So, with about 25 topics in the drafts folder and a bunch of assignments to mark today, I feel a pressing need to add this entry. It’s mostly because I am asked about it all the time, because I have strong feelings about this, but also, well sometimes the spirit just moves us. Recently on my Facebook group Canine Nutrition and Natural Health, the topic came up, and I thought, well let’s add a few thoughts to the blog.
I really feel strongly about this, because the kibble diet alone is never optimal, but sometimes it’s necessary, and I do have sympathy for the human as well as the dog! I know all about being way too busy and not having time, energy and often times the finances to do home made fulltime. If you do need to feed kibble, it can be greatly improved with the addition of some fresh foods, and given the many very good dry-food products we now have available, compared to years past – I do see dogs doing well on dryfood diets with well-chosen fresh foods added.
That said, what the owner adds can also detract from the dietary balance, and in some cases, do more harm than good. It’s very sad to see people who adore their dogs, who mean the very best for them, cause a problem unintentionally. How can this happen, you might ask, with the additional of fresh foods? Well, in lots of ways – so let’s go into this a little today. Basically, what you should add, ideally, starts with two considerations; your dog, his or her health, preferences and general constitution, first and foremost, and second, the nutrient content of the food you’re using. So, if you have an older dog who has been eating a high carb food, never had any issues with fat or protein, and you don’t want to change the food, it might work well to add some eggs, fish, chicken, or beef. If you have a dog who has been eating a high protein food such as Orijen, and may be a little hyper, hard to keep weight on – some good carbs (cooked sweet potatoes, for example) could make up part of the additions (I’m not suggesting a large amount of starch just that it is less problematic, and in some cases beneficial, to increase fiber for older dogs!). In almost all cases, fresh vegetables – rotated groups, pulped well or steamed – will add wide ranging benefit to the diet as well. It’s important to think about matching the supplemental food with both the dog’s digestion, age, weight and activity level, as well as with an eye to the type of food he or she usually eats.
All this is with regard to an adult healthy dog, or a dog with minor issues such as a bit of sensitive tummy, some seasonal allergy. If your dog has had pancreatitis, cancer, renal disease, bladder stones – most likely you’re using a specialized diet, and the extras have to be worked out with your vet or nutritionist, so they don’t upset the dietary applecart. With healthy dogs, we’re looking to prevent problems, balance what’s lacking in the food, and add some pleasurable variety to the meals. It’s easily done, in most cases. You need to think about all the nutrients in a given food, not *just* for example, the protein. (Liver has great protein, but a lot of other things that can be excessive for dogs on top of kibble, for example).
Let me go through a few foods I like to add, with a bit about how to use them, which dogs might do best without them, how much to use. 🙂
Meat, chicken, fish and eggs all come to mind for most of us as ideal foods for dogs. And for healthy adults, as the mainstay of the diet, that’s certainly true – but as extras/supplemental foods, some might contain too much fat, or phosphorus,or sodium – some may be fine in small bits only, and there are the omnipresent contamination concerns (pretty much all foods, sadly). Here are some (very general) guidelines for adding these foods to your dogs’ kibble.
1) Muscle meat and poultry (lamb, beef, venison, pork, chicken and turkey)… First, fat content – different cuts contain very different levels of fat, and your dog may not react well to an excess of any one type. Try to vary it up, use light and dark meat (chicken and turkey) start small and watch for bowel response.
Second – minerals, especially phosphorus, can add up and not only stress the kidney, but interfere with the absorption of others. Balance with a little calcium if using more than 10% of the daily caloric total from meats . Some meats, like lamb, contain more sodium than others, so may not be suitable for dogs with heart or kidney disease.
Lastly – be wary of the source! Hormone free, grassfed beef is so far superior to feedlot cuts it’s hard to be succinct in comparing them. Better to add less and have it higher quality, for sure. And to minimize exposure to chemicals, rotate what you use. Eggs one day, a little lightly cooked or raw ground beef the next, some white and dark meat chicken day three. Do be wary of poultry fat, even if your dog has never had a bad reaction to it, there’s always that first time. I generally have clients remove the skin.
2) Organ meat – liver and kidney… both of these are best used as small parts of the supplemental food only. Aside from the high phosphorus (liver has 140 mgs per ounce, beef brisket has 58) liver contains a lot of VitaminA, and copper, which are amply supplied by the kibble. Kidney has about 86 grams of phosphorus and is a great source of selenium so you can use it a little more generously than liver, but be mindful; especially if you have a high protein kibble and/or your dog is a senior.
It stands to reason that any food that causes an upset tummy shouldn’t be used…and ANY food can do that.
