Ready to roll!

Finally – the new course is opening this weekend! A full  Outline is now available – you will need to email me  – and I am accepting registrations right now.

This is the course I’m talking about:  https://thepossiblecanine.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/the-course-that-so-far-doesnt-have-a-name/

…and my email is catlane@thepossiblecanine.com

I will not be able to keep the tuition at 350.00 forever; this is an Introductory price, and I will extend it to the first twelve students who join me. If you are new to herbs you will discover an amazing world of healing and nature-connection; if you have some experience and knowledge I guarantee you will deepen it greatly as we journey past the basic uses for the plants and all of their popular applications.

Herbs are a part of my household and life from the  home made lotions and toiletries I use, to the many remedies and tonics we all take (dog, cat, human, avian) to the plants I grow, tend and gather, to the spices in our favorite dishes. It is my sincerest hope that once you have taken this course,  you will live the herbal life with me.
You, and your little dog too. 🙂

 

elda mor

Arsenic in rice? Sadly – yes there is.

I’ve been asked many times over the past month or so if I can comment on the problems with arsenic in rice, especially brown rice, and what should those who home- prepare a diet with rice do about it. I am taking the arsenic issue very seriously but as always, or most of the time anyway, I’m not panicking. I’ve removed brown rice as much as I can from any recipe I’ve developed, and I only use white in therapeutic diets or growth, where brown is not indicated (such as renal disease, where the high phosphorus content is undesirable). That said, I don’t think there’s need to panic – let’s take a look at the issue, how to minimize it, how to substitute, and some ideas for helping the body deal with heavy metals (which, unfortunately, are everywhere).

 

So, for those who may not have heard, levels of arsenic have been reported and confirmed in brown rice,  with much variation according to where the rice is from and which grower/company is selling it. Here is the basic scoop, from Consumer reports.org:

“Organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice, white rice—new tests by Consumer Reports have found that those and other types of rice products on grocery shelves contain arsenic, many at worrisome levels.

The results of our tests were even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice. In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern.”

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/11/arsenic-in-your-food/index.htm

 

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at what arsenic is, how widespread,  and just how dangerous it may be: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/is-arsenic-the-worst-chemical-in-the-world/

 

So, how severe an issue is this for dogs? Well, have a look at the findings with regard to humans:
“Our resulting analysis of 3,633 study participants found that on average, people who reported eating one rice food item had total urinary arsenic levels 44 percent greater than those who had not, and people who reported consuming two or more rice products had levels 70 percent higher than those who had no rice.”

It seems to me that any dog eating a brand of rice with high levels on a daily basis,  might be at risk of the health issues associated with high arsenic levels. Much of the research on this issue was conducted with regard to human baby food, and the findings there very worrisome indeed (so this is relevant to us all, not only our canines):

The EPA sets limits for a carcinogen based on how many extra cases of cancer would be caused by exposure to the toxin at a certain level. The limit is designed to minimize that risk. For our recommendations, we used the latest available science to choose a moderate level of protection that balances safety and feasibility, similar to the EPA’s approach for water. Our scientists made these calculations using standard estimates of weight, typical daily consumption of individual rice products over a lifetime, and the range of levels of inorganic arsenic we found. For our recommendations for children, we paid particular attention to their levels of consumption during this critical phase of their development.

According to federal data, some infants eat up to two to three servings of rice cereal a day. Eating rice cereal at that rate, with the highest level of inorganic arsenic we found in our tests, could result in a risk of cancer twice our acceptable level.”

Given the startling rise in canine cancer over the past twenty years, and considering  the total exposure-load dogs are faced with (lying on pressure treated wood decks, for example) I’m taking this issue seriously.  In future I will take every possible measure to reduce or eliminate the use of rice in a canine diet; in cases where energy needs to come from a very low-phosphorus source, we may still need to add some (white or glutinous) rice, for  specific conditions. For dogs who don’t tolerate any carb source at all other than brown rice,  there are steps you can take, to minimize risk. These include brand selection and preparation, as well as additional supplements that can help the body deal with  arsenic, and lastly, some well-chosen  herbs and supplements that help prevent cancer development.
Note please that the first recommendation I am making is to remove rice from the diet and use another carb source- quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potato, oatmeal (glutenfree) can all be used, but they should not be substituted cup for cup – and especially not in any therapeutic diet – as they contain varying levels of mineral, fiber, phytate and oxalate, all of which can be a concern for sensitive dogs. If you need a recipe adjustment – contact me. I will make these services available at a very low fee, if you require an adjustment. Otherwise –  try some of the suggestions below.

To start: brand selection. The afore-quoted ConsumerReport article lists brand-content here:  http://www.consumerreports.org/content/dam/cro/magazine-articles/2012/November/Consumer%20Reports%20Arsenic%20in%20Food%20November%202012_1.pdf

Know the content of your brand and if it is high, switch! I am using and recommending Lundberg’s White basmati (costly, I know but it’s one of the lowest) for those who are using diets based in part on rice. Lundberg has issued a statement here  http://www.lundberg.com/info/Arsenic.aspx

 

Next: preparation. I always recommend rinsing and pre-soaking rice, but now it’s more important than ever. I soak Danny’s white rice (he is currently on a mineral restricted diet, hopefully short term!) for several hours before cooking, changing the water many times. Remember that white rice is much lower in arsenic than brown, so while it’s a pretty empty food nutritionally, it is also safer. You might consider switching from brown to white and adding a Bvitamin ( just a simple Bcomplex, or B50 as they’re termed) a few times a week. Some ground flax can add fiber and cancer-protective lignans if your dog needs more fiber than the white rice, but extra, rotated green vegetables can provide plenty of that, too! More on vegetables later – they too can be a source of arsenic.

You can also consider doing as described here: http://www.westonaprice.org/beginner-videos/proper-preparation-of-grains-and-legumes-video-by-sarah-pope
I personally soak quinoa, buckwheat and oatmeal this way, in a little buttermilk/water – but since arsenic removal is the goal of preparing white rice more than phytate lowering, I just rinse, rinse, rinse… and soak in plain water.
I also use a ratio of 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice when cooking and just drain the excess. This is helpful in removing some of the arsenic, but it does take some getting used to.

So far: careful brand selection, thorough rinsing and perhaps altering how you cook the rice will reduce the exposure significantly.

