- Meeting your dog’s nutritional needs
- Recognizing the connection between nutrition and growth
- Making your own dog food and other diet plans
Your dog’s behavior, happiness, health, longevity, and overall well being are inextricably intertwined with what you feed him. Dogs, just like humans and all other animals, have specific nutritional requirements that need to be met. And to complicate matters, the needs of dogs vary. For example, even though your first dog may have done wonderfully well on Barfo Special Blend, the same food may be completely wrong for Buddy. Every dog has his own nutritional needs that may be quite dissimilar to those of your neighbor’s dog. What your dog eats has a tremendous impact on his health and his trainability.
We aren’t trying to turn you into an expert on canine nutrition, but you do need to know some basic concepts. If you do want to become an expert on feeding your dog, see The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, 2nd Edition, by Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown, DVM (Wiley).
You also need to know the most common and most visible symptoms of nutritional deficiencies. Recognizing these deficiencies saves you a great deal of money in veterinary bills because you can make the necessary adjustments to your dog’s diet.
In this chapter, we discuss your dog’s nutritional needs, finding the right food to maintain your dog’s health, and how to interpret dog food labels. We also include a brief overview of your dog’s digestive system functions. Finally, you can find our suggestions for several feeding options that meet both your lifestyle and your dog’s needs.
Finding the Right Food for Your Dog
Not all dog foods are alike; there are enormous quality differences. The cliché “garbage in, garbage out” applies with terrifying validity. So many choices are available today that trying to make an informed decision can become an overwhelming task. In this section, we help you tackle the job by the process of elimination. Two commonly used criteria immediately come to mind: advertising and price.
In choosing a food for your dog, forget about advertising and price. They aren’t valid criteria for selection. You need to make the decision based on what is in the food and on your dog’s nutritional requirements.
– Forget about advertising. Disregard what the ad says about how good this food is for your dog. It may be okay for Buddy, but perhaps it isn’t. You have to look at the food’s ingredients.
– Forget about price. This works both ways. Just because one brand of food costs more doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than a less expensive variety.
Following is a quick checklist to help you determine whether Buddy is getting what he needs. Note that for each item Buddy, not an advertisement, is the source of your information.
❑ He doesn’t want to eat the food.
❑ He has large, voluminous stools that smell awful.
❑ He has gas.
❑ His teeth get dirty and brown.
❑ His breath smells.
❑ He burps a lot.
❑ He constantly sheds.
❑ He has a dull coat.
❑ He smells like a dog.
❑ He is prone to ear and skin infections.
❑ He has no energy or is hyperactive.
❑ He easily picks up fleas.
❑ He easily picks up worms and has to be wormed frequently.
All the items in the previous checklist happen occasionally with any dog — but only occasionally. When several of the items on the list occur frequently or continuously, you need to find out why.
Reading labels and making choices
On the back of every dog food package is information that helps you decide which food is right for your dog. The information lists the ingredients in order of weight, beginning with the heaviest item. The package contains the guaranteed analysis for crude protein, fat, fiber, moisture, ash, and often calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium ratios. The label may also state that the food is nutritionally complete or provides 100 percent nutrition for the dog. To make this claim, the food has to meet the nutrient requirements of the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) — a guarantee that some form of testing, usually anywhere from two to six weeks, has been done on the product.
A dog food company must also list its name and address and give its telephone number, plus the date of manufacture, the weight of the product in the package, and usually the life stage for which the food is intended. The life stage can be puppy, maintenance, adult, performance, old age, or light food for overweight dogs.
If Buddy doesn’t eat the amount recommended for his weight on the package, he’s not getting the Minimum Daily Requirement of known nutrients.
The saying “You get what you pay for” isn’t necessarily true with dog food. There is a surprisingly small difference between good and not-so-good food, and some not-so-good foods are higher priced than good foods! The following types of dog food are available:
– Performance: A high-quality food, performance food lists two or three animal proteins in the first five ingredients — usually two kinds (chicken and lamb, chicken and fish, beef and chicken, and so on).
