Experts answer questions about dog food quality

Posted February 28, 2011
Updated March 2, 2011

— Some pet owners worry the food they feed their dogs will make them sick. Many end up calling the nutrition lab at the North Carolina State University’s Veterinary School.

"There’s a lot of misperceptions out there," N.C. State nutrition expert Dr. Korinn Saker said.

Saker and her team have heard from pet owners concerned about contamination in dog food, and some have even asked if commercial dog foods contain roadkill.

Saker advises people not to believe everything they read.

"There may be some little bit of truth in that but usually not," She said.

The nutrition lab gives out advice, develops diets and evaluates labels on dog food.

"Labeling is very clever," Saker said, noting that it is important to read the fine print. "The nutrition claim on the label can be very difficult to find."

Consumers should look for a label that says the food has been tested by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

"If it goes through animal feeding tests, you know that not only is the formulation appropriate, but the ingredients are going to be safe," she said.

Another concern from dog owners is the use of byproducts in dog food, but Saker said owners shouldn't be afraid.

"There’s no hair. There’s no hoof. There’s no hide, anything like that in there," she said.

Overall, Saker and her team have looked at a lot of dog food.

"We haven’t yet, I don’t think, come across a diet that’s going to be dangerous to the pet," she said.

Veterinarian Diane Deresienski believes it's not the type of food but, rather, how much that can be the problem for animals.

"The main thing you can do for your dog when you’re feeding them is keep them on the thin side," she said. "That’s actually been shown to increase their lifespan by a year to a year-and-a-half."

Deresienski said dogs involved in the testing of food get two hours of exercise a day. Most dogs don't get that much exercise, so they need less calories than what is recommended on the bag, she said.

Saker said owners don't necessarily have to purchase the most expensive bagged food for their pet. She said it is important to get the right food for the stage in the dog's life.

She also recommends looking for the first ingredient in the food to be meat.

Some dogs don't eat bagged food at all.

Fran Ferrell feeds her dog a homemade diet consisting of steamed broccoli, a carefully measured amount of chicken, raw carrots, rice and fruit.

Ferrell switched her dog, Lucky, to the diet after he had years of skin problems and seizures.

"That was one of the main things when we switched to this diet. We know exactly what’s in it," she said.

The danger of a homemade diet is that it might not be balanced with the right vitamins and minerals.

Ferrell sprinkles a supplement on Lucky's food to make sure he stays healthy.

At 11 years old, he's thriving.

"(He's) very energetic, as energetic as a somewhat older man can be," Ferrell said.

Homemade diets are growing in popularity and N.C. State's nutrition lab helps dog owners balance those diets.

Saker said that while some owners worry that their dogs get bored eating the same food every day, a dog's gastrointestinal tract does better on a regular diet.


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  • cbarnett Mar 3, 2011

    Hevans1012 - great site. Thanks. Seems I've been feeding my dogs the wrong stuff for many, many years. And Saker is wrong. I have found many hairs in the dry bag food over the years. Very bad information in this story.

  • topdogtwo Mar 1, 2011

    I was so looking forward to this particular segment on Monday night. But was disappointed in the overall content; it did not provide any really valuable information about how to read labels, what to look for in a dog food. I do know that you do not want a food with chicken by-products or meat by-products, I do know that ground yellow corn and other hard to digest grains like sorgum & barley are not good for your dog. You want quality part of the meats and I do know that things like Chicken meal are excellent source of protein. Chicken meal simply means the mfg. has used the quality parts of the chicken and removed the water and most of the fat prior to cooking; this means you get higher level of protein in the food v. those that use chicken or wet chicken. Rice and wheat are good for your dog too. Just remember that you do not want any meat by-products, hard to digest grains ... if you get quality meats and good grains you pet will eat less and you may have less waste to clean up.

  • mt836 Mar 1, 2011

    I agree this is really just a fluff piece - I was expecting something informative, but alas, I'm disappointed again with the information provided.

  • Hevans1012 Mar 1, 2011

    I too was looking forward to this and was highly dissapointed. There was SO much that the expert could of said but didn't. If anyone is looking for GOOD information on dog food go to this website

  • elliesmom Mar 1, 2011

    I found this to be a strange story. The lead in gave the impression that it would help viewers read the food labels on pet food, but in the end it seemed like a fluff piece (“We haven’t yet, I don’t think, come across a diet that’s going to be dangerous to the pet,”). Something that is "I think, not dangerous" does not mean it is good or even above average. I wonder if the editorial staff are afraid to offend a potential commercial sponsor? What a missed opportunity to give consumers some real information.

  • tracya3904 Feb 28, 2011


  • OzzzMan Feb 28, 2011

    You have to spend some money. Good dog food isn't cheap. I have had two boxers, ten years apart, and feed them both Eukanuba(Iams) Lamb and Rice. Both where about eighty pounds of solid muscle. Boxers normally should be between sixty to seventy pounds. You pay for what you get.

  • SummerlovinWinterhater Feb 28, 2011

    My dog has done so much better since checking to make sure that a meat, not a meat byproduct, is the first ingredient. She was breaking out in black patches on her body and losing her hair and itching and scratching all the time. I do pay more than what I used to but its worth it for a good night's sleep for the both of us. Her skin coloring is back to normal and this pug finally has her double coat ;)

  • Lesliephc Feb 28, 2011

    If you are concerned about the food your dog is eating, just take a look at human food labels. Example - purina dog chow - majority of ingredients are whole food. The ingredients on a Kellogs nutrigrain bar - most ingredients either sugar, hydrogenated oil (transfat), or not even pronounceable. No wonder dogs out live people in human years.