Additionally, there are some supplements you can use that are helpful in removing arsenic and other heavy metals from the body. Although this is not intended as a guarantee, nor is it meant to imply you can feed rice at will and these supplements will nullify the effects; I for one believe they are worth trying. Let me be clear that not all are suitable for all dogs, and I will post a separate entry on their usefulness and dosage later this week. For now, check my entry on Radiation protection  here: https://thepossiblecanine.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/natural-support-for-radiation-exposure/and do some of your own research on the following:  chlorella, lipoic acid, garlic, glutathione, apple pectin, cilantro and VitaminC. Please note that high levels of garlic should never, ever be fed to dogs; so it’s usefulness at low dose (with regard to removing heavy metals ) may be negligible. Selenium supplementation can be helpful,too, but this is also a mineral you need to understand and use carefully, so please wait for the follow-up entry before adding it.

 

It’s very important to understand that not only rice contains arsenic: many vegetables we commonly use for dogs may  also be contaminated. And let’s not forget well water: here is a  short piece on arsenic contamination in New Hampshire:

“According to a new U.S. Geological Survey report, nearly 40 percent of New Hampshire’s bedrock groundwater likely contains at least low levels of naturally occurring arsenic. According to Joe Ayotte of the U.S.G.S., the results of the study were surprising: “We knew from previous studies that arsenic is a regional problem in New Hampshire, but we were surprised that low arsenic levels are widespread across the state.” However, while the data released with the report are intended to inform public health research and decision makers, Ayotte cautioned that individual homeowners should not use the maps or data to conclude that their water is contaminated or safe; “The geology and fractures in New Hampshire’s bedrock are complex, so homeowners should not rely on the results from neighboring wells to determine if their own well is safe.” Further, unsafe levels of manganese, uranium, and radon are also common in private wells in New Hampshire.”

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/

 

I mention this because again, if you are currently using rice in your dog’s diet, you need more than ever to be aware of total load, and that means potential other sources.If you’re on a well, have it tested.Although not all commercial dogfoods contain rice, many do and I would seriously consider contacting your manufacturer with re gard to this issue, and – consider switching to a rice-free brand, or going to home prepared.

Last but not least, I advise extra caution in exposure to herbicides, pesticides and environmental sources of arsenic- that can mean pressure-treated wood, yes, but also soil underneath a deck or playground that has been removed.. lawn chemicals…This is important for all dogs, not just those who have rice in the diet – and for us, too, of course.
My takeaway message (I know this is a lot of information in one entry) is this; replace rice with other carbs if you can; if you can’t, choose and prepare carefully,  evaluate other potential sources of exposure, including water, consider some supplementation to offset the load, and if you are very concerned, consider having your dog’s hair analyzed.
More on this in the weeks ahead…and other worrisome  toxins as well. It’s not happy news, but better we know about it, I believe, than not.

 

The Course that (so far!) doesn’t have a name…

..I’m  a bit stuck on a name right now, but I’m not going to let that stop me from sharing the content, and letting folks know what’s coming up next. This is something I’ve been trying to get to for some time, and since spring is almost here, I feel a need to get rolling. Don’t we all long for green and growing things right about now? I love winter, and all the magical things we can make with conifers, poplar buds, spices and dried plants from our last harvest – but, enough is enough, and I for one am very ready to get into the garden, the fields and forest and  feel the earth beneath my feet one more.
I imagine Danny has a bit of cabin fever about now as well – perhaps some of yours do too.

So; without further adieu, here is what I’m planning for an April 2 start up.

This course  will  be open-ended, and self paced, although I very much like the idea of a tight knit group working together, I also respect the reality of our busy lives and that not everyone can keep up with a schedule. So, the first thing you need to know is, while it *should* take about a year to complete this program, you have as long as you need.

Second – what we will be covering is a pretty wide range of material, but not geared to a professional/practitioner goal, more of an Intro – to Intermediate student. There is a great emphasis on understanding and learning through doing; so many projects and recipes and suggested exercises, not all of which you are marked on – but which seek to bring the plants we discuss into your life and home, so you can begin to work with them safely and effectively.
There will be some theoretical work – for example I will want you to get used to using the Latin name of each plant, mostly because common names can overlap and you just might end up with Joe Pye weed when you went to order Boneset…botanical names are important. If you want to go more deeply into botany and plant identification, I will  be providing a great list of resources. but the emphasis here is on working  daily with the  herbs featured on the course. We’ll learn their Actions – primary and secondary – and thus, how we might use them for various conditions and preventively! – we’ll learn  about Energetics, or how to  personally experience a plant’s Vital Actions so you have a better sense of when to use it (as opposed to just going by a list of actions in a book); we’ll start on some of the principles of formulating, the art of pairing herbs in groups (two, three or even more) to optimize efficacy; we’ll be spending a goodly bit of time on the principles of making stuff with herbs! and that means salves, tinctures, glycerites, elixirs, vinegars and oxymels, pastilles, decoctions and syrups, and more.


Because this course is for YOU as well as your companion animals, we’ll take time to explore the making of lotions, hair rinses face creams, and massage oils, because it’s not just the animals who need care; we need some too.
We’ll learn how to incorporate herbs into daily use, blending teas for all sorts of common complaints (and for pleasure) also how to make and use nourishing infusions to keep us at our healthiest; medicinal uses of popular culinary herbs and spices, recipes for herbal vinegars/salad dressings, soup stock, baked goods, marinades and more.  I will be providing a detailed and more organized Course Outline by the end of  the week – Friday March 8. What I can tell you right now, is how we’ll break down our learning pathway; it goes like this.

CULINARY

Because culinary herbs are so common and often a  beginner’s first  contact with herbal medicine, we’ll start this course looking deeply at 20  of them, their full range of medicinal application, as well as how to prepare them in a variety of tasty, nourishing and  healing ways. Many of these herbs have become very popular in commercial use, and so often their full range of action is limited by the emphasis on one: Ginger for chest colds! well absolutely, but there is so much more to ginger (Zingiber officinale) than this. I’ll be making suggestions for cultivation,   medicinal uses, creative recipes and more, all with herbs you most likely know well, but might not have thought of is quite this way..for you, and your canine /feline companions as well.

COMMERCIAL

Several of the herbs we think of as culinary, overlap into the commercial section; turmeric, ginger and cinnamon have enjoyed a lot of popularity medicinally in recent years, for example. But when we look at “commercial herbs” as a whole we find many that are not commonly used in cooking;  many that do not grow locally, and almost all that are now sold mostly in healthfood stores and veterinary clinics, in dessicated, standardized, powdered medicinal form. I personally fee l that while using plants in this way is often effective medicine- and much better than using harsher drugs and chemicals-  it is also very much the tip of the iceberg with regard to these powerful medicinal plants. With herbs like St. John’swort, arnica, echinacea,  calendula, astragalus, Devil’s claw, slippery elm, milk thistle, hawthorn, chamomile, evening primrose, feverfew, gingko biloba, saw palmetto, ginseng, valerian and black cohosh, we often think of them only in terms of their one, popular action, when in truth there is much more to all.  This section of the course will explore these and other commonly used and popular herbs with an eye to preparation and dosage,  actions aside from the wellknown; safety/interaction issues, and alternatives you can often find right outside your back door.

