Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What to Feed, and Should I Supplement, and if so With What?

Most dogs enjoy a good meal. After all, getting enough to eat was a big part of  a predator's life and the dog's ancestors were predators. With breeds like the Labrador, convincing them that each meal might not be their last is still a struggle.

Feeding dogs leads to several considerations. What kind of food, how often, and to include supplements or not? And what counts as a supplement?

A healthy feeding plan keeps a dog at a good weight -- not too heavy which is hard on joints and organs like the heart --  or too thin, which doesn't allow for a sudden illness when a dog might not be able to eat for a few days. If you aren't certain about your dog's weight, talk to your vet.

Some people like to insure the quality of their dog's food by making it themselves. There are some very vocal proponents of the RAW diet, and variations on preparing a dog's food at home.

RAW diets include a rotation of organ meat, bones...and basically a certain amount of time and preparation. One becomes responsible for not just the quality of the food being offered, but for making sure that all a dog's nutritional needs are being met.

Face it, I don't tend to cook or spend a lot of time preparing meals for myself most days; I've been known to have instant oatmeal or a bag of popcorn for diner, and I need to take multivitamins, so I'm a little reluctant to make myself responsible for 100% of the nutrition supplied through daily food preparation for the dogs.

Depending on one's location and the availability of ingredients, it can help if you have extra storage room in the fridge or freezer if you would like to feed RAW. My friend for example, buys chicken necks by the  case and stores them in her freezer, defrosting as needed.

It is possible to buy pre-made RAW or other natural ingredient diets; an increasing number of pet and feed stores now have refrigerators to carry such merchandise.

Personal opinion - buying these diets prepared by others requires a larger disposable income than many people have. This is opinion because some would argue that how one spends money is a matter of priorities.  I prioritize feeding my canine companions a quality kibble.

I have no intention at this point of debating the merits of different kibbles. Everyone should learn to read labels - which despite my other short comings I do for both myself and my animal companions. When feeding dogs and cats, look for foods with meats, including fish, as primary ingredients.

I prefer foods that do not use corn or soy as I have lived with dogs who have reactions to both. No one food is perfect for every dog -- Jenny for example has a stomach that is too sensitive for a diet that features too much meat or bone. I lived with a Shar Pei who actually reacted to too much chicken and needed to eat lamb or turkey based kibble.


What is a supplement?
 What many people don't necessarily think about is that anything that makes up a large share of a dog's diet is in effect a supplement. Whether this is biscuits, bones, training treats given very regularly, or packaged products deliberately designed to add nutritional elements to a dog's diet - all are supplements.

All are elements of what a dog eats in any given day, and all have to be considered part of a dog's overall diet. I personally do use carrots and bones, tiny dog biscuits, and joint supplements as part of my dogs' regular diet.

I also do not want to appear to be endorsing one joint supplement over another. Again, learn to read labels. There are multiple types of glucosamine, chondroitin supplements available for example, some with MSM some without.When I'm comparing prices I also compare the actual quantity of each ingredient in one tablet - price can be deceptive if you do not read labels for this information.

In the past I would have advocated for finding a quality kibble that does not require additional supplements...meaning that whatever supplements were given would be additions that are accounted for in a dog's overall diet but not necessary for the dog to be healthy.

That was before Lil the Labrador, and her joint injury in infancy. Living with a breed of dog notorious for joint problems as part of aging is challenging enough - she eats a salmon and fish based kibble to provide extra antioxidants and joint support. With the joint injury, and with her own natural inclination to stress the joint, supplements to support her joints have become a regular part of life. Research is also suggesting, as regular reader and contributor Kathy has pointed out, that any larger dog might benefit from regular joint support as well. Some dog kibbles now build this in to the food.

How does a dog add stress to their joints? Well in Lil's case, we have a stairway with a gate on the bottom, similar to the one in the picture, although our gate is shorter. Upstairs, cat's and cat food. Downstairs, a Lab who is convinced that every chance to eat is potentially her last. She now leaps the gate both ways - up and down - in the time it takes me to step out to answer someone knocking at the front door, or to let her Bull Terrier sister out in a sudden, desperate race to the back door. (Gracie gets so caught up in life that she sometimes doesn't realize until the last possible second that she REALLY needs to go out NOW.)

If there is ever a dog Olympic event for racing over a gate, up stairs, clearing out three cat food bowls, and racing back down stairs and over a gate, Lil will place in the metals...although she will have competition.  I don't think she's doing her front elbow joint any favors, but we continue to disagree about the necessity of leaping the gate to eat cat food.