3) Fish – This is a bit of a conundrum because cold water fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring are such superb sources of the Omega 3 fatty acids we all need more of (us and our dogs.) but the very sad truth is, most fish is at least somewhat contaminated and some is very badly so (tuna in particular, has very high levels of mercury and pcbs, and I don’t use it for dogs or cats at all). Look for smaller fish (sardines, for example) or wildcaught, over farmed salmon; limit to three times a week, and consider a supplement of purified fish oils to meet Omega3 goals. Any canned fish will have sodium unless otherwise stated on the label, and many have BPA in the can lining; so use with discretion. Older dogs or any dog with heart disease should not have the canned variety unless low sodium, Update: fish – especially canned – is a big no-no for dogs with mast cell tumour. I include dogs susceptible to MCT on that list, my own breed (the Ridgeback) is one I prefer to watch histamine levels with in general..while any dog can develop an MCT, Beagles, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Bulldogs, Bull Mastiffs, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Pugs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Weimaraners are at higher risk than average.
Look for information about types of seafood and their toxin content here: https://doh.wa.gov/community-and-environment/food/fish/contaminants-fish and https://sites.nicholas.duke.edu/superfundcec/fish/common-fish-contaminants-and-their-health-impacts/
4) Eggs – a great source of very bioavailable protein, selenium, biotin, Vitamin d and lutein – and fresh free range eggs are even better. Give your smallish dog 1-2 a week, mediums can handle 3-4 and a large or giant dog as many as 7, depending on the diet (many giant breed dogs, for example, eat far less total food than is recommended on the bag, which keeps their weight down but can shortchange nutrients as well, For these dogs I don’t mind adding extra food more generously, but again – watch the nutrient content! Update: this is not a hard and fast rule, and in home made diets you can feed more than this. I do on occasion see some gas or loose stool with eggs added to kibble, so my caution here is to start small and work up.
5) Dairy products are very often not well tolerated, with the exception of yogurt. If your dog likes yogurt and it doesn’t give him diarrhea, add a Tbsp or so a few times a week(medium dog example). I don’t usually use milk, and cheese is a high-fat treat only. As for ice cream! Ok – a little in the summertime, everybody needs a splurge. For more regular treats, I mash a banana with plain, whole fat yogurt, whirl in the blender and freeze in a Kong. Yogurt alone won’t provide the probiotic support of a daily capsule, but it is a healthy way to augment a dry food regimen. Update; raw, fermented goat’s milk is a very popular addition to the canine diet, whether kibble, raw or cooked.
6) Two specialty items – Bone Broth and Green Tripe…since these two foods are generally excellent for dogs, I encourage you to try them both.. The short version is, it’s easy to make bone broth (long cooked bones of an animal carcass, usually with a little vinegar and some herbs) but there are concerns about which bones and how long to cook, so I’m going to take the time to go into this more. Simpler stocks made by simmering the carcass of a turkey, chicken, from beef etc can be used, 2-4 hours stovetop simmering and then the fat skinned off, makes a lovely base for your other additions, or even a doggie soup or stew. Bone broth is simmered much longer and can extract unwanted toxins as well as nutrients – look for an update soon.
Green tripe from any animal (it’s the lining of the stomach, and as unpleasant as that sounds to us, dogs just adore the stuff) is almost always a healthful addition. I contacted Tripett (who make a canned version) and they assure me the lining has no BPA – I highly recommend a bit added to your dog’s kibble, anytime. Once you get past the smell, you’ll be glad you tried it. Update: Be aware – canned tripe doesn’t offer the same benefits as raw, but it still has some. One drawback with canned is the addition of carageenan, so I consider this type of tripe product for occasional use only. Be sure and check the ingredient list not only for carageenan, a demulsifying agent that may increase inflammation in some dogs,and some studies have linked to cancer – but for other ingredients – beef or chicken stock, quinoa, potatoes – look for a tripe product that is tripe only. As with any new food test a small bit at first, and or up to the amount you want to use.
Carageenen discussion: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-carrageenan-controversy/
Vegetables and Fruits
An important oversight in the earlier version of this article; fruits and vegetables need to be either cooked, or well ground up, as in a blender to help liberate both nutrients and phytochemicals, and make them more bioavailable for the dog. Starchy veggies like white and sweet potato should always be cooked – others can be whirled in a blender with a little water, and added as a health booster, or else gently steamed and added to the bowl.
1) In general, vegetables are rich in phytochemicals that can help defend the body against cancer, and they contain many vitamins, minerals and much fiber as well. All sounds great – but, there are considerations for usage. The first and obvious one is, too much fiber can loosen stool. This is one you will need to test on your own, but a guideline is to use no more than 1/3 cup daily for small dogs, 1/2 cup for medium and up to a cup for large/giant. Make sure the veggie mix is varied and stop or change it if you notice a problem! One way to test your dog’s response to vegetables is to feed only one kind for a few days, then rest the system for a day, then try another one. Once you have figured out if brussels sprouts are ok, how much sweet potato is good and so on, you can start to mix it up accordingly. Most problems associated with vegetable feeding are either from using too much, or one of the following specific issues.
2) Goitrogens, solanine, oxalate (oh my!) These three are the most common problems I see with feeding a lot of vegetable matter, and the scope of this entry won’t allow for detailed exploration. The point here is that veggies, for all they do offer so much benefit, can have a few drawbacks as well. Brassica family vegetables – such potent cancer fighters – contain compounds called glucosinolates, which are known to suppress thyroid function; cooking reduces the levels of these compounds, but I still limit them with dogs who have thyroid disease .
