Ah, the age old debate on canine nutrition... you often hear anecdotes from people that sound something like this: "my old dog ate Pedigree and Ol Roy all his life--the cheapest dog foods out there, and he lived till the ripe old age of 15!".
Firstly, just because he lived until he was 15 doesn't say anything about how healthy he was. He might have had bad, flaky skin, stank to high heavens, and didn't have good muscle tone. Secondly, this is just the problem with anecdotes--there will always be one! Some people will tell you that smoking cigarettes is fine because their grandma smoked till she was 80 and lived till she was 90. So what? Research has shown over and over that smoking is the main cause of lung cancer--and lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death by cancer each year.
Common sense would tell us that since dogs are carnivores (some might claim that they are omnivores, but this is misleading because they are absolutely NOT omnivores the way humans are). This is why they are in the order carnivora. Therefore, it is important that what you feed your dog is made up of mostly meat.
Now, dog food manufacturers have become brilliant at lying to consumers and finding ways to deceive us. Many dog foods will have a label screaming "MADE WITH REAL MEAT!" on the bags--this in actuality says absolutely NOTHING. Ignore everything you see on a dog food bag, and only look at the ingredients.
You want a named meat to be the first few ingredients. A named meat is one which says "lamb" or "chicken", as opposed to just "meat". Why? Because nobody knows what "meat" refers to! It could be roadkill, for all you know. Second, chicken/lamb/fish meal is ALWAYS better than just chicken/lamb/fish without the word "meal" because meat meals have been dehydrated prior to making the food. This means that there is a more concentrated amount of meat in meat meals than fresh meat.
So, a label that says: "chicken, corn, potatoes" is worse than one which says "chicken meal, corn, potatoes". This is because when dry food is processed, the water weight in the chicken disappears, leaving much less chicken than you think there is. For a more in-depth analysis of ingredients, please check this website out.
Onto the controversial topic of grains. I have nothing against grains being in dog food, but ideally, they should not be TOO grain heavy. I prefer protein/fat levels in the dog foods I feed to be at least 25% protein and 15% fat. There are LOTS of dog food brands out there that are infinitely better than the ones marketed by giant companies such as Proctor & Gamble (who do cruel animal testing at their labs) who make Eukanuba and Iams. Generally, any brand that you're very familiar with because of TV ads are bad.
I personally rotate my dogs' food. I buy the smallest bag of kibble (usually 5-6lbs), and rotate after every bag. Some brands that are in my rotation are: Acana and Orijen (made by Champion Petfoods, a Canadian company which uses 100% Canadian ingredients), Wellness CORE, Taste of the Wild, Annamaet, Earthborn Holistics, Nature's Variety, and Canine Caviar. Of course there are other good brands around, so take a look at Dog Food Advisor and pick something in the 4-5 star categories.
Some people prefer to feed their dogs raw food or home-cooked food. I personally feed a rotation of everything! My dogs get kibble, canned food, raw, and home-cooked. I always say that variety is a great thing. If you would like to make your own food for your dog, I suggest that you first so some in-depth research because it's dangerous to randomly throw some meats together and declare it sound to be fed to your pets. Do check out Dog Aware to look at resources for making your own food.
Since I've fed pretty much everything, here is my take on it: my dogs do just fine on the kibble brands that I use. Sometimes puppies have problems with the richer foods (higher protein/fat), so I try to stay under 38% protein. Once they grow up though, this problem seems to go away. If you're feeding a kibble that's rich in meat, you need to feed a lot less than if you're feeding something with more grains. For example, the dogs get only 1/2 cup per DAY when they are on grain-free foods, and 1 cup per day on something that's full of grains/fillers like Eukanuba.
As for raw, I've heard that it's some sort of magical cure for everything under the sun, but in my experience, I've not seen much of a difference except the dogs' stool is much smaller and firmer. I do not feel comfortable feeding 100% raw because in this country, commercial raw food is not regulated by any food inspections, so I am not completely certain that the raw food is 100% balanced (with all the correct vitamins/minerals). Raw food can be beneficial for dogs who have severe allergies or diarrhea, but if you don't have the time to do research on how to make balanced raw food, it's safer to just keep feeding commercial dog food.
So really, WHY is nutrition so important? Well, dogs who eat well often have better coats, energy levels, and live longer than dogs who are fed blah. Think of it this way--you want your dog to be healthy, help him out with it. You don't have to spend a fortune on dog food--often, the best value for money dog food isn't the one that's the most famous. Costco sells some very value for money brands that many people have recommended to me.
They say that genetics plays the biggest role in whether or not a dog is healthy. That's definitely true, but what you feed the dog plays a role in whether or not that dog gets to be healthy to his full potential.
Here are some pictures of food that I feed my dogs daily:
Blog for the Dogs
Here's where I chronicle the dogs' daily lives, write reviews on dog products, and share tips on everything under the sun.