I spend a great deal of time thinking about food. I wake up and think, “What’s for dinner?” This isn’t totally crazy, because Jim and I have much of our food stored away in a freezer the size of a live cow, and it needs to be defrosted before it is cooked (the food, not the cow). Besides, I love to cook. I, sigh, especially love to bake and so of course am a dedicated fan of The Great British Baking Show. However, as much as I love making bread and perfecting pie crusts, I do spend time trying to create a balance of meals that focus on nutrition, taste, environmental health, and the welfare of any animals involved.
I’m pretty sure that our dogs are uninterested in how food is prepared or what’s contained in it. At present both the Border Collies are enjoying poopsickles, when they can snatch them, as much as they enjoy fresh food. Any and all food is gobbled up as if the dogs have been starved for weeks, whether it is broiled, roasted, fried, raw, or recycled through the gut of another animal.
I’m confident that’s true of 95% of all other dogs in the universe. (This is not news: The Navajo word for dog translates as “eater of horse poop.”) But because we control their take, it is up to us to ensure that our dogs are getting the nutrition that they need. There are some great commercial dog food companies out there that work hard to provide good nutrition for dogs. However, it would be naive indeed for us to count on them, and their marketing departments, to tell us what to feed our dogs.
That’s why I’m grateful for nutritionists like Dr. Linda Case. I was reminded of the importance of her work while reading her article in Whole Dog Journal about the digestibility of different types of protein sources. In it Dr. Case summarizes studies done by researchers from two universities in Denmark, who looked the digestibility of different types of proteins found in commercial kibble. As Dr. Case reminds us, food manufacturers list the percentage of protein found in the food, but they don’t tell us how digestible it is. And that’s the information that matters, because if the protein in a food isn’t actually absorbed, it might as well not have been there.
Here’s the bottom line of what the researchers found:
Lamb meal was the least digestible of the foods tested. It had a digestibility of 70.5%. (Under 75% is considered “poor digestibility,” while over 85% is considered “good”.) Poultry meal didn’t do so well either, with a digestibility of 80.2%. The winner was fish meal, which rated 87%.
The other big surprise was that replacing 25% of the poultry meal with fresh chicken meat resulted in a lower digestibility than using just meal. The best guess is that, because this was extruded kibble that was being tested, the heating and drying processes involved in manufacture had a more deleterious effect on the fresh meat than on the meal. (This is not news to folks who advocate feeding dogs a raw diet.)
In other words, using “real meat first” as a criteria for selecting manufactured dog food isn’t necessarily going to help use choose the best food. Dr. Case emphasized, as did the researchers of the study, that “… information of amino acid composition, and digestibility is crucial.” She’s been arguing this point for years, and does a great job of it in her excellent book, Dog Food Logic. I highly recommend it.
Overall, this is yet more evidence that we need to be thoughtful about what we are feeding our dogs. I myself feed my dogs a combination of kibble, canned food, fresh meat or eggs, and cooked vegetables. Until my life changes radically, I simply can’t imagine feeding my dogs raw food in a way that feels safe and is possible given my time constraints. Lucky for me, the kibble that I often feed is fish-based, with fish meat and fish meal as the primary ingredients.
One last comment, to add a bit of perspective: We are wise to balance our concern about feeding our dogs well with the knowledge that most of our dogs eat better than much of the world’s population. Don’t fall into feeling guilty because you don’t prepare fresh halibut and organic-raw-but-safe-chicken on a daily basis for your dogs. Our family dog, Fudge, ate commercial dog food that I now label as”total garbage food,” and lived a long, healthy life. But don’t ask your dog what he or she wants to eat. We took the dogs out on a leash walk in an area with lots of other dogs, and I forgot to bring my bait bag. I’m always working on good responses to their seeing other dogs in close encounters, so we stopped at a market and bought the worst kind of junk food for dogs imaginable. They went ballastic over it. Seems dogs are just as susceptible as we are to salt, sugar and a vast array of molecules that make strange chemistry experiments look like food.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Just back from LA, visiting family. It was brief, but exquisite to see my sisters and nieces. Not to mention the sunny, mid-70’s weather. A couple of observations– First: Out of about 35 dogs I saw walking around, only two of them were over 12 pounds. Very different from New York City, where you see lots of dogs of medium size. Second: Californians appear to be obsessed with edging their lawns. Never thought of Californians as anal compulsive, but seriously, you guys need to chill out. Third: Just about every house in Burbank and Beverly Hills has a security system sign. So sorry about that. Fourth: Please send some of your food. To Red’s BBQ in Simi Valley, and all the Ethiopian restaurants in Beverly Hills–I love you.