Although these foods are marketed primarily for working or breeding animals, they’re the best-quality foods on the market for all dogs. Performance foods also contain the correct quantity of fats and oils needed for energy, good coat, and skin. Performance foods don’t contain soy, which dogs can’t digest.
– Super Premium 1: These foods usually contain an animal protein first, followed by several grains. Although they provide energy for your dog from high fat levels, they’re not as good as the performance foods because they contain less animal protein.
– Premium: These dog foods contain a high level of protein, but you need to look at the source because the protein can come from grains and not animal protein. These foods may also contain soy.
– Regular, Econo, Low Protein, or Light (Lite): Foods listed with these names are full of grains and are guaranteed to make your dog into a couch potato. They’re animal protein deficient and, although marketed for the older dog, in our opinion they should be taken off the market. They produce voluminous smelly stools, caused by the inability of the dog to break down and digest this food. Dogs fed this diet for any length of time show classic signs of animal protein deficiencies (see the “Animal protein deficiencies” sidebar later in this chapter).
Giving meat to a carnivore
Your dog is a carnivore and not a vegetarian. He needs meat. His teeth are quite different from yours — they’re made for ripping and tearing meat. They don’t have flat surfaces for grinding up grains. His digestion starts in his stomach and not in his mouth. All the enzymes in his system are geared toward breaking down meat and raw foods. Buddy is a carnivore, and he needs to eat meat to stay healthy.
Your dog’s body, as well as yours, consists of cells, a lot of them. Each cell needs 45 nutrients to function properly. The cells need the following:
- Protein, consisting of 9 to 12 essential amino acids
All these nutrients need to be in the correct proportion for the necessary chemical reactions of digestion, absorption, transportation, and elimination to occur. If the cells are going to be able to continue to live, the exact composition of the body fluids that bathe the outside of the cells needs to be controlled from moment to moment, day by day, with no more than a few percentage points variation.
These nutrients are the fuel, which is converted into energy. Energy produces heat and how much heat is produced determines the ability of your dog to control his body temperature. Everything your dog does, from running and playing, to working and living a long and healthy life, is determined by the fuel you provide and the energy it produces.
The term calorie is used to measure energy in food. Optimally, every dog will eat the quantity of food he needs to meet his caloric needs. The food you feed must provide sufficient calories so your dog’s body can achieve the following:
- Produce energy to grow correctly
- Maintain health during adulthood
- Grow into a quality old age
Keeping your dog’s diet rich in protein
The back of dog food packages tell you how much protein is in the food. How much protein is in dog food is important, but even more important is the source.
The manufacturer has choices as to what kind of protein to put into the food. The percentage of protein on the package generally is a combination of proteins found in plants or grains, such as corn, wheat, soy, and rice, plus an animal protein, such as chicken, beef, or lamb.
By law, the heaviest and largest amount of whatever ingredient contained in the food has to be listed first. By looking at the list of ingredients, you can easily discover the protein’s origin. For example, if the first five ingredients listed come from four grains, the majority of the protein in that food comes from grains. The more grains in a dog food, the cheaper it is to produce. We wonder what Buddy thinks of such a food.
The activity level of your dog is likely to correspond with the amount of animal protein he needs in his diet. The majority of the Working breeds, Sporting breeds, Toys, and Terriers need extra animal protein in their diets. For instance, the busy little Jack Russell is apt to need more animal protein than a pooch that spends his time lying around the house.
Amino acid is the name given to the building blocks of protein, and when heated, they’re partially destroyed. All dry and canned commercial dog food is heated in the manufacturing process. So commercial food contains protein that is chemically changed by heat and therefore deficient in amino acids. We show you how to compensate for that at in the “Feeding Buddy” section later in this chapter.
