Twenty Questions

Or, as the case may be,  five of them for now.

I started this concept as “Top Ten Things I am asked all the time” but it rapidly evolved into Twenty… now a blog entry covering all of these would be pretty cumbersome, so I’m starting with five per day. I’m basing my selection on inquiries I receive privately, from people who have found my site and drop me a line, as well as many questions on both yahoo and AllExperts. The one issue I am leaving to a separate full entry is  why I don’t buy into the “dogs are wolves” school of thinking about canine nutrition, because it really is a large topic. Further to that, many of the topics in this series will be getting much more indepth treatment over time. Please feel free to send questions, if anyone has some for me. I will save them up and do five at a  time, starting today with the following.

1. What type of commercial dog food is best? Is there a brand you recommend?


On ThePossibleCanine yahoogroup we have had this question asked over and over – and Dog_Nutrition (which I moderate) it’s a favorite topic. In the last few years, especially since the recalls of 2007, several websites have been set up to evaluate commercial diets. The Whole Dog Journal puts out an annual report on the best foods (and thankfully, they use a wider criteria than the sites I’ve seen who seem to believe that sky-high protein and lack of ‘grain” are the deciding factors in a food’s quality). But as resources have grown, so too have opinions strengthened and become contentious; my own feeling is that many consumers have bought into the idea that higher protein foods are always preferable for dogs, and that other factors – type of oils used, cooking methods, carb types and level of fiber, and food sources- are somehow less important.It’s a little disappointing to see the work that’s gone into setting up some of these sites and then such a narrow definition of what constitutes a premium food. It simply isn’t accurate to state that higher protein/grainfree foods are always a better choices. for example, my own dog Danny – a four year old Rhodesian Ridgeback in excellent overall health – is sensitive to  some of the botanicals in a wellknown and very good product, and the levels of protein in  the ever-popular Orijen are much too high for him. He quickly develops loose stool from too much fat (too much for HIM that is, the level in Orijen obviously works for many other dogs) and he is also hyperactive – meaning that a moderate level of protein – around 25% (on a DM – dry matter- basis) is what works for him.

So, is a food with 40% total protein really “better” when my dog – and many more I have worked with – become highstrung or develop loose stool on it?

Rhetorical question of course,and the simple answer is that no one food or TYPE of food can be said to be optimal for all dogs; the “best brand” is the one that works for your own dog. Now I want to be careful here, because oftentimes, my challengers will ask me why they should switch a brand that’s worked well for them, on the basis that it’s not a “premium” brand. And that’s a good question. A couple of years ago I spoke to a local Setter Club and one of the attendants has been breeding healthy Irish Setters for a quarter century on a food I would never have recommended (and that’s a major achievement, I would say!) Two things apply here; one is that we can never discount the importance of genetics, environmental toxins and other factors. These dogs may have a whole host of reasons why they’ve done well in SPITE of the food; we really do not know. And so, I would suggest that a food which relies on corn, wheat middlings and  “animal fat” should always be upgraded to a good, wholesome version. I feel that in many cases, it’s more a question of having gotten away with a lower grade food, because some people smoke and do not get cancer in no way disproves that smoking is a major cause. I recommended this chap upgrade because it’s never a bad thing to do. If he’s been this fortunate with his dogs so far, why not take another step in the direction of good health?

And it is also a concern  for me, that the more we consumers vote with our money, the more these terrible companies using roadkill and 4-D meat and so on will fall by the wayside. I’m assuming here my readers are all aware of what I’m referring to here; if not, this is the standard article people turn to for introductory information:

http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?more=1&p=359

If all of this is new to you, I feel your pain. It’s a lot to take in. I suspect it’s not new for most of my readers, but it’s new to many people. Take a deep breath –  and be glad (as I am!) that we have so many better foods and more knowledge available now than ever before. That’s a good thing.

I admit my bias upfront, I am not a  big fan of dry foods at all, although some companies are doing a very good job at maximizing the benefits and minimizing the flaws,  I still don’t like the processing, the reality of not knowing for sure what’s in a product, not to mention the heated oils, gluten, and sheer monotony for the dog. All that said, even I have to use kibble from time to time.  I am not about to castigate anyone for their choices, my role is to help. With the expense of feeding large dogs a premium kibble, it’s extremely important that guardians get their money’s worth, I believe.

