Mar 11

Healthy Diets, still possible despite dog food recalls?

About Commercial Dog Food

In the past, I have posted a few articles about dog food on this blog. I have always told my readers if they have been feeding a commercial diet to their dogs, and have been seeing excellent results, such as great health, shiny coats, no digestive issues and long lived dogs, then they probably don't need to concern themselves with all of the latest trends. When feeding my own dogs commercial food, I like to find several foods that their tummies can tolerate, because I believe that rotating foods is a good idea (do you think you could stay healthy if you ate the same thing day in and day out for years?) Also the addition of healthy foods such as plain yogurt, cottage cheese and cooked eggs can up the quality of nutrition our dogs receive, particularly if we are feeding primarily dry dog food.

Results Are More Important Than Ingredient Lists!

Evaluating dog food based on the ingredient list alone is not, in my opinion, the best way to choose dog food. For example, my dogs with sensitive digestive systems and those that tend to become itchy if fed something that does not agree with them have not done well on the "holistic blends" that contain a lot of herbs and extra ingredients. Think again in human terms--cranberries might be a very healthy food, but if I eat them and then break out in an allergic rash, then they aren't healthy for me, are they? I believe in evaluating dog food by the results I see in my dogs. Recently I have started researching again, because some of the foods I have fed in the past, with good results, have obviously changed their formulas because my dogs were no longer doing well on them.

Even after losing some of my older dogs in recent years, I am still feeding seven dogs of my own, and often a few foster dogs as well. I still believe there are both dry and canned dog foods available that can work for dogs with tummy issues or those prone to skin issues. My current favorite for my sensitive dogs is Wysong's AnergenR which comes in both dry and canned formulas. As far as commercial raw food diets, the one I have used at times in the past and still trust is Aunt Jeni's Homemade. I have lost trust in some of the bigger dog food companies, not just due to recalls, but due to the fact that they seem to change their formulas often. There were a couple of well known national brands that I fed my Siberian Husky show dogs and rescue dogs for years, and they lived long lives, on average from 14-15 years. We lost one of our champion girls a little over a year ago at the age of 15 1/2.

But I have not had as much success with keeping my Standard Poodles healthy on commercial dry food, so have gone back to giving at least one meal a day that contains "people food", things such as boiled eggs, lightly boiled ground turkey, cottage cheese, etc. and they get things like little carrot sticks for treats. Many Poodle breeders feed raw diets. If you are interested in feeding a raw food diet to your dogs, you can find articles, books, even entire e-mail lists about this subject, despite the fact that most veterinarians are still very negative about them. But guess what? There is a happy medium. You might not be comfortable trusting the dog food companies, and you may not be comfortable with feeding raw meat and bones to your dog. Let's take a look at another alternative...

So Let's Talk About Home-cooked Diets

On the internet, it seems harder to find specific information on how to develop a healthy home-cooked diet than it is to find information on raw and commercial diets. When first cooking for their dogs, owners tend to worry about portion sizes, what supplements are needed and if it is safe to rotate home cooked food with commercial diets.

Recently I came across a website with wealth of articles written by Mary Straus, who is regularly published in the Whole Dog Journal magazine. The articles I found most interesting were those where Mary's readers shared details about the homemade diets they were feeding their dogs, then Mary offered her opinion on these diets. Take a look at this information shared by Karen Engman, who has four Boston Terriers and one Pug, ranging in age from 5 to 12 years old. She made the decision to switch to a home-cooked diet because of her concerns after dog food recalls. Here is the protocol used by Karen, which Mary shared in a recent article, along with Mary's comments and recommendations at the end of Karen's notes:

I began feeding my dogs a home-cooked diet a few weeks ago, after reading a number of diet-related books and websites and joining a dog nutrition list. My dogs weigh about 25 pounds each, so I feed them each 10 ounces of food (2.5 percent of their body weight) daily divided into two meals. Each day’s ration consists of the following:

  • 75 to 80 percent animal protein (7½ to 8 oz), consisting of 5½ to 6 oz meat (beef, chicken, turkey, canned salmon, or sardines) and 2 oz yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, or one egg
  • 5 to 10 percent organ meat, consisting of ½ to 1 oz kidney or liver
  • 15 percent veggies, consisting of 1½ oz broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, sweet potato, zucchini, carrots, dark leafy greens, and/or cabbage

I also give the following supplements to each dog daily:

  • 1 fish oil softgel (EPA 180/DHA 120)
  • ¼ tsp Berte’s Immune Blend, ½ tsp Berte’s Ultra Probiotics, and ½ tablet Berte’s Zyme (digestive enzymes) with each meal
  • 500 mg calcium (¼ tsp dried, ground eggshell). Note that I do not add calcium when feeding canned fish with bones

I cook, mix and freeze one to two weeks’ worth of meat, organ meat and veggies; I add dairy and supplements right before feeding. I puree the veggies in a food processor, and stay away from white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, as my older girl has arthritis. I have elected to feed no grains or legumes.

When I make up the food, I cook the meat first, then puree the veggies, and then prepare the organ meat (my dogs will not eat raw liver, so I now braise the liver and then puree it in the food processor).

I bought a number of 9½-ounce and 14-ounce stackable plastic containers. I put a container on my kitchen scale and start measuring in the different portions of meat, organs and veggies until it totals 8 ounces. Most meals will fit in the 9½-ounce containers, but occasionally I use the larger ones for the bulkier chopped-meat meals. Each container has one day's food for each dog, which I feed half in the morning and half at night. I store food for two days in the fridge and pop the rest in the freezer.

I buy fresh meat (chicken, turkey, beef) and canned salmon at Costco. I buy veggies at Costco as well, usually splitting whatever I get between the dogs and the humans in the house, so one unexpected benefit is that we are eating a greater variety and quantity of vegetables than we have in the past. I get organ meat from my local Stater Brothers, which has a wonderful butcher department. I’ve had trouble finding kidney, so I’m just feeding 5 percent liver right now.

Two dogs had some problems with the diet change, despite my doing a slow transition. One developed loose stools for a few days, but is now doing fine on 100 percent home cooked. The other has always had a sensitive stomach and has had problems with regurgitation. She is still on half kibble/half home cooked while I try to figure out what part of the new diet is not agreeing with her.

In the short time I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed less gas and firmer stools, and my oldest girl seems less flaky (she has had dry, flaky skin since she came into rescue last August). They all love the new food (other than the raw liver!) and "dance" for their dinner now. It really is not that difficult; in fact, once I figured it all out and went through the process of doing it, I thought it was too easy and that I must be doing something wrong!

Here are Mary Straus' comments on Engman's Diet: Probiotics and digestive enzymes may help prevent digestive problems when switching diets. Probiotics are also helpful for dogs who have been on antibiotics, or have had diarrhea. It’s not necessary to continue to give digestive enzymes unless your dog does better with them added. It’s better to split the calcium dosage and give half with each meal rather than giving it all at once.

Interested in Reading More?

Want to read more articles about canine nutrition, including sample homemade cooked diets for all sizes of dogs? Visit this link on the DogAware.com website:


Many thanks to Mary Straus for allowing me to share this information with the readers of Knowing Dogs blog!


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