Animal protein deficiencies
When Buddy doesn’t get enough animal protein or his diet is unbalanced in nutrients, one or
more of the following may occur:
– Chronic skin and/or ear infections
– Compromised reproductive system, heart, kidney, liver, bladder, and thyroid and adrenal glands
– Excessive shedding
– Gastrointestinal upsets, vomiting, or diarrhea
– Impaired ability to heal from wounds or surgery, such as spaying and neutering
– Lack of pigmentation
– Poor appetite
– Some kind of epilepsy or cancers
– Spinning or tail chasing
– Weakened immune system that can’t properly tolerate vaccines
This is only a short list of the more common symptoms associated with an animal protein
Identifying Food for Growth at Critical Times
In contrast to humans, dogs grow fast. During the first 7 months of Buddy’s life, his birth weight increases anywhere from 15 to 40 times, depending upon his breed. By 1 year of age, his birth weight increases 60 times and his skeletal development is almost complete. For strength and proper growth to occur, he needs the right food. He also needs twice the amount of food as an adult while he is growing, especially during growth spurts. Nutritional deficiencies at an early age, even for short periods, can cause problems later on.
The most critical period for a puppy is between 4 and 7 months, the time of maximum growth. His little body is being severely stressed as his baby teeth drop out and his adult teeth come in. He’s growing like a weed, and at the same time his body is being assaulted with a huge number of vaccines. During this time of growth, Buddy needs the right food so that his immune system can cope with all these demands and onslaughts.
To find out how you can protect him as best as possible, you need to take a look at different dog foods to find the ones that best meet the criteria for young Buddy’s growth. In the following sections we give you some ideas of which foods to choose and what to add to them to make up for the deficiencies caused in processing.
Deciphering puppy food labels
Puppy foods do contain more protein than adult or maintenance foods. Manufacturers know that puppies need more protein for growth. Nonetheless, you still need to know the source of the protein — that is, animal or plant.
Look for a puppy food that has two animal proteins in the first three ingredients — or better yet, one that lists animal protein as its first two ingredients.
After you have selected a food for young Buddy on the basis of its protein percentage, your job isn’t quite done yet. You have to check a few of the other following items.
Going easy on the carbohydrates
Your dog also needs carbohydrates found in grains and some vegetables for proper digestion. The digestive process first breaks down carbohydrates into starch and then into simple sugars and glucose, necessary for energy and proper functioning of the brain. Buddy also needs carbohydrates for stool formation and correct functioning of the thyroid gland.
Dogs don’t need many carbohydrates to be healthy, and a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein is an ideal diet. Oats, barley, and brown rice are carbohydrates that contain a lot of vitamins and minerals. They also contain protein and fat. Corn is popular because of its low price. Other sources of carbohydrates are vegetables, especially root vegetables.
Soy is another carbohydrate found in some foods. Soy admittedly is high in protein, but it binds other nutrients and makes them unavailable for absorption. We recommend that you stay away from dog foods containing soy.
Carbohydrates have to be broken down for the dog to be able to digest them. Dog food companies use a heat process to do so, and therein lies a problem. The heat process destroys many of the vitamins and minerals contained in carbohydrates. The question that comes immediately to mind is, “Where do dogs in the wild get the grains and vegetables they need?” The answer is from the intestines of their prey, all neatly predigested.
Knowing the value of fats — in moderation
Fat is either saturated or polyunsaturated, and your dog needs both. Saturated fat comes from animal sources, and polyunsaturated fat comes from vegetable sources. Together they supply the essential fatty acids (EFA) necessary to maintain good health.
In the manufacturing of the majority of dog foods, fat is sprayed on as the last ingredient. Fat makes the dog food palatable, like potato chips and French fries.
Saturated fat comes from animal sources and is used for energy. For dogs that get a great deal of exercise or participate in competitive events, the food needs to contain 20 percent animal fat. Not enough animal fat in your dog’s diet can create
- Cell damage
- Dry skin
- Heart problems
- Growth deficits
- Lack of energy
On the other hand, too much animal fat in the diet creates
- Cancer of the colon and rectum
- Mammary gland tumors
Polyunsaturated fat is found in vegetable sources, such as flax seed oil, safflower oil, wheat germ oil, olive oil, and corn oil. Your dog needs polyunsaturated fat for a healthy skin and coat. Too little of this fat can produce skin lesions on the belly, thighs, and between the shoulder blades. If your dog has a dry coat, you may need to add oil to his food.