…which brings me to, what to my mind anyway is the most exciting part; Wild plants and local medicine! Because this is often new territory for students, and because there are so many unsung heroes of the plant world in this category, it’s by far the largest – although not so large as to be overwhelming. In this section we will be exploring – literally – the yards, fields and woodlands local to our hones, and learning about the powerful and immediately accessible benefits of plants many think of as weeds: some we will cover include dandelion, stinging nettle, burdock, mullein, chickweed, plantain, yarrow, mugwort, Motherwort, heart’s ease, goldenrod, boneset, elecampane, ground ivy, skullcap, bee balm, Solomon’s seal, a variety of mallows, wild rose, self heal, raspberry, hawthorn, elder, poplar, pine and other conifers, and many more. We’ll learn how to identify these wild plants, gather them ethically (or cultivate in our own garden) dry/prepare and use them all, for ourselves, our families, canine and feline friends…and wind up with a section on building your herbal apothecary, with ideas for salves and ointments,  first aid, tools you’ll need for keeping and using herbs, and of course – recipes!

BurdockFlower

I have geared this course to be packed with information and provide exercise and tools you will use long after it’s completed. It can also be used as a starting place for deeper study; I offer an intensive 18 month Practitioner’s programme for those wishing to work herbally with cats and dogs.  And my goal as always, in working with plants for the benefit of us all, is to facilitate in others the connection to nature and  ways of healing that are gentle and powerful – healing animals, ourselves, and the earth.
The cost of this course is $350.00. While I will be making many suggestions for books you will want to purchase as you go, the only one required is a field ID guide, for the wildcrafting section. Otherwise, all notes are my own. Supplies – jars and bottles, mortar and pestle, oils and vinegars etc are of course, extra costs to consider.

This is an online course; while I emphasize fieldwork and practicuum,  it is taught online at your own pacing.

Throughout all sections, herbs will be examined for use in support of common health issues;  urinary and digestive tracts, for immune balance, to support  the skin, address minor injuries, abscesses, rashes and burns; for soft tissue injury and osteoarthritis, parasite control,   cardiovascular support, anxiety, and  more.

Interested students please let me know asap that you’d like to enroll; I may have to put a limit on numbers, depending how many applications I receive. If you think you’d like a spot, email me and I will be sure to hold space for you. Further details will be available by request.

Supplements revisited

A few entries back I posted a cursory look at supplementation for canines – dividing them into Essential, General and Targeted. I find a great number of my clients present with (on the Intake form) a list of supplements they are adding, but often they’ve missed the Essentials, and focus on Targeted (for a health condition) or Supportive ( for overall support, things like probiotics and green foods). That article can be found here:  https://thepossiblecanine.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/supplements-101/

I’ve stressed many times the importance of adding essential nutrients that cannot be obtained, in adequate levels, from food alone, so  I won’t go over that again here. What  would like to address is a few problems with the popular supplements in use with dogs. Some are inappropriate for specific dogs with health conditions, some are dose-sensitive, some are ineffective and a few are actually quite problematic. To be clear – most of these are useful in the correct situation, form and dosage – with the exception of the last group, which I never use. This entry is not to scare people off using supplements, but to raise awareness that they should not be used generically, and some have contraindications you will be better off knowing about, than not.

amish-health-vitamins

 

For clarity’s sake I’ve used groupings as follows:

1) Dose sensitive/diet appropriate

2) Careful of the source!

3) Timing

4) Conditionally contraindicated

5) Avoid- risk outweighs potential benefit

 

The first group includes supplements that can be useful at the right dose but may be problematic if too much is used. Group two highlights a few supplements that, while source is always an issue,  can suffer from serious contamination. In the third group, just a couple of popular herbs that should be either given separate  from medication or not on an empty stomach. The largest grouping here refers to supplements that may be fine  for some dogs, but shouldn’t be give with specific conditions. The last group – Avoid – is simply a case where the risk outweighs any potential for good – AND, there are better, safer alternatives.

Missing from these groupings is Drug Interactions, but that is such a large category I feel it deserves a post of it’s own. Look for that one in a week or so, or whenever I can get time! I’m going to post one group per day, because otherwise I will never get this finished.  Here’s the first grouping.

Group One- Dose/diet dependent

The main supplements in this group include cod liver oil, VitaminA, Vitamin C, D3, selenium, multi-vitamins, bone meal, coconut oil and zinc. Most of these are added to the diet to complete the nutritional requirements  when for whatever reason (often food intolerance or allergy) an individual can’t obtain them from diet. In the case of a home cooked diet, calcium for example will always need to be added.  Zinc, iodine, VitaminD3 and selenium are a few nutrients that are most often low in cooked diets (and sometimes in raw as well, especially zinc and D3). So I’ll start by pointing out the obvious – if the diet is already supplying adequate levels of Vitamin A, D3, selenium etc you don’t need, nutritionally speaking, to add more.  (Absorption may be an issue to consider too, but we’re speaking here about a healthy dog with good digestion and absorption of nutrient). With absorption issues, healing the underlying problem is of utmost importance.

Many holistic vets will recommend increasing VitaminA and selenium as part of a cancer-prevetion strategy, or therapeutically  in cases of active illness. I’ve seen them  use very high doses of A, intravenously,with no ill effects or toxicity. That said, I strongly believe the average owner should not try this at home. I use supplemental selenium in the case of heart disease, but always calculate the dietary content and the dog’s SUL (safe upper limit) before recommending a dose. Therapeutic levels of zinc may be called for with some genetic diseases, and a little boost for a dog who hasn’t been getting enough if fine too, but for the home-feeder I strongly suggest calculating how much your dog needs, and then comparing that goal amount to what’s really in the diet. Do the same for D3,  and selenium. VitaminA is a bit trickier, but my rule is, if you are looking for the anti inflammatory effects of fish oils, stick with fish BODY oils, not the liver product which contains a high amount of A ( 4- 6000 IU, per tsp,in my experience and some commentators report much higher). There is a place for cod liver oil in a raw diet where no organ meat is tolerated and no beta-carotene is provided  for with vegetables; but I am able to supply ample A in a recipe without CLO – and never add it to kibble. The short version about VitaminA is that experts disagree on toxicity, but as long as there is the possibility of overdoing it, don’t take that risk. At the very least, excess A will negatively effect your dog’s VitaminD3 levels. I recommend feeding a premium kibble supplemented appropriately (fish oils, green tripe, probiotics, etc) or a properly formulated home made recipe with Vitamin A from fish and from beta-carotene in orange and leafy vegetables. (It’s true that dogs don’t convert efficiently from beta carotene but they do convert some as needed, and in case of concern we can add a D3 supplement).


