Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Have you ever been in the pet store looking at dog foods and felt overwhelmed? Maybe the well meaning clerk tried to help, but then you got information overload and REALLY didn't know what to pick. Or maybe you asked your vet and they suggested a prescription food. There is so much to know about nutrition, and so many damn choices! How the heck does the average person figure out what the hell to feed their dog????? Hopefully this post will help you.
Vets. A knowledgeable source of information on so many things for our beloved pets. I would never tell anyone to disregard their vet's advice (I wanted to be a vet in a past life, and was a veterinary technician for awhile as well) , however veterinary school is lacking in nutrition education for new veterinarians. They mostly learn about the veterinary formulas of food and that's about it. Any other knowledge a vet gains is by pursuing it on their own. Thankfully more and more vets are seeking out this information, mostly because the pet owning public is forcing them to because of the internet. We as pet owners love to Google all things pet related, and from there bring that information to our vets offices. More than asking your veterinarian WHAT food to feed, have a discussion about your pets weight/health instead. Are they over or under weight? How does their coat look? How do their stools look and smell (yes, not all dog poop smells awful!)? All those questions will help you to know about if the food you are feeding is actually doing well for your pet. Also of note; the resent studies about grain free diets causing heart issues in dogs. There are a few flaws in the studies sited; the fact that many in the official study were breeds already predisposed to heart issues is one. They are still studying this issue and are finding it is more than simply grain free foods, there are other things lacking in some pet foods that are adding to the issue. Here's what I told owner's when i worked for a small, family run pet store; grain free is the "gluten intolerant" of the pet world. Yes, some dogs (like my dearest friend who actually IS gluten intolerant) are allergic to grains. But Most often they are not. It is generally an issue from the protein source in food allergies, not grains. You are better off trying a single protein food to rule allergies out than giving your dog a grain free food. If their stools are large and quite foul smelling that is a sign of poor nutrition. They are large because your dog is not digesting as much of their food, its going in one end and out the other. And believe it or not it can smell worse when they are eating lower quality ingredients. You should be able to feel their ribs, but not see them at rest. (It is ok to see their ribs if they are panting from running/playing) They should have a waist, not look like a loaf of bread. Your vet should be able to give you a target weight for your pet based on breed, age, and size.
So, on to actual food information. For starters, did you know that on every bag of dog food there is calorie information? Much like with human food people get caught up in the proteins and carbs, but do not look at the calories. My crew for instance is on Nutrisource. The boys are on the higher kcal per cup rating because they have high metabolisms and need to keep weight on not off, and my 2 seniors also still have high metabolisms and need the weight kept on. Do not fall into the trap that all "weight management" foods are created equal! It may have lower protein and carbs but if the calories are still high it won't help them lose weight. As a point of reference, when I am looking for high calorie food for my crew I want a food with 500 Kcals/cup or higher. There is of course mixed opinions on if "byproducts" are good or bad in pet foods. Personally, I don't feed foods that list "by product meals" for an example another food we like, FirstMate, lists "Chicken Meal" as the first ingredient. What that means, dehydrated chicken meat. If you see just "Chicken" that means the weight before the water was removed, so there's actually less chicken in there than you would think. Chicken meal is the after water is removed weight, so there is actually more. Vitamins and minerals will be listed. Fruits and veggies will be listed. Don't worry if you see chicken fat listed, this is a natural source of glucosimine and chondroitin that is actually better digested by pets than synthetic vitamins. If your pet tends to get over weight, for starters do not free feed them. You can not monitor exactly how much they are getting. Give them 1-2 meals a day of measured food. Check your foods calories, it should be lower in proteins, carbs AND calories (less than 400kcals/cup is a good start, lower the better for weight loss). If you have multiple dogs, it is also best not to free feed as you can not know for sure who's getting what. When it was just my senior pointer I free fed her because she was good at self regulation (she didn't eat herself silly and get fat) as it was easy for me. But any time I added another dog it was back to 2 meals a day. If you find yourself feeding tons of cups a day and having to buy lower quality foods to keep up, seek out a higher calorie food. As an example my young pointer was on 4-5 cups a day when he arrived and was still too skinny. I switched him to a higher calorie food and now on 2-2.5 cups per day he is at a proper weight. Don't just throw more food at a skinny dog hoping they'll gain weight, if the calories are too low they won't and you will get frustrated.