Linoleic acid is one of the three essential fatty acids that have to be provided daily in your dog’s food. Safflower and flax seed oil provide the best source of linoleic acid and are the least allergenic. These oils are better than corn oil, which contains only a tiny amount of linoleic acid.
Lack of polyunsaturated fat in your dog’s diet can cause
- Coarse, dry coat
- Extreme itching and scratching
- Horny skin growths
- Improper growth
- Poor blood clotting
- Skin lesions on the belly, inside the back legs, and between the shoulder blades
- Skin ulcerations and infections
- Thickened areas of skin
Look for food that contains both animal and vegetable oils.
What else is in this food?
Dog food manufacturers have choices on how to preserve the fat in food to prevent it from becoming rancid, such as using the chemicals BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, or propyl gallate. If a fat is preserved with these chemicals, it has a long shelf life and isn’t significantly affected by heat and light. Even so, many dog owners prefer not to feed these chemicals to their dogs, especially ethoxyquin. (Check out the sidebar, “Common chemicals used in dog foods” in this chapter for more info on these chemicals.)
A manufacturer can also use natural preservatives, such as vitamins C and E and rosemary extract. Vitamin E is listed as tocopherol. The downside to natural preservatives is a shorter shelf life, no more than six months, provided the food is stored in a cool, dark place
Common chemicals used in dog foods
When you’re reading dog food packages, distinguishing what a preservative is and isn’t can be difficult. Following is a list of the more common chemicals seen on the packages:
– Antioxidants: Used to preserve the fats in the food. These are BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, and propyl gallate. Ethoxyquin has been linked to birth defects and immune disorders, so you may want to stay away from products that contain it.
– Humectants: Used to prevent food from drying out or getting too moist. These are calcium silicate, propylene glycol, glycerine, and sorbitol.
– Mold inhibitors: Used to retard the growth of molds and yeast. These are potassium salts, sodium or calcium proprionate, sodium diacetate, sorbic acid, and acetic or lactic acid.
– Sequestrants: Used to prevent physical or chemical changes to the color, odor, flavor, or appearance of the food. These are sodium, potassium or calcium salts, and citric, tartaric, or pyrophosphoric acids.
– Texturizers: Not preservatives as such but used in meats to maintain their texture and color. The most common are sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate.
Note that natural preservatives are vitamins C and E and rosemary extract. Vitamin E is often listed as tocopherol.
What else isn’t in this food?
Your dog needs vitamins in his food to release the nutrients and enzymes from the ingested food so that his body can absorb and use them. Without vitamins, your dog can’t break down food and use it.
In researching our book The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, (Wiley), we called dog food manufacturers to ask them their source of vitamins and how they protected them against destruction from the heat process. Their responses were astonishing. They acknowledged awareness of the problem, and, to overcome it, they added more vitamins to the food to make up the difference. Of course, doing so is nonsense. If vitamins are destroyed by heat, it doesn’t make any difference how much you put in the food. They’ll still be destroyed.
We also discovered that most of the finished products weren’t tested. In other words, vitamins and minerals go into the food, but what actually reaches your dog seems as much a mystery to some of the manufacturers as it is to us.
Two types of vitamins exist — water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins are B and C. Any excess is filtered through the kidneys and urinated out between four to eight hours after ingestion. For this reason, these vitamins must be present in each meal. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and stored in the fatty tissues of the body and the liver. Your dog needs both types.
Because of the heat used during processing, dog food lacks two important water-soluble vitamins that dogs need to maintain their health.