As for the brands; I like Orijen and Acana, Fromm Fourstar, the Petcurean lines, some of the Wellness Formulas, some of the Nature’s Variety. I DON’T like vegetable oil or gluten grains (like barley) in dry foods (and both are ubiquitous) – ; I consider the protein, fat and fiber levels to be a very individual thing. I’ve used Evanger’s and Merrick’s canned foods as well as the EVO meats – although now that Proctor and Gamble have bought out the company I have concerns.There are many more good foods! I work mostly with home made diets, and can’t research every single brand but, these are a few I have used, liked and feel good about recommending. The formula that will work best for YOUR dog,  as I’ve been emphasizing, is a more individual matter.

In short; the “best” commercial food is the one that follows guidelines we now recognize as indicative of a premium product (look for indepth article to come); that does not outsource to a questionable supplier (finding this out for certain can be a bit of a trick, but calling the company is a good idea), and that your dog does well on – subjectively and objectively. This means you should run annual blood tests and have a veterinary evaluation so you can see  what’s going on inside as well as out. The two don’t always line up, and a good coat can co-exist with elevated liver values.I’m all for using a home made diet as much as possible. For those who can’t or can’t do it fulltime, there are many great foods  available now that can be the next best thing. I recommend starting with moderate nutrient levels, a protein source your dog has done well with in past, and transition slowly. If it doesn’t work – if you have gastric issues or he doesn’t like it, or his coat thins – keep trying.  Once you have a diet that works, you can and should add fresh foods and some supplements – again, according to many individual factors. Much more on supplementing a dry food diet in upcoming articles. 🙂

There are accepted criteria for what makes a food good on paper- but the real test is it’s effect on your dog.

2. I want to feed a  home made,cooked diet – but don’t we need kibble to clean teeth?

In a word, no. You need raw bones and/or a good toothbrush and a bit of discipline to brush regularly. Some dogs  will tend to get plaque more readily than others; some can’t tolerate raw bones, some will maintain a clean healthy mouth on a raw diet with little effort from their guardians.  And no question, maintaining good oral hygiene is critically important for systemic, longterm health. but kibble won’t do it – in fact, it’s the worst thing you can feed for healthy teeth and gums. This is a huge myth. Feed raw, safe bones, brush, use a balanced raw diet where appropriate. Kibble fed dogs have the worst oral hygiene I’ve seen.

3. Should I add fish oil or flax to my dog’s diet? Or both? Which is better? how much do I need?

For me, the right answer to any supplement question is another question: when someone asks me if they *should* add a supplement, I ask them back “what are you hoping to achieve with it?”

Because the many benefits of  fatty acids in fish oils have become widely known, and because doglovers often associate supplemental “oils” with good coat, I will hear  this a lot; the  guardian wants to add oils for better coat. And in many cases, some fats can help a poor coat condition, but in  many other cases, the coat issue is related to the diet overall, or low thyroid, or overfeeding of a food or supplement that blocks dietary zinc, or an absorption issue – many many reasons. So while I agree that fatty acids from fish oil have a huge range of benefits and I highly recommend them, they may or may not be the ticket for improved coat condition. If low levels of Omega3 fatty acids didn’t cause the poor coat, adding more isn’t likely to improve it. There are, however, many good reasons to add fish oils (and many to not add flax, too). Let me outline a few fish oil facts, including benefits, how to use it, and when not to (or at least, restrict the amount).

1) Fish oils contain the essential fatty acids we call DHA and EPA, for short – because their full names are  so lengthy: docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acids. These fatty acids are readily available biologically to the dog in fish oil; in flax however, the dog needs to make a conversion from alpha-linolenic acid – and as a carnivorous species, they do this with varying degrees of efficacy. Many do not convert well at all. The best way to ensure the fatty acids get into your dog is to use a readily bioavailable form – fish oils.

2) There are other problems with flaxseed oil – some studies have shown an increase in prostate cancer when used for humans, longterm. While I do find use for freshly ground flaxseeds for dogs with cancer or anal gland issues, I avoid the oil.

