Tag Archives For: dog food

14 Jun, 2013

Homemade diets and add ons

/ posted in: Work

Sometimes when we start the “what does he eat” discussion people reply with a defensive and panicky “Just dog food!  No people food!”  I’m not opposed to dogs eating people food as long as it is healthy food.  Potato chips aren’t great for anyone.

Need proof?


(In my defense this was taken in the last few weeks of her life when getting her to eat anything was a victory.  Spaghetti would not be high on my list of approved foods normally.)

We recommend carrots and green beans all the time as substitutes for biscuits for snacks.  For overweight dogs we discuss adding vegetables to bulk up meals as you are decreasing the amount of high calorie dog food.

A lot of people are concerned that feeding real food will cause dogs to beg.  Freckles is a horrible beggar – from my husband.  She doesn’t beg from me.  Guess which one of us hand always feeds her during meals and which one of us might put a bowl down by her food bowl for her to lick clean?

Home cooked diets can be great for dogs and cats.  There are all kinds of resources for people interested in recipes.  The main thing I tell people is to make sure that they feed a balanced diet.  I have people tell me that they’ve only fed cooked chicken breast for years.  That’s not going to give a dog enough vitamins and minerals to maintain their best health.   I point people to websites like balanceit.com.  You can put in a protein source and a vegetable you want to use and they will generate a balanced recipe for you to make.  They will even take any health concerns your dog has into consideration.  Their goal is to sell their vitamin mixes so you can get a free recipe that contains their mix or you can pay for a recipe that has supplements that you can buy from the store.  It is a good place to start.

There are all kinds of schools of thought on homemade diets.  All raw or cooked or bones and raw, etc.  You need to find out what works for you and your dog.  I think that a high quality homemade diet with quality ingredients will result in much better health than using commercial diets.

So why don’t I feed homemade?  There are a few reasons.

  1. I’m lazy.  It is a lot easier to scoop food out of a bag than to plan ahead and cook.  Sad but true.
  2. I’m a vegetarian living with carnivores.  I don’t like buying meat or cooking it.  When I cook for Freckles the smell makes me gag.  The husband will comment about how great the house smells.
  3. I can’t make up my mind on bones.  I talked before about my Golden doing wonderfully on bones.  I fed Snowball some raw chicken necks and she loved them.  I know in my brain that they are fine.  But, I’ve also seen the cracked teeth and obstructions and one death from eating bones.  Most of these were from eating bones that had been cooked but still I have that sliver of apprehension.

If you aren’t ready to make homemade food there are some intermediate steps you can take.  There are several commercial raw food sources.  At the end of her life Snowball was eating Innova’s raw meat patties.  She was small so they didn’t cost a fortune to feed her those exclusively.  For bigger dogs they can be a supplement.

For Freckles I make soup.  This is based on the bone broth recipe I got in my food therapy class.  I make the husband buy a beef soup bone.  I put in the crockpot with about 1/8 cup of vinegar (to leach the minerals from the bone into the broth) and enough water to cover the bone.  I also throw in some carrots.  I cook it on low for about 12 hours.  I take out the bones and leave the meat and carrots.  I keep it in the frig and skim off the fat that forms on top.  She gets a ladle full at a time as a treat.  She loves it.  (The cats won’t touch it.  It must be the vinegar.)

Varying the types of meat and vegetables you use gives lots of different nutrients to the pet.  A lot of people think that they have to stay on the exact same diet all the time.  If a dog has a healthy GI tract they can change the food they eat without getting sick.  Think about a wolf.  Do they pass up the opportunity to eat a rabbit because they only eat deer?  No.  Now, a lot of dogs (especially those who have been on a poor diet) don’t have a healthy GI tract.  With those dogs I’d start with some soup or some cooked meat added to their diet and slowly transition them onto more and more healthy food as they adapt and heal.

Coming up… What about cats?

Part 1

Part 2


13 Jun, 2013

What my dogs have eaten

/ posted in: Work

Part 1 – You are what you eat

My parents used to have a butcher shop across the street. My Golden Retriever would go over there for snacks. He was big enough that he could get into the trash bins. He was a kind soul, like Goldens are, and was often spotted with a group of neighborhood smaller dogs around him. He would be passing out scraps from the bin to dogs too small to get them themselves. Obviously the butcher didn’t mind because his habits were common knowledge. He was always bringing dead animal pieces home.

When he was about 10 he was going in to have a few small masses removed. I recommended getting his teeth cleaned as long as he was under. I lifted up his lip to see how bad his teeth were. I was shocked. They were shining white. I had never seen a dog his age with such perfect teeth. It had to be all the raw bones that he chewed on.


This is Snowball. I got her when she was 9 in part because of her bad skin allergies.  In the summer she took steroid pills like they were candy.  At times she’d disappear for just a few minutes and come back with blood running down her sides because she had scratched so hard.  I forget what kind of dog food she was eating at the time.