Hi Trisha, thanks for the dog food update. We are probably less obsessive about dog food than many, mostly feeding dry kibble supplemented by training treats and an occasional bonus like salmon skin, beef fat, or vegetable trimmings. Previous dogs have lived long, healthy lives on this diet, and I fervently hope that our good fortune continues.
We tried several dog foods for Red Dog before finding one that she digested well. Fortunately the other dogs like the same food.
If there were magazine covers for dog poop, the Sammy would be a star. She produces such perfectly formed nuggets that it is almost a pleasure to do cleanup duty.
The 9-year old pug gets old, fat dog food, which she enthusiastically supplements with dog poop when available. Makes it hard to keep her weight under control. Fortunately the other dogs eschew dog poop, but of course consider poop from non-dog species to be a delicacy.
Ethiopian food is wonderful, isn’t it? Next time you visit Washington DC keep in mind that it has an abundant supply of outstanding Ethiopian restaurants, perhaps the best/most in the country.
I assume that Californians are obsessive about lawns because lawns require irrigation in much of California, at least during the dry season. When visiting it always seemed strange to see lush lawns next to xeriscaping, which is the more natural landscape in many parts of California.
Linda Case says
Thanks Trisha! I am so glad you enjoyed this article. I have been excited to see more and more research of this type being published. It is so sorely needed. And, so true, your “junk food” story! 🙂 🙂 Best, Linda
Great blog about food. I live in thousand oaks, ca will try reds in simi. We pay a lot for our sidewalks we want to see them. Read education of will, thanks for your honesty
Thanks for this post. I’ve been interested in companion animal nutrition for a while, and am extremely pleased at the advances that have been made.
Your comment about feeding raw food really surprised me, “Until my life changes radically, I simply can’t imagine feeding my dogs raw food in a way that feels safe and is possible given my time constraints.”
Does this mean that you’re not sure of the safety of commercially prepared raw diets? If so, what are your concerns? It’s my understanding that the commercially prepared raw diets are treated to eliminate some common bacteria (some e coli, listeria, for example). Should we all be concerned about the safety of these foods?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on raw diets.
Thanks for all the help and guidance!
Donna stone says
I read and reread Mrs. Case ‘s article in whole dog journal. Both of my dogs have been eating lamb for years due to allergies t poultry! I was devastated. After hours of research, I decided to switch them to salmon. Both of my foods are premium kibble.
I have been slowly transitioning them and after five days were about 35% there.
About 3hours after their meal, last night, my 70pound American foxhound vomited her entire meal! I am now at a loss! So this morning I fed them their lamb kibble. Back to the drawing board I guess. I am feeling very guilty,I thought I was feeding them the best I could. I have communicated with my original food company,they
Assured me their lamb digestability is 85% and just emailed the salmon company to tell them of my experience! Thank you,I enjoyed your article !
Great article! I always enjoy your writings, but this time even more so.
Sandy Gill says
Before I put down a deposit for my puppy, I went and visited the breeder and her dogs (tri-color poodles – who knew!?!?) to verify that she was a competent breeder and the health and temperament of her dogs. Wow! I was very impressed and I placed a deposit for my puppy. When it came time to take my puppy home, I asked the breeder what food she was using because I was not vested into any particular brand and her dogs were healthy and lived long lives. I am using that food now (puppy is 20 months old) and she is just as healthy as her parents and cousins. One of the reasons the breeder uses the food is because it is healthy but also relatively inexpensive because she has to buy sooo much food. Well, duh! I had not thought about that. An ethical and competent breeder is a lifesaver.
Okay, if, say, the protein were only 50% digestible (for easy numbers), wouldn’t feeding them 2x the amount of a 100% digestible protein mean the same amount of nutrients and just more poop?
I mean, honestly, given the things I have pried out of my dogs’ mouths over the years, if they’re healthy, I’m not going to worry too much.
Donna, maybe if your dogs can only tolerate lamb, try a digestive enzyme to see if that helps them digest more. Also there are some great organic supplements out there that I use even tho I feed raw food for all my dogs meals. I know that even then they might not be digesting everything they need because of each dog’s body being different like humans so I try to make sure they have added supplements. It must be working because my dogs are really healthy.
