With Skipper growing like a weed since the day we brought
him home, ensuring he gets the proper nutrition is key. The media has inundated advertising markets
with a plethora of feeding strategies for dogs and cats. Aside from what you decide to feed your pup, how you feed it, and when, are equally, if not more important. Pet
nutrition is a vast topic, and could warrant its very own blog! I’ll cover some
of the basics in the next two blogs, but always check with your pup’s
veterinarian about recommendations for his individual needs and lifestyle.
What you feed
The AAFCO label phrasing is the most important part of your
dog’s food bag to read. It verifies that the food will sustain a particular
life stage. Look for the phrase, “… Provides complete and balanced nutrition
for growth of puppies,” to ensure that the national feed guidelines are met by
After this, you may wish to review the ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of their
inherent weight, including the natural water/moisture content. For example,
chicken will have more water contributing to its overall weight than something
like corn or rice. During the kibble-making
process, a portion of water is extruded. Therefore, if equal volumes of whole
chicken and corn are put in to the process, there will be less chicken weight
after the drying process. I’m outlining this to help you look past media
discussions, and understand the label. The ingredients listed earlier in the
list will comprise more of the food content than those lower down the list.
By-products are often also listed on the label, and can
sound very scary. By-products, by
definition, are the secondary products which remain after a meat source is
processed for its primary intention (usually human consumption). For example,
the nutrient-rich, internal organs left over after chickens or turkey are
processed for your dinner plate, are considered by-products. The term, “by-product” does not indicate a
source is unsafe for consumption, human or otherwise. In some cultures, by-products
like chicken livers, pigs’ feet, etc., are routinely enjoyed. The decision to feed by-products is personal.
Some owners prefer to feed only what they would eat themselves. However, taking into consideration the large
human population worldwide, and stress it puts on the animal agriculture
industry and environment, feeding appropriately cooked by-products to our
less-discerning canine companions is an environmentally friendly alternative to
waste. While I would elect to pass on chicken liver, I would also never choose
to eat the pony poops outside which seem to be a popular snack option at our
The grain vs. grain-free marketing has also been very strong
as of late. It’s important to note that
there is a difference in cat metabolism as compared to dog metabolism, and even
differences from dog metabolism compared to wolf metabolism. It is critically
important that all cats consume meat. They are considered obligate carnivores,
meaning they MUST derive nutrients from a meat source and will not survive or
thrive if fed vegetarian diets only. Dogs, on the other hand, are
omnivores. They have evolved from their
wolf cousins, and are far more capable of digesting grains and starches with
their digestive enzymes. Recently, there has also been a correlation between
dogs who were fed a grain-free diet, and a particular type of heart
disease. Dr. Barnes wrote a very
detailed blog on this topic earlier this year; please check it out for further
information. At this time, the veterinary cardiologists do NOT recommend
feeding a grain-free diet unless your dog has a documented grain allergy. As an
aside, most dogs with food allergies will be allergic to the protein source in
their food, like chicken, beef, or soy. Corn/grain allergies exist, but are
much less common than media sources and advertising would suggest.
Raw diets are NOT recommended for any pets. Raw foods put
both your pet and humans in the household at risk for contracting food-borne
and bacterial illnesses. Dogs and cats
are well equipped to metabolize processed foods, and these are recommended as a
safe alternative to raw foods.
There are also lots of dog treats on the market, as well as human foods which are safe to feed as treats. It is very easy to over-love our pets. They are happy to accept any/all treats, maybe even steal a few without permission, without ever thinking twice about their waistline. There are studies which show that lean pets live an average of almost 2 years longer than their overweight counterparts. The lean dogs in the study were also noted to develop orthopedic disease and graying muzzles later on. I recommend using small bits of treats, and often just toss a single kibble or two, rather than give a high calorie treat. Most dogs (and this definitely applies to Skipper and Lily!) don’t care what you’re feeding as a treat, just that they’re getting a snack! If you use human foods, stick to low calorie/low fat options, like boiled chicken bits, cucumbers, celery, or carrots. Do not give onions, raisins, or grapes. Be sure to review a full list of toxic foods list on Animal Poison Control’s website.
Feeding your dog is an integral part of their care, and the
human-animal bond you have with him. There
are many reputable brands with several different flavor options; we know this
can be over whelming as a pet parent. Please let our staff know if you have any
We have noticed many of our clients have questions on the relationship of Grain Free diets and Cardiac Disease the more this topic has entered into the public eye. Dr. Suzanne Barnes has put together this great article to help clear up any questions you may have. In addition we have provided a some great links that delve further into the subject below. We are certainly always here to discuss any concerns you may have regarding your pet’s diet.
On July 12, 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a document alerting pet owners to the dangers of feeding certain diets and their apparent link to a specific cardiac disease of dogs. These certain diets are known to be high in peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes. Commonly, these diets are listed as “grain free”. The concern is that dogs are developing a cardiac condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Some dog breeds will commonly be affected by this condition through genetic predispositions whereas other dog breeds do not have a genetic predisposition. It is in some of these other breeds that we are seeing an increase in DCM while having been fed a “grain free” diet. In some of these cases, dogs are developing heart disease and presenting in acute heart failure. Some of them are suffering a sudden death. If your dog has been on a grain free diet from a small dog food manufacturer also known as a “boutique” producer for months to years, then we recommend changing the diet to a commercial food or a food that has undergone a feed trial.
A feed trial indicates that the food has been fed to a group of dogs for a certain amount of time and their nutritional status has been evaluated and deemed appropriate for sustainability. Many smaller food manufacturing companies produce food based on an AAFCO statement and follow the recommendations set forth but have not tested their food in a live population to ensure nutritional adequacy. We recommend feeding a food from a company that has a long history of producing food and that has done the research to ensure their food has met the necessary standards to support life and maintain health.
We also recommend monitoring your dog for any signs that are associated with heart disease. Clinical signs associated with DCM can include decreased energy, coughing, exercise intolerance, increased breathing rate or effort, difficulty in breathing, and sudden collapse. If you are concerned that your pet is experiencing any of these signs then we recommend bringing your pet in for an exam and we’ll discuss our recommendations to do a cardiac evaluation with chest x-rays, blood work, blood pressure evaluation and an electrocardiogram based on your pet’s individual needs.
CVCA – Cardiac Care for Pets shared a great live video on Facebook with Dr. Steven Rosenthal. You may also visit their website for a Q&A on Grain Free Diets they have provided following the video release.