– Vitamin C: A fairly common misconception is that dogs don’t need extra vitamin C because they produce their own. Although they do produce their own vitamin C, they don’t produce enough, especially in today’s polluted environment.
Vitamin C strengthens the immune system, speeds wound healing, helps the function of the musculoskeletal system, and is needed whenever the dog gets wormed, is given drugs of any kind, or is put under any kind of stress. A lack of vitamin C in the diet commonly results in urinary tract infections, cystitis, and limps.
Buddy needs vitamin C for healthy teeth and gums. In the old days, sailors often suffered from a vitamin C deficiency due to the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables while at sea. This malady is called scurvy and results in weakness, anemia, spongy and inflamed gums, and dirty teeth. The same thing happens to the vitamin C–deficient dog.
– Vitamin B: This vitamin, which comprises a number of individual parts, is called vitamin B-complex. Also water-soluble and fragile, vitamin B is needed for energy and to promote biochemical reactions in the body that work with enzymes to change the carbohydrates into glucose, as well as to break down protein.
Vitamin B–complex helps to maintain the health of the nervous system, skin, eyes, hair, mouth, and the liver. This vitamin is necessary for muscle tone in the digestive tract and proper brain function. Vitamin B also helps to alleviate anxiety and depression, and is important to the older dog to maintain his health.
Because vitamins begin to break down when you open your dog food bag and expose the food to the elements, close the food up tightly and keep it away from light. Doing so helps to retain the quality of the contents. (Vitamins B and C are particularly sensitive to exposure.)
Because not enough of either vitamin B or C is contained in any processed dog food to meet your criteria for raising Buddy, you have to add these vitamins to his diet. We use the carefully tested vitamins from PHD Products with our own dogs.
Minerals make up less than 2 percent of any formulated diet, and yet they’re the most critical of nutrients. Although your dog can manufacture some vitamins on his own, he isn’t able to make minerals. The minerals are needed
- To correctly compose body fluids
- To form blood and bones
- To promote a healthy nervous system
- To function as coenzymes together with vitamins
Because between 50 and 80 percent of minerals are lost in the manufacturing process, we recommend that you add extra minerals to your dog’s food.
We recommend adding the product Wellness, manufactured by PHD Products, to your dogs’ daily diet. Wellness provides an herbal vitamin/mineral mix from natural sources and contains all those vitamins and minerals that are lost in the processing of commercial food. It supplies Buddy with the necessary tools needed to absorb and break down his food and protects him from viruses and bacteria found in his environment.
Quenching his thirst — keeping fresh water around
Your dog needs access to fresh water in a clean, stainless steel bowl at all times. The exception is when the puppy is being housetrained, when you need to limit access to water after 8 p.m. so that the puppy can last through the night.
Water is the most necessary ingredient that dogs need on a daily basis. Without water, your dog will die. If a dog has adequate water, he can live for three weeks without food, but he can live only a few days without water. Your dog uses water for the digestive processes, breaking down and absorbing nutrients, as well as maintaining his body temperature. Water helps to detoxify the body and transport toxic substances out of the body through the eliminative organs. Water also keeps the acid levels of the blood constant.
The kind of food you feed your dog determines how much water your dog needs. For example, kibble contains about 10 percent moisture, and your dog needs about a quart of water for every pound of food he eats. A dog fed only canned food, which is around 78 percent moisture, needs considerably less water. If fed raw foods, a dog may drink less than a cup of water a day because the food contains sufficient water.
City water systems usually provide water free from parasites and bacteria by using chemicals such as chlorine, aluminum salts, soda, ash, phosphates, calcium hydroxides, and activated carbon. According to a study reported in Consumer Reports in 1990, the main contaminants remaining are lead, radon, and nitrates. Lead comes from water pipes in houses built early in the last century. Radon is a by-product of uranium found in the Earth’s crust and is more prevalent in water from wells and ground water in the northeast, North Carolina, and Arizona. Water from lakes and rivers is less contaminated with radon. Nitrates come from ground water sources and contain agricultural contaminants.