Barbara Martin says
I started feeding human grade meat when I nearly lost my German Shepherd, Miley, to IBD. She is now healthy. Because of her IBD I cook most of her food although I believe for most dogs raw is better. I continue to read a lot about nutrition for dogs and what they were designed to eat. Hint: it is NOT a diet high in carbohydrates! When I found a co-op for purchasing locally sourced human grade meats at a reasonable cost I switched my other two GSDs to real food also. I buy rabbit, elk, venison, bison, turkey, pork, beef, and whole raw sardines, most of it ground with bone and organs. I add a small amount of The Honest Kitchen base mix along with various supplements to most meals. I also give them eggs occasionally. I own two freezers for the dogs and spend hours each week preparing their meals including lots of hot soapy water for cleanup. This is not cheap or easy. I spend over $700 a month on food and supplements for three large dogs. I have a very understanding husband who saw how real food saved Miley’s life. Sometimes I envy those who pour kibble into a bowl. Even the best dry dog foods are extremely high in starch, necessary for the extrusion process and very cheap. Read the label. Start with 100%, subtract the moisture, fat, protein and ash and you will have the percentage of soluble carbohydrates. Very, very high and not what dogs need to eat. Dogs may have been healthier and lived longer back in the day when they ate table scraps. At least it was real food that hadn’t had the life cooked out of it.
Hello from a 45 lb LA dog! We do exist and you’ll definitely see a lot hiking in Griffith park the next time you visor! 🙂
Jody Freeland says
Digestibility is very important. I’ve been feeding a raw food diet to my dogs for over 11 years. It isn’t that difficult. What is important is to rotate proteins and not feed from one protein source. I took a Canine Nutrition class where we used Dr. Cases textbook. I learned a lot. However, no matter what, kibble is really poor food. If you do feed kibble rotate the protein source with every bag and try to feed from a single manufacturing company and not one that makes food for many different labels. One of the biggest concerns in feeding fish meal, and most people do not know this, is that it is processed onboard the fishing vessel and all of it is treated with a preservative, ethoxyquin, which is carcinogenic. Of course, the pet food manufacturers do not have to state it in their ingredient list as it comes to them ready to add to the slurry of other ingredients.
Ha! Thanks for sharing. I’m often amused that I’ve spent so much time researching the best food for my dogs, but left to their own devices they would happily subsist on what they can rummage from the garbage can and litter boxes. Ick! I’ve been feeding my dogs (& cats) salmon-based kibble supplemented by a variety of canned wet meat and the occasional veggie and grain bowl. Good stools, gorgeous coats, happy babies. Thanks for continuing the great posts, Tricia!
Janet Campbell says
So what is the best kibble out there at a reasonable price. Thanks for the article, we are currently seeking a new forever food 🥘
I’m in the same boat as Donna Stone. Echo is allergic to poultry, so I feed no-preservatives lamb. This is interesting research! Disheartening, but interesting…
‘eaters of horse poop’ – Brilliant! Although in our case it would have to be ‘eaters of fox and cat poop’, not so interested in horse…
On a slightly different note, I find the whole dog food discussion fairly confusing, a lot seems to be based on the author’s point of view, particularly around raw / non-raw feeding… rather than facts and proper research… (not referring to the article you mention, just in general), so good to see something else…
Leah Lee says
As a recent transplant from Seattle to LA, I share your fascination with all the little things that make LA fantastic and odd, particularly the perfectly trimmed lawns!
Thanks for this piece on dog food. Loved learning the Navajo translation.
My three border collies are fed a dry kibble (lamb) and a dehydrated raw (chicken) along with canned on weekends and their treats. Stools are small and firm. I cannot understand that they are not absorbing most of the nutrients.
Chris Wells says
I for one would feed a raw diet if I could. But it is a lot of work and then boarding your dog becomes an issue. I do at present have a 15 year old dog that has been in renal decline and I currently cook my own dog food for her. I have found so many good recipes on the Internet and I am constantly changing up what I feed her, so if one recipe is lacking in something, hopefully the next one will fill in. I read an article that stated; if you can feed a child you can feed your dog…it is not that hard. Growing up my grandfather in Pennsylvania made all his own dog food for his hunting dogs. He never bought commercial dog food in his life. I wish he were still alive so he could share his knowledge with me now. I cook a batch of food every 2 weeks and package and freeze it, so I am not cooking all the time for the dog. I would love to have you do more articles on commercial dog food.