Bottom line with zinc, selenium, Vitamins A and D – know what your dog needs and what is in the diet; know the dangers of excessive consumption.  Stick to the recommended allowances. If considering these very potent nutrients therapeutically, work with a professional.  You can support the immune system in myriad ways (I’m thinking herbally) without the risk of toxicity or unbalancing the diet. Play it safe and use wisely.

Next:  bone meal. I wasn’t sure where to put this because the source of bone meal is as big an issue – perhaps moreso – than its phosphorus content. I’ll discuss the  contamination issue in the next segment, but insofar as bone meal is often added “for calcium” please bear in mind it is also loaded with phosphorus – a nutrient already plentiful in foods and in most canine diets. Phosphorus needs to be kept to the Recommended Allowance too – and restricted in cases of kidney disease. I never use it – in growth diets I will use di-calcium phosphate to supply the very high needs of puppies, but that’s it.
There have also been issues with contamination in many bone meal products – another reason to give this one  a pass. We’ll talk much more about calcium in the  entry on minerals.

Lastly, the ever popular Coconut oil. Far from being a cure-all (no food or supplement is, unless you are suffering from an overt deficiency, and even then all it ‘cures’ is the deficiency!) coconut oil is a problem food for many dogs.  There is a tremendous amount written on the merits of coconut oil; and it does have many; first let’s look at it’s composition, quoting here the ever-popular Dr.Mercola:

Nearly 50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is of a type rarely found in nature called lauric acid, a “miracle” compound because of its unique health promoting properties. Your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties. Coconut oil is also nature’s richest source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. By contrast, most common vegetable or seed oils are comprised of long chain fatty acids (LCFAs), also known as long-chain triglycerides or LCTs. LCTs are large molecules, so they are difficult for your body to break down and are predominantly stored as fat.

But MCTs , being smaller, are easily digested and immediately burned by your liver for energy — like carbohydrates, but without the insulin spike. MCTs actually boost your metabolism and help your body use fat for energy, as opposed to storing it, so it can actually help you become leaner.”

Proponents of coconut oil list myriad health benefits, including  support for skin, digestive issues, and  the symptoms of a low thyroid ( for us and for dogs). I could write a whole entry on this(and probably will at some point) but again,the bottom line is I feel we shouldn’t get carried away. Flax was a miracle food, fish oil cured cancer – let’s stay in balance and consider that adding any fat to a dog’s diet may be a good thing and it may not. Some dogs are very sensitive to fats, and will develop loose stool with enough coconut oil added to achieve the therapeutic effect. In those cases, you might want to try lowering the dietary content (by changing the recipe if you’re using home made, or trying a kibble with a lower content) so the oil can be added without placing stress on the system. In other words, you might replace some of the existing fat with the oil – don’t always just add it in.

 

coconut_oil
Dosing is extremely important; Karen Becker, DVM, suggests” 1/4 teaspoon per 10 pounds body weight, twice a day“. That meant for MY fat-sensitive dog, who weighs 80 pounds, we would be using 2 teaspoons twice a day. But he had diarrhea on half that. If you do use it, consider it carefully and dose conservatively. Always, as with any supplement – ask yourself what it is you’re trying to achieve? If it’s help for a dull coat, assess the fat content and all nutrients in the diet – could be caused by something that more fat, even a good fat, won’t be able to fix. If your dog has a low thyroid, for heaven’s sake see a specialist! There is no solid scientific evidence I know of that supports the claims made about hypothyroidism.  See a veterinarian well-versed in endocrinology, or a specialist for yourself if you suspect low thyroid function.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coconut-oil-thyroid/an01367

 

For a really good look at coconut oil in the human diet, check this out:

http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/new-look-at-coconut-oil

and note, again, I feel there are benefits and possible drawbacks to adding it to a canine diet. Don’t buy into the hype; see what works.

In closing, I would advise you to know the essential nutrient; vitamins, minerals fats and fatty acids, protein and amino acids, and then evaluate what is already in the diet before adding any extra. Learn the safe upper limits of these additions and what effect they can have on other nutrients – some, like calcium and phosphorus or copper and zinc, should be kept in a specific ratio or absorption issues may arise. I do add  coconut oil. selenium and zinc, often a Bcomplex, and almost always natural VitaminE to a canine diet, but that’s with precision knowledge of what the diet contains and how I’m using them. More is not necessarily better – if there’s a takeaway message for this group? That would be it.

Back shortly with Groups Two and Three. 🙂

 

 

Last article for The Bark- Myths and Misperceptions about Home Feeding

CANINE NUTRITION

– 10 MYTHS DEBUNKED –

It’s been 20 months since the first melamine-related pet food recall, and during that time, more dog lovers than ever have decided to turn to home made diet – cooked or raw – as insurance against a potential problem with a commercial product. But is a home made diet really insurance? Only if it’s nutritionally balanced, and meets the needs of your own dog, considering breed, age, weight, activity and overall physiology.  Many owners start a home made diet following general guidelines that might apply to their dog – but more often, do not.

Many home made diets are not properly formulated and some are significantly out of line with what your dog requires. As a consulting canine nutrition specialist, I analyze hundreds of diets per year, so I am able to see firsthand what people are actually feeding their dogs. Many home prepared diets have been put together by a dog lover who has gleaned bits of information from various sources – some recipe books, some internet sites, and some discussion groups. In nine out of ten cases these diets are imbalanced; sometimes grossly so.  So what’s a concerned owner to do?  It’s not time to give up just yet.   Let’s take a look at several common mistakes home feeders make – and see how we can improve on the average home prepared diet.

1) Myth:Using fresh, wholesome foods will, over time, meet my dogs’ needs if I vary it enough.”  This is without a doubt the most popular misconception I encounter.  There is some basis for it; fresh foods are indeed more bio-available than are highly processed ingredients. In addition, when an owner home prepares the food, they know exactly what’s going into the dog – much more so than is possible when using kibble, canned or premixed foods. However, many diets that are based on wholesome fresh ingredients still come up low in various vitamins and minerals when put through a thorough analysis.