3) Choose a high quality product – I like Genestra, Natural Factors,Nordic Naturals, and Carlson to name a few. Most of the liquids have lemon flavoring, which may or may not bother your dog. Squeezing out a capsule into the food (or adding it directly) can work just as well. I use Natural Factors RxOmega3, because they are molecular purifed- no risk of heavy metal contamination – and the EPA/DHA content is HIGH.  No need to use as many, so although they cost more then some with low EPA/DHA, they’re worth it. Check the actual EPA and DHA content before buying.

4) Always add Vitamin E  when increasing PUFA ( polyunsaturated fatty acids) in the diet.Fish oil is extremely perishable, and the extra E makes sure it doesn’t oxidize in the body.  I use, as a general rule, 100IU for smaller dogs, 200 for medium sized (in the 30 – 50 pound range) 400 for large and giant breeds. Be aware that as too much Vitamin E along with fish oil can thin the blood, and should be stopped two weeks prior to surgery.

5) Start with a conservative dose, and watch your dog’s reaction – I go by the level of Omega6 in the existing diet, the dog’s overall health, and what if any issues we may be looking to prevent. If we’re worried about heart disease, I’d look at CoQ10 and supplemental taurine. If it’s oesteoarthritis, combine the oil with joint support. and go by the EPA/DHA content of the product. With the Natural Factors product I like, I give my 75 pound dog just one per day.

6) Never use high dose fish oil with a dog who has a bleeding disorder such as von Willebrand’s, or a bleeding cancer such as hemangiosarcoma. Because a supplement is beneficial in most cases does not mean it’s beneficial in all… and natural doesn’t mean “no contraindications”.

7) One last note for now – fish oils can be derived from mackerel, sardines, herring and anchovies as well as salmon – but they are always from the fish BODY. Cod liver oil, from the organ of the fish is rich in Vitamin A and D and should not be used interchangeably with fish oil. Cod liver oil has a place too, especially in puppy diets where the vitamin needs are hard to meet with food alone – and with dogs on home made food who have food intolerances to organ meats, our preferred source. But as a general supplement or to combat cancer, allergy, arthritis – it’s the fish body oil we want, not the CLO.

4. My dog is healthy and doing well on a premium dog food. Are there supplements I should add? or any fresh foods that he can have?

Yes, indeed, but again – you knew I was going to say this – it depends on the dog.  In terms of supplements, there are five groups I like to use for all kibble fed, healthy dogs (and there’s a generalizaton for you! ) Some dogs can use all of them; some only need a couple; different amounts may apply. But, this is the short version, so I’ll be uncharacteristically brief. Five groupings of supplements I like to add are:

1) Probiotics – most often acidophilus, but I use HMF powder from Genestra, a blend of strains, and have used many variations over the years. To build the immune system, support bowel health, ease gastric symptoms and generally keep your dog in top health. I start in puppyhood and use throughout life, increasing dose post-antibiotics, surgery or other trauma. Look for a high level of micro-organism per capsule, and product should be stored in the fridge

2) Joint support– so many good products now, and this is one area where I’m most happy with the veterinary versions. Cosequin, Dausequin, all the Glyco-Flex products – I start dogs as early as four (if they are athletic, or have had an injury that could develop inflammation) – contrary to some sources, our research on the efficacy of joint support is solid.  You might not want to start at 4, but joint support is best added before your senior dog is actually limping.

3) Fatty acids, especially krill or fish body oil- as detailed above – for cardiovascular health, to ease inflammation and thus arthritis or allergy symptoms; for all the reasons above,  and with an extra boost of (natural, please) vitamin E. Unless contraindicated by meds or health condition, I use right through life, higher doses therapeutically

4) Green foods; I like a combination of organic spirulina and chlorella, but again many types of “supergreen foods” are available, and all add phytonutrients to the body and some detoxify, too. In a world full of toxic chemicals green foods offer much, but be sure to use a top quality, organic source. Kelp doesn’t fall into this category, we can overdo dietary iodine, so add kelp only on an as-needed basis.

5) Antioxidants: a big buzzword here – and many to choose from. I like to add rotated types in the absence of a condition; so for example, my dog Danny gets COQ10 twice a week, lipoic acid twice a week, ellagic twice a week, milk thistle twice a year (in a round of about three weeks). My senior dog with liver issues gets all of it every day.They both hate turmeric, so I sneak it into tripe.

