About 7 years ago when I lived in San Diego, a neighbor woman and I would sometimes walk our dogs together at night. She was older and I strangely and specifically remember her telling me that when she grew up on her family farm as a child, dogs lived considerably longer than they do now and they were fed table scraps. Commercial dog food was not even a consideration for this woman's family. A little less than a year ago, I lost my beloved Pug Carlisle to liver cancer and he was just shy of being 8 years old. I'm convinced that I unknowingly helped to slowly kill him by feeding him commercial dog food.
How did we become convinced that we need to feed or dogs this stuff anyway? For centuries they have done fine without it. The household dog's nutritional needs have changed very little over time and they share a 99% genetic likeness to the wolf which eats a raw and varied diet.
First off, most commercial dog foods are made of waste from animals that are not able to be sold for human consumption. "Meat by-products" include bones, blood, ligaments, intestines, udders, lungs, hair, tails, spinal cords, feet and any tumors, cancers or disease that were present. Also included are the "4 D's". 4D stands for animals which were dead, dying, diseased and disabled prior to reaching the rendering plant. This "waste" is then heated up to extremely high temperatures, the fat is skimmed off and the product is compressed into the tidy little kibbles you find in the bag. Not only is the initial raw product not healthy, but what nutrition was present largely degrades due to the high temperature in which it is processed. Antibiotics and growth hormones are not destroyed in the heating process.
Even if you are purchasing a higher quality dog food that does not include meat by-products, it is still not healthy as it is heated to the same temperature and ingredients that have been known to be toxic to humans do not have to be labeled for dog food. You still end up with a highly processed, nutrient deprived food.
The best rule of thumb is to look at what an animal eats in nature and attempt to simulate that style. A wolf, being the closest relative to a dog, eats a raw and highly varied diet. Just as a chicken eating scraps gives a brighter yoke to an egg because of a varied and superior diet compared to the routine diet of an industrial egg laying factory farm, a dog will acquire more nutrients if given a varied diet. By feeding a dog the same thing over and over for it's entire life, you deprive him/her of what nature intended and I think the consequence will only be poor health down the road.
So, what should you feed? Well, first off all, my belief is to rid ourselves of this false conception that our dogs need to eat the prepackaged "dog food" in pretty little bags. Dog food companies are almost all owned by large corporations and since approximately 50% of animals which go to slaughter for humans can't be utilized, it was a perfect opportunity for business and we have bought it hook, line and sinker. Ideally, a raw diet is best for dogs and basically they are omnivores. Many folks are not comfortable with raw, and that's fine. What about good ol' fashioned table scraps? If it's good enough for us, why on earth isn't it good enough for them? I prepare my dogs' food - a few day's worth at a time. Currently they get grass fed, organic free range ground lamb from a neighbor, brown rice, whatever leftover bread I have, and often some veggies that are about to go bad. And, they always get the leftovers. Every meal, whatever is not eaten is put in a tupperware and they get it the next meal. Nothing goes to waste, they love their food soooo much more and I'm confident they are healthier and it feels good not to be supporting the dog food and factory farming industry. They are our best friends, right? Since they don't have a choice, let's make the best choice for them.