Solution: Bone up on what your dogs’ actual nutrient requirements are by doing a bit of research. This means reading widely and speaking with nutritionists, vets (holistic, conventional and specialists) and starting to think in terms of both ingredients and nutrient needs.  One of the best tools for this is the 2006 National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Dogs, which can be viewed online at http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10668 .

This in depth report may seem a bit daunting at first, but take it in small bites and the information will serve you well.  No matter how much you vary the diet, it can be difficult to provide adequate minerals, for example, and while running a deficit won’t show up right away, over time even one deficiency can create problems that may be difficult to correct.

The next step is to familiarize yourself with the nutrient content of foods, by using a tool like www.nutritiondata.com  or the USDA  Nutrient Database at http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/.  At Nutritiondata, you can enter any recipe in the database and quickly see what you might need to add more (or less!) of.

Bottom line… fresh, homemade diets are a healthful alternative to highly processed meals, but only if they provide appropriate levels of all nutrient requirements. Using variety is not likely to work; problems associated with this sort of diet can take years to show up – and may not be recognized by your vet.  A little homework now pays huge dividends later.

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2) Myth:A multi vitamin added to the food will cover any gaps.”  If only it were that simple. The problem here is this – which multi, and with which diet? Any non-supplemented home prepared diet will be low in some nutrients as well as adequate or high in others.  Depending on which multi is used, the diet can end up still low in one requirement and excessive in others.  It all depends on what’s needed in the first place. Many mult’s geared to dogs offer very low levels of nutrient since it is assumed they will be added to kibble; these products generally will not provide enough supplement to round out a home made diet. And human multis can contain very high levels of one nutrient while not supplying adequate levels of others.  It’s important to remember that some nutrients can be toxic if added in excess, and some are not so much toxic as they are antagonistic to other nutrients. So that extra zinc you think is beneficial may be negatively affecting your dog’s ability to absorb copper. This is why “balanced” is not just a buzz word – it’s a valid and essential aspect of proper nutrition.

Solution:   My preference is to take the above two steps and make supplementation more personalized; work out what your dog’s diet actually contains, then add only what is missing. A diet that offers plentiful selenium could turn out to be very low in copper and zinc so you would need only to add those two minerals, not a multi that contains extra selenium and other unnecessary nutrients. If there’s one place to sit and do the math, it’s here. And it’s not that hard once you are used to the process.  Some of us even find it fun!

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3) Myth:  I’m adding yogurt daily so he should be getting enough calcium, right?”   Not so!  Dogs require fairly high levels of calcium, and yogurt absolutely won’t cut it. Let’s take a quick example; my own 75 pound dog has a daily requirement of 1840 mgs of calcium – and since I use a fair bit of fiber in the form of brown rice, I want to make sure to offset any absorption issues that could arise.Foods that contain a high level of anti-nutrient, such as phytate, can adversely affect absorption of minerals, and should be taken into consideration when deciding how much to supplement..    I want to ensure he gets about 2000 mgs per day or 14 grams per week. His weekly diet alone, of turkey, liver, sardines, brown rice, ground lamb and acorn squash, only provides 1750 mgs. That means I need over 12,000 mgs of calcium – or in other words, more than forty cups of plain yogurt! Calcium supplementation is always necessary unless you are feeding a fair bit of bone.

Solution:  I recommend using a purchased carbonate or citrate form, or a finely powdered eggshell can be used – one teaspoon equals about 1800 mgs of calcium carbonate.  Just be sure to rinse it well and then bake the shells for about ten minutes at 300 degrees. Then use a small grinder to make the powder. Bone meal can be used if there is also a need to add phosphorus, but many home made diets supply plenty of this mineral, and too much can place strain on the kidney.  Some plain yogurt will work for a treat, but it won’t meet calcium requirements – not even close.

4) Myth:  I eat carefully and have read a number of human nutrition books – I just follow similar principles with my dog.”  This is a  very common mistake I see many dog owners make. The assumption that we can simply apply standard dietary advice for humans to our dogs as well is not accurate. Current nutritional advice for humans emphasizes whole grains, high fiber,  5-10 servings of fruit and vegetables daily, minimal fat and moderate protein.  These guidelines are not ideal for a carnivorous species who will, as a general rule, do best with higher fat and protein, lower fiber and moderate carbohydrates.

Solution: Ensure a good level of dietary balance aiming for about 30-35% of total calories from fats, 30% from protein and the balance from complex carbohydrates (which need not mean grain; starchy vegetables like sweet potato, and nutrient rich seeds such as quinoa and wild rice are healthy alternatives).  Percentages are guidelines, but not as accurate as evaluating the gram content of a diet, so again we are looking to use the spreadsheet.  Be aware that just like us, dogs are unique beings. As an example, the range for canine dietary fat is huge; a level that works beautifully for one may cause loose stool (excess) or dry coat (deficient) in another. Unless there is a specific condition like pancreatitis that indicates low fat diet, most dogs do best with a good presence of dietary fat – preferably from animal sources, and fish or fish oils for Omega 3. (NOTE:  it’s important to distinguish between cod liver oil, which adds a large amount of Vitamin A and a good amount of D, and fish body oils, which add essential fatty acids, but much lower levels of vitamin).

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5) Myth:  “My dog had some loose stool, so I cut way down on fiber.”  In fact, more loose stool is caused by excess fat, or by feeding too much food overall, than is caused by fiber overdose. And what type of fiber you use counts as much or more than the amount. Fiber certainly can be an issue and admittedly it’s a little tricky to find what level works for your own dog.  In my experience, brown rice – a highly digestible, gluten free source is usually well tolerated, but the level that works best for the individual can take some experimentation.

Solution:  If your dog has loose stool on a home made diet, be aware that many aspects of the diet can be the culprit. Check fat levels, cut back the food by 30% for a day or so and always watch for other symptoms that might indicate an illness or parasite. If a few days on a bland, low fat diet doesn’t clear up the problems, consult your veterinarian.

