The power of an anecdote.......and the bias of the anecdotal experience.
And let's not forget the tendency to put more emphasis on evidence that supports an existing belief framework!
I'm very aware of this, which is why I decided to put my personal experiences in a separate posts. This is the post where I name brands and explain what my current feeding routine is.
I would be a lier if I said I wasn't influenced by what I've seen personally and thus tend to critically evaluate the literature coming from a position in favor of high end kibble/balanced raw diets.
But I wasn't always this way.
Until a few years ago I firmly believed that it didn't matter what you fed, as long as it was an AAFCO certified food - specific ingredients didn't matter, protein source didn't matter, etc.
What changed my mind?
A friend got a German Shepherd puppy. This puppy scratched, and had a "sensitive stomach" (ie - very soft stools, diarrhea). Although I scoffed at the notion, this friend started doing some research on diets and eventually, after working through most of the big brands (Purina, Hills etc.) he decided to switch to Taste of the Wild when the dog was ~1 year old. I saw this dog every 2-3 weeks and I was AMAZED at the difference. Harley looked GREAT - an amazing coat, the scratching dissapeared, and she begin to have more normal stools.
My conclusion was - the dog had some sort of allergy, possibly grain related, that made it necessary to switch to a more limited diet. I wasn't ready to generalize the need for a high quality diet/grain free for all dogs.....
Over the next couple of years I started reading more nutrition literature, both for humans and pets and became convinced that grains such as corn and wheat may not be the best thing for human or dog digestive systems - even if there wasn't a confirmed allergy. I experimented with cutting processed grains out of my diet and saw differences in my health......and started to seriously consider how much including the entire real FOOD mattered - not just the components of what was once food.
So......I switched my cat over to Taste of the Wild. Mickie is a middle aged cat that was feral before I adopted her from a ranch I worked at. She's always been skinny and scruffy - even with free choice food and an indoor lifestyle. I was buying the cheap cat food - not the cheapEST (the feedstore refused to sell the cheapest stuff to me because they knew she was an indoor cat and they said it would make her stools too stinky). After a month on Taste of the Wild I was amazed - she was sleek and shiny, and now, a year later is actually starting to get chunky. She sheds less and just looks absolutely amazing. She's always "looked her age" but now looks like a 3 year old and people can't believe she's probably closer to 12 years old (I've had her for 8 years). I'm still really really really impressed. People who knew her "before" always exclaim about how good she feels and looks now - even without knowing the only change was a diet change.
About this time, friends and family started switching their animals to Taste of the Wild or similar products (grain free, but not necessarily top shelf, high protein food) - and I saw the same story over and over. Each of the 4 or 5 animals switched to this type of diet looked better, smelled better, had less stool problems, and had positive behavior changes.
By the time I got Tess in May 2011, I was convinced that most dogs would do better if fed a diet low in grains, with a focus on whole foods. I wasn't comfortable feeding an "all stages" diet, so I fed a Blue Buffalo puppy diet. Most days, she got some fresh fruits and veggies, as well as the occasional chicken neck. After a few months, because she is a medium sized dog, I decided to switch to a Taste of the Wild fish diet, and kept her on it until she was ~8 months. At that point I switched to Nature's Variety "Instinct" duck and turkey meal kibble. About 2 months ago, I read that rotating brands/proteins/and types of food might be beneficial. There's nothing definite, and most of the "research" and information is being done by a single company (Nature's variety) so I'm a bit skeptic - HOWEVER - I'm not comfortable putting 100% of my puppy's nutrition in one company's hands, so I like the idea of "covering my bases" by rotating between brands.
I'm currently rotating my proteins, but I think if I had a dog that seemed prone to food allergies, I might reserve a couple of proteins so I could introduce a "novel" protein later if I needed too.
I started adding a raw diet about a month ago and I've been really happy with it - it's easy, her stools are even easier (she's with me all day in public so I get to see them a LOT).
My current feeding routine is this:
Raw: up to 50% (AAFCO certified, rotate between proteins and Nature's logic brand and Nature's variety)
Kibble: 50-100% of the diet (Rotate between high quality grain free brands that are lower in protein - no more than 80% - and rotate between proteins. Currently feeding Nature's Variety, will rotate between Taste of the Wild and others)
Canned: up to 25% (rotate between high quality grain free and different proteins, mostly use this as a high value reward during training. I like "Evo" brand, but will probably switch to a different brand for my next set of cans).
I believe that variety, rotation, and whole foods are a key component for dog diets.
Sorry this post is a little disjointed. I have a HUGE lab this afternoon (4 hours) and writing this during a potbelly pig behavior lecture - so a little distracted :)