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What Should I Feed My Dog?
The single most important step you can take to keep your dog healthy is to choose a high quality, species appropriate diet. Many popular commercial diets, which are heavily processed, high in sugar and fat, and have a high glycemic index, trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Dogs often suffer from conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, dermatitis, colitis, arthritis, pancreatitis and cancer. These are all chronic conditions that are rooted in inflammatory processes. Some commercial dog foods have changed very little for decades despite advances in human nutrition clearly demonstrating the relationship between poor diet, inflammation, obesity and insulin resistance. Much of this information is based on studies in animals. Veterinarians have been conventionally trained based on research funded by major pet food manufacturers, to learn about deficiencies but not about how diet can prevent disease. It is the hope of the American Holistic Veterinary Association that veterinary researchers, independent from pet food manufacturers, will embrace the pursuit of evidence based support of fresh, whole food diets to prevent disease in cats and dogs. No one doubts the implications of this model for humans.
How Do Poor Diets Cause Illness?
If scientific details don’t interest you, feel free to skip this section and know that diets high in fat, sugar and glycemic index trigger a vicious cycle in the body that leads to chronic illness.
Once ingested, an inflammatory response releases cytokins such as Interleukin -6, especially in overweight individuals. This promotes release of active oxygen species such as C-reactive protein (CRP). We can test for CRP levels in a patient; high levels indicating high levels of inflammation. Free radicals are generated leading to oxidative stress and more inflammation, triggering a vicious cycle. Eventually pancreas cells lose sensitivity resulting in insulin resistance. The immune system is compromised, decreasing the body’s ability to remove cancer cells, and kidney and liver functions are affected with chronic inflammation
What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
In order to prevent inflammation and promote wellness, I recommend that you choose your pet’s diet with the following goals in mind. An ideal diet is:
There are different options and I have discussed each, listing the advantages and disadvantages. You can choose which fits your budget, schedule and philosophy. The categories are: raw diet, homemade diet, commercial canned grain free diets, and dehydrated food diets.
The main advantage is that raw food moves slowly through the gastrointestinal tract leading to increased digestion and nutrient absorption with optimal effects on GI flora (good bacteria that constitutes a large part of the immune system). The disadvantage is the potential for infection from bacteria in improperly handled food. There are actually a greater number of illnesses reported from commercial cooked foods than reports of actual bacterial illnesses from use of raw foods. Many pets absolutely thrive on raw diets and their owners would never go back. Some pets do not do well on raw, especially if started later in life. To decrease risk as much as possible, choose a commercial raw food over homemade raw diet. Some brands are Nature’s Variety Medallions (my favorite), Primal, and Stella and Chewy’s. They are immediately frozen and kept that way until you feed your pet. Do not thaw in the fridge. If you are set on making your own raw food, do not get your meat from a grocery store chain. Choose a butcher in whom you feel confident about the age and handling of their products.
The advantage of home cooked diets is that using fresh, cooked, unprocessed meats has many of the benefits of a raw diet without the risk. The disadvantage is the potential high cost and inconvenience. Also, homemade diets are not “balanced” for long term feeding. Many people have been able to make home cooked food for their pets with minimal cost and time invested. A “balanced diet” can be fed for life without causing nutritional deficiencies. This is more important for pets than for humans because pet owners tend to feed the same thing to their pet for years unlike humans who can balance their own diets with common sense and lots of variety. Veterinary nutritionists do not recommend following a basic “recipe” for homemade diets because these diets cannot be balanced without knowing the specific ingredients and their specific weights. However, a basic, vague recipe is given below as a starting point so you may vary the meats to please your pet. The more varied a diet, the less likely it is that there will be deficiencies but, also, ironically, the more difficult to balance. A way around this would be to take a basic diet and choose the exact ingredients you plan to use in your homemade diet, weighing each ingredient. Now you have a specific recipe. You could do more than one, with fish and chicken, for example. Then, you can contact a veterinary nutritionist to insure each is balanced. You must give them specific ingredients and measurements in order for them to do their calculations. Nutritionists can be found at www.petdiets.com or balanceit.com (they provide supplements, as well) and others are listed at www.acvm.org. Some are high cost and others are not. They will also formulate a diet for you from scratch and specify foods and supplements that are fresh, whole, and containing no synthetic vitamins.
You can start with this basic recipe, experiment with foods that fit your budget and your dog’s personal tastes. Once you come up with several food combinations you and your dog like, then have them “balanced’ for long term by consulting to a veterinary nutritionist.
Basic Dog Food Recipe
Commercial Canned Grain Free Dog Food
Most of you who are reading this will choose to go with commercial diets. We are fortunate that there are now many healthy choices that meet the goals of an anti-inflammatory diet. Disadvantages of this diet are the cost and the fact that these foods are somewhat processed. The advantage is that commercial diets are balanced. Choose foods that are high in protein (9% or higher dry matter as is on label), no additives, no grain, and with quality ingredients. Dogs with renal disease should not be on an ultra-high protein diet. Their actual protein needs are somewhat controversial at this time so ask me on an individual case basis.
Some companies that have good reputations for high quality “natural” diets include: Nature’s Variety Medallions that you can lightly cook (doing so gives you the advantage of unprocessed raw foods without risk of bacterial contamination). Other brands include Wellness, Weruva, Organics, Orijen, Evo, Instinct,and Newman’s Own. New grain-free formulas come out every week. The website www.Only NaturalPet.com is a large online store that carries pet foods, supplements and other products. Because they list all of the ingredients in every product that they carry, it is a great place to research foods and supplements to learn what is out there and compare prices.
These diets are relatively unprocessed. You add water and get a goopy but fresh food. It is a great choice nutritionally but some pets don’t care for the texture. Honest Kitchen is the most popular brand for dehydrated diets.
Dry Food in a Bag
Just say no! Dry dog food is highly processed. Dogs will survive, but not thrive, on dry food alone. If you feel it is necessary to feed your pet dry food because of cost or time concerns, I would recommend going with one of the many grain free choices.
When and How Much to Feed?
Dogs should be fed twice a day and should not be allowed to eat as much as they want. The feeding recommendations on packages of food are often too large of a quantity. You are feeding nutritionally dense foods now and they don’t need as much. Your dog should eat the amount of food that allows him or her to maintain a lean weight. This is generally 12-18 ounces, per 20 pounds of body weight, daily.
I recommend the following two supplements for all patients:
Large breed dogs or those know to have joint disease should be on a joint supplement.
“Wholistic Pets” brand Feline Complete or Canine Complete is the product I am currently recommending. It contains everything a pet needs in one good tasting, high quality product. It is available in soft chews or granules that can be mixed with the food.