6) Myth: “I use a lot of fresh veggies like spinach for iron, so I don’t need to supplement.”   Veggies are such a hotly debated topic in canine nutrition circles I could devote a whole article just to this one. One school of thought holds that adding vegetables is inappropriate and should be avoided altogether since dogs are carnivores and do not need plant matter in the diet. Others emphasize veggies (and fruit) in the diet, with an eye to boosting not only essential nutrient but phytochemicals that provide protection from disease, especially cancer. The reality is that the issue is not this clear cut; while vegetables do offer much in the way of health benefits, we are again faced with the all-important questions “how much and what type”.   Many vegetables contain anti-nutrients, such as phytate, oxalate and tannins, that can interefere with the absorption of minerals, and some, such as the nightshade family (tomatoes, white potato, eggplant and peppers) contain an alkaloid called solanine that is thought to aggravate inflammation. Still other veggies – any member of the brassica family, for example, inlcuding broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower) are considered “goitrogenic”  so these should not be fed to a dog who has thyroid disease.  In my view, they should not be fed daily to any dog. We hear a great deal about the health benefits of vegetables, but there are drawbacks as well.  Lastly, plant sources of vitamins and minerals are not as well utilized by dogs as are animal sources, for instance beta-carotene conversion to Vitamin A is described as “inefficient”.

Solution:  Once again, knowledge is power. Use veggies judiciously, and rotate them so you are never feeding one or two types all the time. Limit dark leafy greens, which contain high levels of oxalate, to twice a week.  Limit the brassicas to three times and only if your dog has normal thyroid function. Be careful with nightshades; I avoid them altogether for dogs with arthritis. Green beans and carrots are usually safe bets. Sweet potato is well tolerated, and not a nightshade like white potato, but is high in calories and starch. Checking with www.nutritiondata.com can provide a wealth of information, and help you make the wisest choices.

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7) Myth:Dogs don’t require any carbs in the diet, and grains are really bad for them.”  If I had to pick the most oft-quoted and most misunderstood of all the ideas here, this one would have to be it.  The starting point for this idea seems to be that according to the NRC research, dogs have no strict requirement for dietary carbohydrate.  Briefly put, this means that they can metabolize adequate glucose (blood sugar) from adequate levels of dietary protein and therefore do not “require” carbs for blood sugar.  A lack of carbohydrate will not lead to an identifiable deficiency state, such as lack of Vitamin C in the human will produce scurvy.  To complicate this issue somewhat more, many home feeders use the terms carbohydrate and grain interchangeably, insisting they use a no-carb diet because they have eliminated grains.  While excess carbohydrate is undesirable and can lead to problems with absorption of multiple nutrients, a diet based only on protein and fat poses problems as well.

Solution: Some portion of your dog’s home made food should consist of  complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, starchy vegetables or quinoa.Complex carbohydrates provide energy, spare protein for other uses in the body and aids in healthy gastrointestinal function. Avoid grains such as wheat that contain gluten except as occasionally treats, as in a biscuit. Try also to keep levels consistent so if  there is a fiber related problem, you will know how much you were using and can proceed from there. Other  sources, such as wild rice and legumes, may  be used sparingly as well.

8) Myth:  “A raw diet is always superior to cooked – dogs fed raw do not get sick. My dog’s issues could not be related to his raw diet.”   Anytime an attachment to nutritional theory blinds an owner to the negative effect on the dog, there is a cause for concern. Raw diets vary in type, some philosophies follow the NRC Guidelines and seek nutrient balance while others utilize a “prey model” approach, wherein the food should mimic the diet of a wolf or wild dog as closely as possible. These diets have become hugely popular over the past decade, as an alternative to kibble; to be sure, many some dogs absolutely thrive on it. But some do not. Raw diet may be a poor choice for dogs with cancer, with colitis, with pancreatitis or liver disease. It’s also a concern that many raw diets encourage a laissez-faire attitude toward nutrient balance, which can prove deleterious over the long run.  As with a cooked diet, it’s essential to ensure proper formulation. Raw diets have drawbacks as well as benefits and are not suited for every individual.

Solution:  If you are planning to try a raw approach, do a lot of homework. Research both within and without the various raw communities that exist on the internet. Talk to veterinarians, nutritionists, read widely and take your time. This is not an approach for everyone; it may or may not work for your dog.  The bottom line is simple; any diet is a poor choice if the individual fails to thrive on it.  If you perceive your dog is not thriving on a raw diet, consider a change to commercial or cooked, with guidance from a veterinarian as needed.

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9) Myth:  “Raw diet is dangerous and a fad, I’d be scared to try it.”  For every home feeder who sings the praises of a raw diet, I will hear one say they wouldn’t dare use foods that aren’t cooked.  It’s as much a mistake to assume that raw is dangerous across the board, as it is to insist it’s a viable solution for every dog. The dangers of raw diets do exist, but can be minimized with attention to detail.  The term “raw diet” covers a number of nutritional philosophies that vary from quite conservative to extremely radical. I often use raw diets for dogs with an allergy, or proactively where there are no problems and the owner has expressed an interest. One great advantage of this approach is ease of preparation. Cooking is a better option for many dogs, but there is no getting around the fact it takes significantly more time and planning than do the raw diets. Consider your own needs and lifestyle as well as your dogs’ when making this all important decision about feeding.

Solution:  If you are uncomfortable with raw, consider a cooked diet.  Or you could use a half and half approach, cooking part of the time and using a quality commercial the rest.  It’s a myth that dogs can’t eat both home prepared and commercial! I see very healthy dogs on a wide range of diets, and your comfort zone matters too.

 

10) Myth:  “Dogs of all ages can be fed a similar type of diet, as long as it’s natural”.

Similar to number 1, this can be a dangerous misconception.  Pups need at least twice and in some cases, as much as five times the nutrient content of an adult dog.  At the same time they require more nutrient, over-nutrition can be a serious and even devastating problem, particularly in giant breeds. It was long thought that reducing dietary protein was in the best interest of the senior dog; current findings suggest they may actually require more.  If you are new to home feeding and have a pup, it might be best to spend that critical first year boning up on nutrition, and start the diet once you and he are ready. Another idea is to consult with an experienced nutrition consultant who can adjust the diet according to your pup’s growth needs. For the senior, make sure to run a full geriatric screening yearly to ensure liver and kidney values are within normal range. Aberrations in these numbers indicate a need for dietary  management.

Solution: Yet more reading! Be aware that growing dogs and seniors pose a far greater challenge to the novice home-feeder than do adults. If you wish to home-feed your new puppy and have never done so before,  consider professional guidance. The same goes for a senior, or any dog with a serious health condition.  Mistakes made in these cases can have serious consequences.

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In conclusion, a home made diet remains a popular and potentially very healthy alternative or compliment to the many premium foods on the market these days, however, some research and planning is essential. Go slowly, gather information from a wide range of sources, and exercise a little caution, perhaps starting with just one day a week of home made food to start out.  Your dog will thank you for it.

