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More About Dog Diet

Best Diet

Rather than trying to find a single, “best” food, I recommend that you choose at least two or three different brands, using different protein sources, and rotate between them, anywhere from a daily basis to every few months. Variety is always better than feeding any single food, as it helps to guarantee that all of your dogs’ nutritional needs are met and is more interesting for your dogs. The only warning I have about feeding a lot of variety is to not feed every exotic protein available (duck, rabbit, venison, etc.); always reserve one or two in case you ever need to do an elimination diet using a food your dog has never had before to test for food allergies.

In addition, I suggest adding some fresh foods to the diet, no matter what you feed, including eggs and meat (raw or cooked), canned fish with bones (jack mackerel, pink salmon, sardines), dairy (yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese) and healthy leftovers (see Adding Fresh Foods below for more info). This can be used to improve the quality of whatever diet you feed.

Corn, wheat, soy and other so-called common allergens
Foods considered to be “common allergens” for dogs are simply the foods most commonly fed. In other words, dogs are not inherently more likely to be allergic to corn, wheat, soy, rice, beef or chicken, etc., but they are more likely to be allergic to common ingredients in foods that they’ve been fed. Food allergies are also more likely to develop if the dog is fed the same food all the time.

High-Protein Diets

Dogs thrive on protein, the more the better. There is absolutely no reason to limit the amount of protein you feed your dog. Look for foods that are high in protein, rather than the typical high-carbohydrate diets that are more commonly available. Dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates; they are used in dog food mostly as an inexpensive source of calories (grains are also used to supply low-quality protein in some foods), and to help bind dry food together into kibble. Studies indicate that high-protein, low-carb foods with moderate amounts of fat also help dogs lose weight better than the traditional high-carb, low-fat (and often low-protein) weight loss diets.

It’s not your imagination that spaying and neutering your dog resulted in weight gain. It probably did. Study after study has shown that altered animals need fewer calories than intact animals. But this almost always simply means that your altered pet needs fewer calories and more exercise than before their surgery, not that weight gain is inevitable after surgery.

Foods to add to kibble and getting started with a more natural diet:

  • Eggs: raw or cooked, such as lightly scrambled, soft- or hard-boiled. Whole raw eggs are fine, as the yolks contain plenty of biotin to make up for what the raw egg whites destroy. One of the healthiest and easiest to add foods.
  • Muscle Meat (including Heart): any kind of meat, either ground or chunks (small enough to avoid choking). Feed raw or lightly cooked (never feed cooked bones). Add 1/2 tsp. ground eggshell (you can grind them in a clean coffee grinder or blender), or around 1,000 mg calcium from any other source, per pound of meat to give the proper calcium/phosphorus ratio. Adding calcium  is not necessary if the added meat is only a small portion of the diet, or if you are adding raw meat with bone that is consumed.
  • Liver and other Organ Meat: feed small amounts of liver at a time, as it is rich and can lead to diarrhea, but it is very dense nutritionally and good to feed. Kidney is similar, but not quite as rich. Most other organ meats, like hearts and gizzards, are nutritionally more like muscle meats and can be fed in greater quantity, though a few dogs will react to these as well if too much is fed at one time.
  • Canned fish with bones: Sardines (preferably packed in water rather than oil), Jack Mackerel and Pink Salmon: Full of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and provides trace minerals. Bones are cooked to softness and are safe to feed (no need to add calcium to this food, since the bones supply it). Never feed raw salmon or trout from the Pacific Northwest (California to Alaska), as it may contain a parasite that can be fatal to dogs. I don’t recommend feeding much tuna, as it is more likely to be contaminated with mercury, and does not include bones, which are nutritious. Sardines can be used to replace fish oil supplements; one small sardine has over 100 mg of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. *
  • Yogurt: plain, preferably organic. Whole milk (rather than low- or non-fat) is fine unless your dog needs a low-fat diet. Kefir is another cultured milk option. Dogs who have problems with cow’s milk products may do better with those made from goat’s milk.
  • Cottage Cheese or Ricotta Cheese: low-fat or whole milk.
  • Garlic: may help repel fleas (although this is anecdotal) and has other health benefits as well. Garlic can be toxic in  large quantities. Give no more than 1/2 to 1 small raw crushed clove (one small part of a bulb) per 20 pounds of body weight daily.
  • Canned Pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix): great for digestion, helps both diarrhea and constipation. Use in small amounts, as too much can also cause diarrhea.
  • Veggies: preferably pureed raw or can be steamed (whole raw veggies, such as broccoli or carrot sticks, are not harmful but can’t be digested by dogs so they don’t get any nutritional value from them). Good veggies include carrots, celery, all kinds of greens (kale, collard greens, mustard greens, bok choy, dandelion greens, cabbage, spinach, chard, parsley, cilantro, etc.), lettuce (anything but iceberg, which is not very nutritious), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, asparagus, turnips, parsnips, etc. Do NOT feed onions. Warning: If your animal is having any symptoms of arthritis, inflammation, respiratory problems or any other conditions that involve swelling or mucous, stay away from the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant).
  • Pasta, Grains and Starchy Vegetables: some dogs with allergies, digestive problems, seizures or arthritis do better if grains are removed from the diet (this may also apply to starchy veggies). Dogs who need to lose weight will do better with added high-protein foods rather than carbohydrates. Commercial foods are high in carbohydrates, so it’s best not to add more unless you are feeding a high percentage of homemade food — if so, it’s OK to add some carbs, but animal products should always make up the majority of what you add. Grains and starchy veggies, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squashes, need to be cooked in order to be digestible. Grains include white rice, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, barley and more.
  • Fruit: banana, papaya, apple, pear, blueberries, avocado, etc. Note that avocado pits and skin are toxic to dogs. The fruit from Guatemalan avocados is also somewhat toxic, while the fruit from Mexican varieties is not. The popular Hass variety is a hybrid with some Guatemalan heritage, I’m unsure what it’s level of toxicity is.
  • Green Tripe: not the bleached kind you get from the supermarket (which is not harmful but has very little nutritional value). Green tripe smells awful, but dogs adore it and it’s quite healthy for them.

The following foods should be restricted:

  • Garlic: beneficial in doses up to 1 small clove per 20 lbs of body weight, but can cause anemia if given in larger quantities.
  • Avocado: fruits of Guatemalan species are mildly toxic to dogs, causing digestive upset, while fruits of Mexican species are safe. Note that the popular Hass variety is a hybrid and toxicity level is unknown. Pits and rinds of all species can be toxic.
  • Cruciferous vegetables are very healthy, but can suppress thyroid function if large amounts are fed raw. Feed in limited amounts, or cook first. The cruciferous family includes include arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, turnips, turnip greens, watercress, rutabaga, daikon, kohlrabi.
  • Spinach and swiss chard should also be fed in limited amounts due to their high oxalate content.  Cooking removes some of the oxalates, though in this case you should not feed the water, as that’s where the oxalates go.
  • Potatoes (the regular kind, not sweet potatoes), tomatoes, peppers (all kinds) and eggplant may aggravate arthritis pain, but are otherwise fine to feed. Grains and starchy veggies may also aggravate arthritis and other forms of inflammation.

Not Recommended: Pet Tabs have been found to be contaminated with lead by ConsumerLabs in both 2007 and 2009. Pet-Tabs Complete Daily for Dogs was most recently found to be contaminated with 6.45 mcg of lead per tablet. California requires warning labels on supplements for human use that contain over 0.5 mcg of lead per day.