I am a skinflint. When I found myself throwing bags of kibble away because Sophy refused to eat anything that smelled stale I changed to high quality, highly recommended wet food. The dogs loved it, but I analysed the ingredients and realised that for the same price I could be feeding pheasant breast and asparagus, so I looked into home made diets. For the last 7 or 8 years I have been feeding dogs and cats home cooked and some raw, carefully researched to ensure a balanced diet. It seemed complicated at first, but I can now easily prep a week’s food in an hour or so. Real food, inexpensive, very palatable, and the animals are thriving.
Christine Zeltner says
Really good information. If they send you Ethiopian food get me some. That said we just ate at Baraka on Willy St. in Madison. It is still very good.
Oh, boy- this is SUCH a fascinating topic, and so important, but every time I see someone bring up feeding dogs (or humans) I mentally fasten my safety belt 😉
On the digestibility issue, this is something I have wondered and worried about for some years- when we first adopted Otis, he had serious difficulty digesting virtually all commercial kibble. This likely had something to do with his condition at the time (he was picked up as a stray, well on his way to starving to death, and that likely impacted his digestive system). The problem in his case (we think, partly in hindsight) was whole grain. His inability to digest his food properly resulted in:
1. Needing to eat ENORMOUS quantities of food to maintain or gain badly needed weight- we’re talking a minimum of eight or nine cups of high calorie food (roughly 4500-6000 calories a day). Even for a dane, that’s crazy.
2. Converting the vast majority of his food directly into nasty diarrhea, multiple times per day.
3. General lack of interest in food, including treats- whether because he was always uncomfortably stuffed or suffering from stomach upset.
We tried various formulas, various main proteins, nothing worked. In the end we were left with the choice between grain-free (extremely expensive at the time, more than a decade ago) and home-prepared. Prepared raw diets were just barely a thing, and not available in my area. We started with home-cooked food and switched to home-prepared raw once he stabilized, and the difference was both immediate and dramatic. We fed him that way for a decade, and when we added Sandy to the family, we fed her the same (seemed easier). She just turned fifteen, and while we grind her food now out of deference to her teeth, we’ll likely stick with home-prepared raw for the duration.
In any case, the experience caused me to reflect on two things- first, that the highest quality food in the world is pretty worthless if it’s passing straight through and out the other end without being digested. In particular, ‘healthy’ ingredients like whole grain might be less nutritious than junk food if a dog can’t actually get past the bran to access the nutrients. (I am not suggesting that this is generally the case, but it seemed to be in this specific instance).
Second, I worried that if many of the nutrients in kibble come from vitamin and mineral supplements, and since my dog was eating enormous quantities to compensate for low rates of calorie absorption, how could I tell HOW much he was absorbing of the vitamins and minerals added to his food?- was he getting enough?too little? too much? If he absorbed even half of what he was eating, it constituted a massive dose- was this safe? I spent a good deal of time fretting.
I’m so gratified to see the issue of digestibility, especially as it concerns “quality” and “healthy” ingredients, taken on in this sensible, scientific way. Diet and nutrition can be a touchy subject, so kudos to Dr. Case for being willing to enter the fray.
While I am satisfied with my own decisions, feeding-wise, I am guardedly so, and far from being an evangelist for home-prepared foods, much less home-prepared raw. On the one hand, I feel far too much is sometimes made of the idea that feeding a dog in a balanced, high-quality way is difficult, if not impossible for regular people- we are trusted to feed our children, after all- understanding the basic nutritional needs of a dog is really not all THAT complicated. On the other hand, people are people, and raw feeding can be risky from both a nutritional and food-safety perspective. I’d surely hesitate to feed raw (I chose to mostly because it was easier to prepare and easier to achieve a good mineral balance without as much supplementation) if anyone in my household were immune-compromised, or interacted with those who are. Doing it successfully takes a bit of education and effort, so it’s not something that will ever be ideal for everyone. Fortunately, I’m also of the opinion that there are many possible paths to good nutrition and a healthy pet- I’m not a believer in the One True Way approach- I think there is an option or combination of options that will suit the needs (kibble, canned, commercial fresh, commercial raw, home prepared raw or cooked) of virtually everyone.