 

Catherine Lane,  Dip.CFN
Canine Nutrition Consultant
Dietary Consultations, Seminars, Online Courses in Nutrition and Natural Health

Recommended Reading and Websites:

http: www.thepossiblecanine.com

Author’s website

 

References:

1) National Research Council Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, 2006

2) Small Animal Clinical Nutrition:4th Edition; Hand, Thatcher,Remillard, Roudebush

3) Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals; Carey,Case, Hirokawa, Daristotle

Canine Nutrition – two versions now available

The Basics of Canine Nutrition

This course is the foundation for all the others, insofar as here we learn about the topic from the ground up, starting with anatomy/digestion, nutrients and food sources, and basic nutrient requirements of dogs.  I hear more misunderstanding, half truth and total fallacy in this core area than any other aspect of canine nutrition!  Here is the opportunity to learn the facts, before interpretation can reasonably be developed. It’s my goal and privilege to help guide  students through the maze of conflicting opinions and often outdated information,towards a thorough, confident understanding of  canine nutrition. It’s a starting point and an overview, but a comprehensive one nonetheless.

Part One is an examination of the essential nutritional needs of the domestic dog, and Part Two evaluates various methods of providing those needs; commercial diet, home made cooked diets, and various forms of raw feeding. We also look at feeding for life stages, and basics of supplementation, although individual needs and supplements are explored more fully in other courses. This course provides a solid foundational overview and teaches critical thinking, so the student can dispassionately evaluate various methods of feeding, and decide on which will suit an individual dog. It does not promote the superiority of any one type of diet over others, but rather bases itself on the premise that dogs require nutrients from appropriate food sources, and there are many good methods of delivering them. Always I emphasize the importance of balancing the science with the individual. Coverage is given to each group of nutrients and the foods that provide them, so the graduate emerges with a broad and sophisticated understanding of the topic.
The Basics of Canine Nutrition Course is suited to those who have an interest in knowing more about canine nutrient requirements and digestion, reading dogfood labels, identifying food sources of various nutrients, and generally making sound nutritional choices for their dogs . It will be of great value to those in the retail field, to veterinary assistants, breeders, behaviourists and trainers, TellingtonTouch practitioners, those involved in various sports and competitive work, and of course, anyone who simply loves and lives with dogs. It lays the groundwork for the Advanced Nutrition/ Dietary Formulation programmes and is an extremely important companion course to the Applied Herbalism course.
The course is done entirely online, and is available as mentored or non-mentored – the tuition fee for the mentored programme and Graduation Certificate is $500.00 plus texts; the unmentored version is $250.00.For the mentored version I am available to all students for marking, commentary, classroom discussion and support as needed.
you receive a Certificate of Completion suitable for framing. There are sixteen modules, consisting of reading, research and written assignments, and you have unlimited time to complete the course, although I highly recommend sticking to a regular schedule of study. I reserve the right to remove students after 12 months of non-contact.

A full Course Overview is available by request.

Interview for The Bark

Below is a reprint of an early article I did with TheBark – an interview they conducted with me several years ago. It was pleasant to review this and see that everything I said then holds true now. Many things in nutrition change, but a personalized dietary approach grounded in both science and observation of the individual, always holds up . 🙂

My second article goes into more detail, this is really an overview and quite general, but I thought I’d share it with my readers all the same.

 

Perspectives on Canine Nutrition: Homemade Meals

The list of responsibilities we have for our companion animals isn’t long, but each item on it is important. Among the most basic is how (and what) we feed them. In the spring of this year, as the Menu pet food recall grew from a few isolated brands into an industry-wide avalanche, we began taking a close look at the topic of canine nutrition. To understand the topic’s background and context, we interviewed two nutrition veterans, Donald Strombeck, DVM, and Ann Martin (see “Trust the Hand That Feeds You,” June ’07 and online at thebark.com).

We continue our exploration in this issue, delving into the essentials of homemade diets with Catherine Lane, founder of The Possible Canine. For more than a decade, both formally and informally, Ms. Lane has studied complementary and alternative care, herbalism, and canine nutrition, and consults for Dr. L. E. Beltran, BVM, PhD, a holistic veterinarian at the Blair Animal Hospital in Ottowa. In an early conversation, Ms. Lane noted that that people who had never given too much thought to nutrition, aside from purchasing a decent brand of food and limiting treats, were inspired by the recall to start making their dogs’ food themselves. In this interview, she shares her point of view on the topic of homemade diets for dogs.

 

 

“What I believe is this: that the health and overall potential of dogs, like humans and other living organisms, rests on the cornerstones of nutrition, emotional well being, responsible veterinary care, and a clean, toxin-free living environment. The companionship of dogs, their intelligence, loyalty, service to humanity in so many capacities, even their role as guides for our spirit, if we choose to see them this way, has been invaluable to our own species for thousands of years. As we push further into uncharted territory of human health—medical advances, nutrition, mind/body medicine, answers to global environmental issues—we all want to bring our best friends along with us.”  —Catherine Lane

 

Q: What did you observe as the recalls spread?

A: There’s no question about it—the recall was one tough and heartbreaking way to bring to people’s attention the advantages of homemade diet, which those of us in the natural health field have been promoting for years. As it expanded, membership on canine nutrition Internet groups increased by leaps and bounds; for example, on Totally Home Cooking, a well-established Yahoo group that focuses on homemade diets for dogs, over 100 new members joined in the space of a week. This would normally constitute a group’s annual growth. Requests for recipes, guidelines, protein percentages, and “good and bad” food lists poured into veterinarian’s offices and canine nutrition discussion groups, and a plethora of canine cookbooks appeared out of nowhere—some quite good, some questionable and others downright worrisome.

 

Q: Most people accept that feeding our dogs homemade food is desirable. But over the years, dog food manufacturers and vets have drummed it into us that commercial food is best because it’s balanced. Does every meal have to be precisely balanced, or can a healthy balance be achieved over a period of time?

A: While a balanced diet is important, it needn’t be nutrient-perfect every day—there’s wiggle room. Look at the nutrient content over the course of, say, a week and ask yourself, Okay, is anything a little low here? And then add only what your dog needs. If you feed the same diet all the time—for instance, a batch of food that’s portioned out over several days—this is relatively easy because each meal will contain about the same amount of nutrients, give or take. If you vary the diet week to week, you may want to spend a bit of time figuring out what you need that particular week. There are many ways to do this effectively. My main point is that tossing things together in the belief that variety equals adequacy is not likely to prove good for your dog over the long-term. I’m not a fan of guesswork when to comes to something as important as feeding our dogs.