SUPPLEMENTS to add to your dog’s diet

  1. Fish Oil or Salmon Oil: An important source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3 EFAs are beneficial to the immune system, the nervous system, the heart, and help stop inflammation, such as in arthritis and allergies. They also support brain development of puppies and fetuses. This is probably the most important supplement to give, no matter what you feed, as Omega-3 EFAs are hard to find even in a natural diet, and are highly perishable when exposed to heat, light or air, so they do not survive in commercial foods even if added. Omega-3 EFAs are found in fish body oil, not liver oil. They are also found in flax seed oil, although that form is not as well utilized and some dogs can be allergic to flax. Recommended amount is 1000 mg fish oil (containing 300 mg combined EPA/DHA) per 30 pounds (14 kg) of body weight. Maximum dosage for dogs with health problems would be 1000 mg fish oil (300 mg EPA/DHA) per 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of body weight. You can also use sardines in place of fish oil supplements; one small sardine supplies over 100 mg EPA/DHA. Vitamin E should also be given whenever oils are supplemented (even small amounts are adequate, but highest recommended dosage would be 100 IU per day for small dogs, 200 IU for medium-sized dogs, and 400 IU for large dogs). Note that fish oil is not the same as cod liver oil, which is high in vitamins A and D. Never add cod liver oil to a commercial diet, as they are already high in vitamin D, and too much is harmful.
  2. Probiotics: Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in the intestines and help control yeast and harmful bacteria, as well as helping with digestion and intestinal health. These friendly bacteria are destroyed whenever antibiotics are given, and can also be flushed out of the system if your dog has diarrhea. It is recommended to use probiotics for six months following any antibiotic usage. Dogs that are under stress or that have digestive problems or problems with yeast (usually manifested as itchy skin, ear infections, and chewing at feet) may benefit from routine probiotic supplementation. A supplement that contains multiple bacterial strains is preferable to those that have only a single strain (usually acidophilus). There are two strains that have been found to be particularly beneficial for dogs: Lactobacillus sporogenes (see dosage recommendations for dogs here) and Enterococcus faecium (found in many supplements, including Jarrow Formulas Pet Dophilus and Berte’s Ultra Probiotic Powder). Supplements that also contain prebiotics, which are foods that nourish the beneficial bacteria themselves, such as FOS (fructooligosaccharides), chicory (found in Ark Naturals Gentle Digest and others), inulin, and larch (arabinogalactin — see dosage for dogs here) may be especially helpful to dogs with diarrhea. You can use products made for dogs, or human-grade probiotics that you would find in a health food store. Kefir, which is easy to make at home, is also a good source of beneficial bacteria. Plain yogurt can also be used, though most brands contain only acidophilus. Most probiotics must be kept refrigerated.
  3. Vitamins and Minerals: Although commercial foods include a minimal supply of added vitamins (the original ones are mostly destroyed by processing), supplementing can be beneficial, especially vitamins E, C (with bioflavonoids), and B-complex. Unfortunately, many pet multi-vitamins, such as Pet Tabs, contain too little of these vitamins to be very useful. You need to be more careful about supplementing minerals, except in whole food form, due to the potential for overdosing or not using proper combinations (for example, zinc can be dangerous if given in large quantities or not properly balanced with copper). In general, I don’t recommend supplementing individual minerals without a vet’s OK, but the amounts contained in most multi-vitamin and mineral supplements should be safe. See below for some recommended brands.
  4. Digestive Enzymes: Since enzymes are destroyed by cooking, commercial foods are enzyme dead. Adding digestive enzymes may be beneficial if your dog suffers from digestive disorders, liver problems, pancreatitis, or is otherwise unhealthy and may benefit from getting additional nutritional value from their food. Animal-based enzymes derived from pancreatin help more with the breakdown of nutrients, while plant-based enzymes, such as bromelain and papain, seem to help more with gas and inflammation. Note that while digestive enzymes are helpful for some dogs, they can make other dogs worse, so don’t use them if you don’t see improvement.

I know I’ve said it a dozen times before, but this is another great article on feeding your dog. You can find more great information and resources at DogAware.com. Another great, inexpensive place I recently found for raw is “Grandad’s Pet Food”. I also like “Taste of the Wild” it has 32% protein.

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