As a last comment, I will note that home-preparing raw food has been neither burdensomely expensive nor time-consuming for me. I know that some people truly are time-crunched down to the last minute, and I also understand that many people simply would rather not spend their time preparing dog food at home, and I think that’s a perfectly reasonable position and I wouldn’t want to come across as trying to convince anyone otherwise. But for any who are seriously considering feeding home-prepared raw and are worried about time, I can say that it took me an average of an hour a week to prep meals for Sandy and Otis, (225lbs of dog, combined) and about an hour to prepare three weeks worth (I store more in the freezer these days) of meals for Sandy alone (75lbs of dog).
The process entails sectioning whole chickens, chopping them into chunks and running them through a grinder (this removes the danger of tooth breakage, choking or perforation from bones, though the ground meat does not have the same tooth-cleaning properties that whole or chunked meaty bones would have). Organ meats I buy mostly processed and just need to slice them or toss them in the grinder. At this point, I’m pretty handy with a cleaver. The rest of Sandy’s diet is made up of supplements of vegetables, grains (limited), eggs, yogurt, and cheese I do up for her as I am preparing food for myself and my husband, it doesn’t cost anything in terms of time, but it does take some attention to keep track of what she has and hasn’t had in the last couple days.
To me, it seems like very little effort, and the total cost is almost exactly what I’d pay for high-quality kibble, less if I make some effort at sourcing, BUT- I love to cook, don’t mind cleaning, had decent butchery skills before I ever owned dogs, and don’t have a million other claims on my time and attention- I can totally see why people might not want or be able to do it. I also had a near-ideal situation. Neither of my dogs had allergies or intolerances to speak of (barring whole grains), my local grocery store stocks almost everything I need, the dogs are short-coated(long fur on the face may trap bacteria more readily), healthy themselves, and no one they interact with is immune-compromised.
Anyhow, thank you so much for a lovely, measured article and opening up this discussion, I always so enjoy learning about this issue.
As a last note- I should probably ‘fess up- both my dog ate (and my old girl currently eats) generous quantities of table/kitchen prep scraps. I tried to watch it on salt/sugar/starch/fat, but basically, if it was dog safe, down it went. We’ll call it, ‘healthy variety’ 🙂
Barb Coyle says
Hi P –
I am very concerned about our dog’s food. I thought it was a good one. (Fromms)
I have found Purina Beyond Grain Free Wild-Caught Tuna & Egg Recipe dry dog food. Is this better?
Jann Becker says
My 2 dogs are sorry we re-homed the cats–there go the snacks! There seems to be a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about frozen poop as opposed to fresh, and we’re giving a little sprinkle of meat tenderizer to the producer of the delicacy. Works in very small quantities; despite her superior sense of smell she doesn’t seem to mind and consumption of poop, if any, is now being kept outdoors.
Our older dog is fiendishly fond of broccoli. She will keep a perfect “I’m being so good” sit when someone is eating a salad just in case it includes broccoli (steamed, room temp or colder.) The younger one figures if his sister is eating it, it must be good; I figure kids have been giving theirs to the dog for years.
I’m feeding my 10 month old standard poodle a raw food diet. We did the same with our last standard who was healthy to the very end. Also great coat, no fleas, no ear infections, no bad breath, etc. It’s not that hard. I use the Know Better Dog mineral/bone powder as a base and add raw meat, goat’s milk, cod liver oil, and pumpkin. They have other options that are even easier. The good folks at KBD are very helpful.
I’ve always thought that the condition of the dog was the best indicater of the quality of the feeding program.
We have fed a commercial, albeit small company, freeze-dried raw food with chicken in it. Add water and let soak over night. Both dogs have joint issues and this is a grain-free food with lots of veggies and some fruit. I also give them a powdered probiotic and a spoonful of plain yogurt with their morning meal (one has a sensitive stomach as in emotionally sensitive). Their coats are great, their skin is good, and their weights are perfect (even with treats and occasional nibbles and as few poopsicles as possible). The cost is a little more than high-quality kibble with supplemental foods. I’m worried as this brand is getting harder to find, but our dogs thrive on it.
The feeding raw vs not debate has been going on for so long, I expect it to pop up whenever someone says dog food. It’s like the debates on breast feeding vs bottle all those years ago. It’s another subject that never loses its fire.
Deb McGrath says
I love your take on food…it is so nonjudgmental while being informative at the same time, thank you for that!🐾🥓🐾
I’ve been reading all the comments with great interest. What we each feed our dogs is indeed a bit of a black hole–it is such a big topic in some ways it’s a bit like writing a blog on “behavior.” That said, I few things I want to add.