Nightshade family veggies contain an alkaloid called solanine, which can exacerbate inflammation in the body, and therefore I try not to use them at all. The nightshade family includes white potatoes(not sweet potatoes) eggplant, peppers and tomato. And veggies rich in oxalic acid can be problematic for dogs who have a history of calcium oxalate bladder stones – I tend to limit oxalates also with pre-disposed breeds. Oxalate also impairs the absorption of dietary calcium, so feeding a lot of them may result in your dog falling short of the calcium he needs . Some information here: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=48
With all of these groups, again – it’s important to consider your dog, his health history, what’s in the main diet and to use foods with commonsense ( not too much, nothing contraindicated for a condition).
In short, I (A) limit brassica family veggies with thyroid disease (and always cook them),(B) I don’t use nightshades at all (your dog is going to be JUST FINE without eggplant) and (C) I’m wary of oxalate content with all dogs, and use moderately (or avoid altogether with stone-formers).
In terms of fruit, I’m not a huge fan. Many dogs don’t like fruit, and just like vegetables, fruits can be problematic, in terms of fiber, sugars, or oxalate content. Moderation is key; some dogs, for example, love bananas and a yogurt/banana smoothie (I freeze them in Kongs) once a week in the summer is just fine. Berries provide potent antioxidants and can be pulped up and added to the slurry, but again, many are high in oxalate. If you want to provide the cancer-fighting compounds ofsay, raspberries without the oxalate, you can consider one of the myriad supplements available now that offer the extracts without the issues.
UPDATE: I do like grated organic apple and rosehip powder, in moderation, for anti inflammatory support as well as a lovely source of lycopene without using tomato paste. Bilberry is an important part of my senior dog’s vision support strategy too, as it is my own. And we all eat blueberries regularly!
Beautiful bilberry, Vaccinium myrtillus
Grains, seeds, legumes
1) Grains – for over fifteen years now, the only grain I really use regularly has been rice, and given the current issues with arsenic I see no reason to add rice to any kibble. Other grains such as barley, wheat and rye, contain gluten and are not recommended unless therapeutically indicated (as with barley for diabetics).
Update: I am using oatmeal now more and more in small amounts in my recipes, but still don’t see a need to add it to kibble.
2) Seeds: Both Quinoa and buckwheat (sometimes thought of as grains) are highly nutritious seeds that can be used as part of the kibble-topper. Quinoa is high in oxalate, but usually well tolerated; rinse well before cooking. Buckwheat is surprisingly well accepted by most dogs, and is nutritious and usually well tolerated, but high in sodium. If your dog shouldn’t have too much additional protein, you can mix his eggs, chicken, salmon etc half and half with buckwheat and/or quinoa. Other foods such as wild rice can be used, but are usually prohibitively expensive.
3) Legumes: Lentils in particular are a great source of resistant starch, which I talked a little about in one of the carbohydrate entries. If your dog tolerates them and you use organic products, a small amount of very well-cooked legume can be beneficial to the colon, and help regulate (soften OR firm) stool. Use guidelines above UPDATE – I no longer use or recommend legumes in a diet unless it is therapeutically indicated, and only under both veterinary and my own supervision. Although I did use legumes for fifteen years without a single case of reported taurine -related heart disease, I’m still not taking a chance these days.
1) Consider first the dog’s overall health, and the nutrient content of the food you’re using. Plug in holes accordingly, and mind not to go over15% (by calorie, not weight or volume) of the total diet. If you are using 25% or more of the daily total in your home made “topping”, you can be seriously unbalancing the diet, and might consider developing a fully balanced recipe to use instead.
2) Bear in mind not only nutrient content (fats, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals in the supplemental food) but the sources of your supplemental foods; see my posts on arsenic in rice, radioactive sardines, and upcoming entries on fish safety in general, for example.It’s better to use less of a cleaner food than more of a chemical-laden, questionable one). Always limit organ meats, and be mindful of fat type as well as content.
3) Whatever you decide to add, start small and build up. An excess of green vegetables, as previously noted, can contribute to loose stool – as can many fats – use all this information as guidelines and then test on your own dog! No matter how great a food is, how healthy, it’s not a good one for your dog if it gives him or her gas, loose stool, or the itchies.
4) Don’t overuse any one food, over and over. Variety will not guarantee a balanced diet, but it will be a primary guideline when it comes to toppers. This is where we want the nutrient content diluted (which is what variety does) – so please DO rotate veggies, carbs, proteins.
5) May sound contradictory after all of this, but relax! We are all doing the best we can for our dogs, and if you can’t get highest grade free range beef and so on, use what you can afford and access, mix it up and enjoy!
One last word, but I think it’s an important one; my advice is, don’t try to compensate for an inferior grain heavy, lower quality food by adding meats and veggies. You may add in some good nutrition, but what you can’t do, is take the nasty stuff (BHA/BHT, corn, 4-D meats, cheap minerals etc) OUT of the kibble. If you are using a lower grade kibble my first advice before anything else, is get your dog onto a premium food asap! more than adding in extras, think about the overall nutrition – and switch to premium.If you need help with that, let me know. 🙂