I feel that all of the above supplements in addition to a balanced home made diet, or a good premium commercial food, are worth the investment, in every way. What you choose to add should depend on your dog’s age, health condition and veterinary history (vaccines, for example). As always – run it by your vet.

In terms of fresh food additions, I like to  add a variety here – this is one place where variety does work, because you will not be adding great levels of any one nutrient if you dilute it by rotating foods. For example, the ever popular liver – a great treat, but high in Vitamin A and copper, which your dog’s diet should have plenty of – and too much of these nutrients can be problematic. I like to add raw or cooked beef heart instead of liver, with a small amount of green vegetable – not to much of any type as we will see – small amount of cooked winter squash, and consider water packed sardines mashed with a little sweet potato, or a cooked egg or two; plain, highfat yogurt if your dog does well with it , well cooked brown rice with some muscle meat (lamb, beef, turkey or chicken).  Note that if the additionals are going to comprise more than about 10 – 15% of the total caloric intake, it’s good to think about a litle home made recipe you can make a batch of and add just a few (balanced) Tablespoons (or teaspoons, for those with small furkids) to the dry food. But at the 10% mark, just mix a little of the healthy carbs with some more of the varied proteins, and watch him enjoy dinner that much more.

And don’t forget the tripe! Yum!!

5. I’m feeding a home made diet with lots of variety, muscle and organ meats, poultry, fish, eggs, brown rice, some vegetable. Do I really need to add supplements? I don’t like anything “artificial” and I keep hearing that nutrient levels will balance  out over time.

This is another of those easy answers; in a word, yes. Yes you do need to add supplements- not talking about the health-supporters listed above, I mean vitamins, minerals, fatty acids- essentials. How much, and what kind will depend on what’s in the diet itself, but you absolutely can not depend on variety to supply the levels of nutrient your dog needs to be healthy. I feel so strongly about this I wrote an article a while back, for The Bark magazine. Here is the link; go have a look.The original article was chopped way done (I like to be thorough!) so I’ll include a bit from the original below, on variety:

http://www.thebark.com/content/10-myths-and-misperceptions-about-homemade-dog-food

“Contrary to popular thought, variety in and of itself is no guarantee of nutritional adequacy.  To  illustrate how this can work, let’s take a quick look at a nutrient that can be frustrating to supply in a  homemade diet without supplementation: zinc. Minerals are a tricky part of the diet since they interact with one another, and an excess of one can inhibit absorption of another, so we need to ensure we have neither too little nor too much of any one. Zinc can be hard to obtain in the diet. Let’s look at a  25 pound dog; based on the NRC 2006 guidelines for dogs, this dog needs 12.3 mgs of zinc daily, or 86.45 mgs per week. And let’s say this same dog has an owner who is doing their best to home feed, using the philosophy that variety is bound to provide everything a dog could need. So to that end, they’re using rabbit, turkey, eggs, organic beef heart, wild fresh salmon, tripe, some calves liver, and a little lamb. Rounded out with some broccoli, green beans. brown rice and organic olive oil, and formulated to meet the needs of a 25 pound dog calorically (about 5000 – 5600 per week) this *has* to be adequate in everything, or so it might seem. But it isn’t. When I ran this diet through my nutritional software I came up with only 50 mgs of zinc per week, well below this dog’s requirements. In addition, it was very low in selenium and manganese.  Just looking at low zinc – over time, we might see some poor coat, or recurrent infections, which the owner attempts to correct by increasing dietary fat – and of course, that isn’t going to resolve the problem at all – because only supplemental zinc can correct the problem as it stands.

The astute owner is quick to point out then that a multi mineral should take care of all of this.  And it might, but it can be difficult to find one that has precisely what a specific diet is lacking, so we often need to use just the nutrients we’re low in – a little zinc, sometimes copper, almost always calcium. The above diet was quite high in iron, so if a multi contains too much iron we could have a problem there as well. Here is where precision is such an important tool in achieving and maintaining  the best nutritional status for your dog.”

It takes a little extra time and homework to get the numbers in a home made diet worked out safely and optimally – but it’s something I teach people to do every day in my courses, and many are not math types (or so they tell me) but with a calculator and some reliable guidelines, a home made diet can use foods to supply the bulk of the nutrient needs, and supplements to fill in what’s missing.

Like zinc.

Or iodine.

Or manganese.

For starters.

Five more to follow – soon. 🙂


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