First, if your dog is flourishing, please please don’t panic if you feed your dog lamb or fish meal (which a reader, thank you, reminds us well might have have ethoxyquin in it). Most importantly, see #3.
Second, no, I am so sorry, I honestly can’t tell you what food is best for your dog. Dr. Case says she is asked that all the time and has the same response. I will say that I like Whole Dog Journal’s evaluations of both kibble and canned; they are a great resource. I should add, to one commenter, that Fromm’s is listed as one of their highly recommended foods, so please don’t panic. I feel Fromm’s sometimes too and it gets very high ratings. I suspect that it is a higher quality food than many people eat in this country.
Third, I love what Dr. Chris Zink says about what to feed: Variety, variety, variety. That’s my motto, and is why our dogs eat something different almost every week. We use fresh food as often as possible, although I am indeed inspired by some of your comments about the ease of feeding raw. (However, and there’s always a however on this topic… I don’t eat or buy commercial chicken both because of health concerns, but primarily because of welfare concerns. There is no way I could afford to feed my dogs organic, local chicken every day. That is the chicken we eat when we eat chicken, but we see it as a big treat. I give the dogs and cats the scraps, and they are ever so grateful.)
Four, do pick up a copy of Dr. Case’s book. (And stay tuned, she has a new one coming out soon.) It is chock full of information.
Five, time to check out Ethiopian food in Madison, WI.
Adrienne K says
Our three year old moyen size poodle(from Crabapple Downs in NH) has been eating freeze dried raw and fresh frozen raw food almost since we got her from the breeder who was feeding all pups and moms Performance dry kibble. We wanted something better so we changed her diet. To date we are very happy with Zasu’s health and the way she enjoys her food. We switch among the various meats offered in the freeze dried raw Primal varieties of lamb, pork, duck which is her favoirte, beef, turkey & sardine and in the fresh frozen raw variety she eats beef and lamb. She has no digestive problems and she has great poop. She seems to like the variety in her foods. As far as “people” food she gets some carrot sticks, lettuce & raw peppers on occasion and on Sunday she gets a treat of sharing our eggs and bacon. I enjoyed everyone’s comments on these posts.
My approach is very similar to Em’s – works for us but I am not evangelical about it (although I have to admit to getting very frustrated trying to explain to a friend that just because the bits of kibble in the cheap, highly advertised food she fed were coloured brown, green and orange it did not mean they were made from fresh meat, peas and carrots…). I think food quality is different in the UK, too – all meat for pet food has to be human grade, and the regulations on livestock welfare and hygiene are generally higher than in the US (which is not to say they are high enough, or sufficiently enforced, of course). I am a huge believer in variety, from as early as possible – a dog that will, or can, only eat one food can be a nightmare when the formula is changed, or you run out when all the shops are closed. A can of sardines, or scrambled eggs, can be a great stand by!
I get a frozen complete chicken, rabbit and beef pet mince (80% muscle meat, 10% bone, 10% offal) delivered, plus supermarket chicken wings and any supermarket offers that look good (heart can be an especially good buy, and a little fed raw covers the cats’ need for taurine). Half a raw chicken wing is a natural toothbrush a few times a week. They get the occasional meal of raw mince when it has just been defrosted, but mostly I simmer about 8 pounds in quite a lot of water, then cook half a pound or so of mixed vegetables in some of the resulting gravy. The cats get the cooked meat with some of the vegetable gravy, the dogs get meat mixed with vegetables, all portioned up and frozen. Sardines, chicken and salmon, scrambled eggs, healthy trimmings from my own meals, etc help to ring the changes, and are useful if I forget to take the next meal out of the freezer. I reckon it takes me less than an hour a week to prep the food for two small dogs and two cats, excluding the overnight defrosting and the time simmering on the stove, including picking vegetables for them in the garden when there is something suitable in season – but that is after years of simplifying things. When I first started I worked out incredibly complicated recipes, even buying special scales to weigh supplements – I think they are still in their box somewhere…
Count me in as another one whose childhood dogs were raised on Gravy Train and Ken-L-Ration patties (which I swear were plastic) or whatever was on sale at the supermarket. They all lived to a healthy 14 or 15 years old. I’m not advocating feeding that stuff, but I do remind myself of it when I start to stress out over what I’m feeding my dogs.