Note also that the more grains in the food the more alkaline it is, and Buddy will drink more water to maintain his correct acid/alkaline balance. If Buddy is drinking too much water, a change in diet to a more acidic food (one containing more animal protein) may be in order. If Buddy still continues to drink a large amount of water, it could be the beginnings of a kidney or bladder infection. When in doubt, visit your vet for a checkup.
You can test to see if Buddy’s pH is correct by going to the pharmacy and picking up some pH test strips. Place a strip into Buddy’s urine when he goes out first thing in the morning to relieve himself. The pH should read between 6.5 and 6.7. If it’s higher than 7.5 to 8 (7 is neutral), his diet is too alkaline.
Raw foods pass through a dog’s stomach and into the intestinal tract in 41⁄2 hours. So after that time span, the dog is already receiving energy from that food. Raw foods are the most easily digested by the dog.
Semimoist foods — the kind that you can find in boxes on the supermarket shelf and shaped like hamburgers or the kind that are in rolls like sausages — take almost nine hours to pass through the stomach. Dry foods take between 15 and 16 hours, so if you choose to feed Buddy any kind of dry processed dog food, it will be in his stomach from morning ’til night.
The following sections provide some insight into the food-processing issue.
Ingredients in canned foods are measured in wet weight rather than dry weight (which is how kibble is measured). The ingredients listed on the label reflect the actual amount of raw ingredients that went into the can. Canned food lists protein as 8 to 10 percent, which is less than that found in kibble, but the protein is calculated differently. A simple and approximate way to compare the two is to double the amount of protein listed on the can to compare it with kibble. A listing of 10 percent protein on the canned food label equals around 20 percent on the kibble package.
Feeding canned food is much more expensive than feeding dry food because the moisture content in the can is around 78 percent, so you’re paying for only 22 percent of dry ingredients. Canned food comes in different price ranges and in many qualities. Some canned foods contain only meat protein, and others contain primarily cereal grains. Some come in a stew form. In judging the quality of these foods, look for the AAFCO statement on the can. That statement assures you that the food has gone through some kind of testing.
Canned food is processed at a very high temperature that kills bacteria and viruses. Also, canned food contains fewer preservatives than kibble. Many dogs like their kibble pepped up with a bit of canned food, which contains little nutritive value because the heat processing effectively kills the vitamins and minerals in the food, as well as changes the amino acids in the protein.
Although consumer friendly, semimoist food contains sweeteners or preservatives to give it a long shelf life. Coloring is added to make it look appetizing. As a sole diet for dogs, it may cause digestive upsets because of its ingredients and high preservative content. The moisture content ranges from 20 to 25 percent. Some natural semimoist foods are available on the market. One comes in the shape of a large sausage, and small pieces can be cut off for treats. Dogs fed these products exclusively on a regular basis may develop digestive problems.
Sugar is commonly listed as the fourth or fifth ingredient in these foods. The chemical name for sugar is dextrose. Sugar stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin, which is needed to break down carbohydrates and sugar in the food. The pancreas has to work overtime to produce enough insulin to break down this food, setting the stage for diseases of the pancreas, which can cause not only digestive upsets but also behavioral problems. Hyperactivity is the most common of the behavioral problems.
Our years with dogs have made it abundantly clear that feeding a balanced raw diet — which emulates what Buddy would eat in the wild — is the best and most efficient way to feed a dog. A correctly formulated raw diet provides all the known nutrients in a form the dog can quickly digest and turn into energy. Dogs fed this way live longer and are much healthier than their counterparts who are fed commercial foods.
We have always felt that many disease states, including musculoskeletal disorders (such as hip dysplasia), are certainly exacerbated — if not actually caused by — poor nutrition. Our belief along these lines has since been confirmed by veterinarian Marc Torel and scientific journalist Klaus Dieter Kammerer in their book, The Thirty Years War: 1966–1996 (Transanimal Publishing House).
