Dog nutrition - put yourself in charge!
Dog about to help himself - photo courtesy of ZME Science
Far too many pet food suppliers are focused on the health of their company's financial bottom line above that of your pet.
They can (and do) make all kinds of claims, and basically put in inferior ingredients, without much oversight - hence the periodic recalls due to pets becoming ill from those commercial foods.
Dr. Andrew Jones, a veterinarian who owns Nelson Animal Hospital in Nelson, BC, asserts that an improper diet is a factor in weakening dogs' immune systems, making them susceptible to all kinds of diseases, including cancer.
He started looking into nutrition after his dog, Hoochie, developed an aggressive cancer at only 7 years of age. Hoochie was getting plenty of aerobic exercise, yearly shots, and "veterinarian approved" kibble. In other words, his dog should NOT have developed cancer at such a young age.
Dr. Jones and many other veterinarians are seeing dogs with cancers and other chronic diseases at much younger ages than in the past. The culprits appear to be:
Interestingly, these are all things YOU can control without much, if any, veterinarian input... However, if you do consult with a veterinarian, we recommend you aim for one with holistic health training and experience.
*We never gave any of our dogs yearly vaccinations; just rabies shots every three years, and bordetella only when it was required such as for putting our dogs in a kennel, crossing the border, or teeth cleaning at a veterinarian's office. None of them had allergies...
So what is optimal dog nutrition? Unfortunately, there is not one simple answer or formula to answer this question. You may need to experiment.
However, as with people, dogs need a balance of the following to keep them healthy:
What to Feed
Some factors involved include your dog's tolerance to different kinds of foods, the dog's size, age, and the amount of vigorous exercise your dog gets.
When it comes to the actual foods, if you are feeding your dog cooked or raw food, much will depend on the age of the food and how it is grown.
Although unadulterated (i.e., organic) meats and vegetables would seem most desirable, if the vegetables are several days old, they will have lost nutritional value and it might be better to use thawed frozen vegetables that you puree, cooked or raw.
For kibble diets, you want to read the labels very carefully. Anything that comes in a bag and does not look like food you can grow is likely to have lost or altered many of the nutrients during the processing. That's why some of these things are added back in. However, it is generally less than what was lost.
Here's a great site that rates different types of kibble and tells you which ones are best nutritionally: Dog Food Analysis.
We strongly recommend you read labels and other materials carefully so you can make an informed choice as to what you feed your dogs.
The various types of kibble also have preservatives to prolong shelf life, but several artificial ones are toxic and should be avoided:
These are usually made from Vitamins C and E and will have words that say tocopherol or ascorbate.
Many dog owners choose vitamin or bone health supplements for better dog nutrition.
We started using them about a month after Comet's life-threatening illness in February 2010 (see below). We think he might have lived 2 or 3 years longer if he had been on supplements all along, since his diet was not always high in nutrition.
We have tried a number of things with our dogs. Cheaper kibble has
definitely given poor results, showing up as frequently emitted loose
stool, skin and fur problems including a susceptibility to fleas, and
possibly contributing to F.B.'s arthritis.
A better kind of kibble (found in PetSmart, not at any grocery store) did help with F.B. and Comet for years. However, even so, it was recommended we change to a different bag when our dog emptied the last one so that all nutritional bases would be covered.
After Comet's hemorraghic gastroenteritis (HG) episode, he had absolutely NO tolerance for cheaper types of kibble (which have rendered fat added to make them smell good). He would simply throw it up.
Exercise seemed to play a huge part in how much food he kept down, and we believe not exercising him properly for two days contributed to his HG episode. (We also think that F.B. developed bloat at age 13 because he was slowing down on his walks and we did not reduce his food intake enough.)
During the six months before Comet died, we fed him four times a day with about 1/3 cup of cooked brown rice, 1/4 cup of raw veggies, and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of raw meat (chicken breast, beef liver, hamburger) and sometimes some cooked fish. He also got Vitamin C, selenium, acidophalous (probiotics), and a regular multi-vitamin, plus one or two soup marrow bones to chew on daily. His coat remained soft and ungreasy, his eyes were bright, and for a while he maintained weight. However, after a while
We tried Comet with a total raw food diet during our yearlong stay in Florida, but he started refusing the food, and we suspect it was too rich for the amount of exercise he was getting. Since we were fixing to get back on the road in our RV, we switched him to a high-end kibble again.
We think he would have done alright on that kibble and the occasional healthy treat, except we became anxious about the expense and went to the cheapest PetSmart variety, while at the same time he was getting a number of high-fat treats such as hot dogs, cheese, cottage cheese and some raw bacon from "someone" in the family who thought dog nutrition was overrated. It turned out that all that fat was definitely too much for Comet's system.
If you have someone in your family who is poo-poohing good dog nutrition in the name of loving the dog, tell them it cost us $1,000 for 24 hours of very basic emergency veterinary care, and we had to spend far more on Comet's diet than previously. It probably also aged him by a year or more.
In August 2010, Comet had another round of vomiting and symptoms similar to the gastroenteritis, except that he had very little bleeding from his rectum. He had lost more weight despite efforts with the better diet. He passed away during the night. We now suspect that he might have had cancer, but getting a diagnosis was beyond our means at the time - the vet was talking about $500 just for testing... He would have been 12 on November 1, 2010 - we had expected him to live at least until he was 14 given his size. If he had had better dog nutrition for his entire time with us, we think it would have made the difference.
If this page proved useful to you, please feel free to share it with your friends and family members. Wishing your dogs a long and healthy life!