I have to say so many people have told me that “it’s not hard at all” to feed raw or to cook meals for your dogs. Ummm, it is. I’ve tried it. Raw is a pain in the neck, I find, for many reasons and I didn’t see any difference in my dogs’ coats or overall well being. I tried it for about 6-8 months. I know there are plenty of people out there who have had a different experience. This is just mine.
I cooked for my dog who was dying of cancer. All the foods that were recommended that slow down cancer growth. I will forever connect cooking for my dog to my dog being sick, so that’s my hangup.
I do believe in variety and often change the brand or flavor of food (it does not upset their stomachs). I also will add in various human foods that I have around the house. Lately, my senior dog became very picky about eating and I found the only thing that he will eat regularly is deli meat. OY! So I mix it in with his dog food. Nothing worse than an older dog who refuses to eat to get your anxiety going full speed.
What to feed your dog does seem to be akin to a religion in dog circles, so I usually stay away from the topic. But I feel a bit safer here. 🙂
Alice R. says
Count me in the group whose dogs growing up always ate grocery store food and lived long healthy lives. Also count me in the group that is concerned about what to feed their dog. My dog had soft stools since puppyhood, and the search for a high quality food that would fix that did nothing. I decided that was just him until he had several episodes of stools that were soft or liquid as well as bloody. Each time the vet found nothing unusual, and other than seeming to feel under the weather for a day or two, my dog seemed to feel great even with symptoms. Sometimes with the worse symptoms, he seemed to feel fine. He is now on a prescription food and has nice normal stools, but I’ve never felt good about feeding it. I’ve tried different proteins, lower protein, etc with the same eventual result. So I continue to feed a food I don’t very good about. I don’t feed extras, but maybe the addition of occasional vegetables, eggs, etc is something I can try. The vet doesn’t feel like invasive tests for IBS or other causes is worth it unless it happens often or my dog seems unwell. I have to agree, but all this makes the whole dog food selection process very uncomfortable for me. I so appreciate any new information that helps owners make good choices.
Loved the last bit about doggie junk food. Our Sammies are notorious for not eating after a medical procedure. Trip to the drug store, couple cans of the cheapest dog food they had and . . . Viola! Dog is eating again!
“our dogs are getting the nutrition that they need.” Just want to give my personal opinion. When you consider your dog as a part of your family, especially when you raise it since puppy days, you will know what is the best for your dog. Puppies, adults and also senior dogs, all need different kind of food or nutrition. Each group need specific nutrient (if you really care about the dog needs) But, sometimes due to limited resources or budget, as long as dogs want to eat, and it is enough for them.
Connie B says
Thanks for this topic. One thing that I’m very confused about is the concept of variety. I was under the impression that if you feed a particular brand and type of kibble, and if you want to change it, you should transition slowly to the new type (e.g. 1/4 to 3/4, new to old, then 1/2 and 1/2, etc.) as a total change would/could cause intestinal distress (which is a reason, for example, to bring the dog’s regular food if boarding or visiting at a friend’s house). If variety is a good thing, does that mean it’s okay to switch types all the time (e.g. different types of protein, different brands)?
Great question Connie. Here’s my experience, but remember I’m not a vet or a nutritionist. IF you dog is used to variety, they adapt to different types of food without any distress at all. (Of course there are exceptions–allergies, foods with too much fat, etc.) But if your dog has only eaten one kind of food–say commercial kibble for years, then you indeed need to make a slow transition. I do some of that myself because Maggie and Tootsie both have what appear to be delicate digestive systems. So when I buy a different brand of food, I start with about 1/3 new and 2/3 old and transition over a week or so. But keep in mind that my dogs also get lots of fresh meat, eggs and veggies most days, so they are always getting variety in their diets. Here’s a personal story that might help it all make sense: I lived in Ketchikan, Alaska for 2 years, long before it had become spruced up with tourists and big cruise ships visiting. There was no fast food of any kind. After about a year I went to Seattle and had a McDonald’s burger. I’ll just say the results weren’t pretty, and leave it at that. There was nothing wrong with what I ate, my system simply had not had to process anything beyond fresh caught salmon and blueberries for I don’t know how long. Make sense?
Dr. M says
I live in Burbank! And yes people are crazy with the gardening. If you drove past a house with a dead yard it was mine.😂
We’ve been feeding our Leos raw forever and will never go back…period. Three anecdotes:
My cousin an internist and an Irish Wolfhound lover always told me when we discussed canine longevity these three things: “DNA, DNA, DNA.”
