—Are all of the foods from the “good brands” equally healthy? Are all of the foods from the “bad brands” equally poor-quality?—
No, and unfortunately, this makes things pretty confusing if you don’t know what to look for in an ingredient list! Although it IS possible to make a blanket statement about most of the “good” and “bad” brands like, “Everything from Hills is generally low-quality” or “Everything Solid Gold makes is generally high-quality,” the fact remains that not every “recipe” from any given brand is as high-quality and healthy as every other.
For example, Solid Gold is a company that would usually be included in a list of high-quality dog food. Certainly, Solid Gold Barking at the Moon is a high-quality food, but some of their blends, like Solid Gold Holistique Blendz for example, have too little meat and too much grain. They are all high-quality grains which are easy to digest, but the fact remains that there just isn’t enough meat in this food to balance out the high grain content.
One the other hand, Hill’s, makers of Science Diet, would definitely be included on a short-list of low-quality brands. Their Science Diet Adult is full of fillers and hard-to-digest ingredients, and doesn’t have nearly enough meat. But Hill’s Nature’s Best Chicken & Brown Rice Dinner really isn’t so bad. It has a bit more meat, and fewer fillers. It’s not an excellent food, but it’s head-and-shoulders above Science Diet Adult.
Your best bet is to do a bit of reading and learn how to read ingredient lists yourself. It’s not nearly confusing as you may think it is. Here are two useful links to get you started:
How to identify a high-quality food: http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=betterproducts
Ingredients to avoid: http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=badingredients
These are clear and easy to understand, and packed with pretty much all you need to know about reading labels. Once you know what to look for, go to your favorite pet store and stroll down the dog food isles armed with your new knowledge. You’ll be surprised at how low-quality some of the most popular foods really are!
—Will I actually see any changes in my dog if I switch to a better food, or are the benefits all invisible?—
In addition to the obvious internal benefits that come from a nutritious, high-quality diet, the changes I saw in my dogs within the first few months of switching to a high-quality food were shinier coats, much healthier skin (the dandruff, which was so bad that even their vet commented on it, COMPLETELY disappeared, and they stopped itching themselves so much), less-smelly breath, more stamina, and much more energy. You may or may not see these changes, but this is what I personally experienced.
Also, you will likely see a big change in how often they need to “go”, and in the firmness of their stools. If you feed a high quality food, your dog will probably need to go only half as often as he or she would with a low-quality food. The reason for this is that your dog is absorbing more from the food (with low-quality food, a lot of it passes right through your dog), so less of it ends up on your lawn. Your dog’s stools will also be much firmer and easier to pick up. These are also changes I personally saw in my dogs (they each “go” only once a day).
Please keep in mind that none of these changes will be instantaneous. Some will take weeks, some will take a few months, but it sure is worth the wait!
Part 4 has been posted. In it I answer the questions, “But my vet recommended my brand to me! It must be good, right?” and “I’ve been using the same brand of food for years, and my dog is fine! How can you say the food I feed is low-quality if that’s the case?” Please join me for part 4!
*Some food images from http://www.pachd.com/free-images/index.html