A friend has asked me to do a basic review on dog food/nutrition and what’s important to look for if you’re wanting to support your dog’s health. While I don’t particularly like doing reviews in general (with the exception of Trader Joe’s food, yum) I am willing to concede in this case, mainly because I don’t have a good enough reason to protest at this time. Plus, I like my friend.
To begin, let me say plainly that these are simply my own thoughts from my own experience working with dogs and the knowledge I’ve gained from training, practice and study. As with anything else, there are many differing opinions on the topic, and I don’t claim to have the answer or ‘right way’ in any of it. This is just one humble opinion from my work with dogs, dog issues, and the training I’ve received from others. Take what you find helpful; discard what you find to be a bunch of hooey. I will try my very hardest to keep the latter at a minimum.
INGREDIENTS AND THE BASICS
So in general, assuming you feed your dog dry food, there are a few ingredients you want to avoid like the plague, at least as the first few ingredients. The first of these is corn.
It’s generally used as inexpensive filler for dog food and has little (if any) nutritional benefit. When this is listed first, be forewarned your dog will be full of crap.
The more nonsense/fluff/filler you put in them, the more you’ll find coming out the other end. I hate to be so blunt about the whole thing, but I’d rather you hear it from me than find out for yourself when you step out into your backyard and find mammoth sized muck everywhere.
Secondly, be very cautious if you see ‘animal by-product’ listed, as basically translated this means ‘the bits and pieces of the animal no one else would eat and will remain unnamed, lest you gag’. You don’t need that and neither does your dog.
(In fact, any meat generically named is probably not something you’ll want to be investing in.)
What you do want to see is specific protein listed first, ideally more than just one. So turkey, beef, chicken, fish and the like. Following this should be vegetables, grain and some fruit.
Another thing I’d watch for would be anything your dog may be allergic to. If she doesn’t have fleas and you’re noticing rashes, hot spots, other types of break-outs on or under the skin, or excessive licking (particularly aimed at the paws) you may want to consider switching foods. Common food dogs tend to be allergic to are soy, corn, eggs and chicken, if I am remembering correctly. Of course there are many other possibilities as well, those are just the most common.
If you do need to switch your dog’s food due to allergies or otherwise, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. I’d never recommend just abruptly switching your dog from one food to another in a day, as doing so will likely result in a very sick puppy. Instead, gradually add the new food while decreasing the old a little at a time, over a week or so. This will give your dog’s body a chance to adjust and will also allow you to watch for any poor reactions without bombarding their system all at once. You can also use plain rice and boiled chicken (no seasoning please) to assist in the transition if it has to be quick. This goes for switching a dog from puppy to adult food as well, which is generally best done around 8 months of age.
One note about the protein content in your dog’s food– for larger breed dogs you actually want to keep protein at about 23% or lower. If the content is too high you run the risk of your puppy’s bones growing too fast for their body, incurring all sorts of potential problems.
SUPPLEMENTS, SNACKS and TROUBLE-SHOOTING
As far as additional supplements go, there are a few you might want to consider, depending largely on the breed, age and need of your dog. Of course you’ll want to check with your vet before adding anything to your dog’s diet, but here are some I’ve found to be helpful.
Omega-3’s: beneficial on a variety of levels, including supporting their immune system, heart, and skin/coat/joints. I give my dogs fish oil tablets every day.
Ester C supplements and glucosamine: can be helpful (and often vital) in large breed dogs with potential joint or growth issues. When my great dane was still a young pup he began knuckling (basically his bones were growing faster than what his body could keep up with) and his legs looked like this:
Many of the vets I consulted said that surgery was his only option, until a number of breeders led me to try the aforementioned supplements instead. With a diet change and the supplements, he was good as new in in no time. Much cheaper and a great deal less painful, to be sure. I mention this only to illustrate how effective and helpful supplements can be if administered appropriately and at the right time.
Carrots: this is a great alternative to dog bones as a snack and many dogs love them. As long as they’re not given in excess, carrots are a fantastic option.
Definitely do your research before going this route. There are a number of ingredients vital to the survival and well-being of your dog that are normally added to dry food, some of which you may not even be aware of. Just giving them raw meat will end in their demise.
In general when feeding raw, the majority should be meat, roughly 70% unless it’s a giant breed, in which case that percentage should be lowered significantly. This can be in the form of chicken, turkey, beef and some fish. 20-30% should be raw vegetables (no corn). This can include things like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach, green beans, etc. If you have a very active dog you’ll want to include grain as well, I’d opt for sweet potato or yams, maybe 7%. You can add some fruit like apples and berries, but these are minimal. In addition, your dog will require some of the aforementioned essential vitamins, which you’d need to speak to your vet about in regards to your particular breed.
The question of whether or not to leave the bones intact is rather controversial, I personally would include them with some caution. But, if you’re going to go raw, the meat AND the bones must always remain entirely uncooked, period. A mistake people often make is that they give their dogs cooked chicken bones, which splinter and can cause a lot of internal damage. Cooked chicken bones, always a big no-no.
As you can probably tell, feeding raw is not the most inexpensive option, but it certainly has it’s benefits.
So, that’s about the extent of my thoughts on dog food at the moment. I hope someone and their pup found it helpful in some way.