Forty percent of dogs are obese, while 46% of dogs, and 39% of cats, now die of cancer. Heart, kidney and liver disease are epidemic. Like people, dogs are what they eat. Save your dog a lot of suffering, and save yourself a fortune in vet bills, by learning the truth about your dog's diet. Here are 10 important things you may not know about what your dog is eating:

1) Commercial dog food is "fast food."

Heavily-processed fast foods (burgers, fries, tacos, etc.) cause major health problems in people. How can fast foods be good for dogs? Only dog food manufacturers think this nonsense makes sense. Dogs and people share roughly 75% the same genetic makeup, and we have similar nutritional needs. What we're doing to ourselves with processed foods, we're also doing to our dogs.

2) People food is good for dogs.

Despite what you've heard, wholesome "people food" is good for dogs. It is, however, bad for dog food companies. The same fresh, nutritious foods people eat can offer your dog the nutrition he needs and save you a mountain of vet bills. It just takes a little education to learn the small differences in nutritional needs.

3) Don't presume the food your vet sells is a superior product.

Veterinarians, like medical doctors, learn relatively little about nutrition in school. Much of what vets do learn comes directly from pet food company articles, seminars and sales reps. If your vet hasn't studied and experimented on his or her own, it's unlikely your vet knows bad food from good. They may be acting on outdated information or superstition. And if they profit from selling one brand, and not another, they have a conflict of interest that may influence their opinions.

4) The quality of processed commercial foods is suspect.

Dog food may legally contain "4-D" meat: meat from dead, dying, diseased and disabled animals. Add a little road kill, mill floor sweepings and corn contaminated with high levels of pesticide (yes, really) and you have a recipe for ill health. The cheaper the food, the cheaper the ingredients, the worse the nutrition.

5) Kibble does not clean teeth.

Most dogs eat kibble. Most dogs have dental problems. Does that tell you something? Although a small study once suggested that kibble might clean teeth better than canned food, better doesn't mean effectively. Hoping to avoid brushing our dog's teeth, we too willingly grasp at unsubstantiated health benefits. But pretending that kibble or hard treats will keep teeth clean will only lead to huge vet bills, lost teeth and much canine suffering.

6) "Complete and balanced" does not mean "optimum."

"Complete and balanced" means that a food meets minimal theoretical requirements for dogs for a short period of time. Over time, nutrient and enzyme deficiencies are inevitable. Of course, complete and balanced better than not complete and balanced, but again, better does not mean good.

7) Feeding the same food day after day limits nutrition.

Imagine eating corn and chicken wings every meal of your life, with the same mix of cheap vitamins and minerals added. Nutritionists urge people to eat a variety of foods, both for improved nutrition and also to prevent allergies. But variety can cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs, right? In the short run, yes. Nutritionally-deprived animals have sick guts. In fact, intestinal upset when switching foods is a sign your dog needs more variety. Once good nutrition has healed a dog's digestive system, the dog can eat different foods every meal -- just as people do. Just switch foods gradually over several weeks while your dog's gut heals.

8) Kibble is not better than canned.

Whereas canned food is preserved by the process of canning, most kibble is preserved artificially. (Ever contemplate how many preservatives must be required to retard spoilage of food left out all day?) Kibble begins as a dry meal whereas canned food is canned fresh. Kibble is exposed to more heat than canned (destroying nutrients). Worse yet, kibble is linked to kidney and bladder problems in cats, and to bloat, a deadly problem especially for large, broad-chested dogs. It's also dehydrating. Of course, canned isn't perfect either. Fresh is best, raw or cooked. Next best is frozen prepared food and then dehydrated and freeze dried foods, all available at better pet stores.

9) Chewing can be hazardous to canine health.

Cooked bones and rawhide chews can cause major health problems requiring emergency surgery. Wheat-based treats can bring on allergies. Onions, grapes, raisins, chocolate, the article sweetener Xylitol and other common foods can be toxic for dogs and must be avoided.

10) Corn kills.

Most kibble is loaded with corn, a cheap filler. Unfortunately, the corn isn't the luscious kind you and I eat. It's feed corn (like cattle eat), or cheap remnants of feed corn. It may even have been condemned for human consumption, there being no upper level of pesticide contamination for pet foods. If that weren't bad enough, corn (which gives us both high fructose corn syrup and corn oil) is fattening. Any wonder so many dogs are obese and suffer from diabetes?

Improving your dog's diet can add years to your dog's life and save you a fortune. It doesn't require a lot of work or expense. It just requires a little knowledge and the desire to give your dog the healthy body he or she deserves.

Author's Bio: 

Jan Rasmusen authored Scared Poopless: The Straight Scoop on Dog Care, a comprehensive, fun-to-read book on holistic dog health and safety. Jan's book won national awards for the Best Health Care Book (of any kind) and Best Pet Care Book. Find free dog care videos, audios, and articles at Jan's Dogs4Dogs.com website and specially at Dogs4Dogs.com/food. Sign up for her popular free e-newsletter and her information-packed blogs.