No, and No is the short answer! Dog food varies enormously in both the quality of ingredients and the care with which it is formulated and made.
The ingredients can contain just meat which you and I would be happy to eat, or stuff which has been rejected as unfit for human consumption, or a combination of the two. Gristle, fat and skin and even feathers can be processed and incorporated and they count towards the percentage of protein you see stated on the packaging, even though they may not be of any nutritional value. Cereals are also used in dog food – wheat, maize, rice, potato, carrot etc. These do add valuable nutrients, but they are much cheaper than meat and are often used to bulk up the product. It’s much the same as the variability in sausages for people – you can buy expensive premium brands with a high meat content which taste excellent, or you can get cheap stuff which frankly doesn’t taste much better than cardboard!
Some manufacturers spend a great deal of money on research to find out the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, and go to great lengths to ensure their products provide everything the pet needs. Others are far less conscientious. Usually, the ingredients of dog food vary from batch to batch, depending on what is cheapest on the market at the time. For example, if a food is labelled ‘chicken’, as long as the majority of the meat in it is chicken, the balance could be made up of any other meat or fish. Only in the best ‘prescription’ diets made to treat particular diseases does this not happen.
The amount of money you pay for your dog food largely reflects its quality, both in terms of the ingredients (and therefore the digestibility) and the care with which it is formulated and manufactured. Many dogs will manage on poor quality cheap food, as do people, but most will enjoy better health if they have better food. A few dogs cannot tolerate poor quality ingredients, and must have expensive food to thrive.
Gavin Hill-John is General Manager of Heath Veterinary Group, Cardiff.