Oscar and the Chocodiva

Online home for Oscar and the ChocoDiva or, to be precise, the online home for Morrigan's Cu mac Shimidh and Morrigan's Godiva.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Feeding Your Dog

Over the last few weeks the topic of dog food has come up more than usual. I think we've all noticed changes in the foods, especially Nutro, since the "economic downturn". Ingredients are changing and our dog's satisfaction with their food - as well as their ability to tolerate these differences - are taking their own downturn.

I'd thought to write out what I'd found worked for me, since that's what I keep repeating when asked, but then I remembered my favorite site about dog food. It's not a "top ten" list or "best of" list, which are really pointless to most people. This website, The Dog Food Project, at http://www.dogfoodproject.com offers a way to understand the food you are feeding and make educated choices based on that knowledge. Here is one short article that introduces the subject well:

Choosing the right food
I have touched on ingredient quality in many areas of this website, but it is also very important to choose a food that meets your dog’s individual needs.

Not every food on the market works for every dog out there, which is why I do not like to make blanket recommendations without knowing anything about a particular dog’s diet and health history. It is also the reason I refuse to publish a list of “top foods” – my mission is educating people on product quality, not promoting specific brands or products.

After ingredient quality, the next important thing about a food is that your dog must like it, since even the highest quality food on the planet won’t do if your dog refuses to eat it because he or she doesn’t like the taste. Preferences vary widely – just like in humans!

Some dogs do better with a lower or higher fat content than average, some need more or less fiber to produce consistent stools, and some dogs thrive on poultry-based foods while others cannot tolerate them and need a different protein source. Specific types of starches and fibers might give one dog gas but work out perfectly for another.

Another important point is how much variety one single food really needs to provide. Many people think that much-advertised products with long ingredient lists, including several types of proteins, grains, fruits, veggies and other supplements must be better to feed than “boring” formulations with limited ingredients. Fact is that the more ingredients a food has, the smaller the number of individuals who will be able to tolerate the product, and your dog might just be one of them! Feeding a more limited formula of commercial food and providing variety by adding healthy, fresh, unprocessed food items (of which you know your dog tolerates them) is a much better approach and actually adds nutritional value.

It is also not beneficial at all to feed every protein source you can get your hands on “just because you can”. Stick with the more common ones like chicken, turkey, lamb, beef and fish and avoid the more exotic types. In case dogs develop food allergies, they will need to be switched to food ingredients they have never been exposed to before in life. The more different sources you have previously fed, the more difficult it will be for you to come up with a good feeding plan in such a situation. So make sure you always read ingredient labels before buying food and treats, and keep the "exotic" meats in reserve should you need them one day.

Don’t be afraid to experiment feeding different brands though, so you can find out what works for your dog, but give it time – unless there are immediate signs of intolerance, 3-4 months is a good time frame to see short-term as well as long-term effects.

To provide variety in an appropriate way, it would not be a bad idea at all to rotate between several high quality brands of dry food every 3-4 months, provided your dog accepts and tolerates a food switch every so often. For individuals with sensitive stomachs the stress of digestive upset negates the benefit of rotating food products though.

When feeding primarily dry food, don’t mix different types, since every brand follows a specific formulation and nutritional philosophy, developed by the manufacturer. All products are formulated to supply nutrients in a ration of a certain size (kibble size and density vary from brand to brand), based on the body weight. Instead of getting "the best of both", your dog isn't going to eat enough of either one to get the full benefit of a particular nutritional system. Last but not least, if digestive upset occurs, it will take so much longer to figure out what exactly caused it, compared to just eliminating either the commercial food or whatever extras were fed recently.

Sabine Contreras, Canine Care and Nutrition Consultant, offers personalized feeding plans for dogs of all sizes, breeds and ages, no matter if they are companions, performance, working or show dogs.

As you come to know your dog, you will also come to recognize certain ingredients your dog doesn't tolerate as well as others or simply doesn't like. Also, there are certain ingredients that some breeds tolerate well, while others do not. For example, alfalfa and brewer's yeast are common ingredients in certain brands of food. However, in dogs such as mastiffs that are prone to bloat, alfalfa and brewer's yeast can increase that risk.

My personal choices are to feed a chicken-based food. Twenty-one percent protein for Amara as she grows and 24% for the grown dogs. Another flag for me, is cost. If it's too cheap, there's a reason. Aim for between $1-$2 a pound, according to what you can afford. More expensive does not mean better - Iams and Eukanuba are prime examples. Their ingredient lists make me shudder and yet they cost as much or more than some of the foods I like.

And don't mix foods. You dilute the quality of both and limit your knowledge of either. If you feed a little of this and a little of that, and your dog has a reaction, how are you to know which food is the cause?

Lastly, you have to become a certified "Poop Inspector". It is not okay for your dog to have cow patties in the back yard - if they do, there's a reason. Are they more stressed that day? Okay then, no worry. Normal day? Then anything less than well-formed, holds-its-shape dog poop is allowed. Nasty work, but sometimes the only way to know what's going on with your dog.

Other articles of interest regarding Dog Food:

Identifying better products

How to Choose Dog Food
Whole Dog produces a "best of" list which I find irrelevant to choosing a dog food. But it can provide a jumping off place to start your personal research into the right dog food for your dog.