Vitamins, should we be adding them? I am of the opinion that if you have done your food research correctly, no. Most synthetic vitamins are not absorbed anyway (neither are they in people in fact) and you can have too much of a good thing. Now, if your pet is sick or nursing or quite elderly; then yes maybe an animal specific multi vitamin is a good addition to their food. I do love Grizzly Salmon Oil products as an additive ,but oh boy does it SMELL AWFUL! It smells awful putting it on their food and their breath (I don't notice a worse smell in their poop though) If the smell gets to you they make a Krill Oil supplement that doesn't smell. I do add pumpkin on occasion for bulk, if you notice soft stools. Pure, 100% pumpkin has fiber in it that helps calm the stomach and firm the stool (DO NOT use pumpkin pie filling, it must be pure pumpkin) The one additive I do use almost always is bone broth. It is a much better way to entice them to eat than adding wet food (and cheaper too), you only need a small bit of it. It is great for their joints, gut and digestive health, helps enhance hydration (especially important in the summer heat and after exercising), can increase appetite in sick or overly picky dogs, and aids in skin and coat health. Raw bones are a great addition as well. Raw (thawed or frozen) or smoked are the only types of bones to give. Do not give them the ham bone you made soup with, do not give them the rib bones from the oven. These bones are too soft and can splinter in their intestines and cause major issues. They also don't digest as well. Most pet stores have proper bones. Also, never give your pet rawhides. The bleaching processed used to make them white is harmful to dogs and they are indigestible which can lead to blockages.
Raw diets. I will touch on this a little. I LOVE raw diets, but they are not cheap. Yes those who really believe in them will tell you "You don't need to feed as much so it's actually cheaper" But buying in bulk for 6 dogs is alot, even for me. The nice part though is it doesn't have to be all or nothing, some raw is better than none. Some foods have a freeze dried raw coating, these foods can really make your dogs health improve. There are frozen, freeze dried and dehydrated raw foods. Frozen raw food you can thaw or feed frozen, some dogs do not take it however because it does not smell much and warming it defeats the purpose because cooking breaks down some of the nutrients. The freeze dried/dehydrated come as a powder you just add warm water too. Any of these you can add to your kibble for added health benefits. But people, its RAW MEAT! Please use your head. Don't leave it in a tub of its own blood for days. Don't prepare it on your bare counter tops then cook your family dinner just using a wet sponge to clean it. You need to keep it at the proper temperatures, wash your hands well, and wash all prep areas with cleaner such as bleach. And unless you want to do extensive research, just use an already prepared food such as NorthWest Naturals, there is a lot to know about the balance of everything so your pet isn't lacking any nutrients. I would love to feed 100% raw, but right now our situation just doesn't allow it. The kids are happy and healthy none the less. As far as dogs go, variety is your best friend. Stick with a brand, but pick one that has many protein/carb options. You want to rotation feed. We'll take Nutrisource as an example. So a couple bags of chicken and rice, and then maybe a bag of their grain free sea food blend, and then maybe their bison formula. As long as it is the same brand name, you do not have to do the gradual mixing that you would switching to a whole new type of food. Dog's get bored like we do, and you can guarantee they are not missing any nutrients if you feed in this way.
So to summarize: if you have currently over weight dogs or dogs who can get that way quick, keep an eye on the calories of your food and keep it under 400kcals/cup. Look for "meal" which means the post water weight of the protein. If you suspect allergies, switch to a single protein diet such as Natural Balance to try and weed it out. ( I always suggest Natural Balance for allergy sufferers because they make wet food and treats single protein limited ingredient as well so they don't have to be on total restriction) Added vitamins are mostly not needed except for the sick or injured, but you can add fish/krill oil and bone broth. Bones are a great addition to the diet, my favorite are frozen raw bones but smoked bones are fine to help keep their teeth stay clean. Rotation feed, keep with the same brand but change proteins to insure they are getting all their needed nutrients. This can help jump start a dog eating that goes off their feed. Giving them their food in puzzles or different places can also get them back into eating as well. It makes it more interesting for them. I hope this article has helped you, if you still have questions or would like more suggestions please reach out. I would love to help you!
For the Dogs,