The basics to remember when feeding: buying a quality kibble decreases the amount of waste your dog will produce and increases the overall health of the dog; anything the dog eats during a day is a supplement to their regular food and adds calories and possibly salt and sugar to what the dog is taking in; neither a too heavy nor a too thin dog is healthy.

Finally, please remember to check the dog's water supply at least two or three times a day. Dogs need a constant supply of fresh, clean water. In my house this means refilling the dog's water bowl at least three times a day, because Gracie drinks water the way Lil eats. She doesn't have a medical condition (we checked) she just seems to forget what she's doing once she starts drinking and has to be reminded to stop sometimes. She's also a very sloppy drinker and tends to spill almost as much as she drinks. Fortunately, the other dogs do not have to rely just on my memory when it comes to refilling the water bowl - Gracie makes a very noisy production of flipping the bowl and banging it into the walls if it becomes empty. Not everyone lives with a Gracie though.


  1. Hi Christy: Oh my! That Lil. Happily, I have nobody motivated or able enough to leap a large dog gate. If I did they would be going for the... as my friend Rick calls them, cat chocolates.

    I'm a big fan of keeping dogs and cat skinny and healthy. I followed my vet's recommendation and use Purina O.N.E. dry food for two of my dogs and one cat. Although one dog gets ONE big dog, one ONE old dog, and I actually think maybe my store stopped selling just plain cat ONE, so I'm using another Purina high quality kibble for old fred the cat. Ruby eats CD dry kibble for uti issues.
    Everybody gets a little wet food, if for no other reason than to stick their meds in - everyone is on arthritis preventative and/or treatment. I really noticed a coat difference when I switched to ONE food.

    And my pets get a lot of supplementation - from vet prescribed fish oil capsules to glucosamine to treats (hot dog, steak, liver sausage bits, dog bones, supervised rawhide, bits of cheese, bits of freeze dried lamb, fruits and veggies, on and on). I know the list of problem foods (grapes, chocolate etc) for dogs and don't feed them.

    When I was a kid we had a lot of animals, including dogs, and my father worked for a drug company. For some reason (I have no idea) my father gave me a copy of a study that his company had done on dog food (they did not produce it as far as I know) - it included pictures - they experimented with feeding GSDs various diets, most memorably, pure meat diet. This being the 60s (I think this might be illegal today) as I remember the experiments continued until the dogs on the meat diet sickened and even, died (remember, there were pictures!). While I understand that raw food adherents (probably) don't just feed meat, that exposure turned me completely off of long-term, home-created diets for pets.

    As to why I was shown the study - I have no idea. There was also a book about STDs on my bookshelf (the family's books were mostly on my extensive bedroom bookshelves). And yes, that one had pictures too and has stayed with me (mentally) for decades!

    Gilbert's doing well - we're focusing on straightening out his GI issues now. Kathy

  2. So glad to hear that my favorite old beagle is doing well :-) May Gilbert's GI issues prove to be a source of thought for a long time to come.

    When I was a kid growing up the dogs were purchased a massive bag of dog food from the feed store each month. The cats chose to sometimes eat this and sometimes eat dry cat food, and supplemented their food with mice, birds, moles, chipmunks, and the occasional rabbit. Yes, I had one cat that could catch small rabbits in his youth. Since this was a farm, there wasn't a lot of concern about running short on anything remotely related to the rodent family.

    These days my cats are indoor only, eat a quality kibble and are offered some canned food. My old man cat is very particular, doesn't like change, and fusses a great deal about everything. I figure at 19 he's entitled to carry on as much as he wants...of course, he's always been this way, since he was adopted at about a year of age, so maybe he's just worn me down to his way of seeing things.

    I think that diet does make a difference in how long our pets live. Growing up, a farm cat that made ten was considered old. As an adult, my recent cats have all been 16+ when age issues started to catch up with them. I don't see as dramatic an increase in dog's lives, but I do see an increase. My Boxer for example, lived to be 13 at a time when anything over 8 in a Boxer was considered "old"; I've noticed an increasing number of Boxers living into their teens.

    Although Jenny had a rougher start in life, I'm hoping that combining the elements of medical care, good diet, exercise, and enjoyment of life will keep she and (her sisters) with me for many, many years to come. Fingers crossed that her immature sisters don't just aggravate her to death :-)

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