DANIELLE Fox is a tutor and lecturer at Craven College, specialising in animal and equine science. Her specialist areas of interest include anatomy and physiology, nutrition and behaviour. Danielle lives with her partner Andy and their two beloved hounds in Barnoldswick. Most of her spare time is spent keeping her dogs and horse in the lifestyle they have become accustomed to, and she enjoys competing at elementary level dressage and dressage to music.

Danielle is currently reading for an MSc in Equine Behaviour and Welfare.

As an owner of two lively dogs, I spend a lot of time in ensuring I provide a high class entertainment committee, a bespoke fitness regime, and gourmet meals for my Weimaraner, Walter, and German pointer, Hank. To say they are discerning dogs with high standards is an understatement, although I’m sure I have a part to play in creating these characteristics. The dogs have been instrumental in my teaching at college, and the students love being able to use real-life examples in order to create health care plans and select appropriate diets. The latter always makes for engaging discussion, and this year’s cohort were more than vocal when debating what we should be feeding the domesticated dog. As second year students that haven’t yet studied nutrition, I was really impressed that they had taken matters into their own hands and carried out some research before selecting feed for their canine counterparts. The discussion started around the evolution of the dog, and the diet it would be accustomed to in the wild. Carnivorous by definition, the dog should consume a high protein, meat-based diet.

So here is my problem. I find it increasingly frustrating that we, as dog owners, are still faced with predominantly ‘doggy junk food’ dominating the shelves at our supermarkets. I shouldn’t complain really, I order my dog food online, and delivery is free. However, you might come to the assumption that the brands of doggy delights that overshadow the lesser known options are healthier as they are more popular. Those that take up prime advertising time and space must surely be of a higher calibre?

Next time you peruse the pet food aisle of your supermarket, bear this in mind. Dogs (and cats) have spent thousands of years thriving successfully as carnivores, eating raw meat, offal and bone. The expectation therefore, would be that the first ingredient on the list -and therefore the ingredient that weighs the most - would be meat based. However, in many cases, that first ingredient is some sort of cereal. Cereals are great if you are a food producer. They are cheap, easy to produce - in comparison to meat - and give your pet the satisfaction of feeling full. But, feeding them can also increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, allergies, and numerous other diseases and disorders. Why? Simply because they haven’t evolved to eat cereal and their body systems don’t know how to process grain based diets! The nonsensical aspect of this is that the ‘premium’ grain based diets are often more expensive than the high animal protein diets.

So, what else might be added to dog kibble? Artificial colourants are often added to food to make them look more appealing, apparently. But given that dogs have a form of red-green colour blindness, who are the nutritionists trying to appeal to? We don’t have to eat the kibble. Most of us are aware of what happens to children when they consume large amounts of E numbers, and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if our dog becomes hyperactive, difficult to train, and in some cases, aggressive.

A seemingly valid argument may be that the dog appears to enjoy these nutritionally inferior brands of food. This comes as no surprise – children that are accustomed to eating fast food on a regular basis would be reluctant to move on to a balanced, healthy diet as they will crave the fat and sugar from the junk food. Unsurprisingly, the unnatural sugars in the equivalent dog chow will have the same effect on your prized pooch.

Now, I certainly don’t wish to come across as ‘holier than thou’. In an ideal world - which this is not- I would feed my dogs a raw diet. Having costed this, I would be paying triple the amount it currently costs to satisfy my cohabiting carnivores. I also have to manage the Weimaraner carefully; unfortunately, he seems to be disgusted by the idea of eating anything that resembles something that was once an animal. Now is not the time to get started on the highs and lows of pedigree dogs; I will save that for another day….

What I do make sure of, is that the kibble I buy is predominantly meat based, devoid of cereal and any unnecessary colouring, flavouring and preservatives. It really doesn’t need to be complicated, but when will the ‘big dogs’ - pun intended - of the pet food industry take responsibility? Shouldn’t supermarkets and pet stores vote with their feet?