This is an article I wrote for an online journal (which is now not going to be published) and while it’s nothing I haven’t said so many times before, I thought it might be an idea to share here anyway. Occasionally I hear from Friends on Facebook or in “real life” that I might seem a little strident about my approach to nutrition. If that’s so, it’s with good reason; just a little extra work can transform a good diet into a great one, or it can correct imbalances that, over time or when dealing with illness, can mean the difference between recovery and ongoing health challenges. I want people to hear that – I really, really do.
Hence, here’s the article. Those who know me know I feel this way and why. But it might be of use to newcomers to the site…don’t feel daunted or overwhelmed, just stay calm, and make dog food. 🙂
And do it RIGHT.
The subject of feeding dogs is one close to my heart, not only because I live with dogs and want the best of health for them, but because I work fulltime as a canine nutrition consultant, and have seen firsthand the power of both proactive and therapeutic nutrition. This work is deeply gratifying, as I see the power of precision diets every day, but it can be challenging, too; I am often asked, by laypeople and professionals alike, as to the basis of my knowledge, how I can claim to be a nutritionist without a DVM degree, and more. As a practitioner firmly based in balanced ideals – that is to say, science and innovation, theory and practise, education and creative thinking – I often disagree with the powers that be ( asserting that one does not require a vet degree to learn nutrition) and, on the other end of the philosophical spectrum, I sometimes find the more militant factions within the raw-feeding community disputing my use of cooked diets, supplementation and moderate use of carbohydrates for dogs. It can feel like a lonely path – until I get the report cards back from my clients – extended lifespans, recovery from a wide array of health issues, general improved health, and vastly lowered vet bills, too. In a field where I can feel as though I am always positioning myself against extremes, the middle way has proven to be the right one for my practise. In this article I’ll share a little of what that means, and what this work has taught me.
My core philosophy starts with two all-important points.
1) Dogs, like all living creatures, require nutrients to live and thrive. These need to be met in the diet using the freshest and most wholesome of foods. The art of nutrition starts with understanding that both good food sources AND optimal levels of nutrient intake are important. Commercial foods tend to be better at supplying nutrients, and home made diets generally utilize good quality foods with a lack of attention to the details of balance.
2) Dogs – again like all living creatures, are individuals. This means that nutrient requirements and the foods used to supply them will inevitably vary from one to another – and change, too, within the span of an individual’s life. These individualities are best addressed by open-minded and knowledgeable attention. The more we as owners and practitioners are attached to one way of feeding – often emotionally, and without reliable, consistent evidence – the more we may also limit our capacity to make the best choices for our dogs.
My practise and success to date has been predicated on standing my ground with regard to these principles. There is, of course, more to this work than meeting nutrient requirements; therapeutic diets, in particular can be challenging and complex. Still, it has been my experiencing in analyzing countless home made diets, recipes in popular books and reading what people are doing (on Internet groups and forums) that an overwhelming majority of home made diets – whether raw or cooked – are not adequately providing the nutrients a dog requires. And lest anyone think I am trying to warn people off home-feeding; the opposite is actually true. My personal feeling is that even the finest premium commercial foods are still inferior to properly formulated home made diets, but continually point out that home made diets will tend to work well only for a while if nutrients are not carefully balanced. . I encourage people to start looking into a raw or cooked diet – but do your research first. And because “research” can be so overwhelming to wade through – I just checked google and saw read 5, 890,000 hits on the search for “canine nutrition “– I’d like to offer some pointers to anyone thinking of starting to home feed.
1) Take your time – move at a comfortable pace. Unless your dog is suffering from a nutritionally-responsive disorder, you don’t have to hurry. (If he is unwell, you’re best off hiring a consultant with proven experience and education, who can formulate on your behalf, don’t tackle that one yourself).
2) Do not become overly attached to dietary theory, whether conventional or progressive. Be aware that what works for your dog now may change over time – or may not be optimal for a second one. Become aware of the pros and cons of all types of diets – in other words, think like a nutritionist. The foundational science is where you start, and return to, with forays into popular theories always referencing what we actually know.
3) Have your vet run bloodwork to establish a baseline with your dog before you start feeding, and then re-check every 6 months. It’s not uncommon for subjective signs to improve (skin/coat, teeth/breath, energy, weight and even attitude) on a home made diet, while slowly, the objective signs are changing, and not in a desirable way. There are many reasons for this – my advice is, watch what’s going on inside as well as on the surface. This can be a great guide for you in adjusting the recipes, or seeking help if you feel over your head.
4) Keep an open mind; your holistic vet may be a great source of knowledge, or she might be relatively new to the field and new to actually formulating diets. The retailer you think sounds so knowledgeable may, or may not be the expert they appear. Breeders range from very old school to very zealous about raw diet. It’s a bit of a minefield, and trusting someone’s judgement based solely on their occupation may not always be advisable. (for some ideas on how to select a practitioner you can trust, see my recent blog entry here: https://www.thepossiblecanine.com/how-to-choose-a-nutrition-advisor
5) Don’t allow yourself to be pressured; if your dog is doing very well, say, on a home cooked diet, don’t let the guy next door who feeds raw insist that you should switch – likewise don’t let the conventional vet scare you into going back on kibble. If your dog is doing well inside and out, on your chosen feeding method – and you are happy? Don’t be intimidated. If there is anything I have seen in my years consulting, running Internet groups and volunteering (AllExperts, yahoo) it is that many ways of feeding can and do work. If you keep the three foundational elements of good diet in mind – wholesome foods that meet individual requirements, and work for your individual – you can’t go too far wrong, with a healthy adult that is! Leave the therapeutic diets, growth diets and special cases in general to those of us who do this for a living.
6) If you tackle homefeeding by yourself, remember that not all recipes in books or online are well balanced and formulated by professionals. One thing to look for is that the author has some kind of credential related to canine diet; another is the use of the NRC guidelines or AAFCO, in the formulation process. Be wary of recipes that suggest you can swap out one protein source for another, or that claim we can rely on “variety” to meet nutrient requirements. I recommend using recipes when you’re starting out, but be aware that many of the ones I have analyzed online are very far off the mark in terms of balance.
7) Many people want to start improving their dog’s diet by adding some fresh foods to kibble or canned meals – and I support this – with some reservations. Table scraps, consisting of heavily seasoned, often fried or sweetened “human food” can do more harm than good. I like to see steamed veggies, in rotation, whole cooked or raw eggs, muscle meat, small bits of organ meat and fish such as sardines or salmon, added to dry food, in moderation. Another write up of mine explores this concept more here: https://www.thepossiblecanine.com/enhancing-a-kibble-diet
8) Try to keep that “Zen mind – Beginner’s mind” – always! Do stay alert to the science and what new findings may mean for your dog. Nutritional science changes all the time, and all too often I see folks going by ideas that we now would consider outdated, and at times, possibly even detrimental.
And lastly – don’t stress too much! There are excellent resources available along with the iffy ones I’ve alluded to; more and more vets are learning nutrition, the choices in commercial diet are far beyond what we had to work with just 20 years ago. You might think of the extra bit of work it takes to calculate his nutrient needs as a gift of love, not to mention how much you will learn in the process.
Please enjoy this journey into better health for your dog.