Many raw diets are available for you to choose from, but making the correct choice is even more difficult than comparing commercial dog foods. We apply the same criteria to the examination of raw food diets as we do to commercial foods: Both need to be clinically tested and provide a balanced diet for a dog. Diets, especially homemade ones, raw or cooked, that don’t meet these criteria can do more damage to your dog than commercial dog food.
Before changing Buddy’s diet, we recommend that your vet conduct a blood test on Buddy to establish a baseline. After Buddy has been on his new raw diet program for six months, have another blood test done and compare it to the previous one. The follow-up blood test can tell whether or not his new diet is an improvement.
You need to keep other considerations in mind. Feeding raw meat or raw chicken to a dog can cause digestive upsets if the meat contains a high level of bacteria in the form of E. coli or salmonella. Although a dog that has been fed raw foods for a long time can easily deal with both of these bacteria, a sick dog or a dog just being transferred over to a raw diet may become sick.
The reason is that the dog’s digestive system isn’t the same as a human’s. The dog’s stomach acid is very strong, and in a healthy dog, this acid kills any bacteria that enter it. A sick dog, or a dog switching over to a raw diet, needs a transition diet to rebuild that stomach acid to the point where it can deal with either E. coli or salmonella. After the transition diet is followed, you need to use a simple method of killing bacteria the first time meat is used: Put the meat or chicken into a sieve in the sink, pour boiling water over it, and cool it before feeding. Doing so kills the bacteria. After taking this step for a couple of weeks, the stomach acid will be strong enough to deal with the bacteria without problems, and you can introduce the raw meat.
Enzymes and enzyme robbing
Enzymes make a body tick. Your dog’s body already has enzymes; your dog also makes them through what you feed him.
When semimoist food or dry food sits in the dog’s stomach, it does so because not enough enzymes are in the stomach to break it down. Remember, a dog’s stomach is designed to deal with raw foods.
So the stomach sends a message to the brain: “Hey, brain, we need some more enzymes down here.” The brain responds, “Okay, okay, but I need some time.” It then gathers enzymes from the heart, the liver, the kidneys, and other parts of the body to be transported to the stomach. In the meantime, the food sits there until enough enzymes are collected for digestion. This process is called enzyme robbing.
A dog’s vital internal organs — his heart, liver, and kidneys — need the enzymes that they contain to function at their best. When a dog consumes semimoist and dry foods, some of these enzymes must be diverted to the stomach to aid in digestion. Ultimately, the dog’s vital organs lose out. Robbing various organs in the body of the enzymes that they themselves need to function correctly can have a detrimental effect on those organs. If a dog has a predisposition for problems in his heart, kidneys, or liver, such enzyme loss can hasten that disease and reduce the dog’s life span.
This section provides you with four options for feeding Buddy — from the easy way out, to using a beefed-up version of commercial dog food, to making your own. Only you can decide which option is best for your lifestyle and your comfort level.
More than 30 years of breeding, raising, working, and living with dogs of several breeds have had a profound effect on our way of thinking. Even so, we’re realists. You’re a busy person and may not even cook for yourself, much less be concerned about what goes into your dog. Fortunately, you can take some shortcuts to safeguard your dog’s health.
Option 1: The easy way out
Option 1 consists of feeding commercial kibble enhanced by one supplement. This option is the simplest method of adding the nutrients lost in processing commercial kibble.
For people feeding their dogs commercial kibble, sprinkling a whole food additive onto the food and mixing it with a little water adds those nutrients lost in the manufacturing process. The product we suggest is called Endurance, which contains liver and natural vitamins and minerals. It aids digestion, reduces shedding, and increases vitality and longevity. Endurance is available from www.phdproducts.com
Option 2: Beefed-up commercial food
Option 2 adds supplements and fresh foods to commercial kibble. The quantities of the respective ingredients listed in this section are for a 50-pound dog. You can adjust this recipe according to your dog’s weight. When calculating the amount for the weight of your dog, err on the side of too little, rather than too much. Some dogs eat more than their weight indicates, and some dogs less. You dog’s metabolism and the amount of daily exercise he gets determine the amount of food he needs. Use common sense and keep all ingredients in proportion.