 

Q: What about palatability? Not all dogs are early—or easy—adapters, and some are downright suspicious of new foods. Do you have any tempting tips or tricks to help with the transiiton?

A: For the most part, homemade food sends dogs into raptures of ecstasy, but there are individual dogs who would rather have kibble; dogs with serious health issues (and sometimes dogs of particular breeds) can also be reluctant to try something new. I suggest introducing foods slowly, much as you would introduce a new commercial food, substituting the new food for about one-third of the old food over a period of a week or so, until your dog has been completely transitioned. Before cooking a huge batch, try a small amount as a snack and see how your dog responds. For serious palatability issues, a stock reduction made from the meat source (leftover lamb, beef or turkey bones) flavors the food and can often entice even the most picky canine. Just be sure to skim off all the fat and use only a small amount as a seasoning. With their powerful sense of smell, most dogs will pick up the stock aroma and dig right in.

Another idea is to use very simple, basic recipes at first, because if you’re adding a number of new things to the food, it’s hard to tell which specific item your dog objects to. For the finicky dog, start with one carbohydrate source, one or two protein sources, and a very small amount of vegetables. Add supplements only after you’re sure the diet itself is a hit. (Chronic lack of appetite can be a sign that something else is going on with your dog, and a visit to the vet may be in order.)

 

Q: Are premium ingredients required?

A: Ingredients are only the first step to optimal nutrition—food quality alone doesn’t ensure a top-notch homemade diet. It’s also important to understand, at least in a general way, canine dietary requirements. There is no getting around the fact that this takes time, research and a little strategic planning. However, the long-term results are well worth the initial effort. And the good news is that many affordable foods—eggs, legumes, brown rice, organ meats (liver, heart and tongue), sardines and tripe, for example—are not only economical but are also good for your dog.

 

Q: What do we need to take into account in order to provide our dogs with a healthy diet?

A: At its most basic level, a homemade diet needs to supply nutrients—protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals—in the correct amounts for our particular dog’s optimal well being. A good nutrition book, such as Donald Strombeck’s Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets or Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, is a must. A holistic veterinarian or nutritionist can help with more complex issues—for example, diets for dogs with special needs.

It’s also important to tailor the diet to your individual dog. Factors including life stage, activity level, size, breed, even climate can affect energy requirements. A large-breed puppy has a very different nutrient profile than an active adult dog or a senior; toy and giant breeds need unique diets, as do pregnant or lactating females and working dogs—sprinters, sled dogs, herding dogs and others often require a high number of calories to offset the energy their activities consume. So, before embarking on home feeding, I recommend that you carefully evaluate your dog’s condition and situation and use that as a starting point for developing an optimal program.

 

Q: Where do we start?

A: The ticket to a successful home-prepared diet is to follow a few simple rules, which apply to either a raw-food or a cooked-food approach. First, figure out precisely what your dog needs to maintain (or achieve) good health and weight, and second, determine the nutrient content of foods you plan to use. This will give you an idea of what the food is providing and what may need to be supplemented. While the type of food is extremely important, as important are the amounts, so start with daily energy requirements—in other words, calories (see chart on p. %%).

 

Q: Can you outline the general elements?

A: Protein is needed for multiple tasks, including growth, cellular regeneration and repair, tissue maintenance and regulation, and hormone and enzyme production. It also provides amino acids and nitrogen and needs to be supplied in foods that are highly digestible: for dogs, this generally includes eggs, fish, muscle and organ meats, and poultry. Fats supply energy and are needed to utilize fat-soluble vitamins as well as for skin and coat health, among many other functions. Carbohydrates, while often maligned as unnecessary for the canine, can in fact be extremely useful for intestinal health, since they are a source of fiber (as well as sugar and starch). They also a source of energy, which allows protein and fat to be used for other functions. Many experts feel that gluten grains (wheat, rye and barley) can create problems in the bowel if overfed, but cooked sweet potato, rice, quinoa and legumes are generally well-digested and provide not only energy and fiber, but a whole assortment of micronutrients as well. Any slack can be taken up by supplements, though I like to remind people that, in some cases, an excess can be as much of a problem as a deficiency. Again, this is where educating yourself is of great importance.

There are numerous schools of thought on the ideal percentage breakdown for each of these elements. In my practice, I generally recommend that protein makes up 25 to 30 percent of the diet; fat, 30 to 35 percent; and carbohydrates, 30 to 35 percent. This applies to the average, healthy adult dog; these percentages can shift based on a dog’s individual needs and condition, of course.

In all cases (with the exception of a diet that includes raw meaty bones), supplemental calcium will be needed. It’s available either from organic powdered eggshells (which you can sterilize and grind yourself), or as a good commercial supplement in powder form, such as a citrate, which is well digested by most dogs. Vitamin A and D can be supplied through judicious amounts of cod liver oil (only fish liver oil supplies these vitamins), and the ever-complex mineral issue will sometimes mean adding a little zinc, selenium or copper—again in amounts that complement what is already in the diet. When considering supplements, it’s important to make a clear distinction between those used to round out the diet, and others—such as glucosamine—that may be helpful but are not essential.

 

Q: How do we figure out things like calories and nutrient content?

A: The USDA National Nutrient Database and the Nutrition Data sites can be used to work out both of these elements, online groups and sites offer tutorials on home feeding, and of course, there are books on the subject. Look for those that emphasize an understanding of canine nutritional science. Recipe books with clever names and appealing dishes are fine for occasional use—a doggie birthday party, for example—but be cautious about using them for the total diet.

 

Q: What if we’re not quite sure we’re making the best choices?

A: Go slowly and ease into it; there are excellent commercial foods that can be safely used as back-up while you increase your knowledge and confidence. If you elect to utilize a commercial food, always check the manufacturer’s website for more information, and don’t be afraid to contact the company with any questions you may have. If the company is reliable, someone will get back to you. Also, talk to your vet and get a feel for his or her opinions on diet.

 

Q: Once we develop a diet that our dog likes and seems to do well on, can we just “set it and forget it”?

A: Good nutrition is a dynamic process, and throughout our dogs’ lifetimes, both the amount and the components may need to be adjusted up or down. Again, age, activity levels and health issues all affect what our dogs require.

 

Q. Do you have a “take-away” message?

A: Experience has taught me that every dog will both fit a template and deviate from it in ways that sometimes surprise and baffle. The science of nutrition consists of knowing what your dog requires and which foods meet these needs. The art is watching how he or she does on a given diet and letting that, as well as textbooks, be your guide.