sometimes up to 1000 percent mark up! Examples of these poor quality foods masquerading as premium foods are science diet and royal canin. If you look on the back of a bag of dog food you should look out for corn, white rice, wheat, soy, and by-product of any kind. Wheat is sometimes acceptable as long as your dog is not allergic to grains, but the other ingredients listed are red flags! Corn and soy are actually not digestible to dogs and provide no nutritional value. This means that they are simply fillers - worthless ingredients meant to fill up the bag and save the company money. These fillers can also cause significant health problems over time, and are often the culprit for smelly waste and that "wet dog smell". White rice, unlike brown rice, is broken down into sugar during digestion and also provides little nutritional value. By-products are whatever animal product is left after human food production - in chicken this is beaks and feet - and contains hardly any of the protein that is vital to your dog's health. Instead of by-product, look for "chicken MEAL" or simply "chicken", for example, in the first five listed ingredients. A meat meal goes through a dehydration process that makes it 600 percent more protein-rich than its meat counterpart. Another sign of a good food is when the fat source in the ingredients matches the meat source. This means that the company is using the whole animal in production and not cutting corners.
3. Fish oil - yes, the kind that people take too! - is a great overall supplement for every dog to have in their diets. I recommend this to everyone, especially people whose dogs have itchy or dry skin or shedding problems. The omega 3's in the oil help cells throughout the body to regenerate quicker and provide moisture to dry coats, also making the actual hair follicles shiner and healthier. Dry skin and unhealthy hair follicles are often the cause of excessive shedding. As well as helping with coat problems, fish oil will make dogs' eyes brighter and help with puppy growth/development (because of the cell production benefits) and overall brain function. For even greater benefits, it's good to pair fish oil with dog food with fish as its main protein source. We sell bottles of pure salmon oil at my work (it's made specifically for our company) but you can probably find it online as well!
4. Switching to a better quality food with not only make your dog feel better, but will cut down on doggy waste (by up to half - I've had this experience with the raw diet!) because the dog will be absorbing so much more from the food, and will no longer be pooping out those indigestible fillers, and will also make your dog smell better! Grains and fillers are often the cause of smelly dogs as the excess buildup of these indigestible or allergy-inducing ingredients seep out through the skin. Your dog will also likely have much more energy and will have a shinier coat and many less health problems in the future.
Anyway, there are some general points. If you have any questions about your dog's diet or any problems they may have, I will try to answer them to the best of my ability!
p.s. here is a picture of our adorable puppy Kira!