I went to a vet convention and saw a booth for Innova dog food.  I paused to look and the rep there said in a small voice, “Are you going to yell at me?”  I said that I hadn’t been planning on it.  Was there a reason I should?  I guess people had been being mean to her about organic ingredients for some reason.

The next time I went dog food shopping I decided to buy Innova because I felt bad for the rep.  Snowball liked it and I didn’t think much more about it.  A few months later I saw some literature for the food that had case reports of dogs who had had their allergies clear up after eating it.  It occurred to me that I hadn’t given Snowball any steroids in months.  (I’m sometimes a bit slow on the obvious.)  From that day until she died several years later, she took steroids on 2 days.  Before the food change she sometimes took them twice a day.

When I got Freckles I started her on Innova because of Snowball’s good results.  She wasn’t crazy about the food so I ended up switching her to Taste of the Wild.  She has summer allergies and because she’s part spaniel her ears are crap.  But, all I have to do is clean her ears occasionally and sometimes use some steroid drops in them to keep the inflammation down.  She doesn’t have the thickened and nasty ears of some spaniels.  Because this summer has been cold and rainy her summer allergies haven’t kicked in yet.  I think keeping her on a good quality base diet has helped a lot in letting her body handle the allergens in her environment.

Coming up… homemade diets and add-ons



12 Jun, 2013

You are what you eat

/ posted in: Work

Both human and veterinary medical schools are horrible about teaching nutrition. I took an elective class in nutrition and learned nothing. It was mainly about calculating feed rations for livestock. There was nothing practical about feeding pets.

For years I didn’t do much with nutrition except occasionally switching animals to prescription diets for specific health issues. Once I started studying Chinese medicine though I started looking more at the diet of my patients. I was seeing a lot of animals with signs of “blood deficiency”. This isn’t anemia but it is a cluster of symptoms related to dryness in the body – flaky skin, dry and cracking pads, poor coat quality, etc. I started asking what these dogs were eating. The results were surprising.

Out all the hundreds of types of dog foods on the market about 25% of the people I asked were either feeding Kibbles N Bits or Beneful.

I went to the grocery store and looked at the ingredients. I admire the heck out of the marketing geniuses behind Beneful. The bag has a happy dog with all kinds of vegetables. The marketing blurbs on advertising for the food says stuff like, “Beneful® brand Dog Food Original helps keep your dog happy and healthy with a perfect balance of healthful ingredients, quality nutrition and superb taste. It’s made with wholesome grains and real beef, and accented with vitamin-rich vegetables.”

But what’s the reality?

Ingredients: Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), rice flour, beef, soy flour, sugar, propylene glycol, meat and bone meal, tricalcium phosphate, phosphoric acid, salt, water, animal digest, sorbic acid (a preservative), potassium chloride, dried carrots, dried peas, calcium propionate (a preservative), L-Lysine monohydrochloride, choline chloride, added color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 2), DL-Methionine, Vitamin E supplement, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, calcium carbonate, copper sulfate, Vitamin B-12 supplement, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin D-3 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), calcium iodate, folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.

Wow. Real beef, huh? Sure there is some – way down in the ingredient list. You have to go even farther down for the vegetables besides corn.  There  are preservatives listed before the vegetables.

One of the first things we do when we see a dog with skin or ear problems is discuss diet.  We have handouts on how to choose a dog food (Basically, real meat as the first several ingredients and everything should be something that you’d eat.  Limited grains if any.  Get it from a pet store and not a grocery store.)  Getting onto a high quality diet is the best thing we have people do to help skin disease.

Seems simple right?  Oh, the arguments we get.  People are generally not open to the idea of treating disease with diet.  They want medicine to fix the problem.  It can take several visits of hearing the message before some people are willing to try. I talked to one person who was visiting the area and her dog was miserable.  She wanted temporary relief for the dog until she could get her home and start her allergy testing.  The dog was on Beneful.  I recommended switching her food and see what happens in 2-3 months.  The owner got nasty.  She was going to spend hundreds of dollars on allergy testing and treatment but would not even consider spending $10 more on a bag of dog food.

When we do get people to switch, the results can be amazing.  I’ve had dogs that I’ve seen that have been totally bald from the shoulders back.  Within a few months they have regrown a gorgeous coat.  Dogs who have had ear problems all their lives are off ear medication.  Some of the dogs get better but still have flare ups from environmental allergies at certain times of the year but they aren’t as severe.

Recently we’ve had a few dogs whose allergies were diet controlled come in looking awful.  In each case they went off the healthy food.  Either someone bought the wrong kind of dog food or the dogs had a friend who didn’t eat as healthy as they did and they ate the friend’s food.  That was the only change in their life.  It confirms that for some dogs it makes all the difference in the world to eat healthy.

Coming up…. How my dogs (past and present) have eaten and how it has affected them.