In my column ‘Crossing the headlines’ in this week’s Dog World (22nd May 2013), I look into what’s really in our dogs’ food…

My Nan always used to say ‘you are what you eat’ and, like most old adages, there is more than a grain of truth contained within those few words.
I’m sure we’ve all been horrified by the recent revelations concerning what is actually in some of our meat products and it was while reading yet another of these frightening exposes I got to wondering, what exactly could be lurking in our dog foods?
Now, I’m a ‘Dachshund man’. My family have owned the breed for over 50 years and all our dogs have been fed on the ‘natural’ or ‘raw’ diet. My wise, old Nan loathed processed dog food and we have simply followed her lead.
Despite owning Dachshunds (bred from show lines and in all coats and sizes) we have never (touch wood) experienced ‘back problems’ and all our dogs have reached their teens with very few visits being paid to our local vet.
Some would say I’ve just been extremely lucky, although I’m not usually a lucky kind of fella having only got three numbers on the lottery twice in the past ten years, but I would prefer to put their long life and health down to their feeding regime combined with liberal exercise.

State of health

Now, before the ‘anti-pedigree’ brigade start leaping up and down with their accusations of using food as a ‘smokescreen’ and a ‘distraction’, let me make it perfectly clear that I am well aware (as are the majority in the pedigree dog world) of those diseases with a ‘genetic origin’. I am in no way making excuses for them but, I have always been baffled by the state of health of a number of crossbreeds – the ‘real crossbreeds’ as Jilly Cooper memorably described them. While working in a boarding kennel over the summer holidays as a kid it was a common occurrence to meet such dogs suffering from skin complaints, allergies, painful joints, growths and cancers. The owner of the kennel, who was no lover of the pedigree, and preferred the company of her ‘working terriers’ put their poor health down to, ‘the muck they’re fed’.
I’ve always believed a state of health to be quite an easy thing to achieve in our pets so it came as quite a shock to me when I began to investigate what was happening to dogs. Figures being bandied about such as ‘up to 44 per cent of dogs being obese,’  ‘68 per cent of dogs over the age of three suffering from tooth decay’ and, the scariest of all, ‘the number one killer of dogs (and the second in cats) being cancer’.
It brought to mind that infamous line; ‘pedigree dogs are falling apart’ with just one small amendment – it seems dogs, in general, are falling apart. But, what could lie behind such shocking statistics?
I believe the root cause to a number of these problems can be traced back to feeding. How many of us can trust what actually goes into our dogs’ food when we can’t totally trust that a beef burger is 100 per cent beef?
A shocking Daily Mail article (March 7) stated that Spanish authorities were investigating whether stray and abandoned dogs had ended up in pet and animal feed. Last year, it continued, ‘police discovered a warehouse filled with 15 tonnes of dead stray dogs which were about to be processed into animal feed’.
It appears criminal gangs in Spain were responsible for taking the bodies of dogs, bound for incineration, and processing them into protein and fats to be sold on.
The pressure group, Viva, wrote to UK supermarkets asking them to test pet foods for the presence of dog. However, the Food Standards Agency said their priority was ‘testing beef products for the presence of horse meat’.
During my research for this article I could find no evidence that anyone was testing the meat destined for our pet foods or the decidedly murky origins of the ‘protein’ listed. The term ‘animal derivative’ is a commonly used generic term used on many processed pet foods which avoids having to specify EXACTLY where the meat came from.


Aside from the ‘meat’ content, the other added extras also raise concern. While vigorous campaigning has over the years alerted us to the use of artificial additives, preservatives and colourings that were commonplace in our foods, until recently it seems a number of our pet foods are still pumped full of similar chemicals. Carmoisine and ‘sunset yellow’ are regular additives and both have been linked to hyperactivity in humans. I would imagine they would have a similar effect upon a dog.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA-E320) is also widely used as an antioxidant. Its primary function is to prevent fats in foods becoming rancid although it also features in petroleum products and embalming fluid!
There have been worries that it could be linked to allergies, endocrine disruption and cancer in humans, but testing by the European Food Agency (2011) declared it safe because, although it caused papillomas and carcinomas in laboratory rats and mice, these species have a forestomach which makes them particularly susceptible to such conditions. Humans and dogs, however, do not possess a forestomach. Well, that’s reassuring – isn’t it?
Wheat and soya are other additions widely used as a ‘bulking agent’. Wheat, however, is not a natural part of the canine diet and dogs actually lack the essential amino acid to properly digest soya protein. Could these additions be accelerating the numbers of dogs suffering itchy coat, skin and bloating problems (for which, of course, there are a wealth of specially tailored feeds)?
It’s certainly difficult not to see a link between the increased sales in processed dog food (up by 85 per cent in the past decade in an industry worth £2.14bn) and the rise of the many chronic conditions dogs are suffering from – just as we have witnessed the rise of cancers and heart disease in humans alongside the rise of ‘junk food’ consumption.
In an age obsessed with research and monitoring, isn’t it time some worthy organisation funded research into what is really going into our dog food and the possible effect such food is having on our pet population?
Who knows, it may discover that it isn’t ‘breeding’ that’s causing our dogs to “fall apart” – the fault could well lie in their feeding.


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