I know that, as a practicing veterinarian, discussing dog food diets can sometimes be a thorny issue. Clients can have strong opinions about what to feed their dogs, either by extrapolating their own dietary beliefs or conditions to their dogs (vegetarian, gluten intolerant…), or that proposed by the media, breeder, pet store owner. Clients often seem overwhelmed by the array of options in the pet dog food aisle, often feeling guilted into purchasing the most expensive, organic, natural, frozen or raw, or homemade diet they can get their hands on.
I am here to tell you what I believe. I hope that it will put your mind at ease. There are many good food options, most of which are a dry, balanced kibble. I recommend asking your vet which diets they recommend. And… remember the following Food Rules for Dogs.
1. The term ” natural” doesn’t tell you much.
In AAFCO terms, natural pet foods only means that nothing chemically synthesized , except for vitamins, is added. The word natural does not imply better (cyanide is natural!), or even minimal processing. Thus, natural pet food can still be processed and rendered and full of chicken feet from China. Don’t buy a food just based on that word without actually reading the label.
2. Most dogs don’t need a low carb diet.
High performance dogs may benefit from the additional protein and or fats in low carb food. I am talking dogs that run Iditarods, etc. The average dog, though, will just get fat eating those diets. Also, many senior pets benefit from protein restriction, while others have gastrointestinal diseases that do better on low fat diets.
3. Most dogs do not need a grain free diet either.
The majority of food allergies are not to grains or glutens. With the exception of one subset of dogs ( certain Irish Setters), it is not proven to exist. And let’s not confuse grain free with low carb. They are two different things. Potatoes, a common grain free source of carbs, has a higher glycemic index than brown rice and are in many grain free kibbles.
Besides, dogs are fine with carbs.
And, there are current studies underway, trying to explain why many dogs on grain free diets are developing a life threatening form of heart disease, called Dilated Cardiomyopathy. It is being seen in breeds not normally predisposed to the disease, and seems to be associated with a taurine deficiency. Taurine is an amino acid, and is one of many essential nutrients that are lacking in grain free diets. More details on that in an upcoming blog. The take home message: if your veterinarian and you have, together, determined that your dog needs a grain free diet, discuss whether or not there is supplementation that your veterinarian would recommend. If not medically indicated, and you are purchasing grain free because you or someone in a pet store recommended you do so, reconsider. You may be actually be doing more harm than good.
4. Back to food allergies
Allergies are very common in dogs. Seasonal allergies that is.
Of all cases of allergies, food allergies only comprise 10% of them.
The 5 most commonly diagnosed allergies are: beef, dairy, chicken, lamb and fish.
Again, unless your dog is an Irish Setter, it is very unlikely that they are allergic to grain.
5. There is no one ideal food for your dog.
Anyone who says there is one and only one brand of dog food that is best for your dog, is lying. There are many options, some better than others, that you can get for an affordable price.
If your dog does not like a certain diet, try another one. This is a very large industry, with many good choices available. By all means, if a prescription diet is recommended by your vet, try it. If your breeder, or someone you run across in a pet food store, tells you that you need to feed something, consider the source. The gold standard on advice is to consult with a veterinary nutritionist. They exist, and I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture this very weekend. She and I are not getting kickbacks from any companies. She and I are in agreement that, companies with established products on the market, for years, with good quality control are safer than newer, potentially trendy diets, that haven’t stood the test of time to determine whether or not they are on my list of recommended diets. We, as a profession, are hoping to make your pet healthy and happy, and to live longer. This, in turn, makes you happy, which makes us happy….
6. If your dog is overweight, try to resolve it before worrying about corn and byproduct meal content of the diet.
My point is, you should be more concerned about the deleterious effects of obesity on your dog than the fact that a prescription weight loss diet has corn, or something similar in it.
I hate to say it, but dogs, for the most part, become overweight because clients feed them too much. Too much of a good, corn free, food, will cause bad things (obesity).
I have had many clients prefer to give their dogs a weight loss medication, with it’s many side effects, than to simply give them less food. It is really not that complicated. They are getting more calories than they need.
More exercise and less calories will result in weight loss. Certainly rule out the possibility of hypothyroidism, which is occasionally a factor in obestiy. And then either cut down the amount of old diet you were giving, and treats, or go ahead and buy the diet kibble. Hopefully, that will be a temporary situation. Once the weight is off, go back to whichever diet he or she prefers. Just less of it.
***Please note: It is not my intent to speak against those of you who home cook your dog’s food, or feed raw food diets, etc….I may not advocate it personally, for many reasons I can go into at another time, but for those of you that feel strongly and have researched it well, that is fine. This is for those of you that purchase premade, precooked food. Hopefully you found it helpful
Dr Dawn The Pet Vet