My wife recalls that as a kid she fed her cocker Kibbles and Bits and now exclaims, “She lived to 17!” (see above) My response was she probably would have lived to 37 if you fed her something better.
Lastly and my aha moment, we were out hiking with our crew and they all stopped at a pile of dog poop to check it out. Completed their requisite investigation and then moved on in unison. A mile later there was a fresh offering of coyote scat on a log. Two minutes later and most of it was gone…hmmm, processed over cooked grains vs. succulent rabbit and rodents. No contest.
Connie B says
Trisha – I understand the concept now. I subscribed to the Whole Dog Journal so I could see the list of approved dry dog foods, picked some that are available to me through Petsmart or Amazon, then also checked the website that lists the brands that have experienced recalls, and settled on a new brand (and convinced my friend with whom I share dog sitting to change as well). Now I’m planning to add in some variety so that variety will be more like the norm. Thanks!
Thank you so much. Navigating dog food choices has always been difficult for me and I never know what’s optimal. I’m guessing that fresh cooked chicken is better digested without being added to kibble? I remember reading somewhere not to add fresh meat to kibble; maybe this was the reason. I give my dog boiled chicken for training treats but that is between kibble meals, so hopefully I’m not screwing things up too badly!
Interestingly I remember reading a study by Dr. Nick Dodman that lower protein content helped with some aggressive dogs. Now I wonder whether the digestibility of the protein had any effect.
Dog food has been at the forefront of my mind this week as I just stumbled upon the Clean Label Project website (cleanlabelproject.org) and was unpleasantly surprised to see that the kibble and wet food and lots of the treats I’ve used over the years were found to have higher than average levels of contamination with heavy metals and various creepy pollutants, and this was stuff I spent a lot of time looking into and felt pretty good about feeding (Orijen, Wellness Core, Taste of the Wild, those kinds of things). The levels of lead and mercury that are allowed in pet food is pretty mind boggling. So far they only rate tested products as better than average (5 stars), average (3 stars), and worse than average (1 star) and they give a general brand rating so some more detailed information would be helpful but it’s still really eye opening to look through their findings. I admit to being surprised (not to mention frustrated…) that some brands I’ve classified as 100% junk food rate better than things that cost $100 per bag on the sketchy chemical/industrial pollutant front. Price point is no indication of outcome when it comes to this issue… Anyway, it took two days of researching the least contaminated foods to find one that checked most of our boxes and man I hope nothing happens to the food I picked or their formulas/sourcing because that’s not a task I’d like to have to repeat too often! I hate to add one more concern to what can be an already long list of considerations (isn’t it nuts how something as simple as eating can be so complicated?) but this is something I’m happy I know now so hopefully it helps to bring it up here.
I really enjoy both Whole Dog Journal and anything by Dr. McConnell 🙂 I’ve fed raw for close to 20 years, including with a raw weaned puppy. I do bulk raw from My Pet Carnivore. This includes varieties of tripe and raw pork. They also get raw eggs, canned sardines in water or sometimes raw sardines.
Next time you’re in Burbank (where I currently live) please let me know! I can introduce you to some great Mexican food! 😉 And I know what you mean about the alarms, the “Ring” security doorbells are all the rage here. Also, I am proud to say that I am not an OCD lawn-edger.
I work for a holistic veterinary clinic and I am amongst veterinary nutritionists. I’m excited to share this information with them. I feed my dog cooked chicken and am considering switching it up considering the digestibility issue.
It is such a pleasure reading your blog. I love your work and your humor. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us!
Many thanks and so much gratitude,
May I please have advise as to why my shih-tzu continuously licks his front paws. I have tried Mothers vinegar and peroxide soaks a couple times per day, which seems to help, but he still persists.
I need to get this resolved. I have tried kibble switching to no avail. I’ve always added fresh protien and veggies to the mix. Due to the kibble unpredictability, I have been feeding home cooked only with the addition of vitamins, cosiquin and fresh fruit for about the past six months. I’m at a loss and need your help.
I’m wondering if it could be environmental allergies and not food related whatsoever.
Thank you in advance.
Or pain? That’s a very common reason that dogs lick their paws. (I want to put very in caps, but you get the picture.) Please talk to your vet and ask if they think that a trial of pain medication would be a good idea.
dog behaviorist says
Due to continuous running and doing further activities including playing, walking outside, dogs do require highly nutritious diet which include appropriate amount of vitamins and mineral which will help them to stay away from harmful disease and inactiveness.
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