Feed the following twice a day:
11⁄2 cups Performance Food
1⁄4 teaspoon of vitamin C
1 vitamin B-complex
1⁄8 teaspoon of vitamin/mineral mix (Wellness from PHD)
1⁄4 cup of beef (hamburger, 80 percent), or 2⁄3 meat and 1⁄3 beef liver for a total of 1⁄4 cup. You can also use chicken and chicken livers.
2 tablespoons fresh vegetables
2 tablespoons fresh or dried fruit
To the morning meal, add one Amino Acid Complex tablet (Nature Most), and, four times a week, one large egg cooked for five minutes, served with shell. Once a week substitute cottage cheese for the meat on one day, and unflavored yogurt containing acidophillus on another day.
For vegetables use carrots, parsnips, beets, sweet potato, broccoli, leek, zucchini, squash, or any vegetable your dog likes. Chop the vegetables in a food processor or parboil them to make it easier for your dog to digest the cellulose. Whenever you can, use vegetables that are in season.
For treats, try carrot sticks, dried liver, broccoli, parsnips, lettuce, bananas, prunes, cucumbers, or fruit or vegetable in season.
Making major changes in Buddy’s diet without keeping track of how these changes affect him isn’t a wise idea. We recommend that you have a blood test done before making a dietary change and again six months later.
Option 3: Natural Diet Foundation formula
Option 3 is the lazy man’s way of feeding a balanced homemade diet. All the work is done for you. You need to add only two ingredients in the morning meal and one ingredient in the evening meal, mixed with a little water.
The National Diet Foundation (NDF) formula, available from PHD, is the same as our homemade diet in option 4, except that it’s dehydrated. This carefully formulated diet meets the needs of dogs of different breeds, of different ages, and of those dogs that live in different climates. It was clinically tested prior to marketing. Because no heat is used in the processing of the food, all the vitamins and minerals are unaltered by the food processing. It uses only human-grade ingredients and is the next best thing to making your own.
For the morning meal, all you add is water, yogurt, and vegetables. For the evening meal, all you add is meat. Directions for amounts to feed are on the package.
Option 4: Wendy Volhard’s Natural Diet recipe
Making your own dog food is becoming a popular option, although it’s hardly a new one. Every dog alive today can trace its ancestry back to dogs that were raised on homemade diets. The dog food industry, in comparison to dogs themselves, is young — maybe 50 to 60 years — although canned meat for dogs was sold at the turn of the 20th century. Originally, the commercial foods were made to supplement homemade food.
Why make your own?
Many dogs don’t thrive on commercially prepared rations. They exhibit disease states, often mistaken for allergies, which are deficiency diseases caused by feeding cereal-based foods. A dog in his natural state would eat meat. His prey would be that of a grass-eating animal — an herbivore. Along with the internal organs and the muscle meat, he would eat the predigested grasses and plants of the carcass. Those grasses and plants would consist of no more than 20 to 25 percent of his total diet. He would raid nests from ground-breeding birds and eat the eggs, and he would catch the occasional insect. He would maybe forage on certain weeds and grasses and eat berries and fruit.
In formulating the Wendy Volhard Natural Diet (ND) we stay within these boundaries — with the exception of the insects. Although domestication has changed the appearance of many dogs through selective breeding, the digestive tract of the dog remains substantially the same as it always was. You really do have a wolf in your living room.
The Natural Diet consists of two meals. One is a cereal meal plus supplements, which comprises 25 percent of the total diet. The other 75 percent is a raw meat meal plus supplements. In separating these meals — both of which are balanced — the digestive system uses enzymes present in the stomach and intestines to efficiently and quickly break down the food. It decreases the load on the digestive organs, which are maintained in a healthy state for a longer period of time.
For more information on how to make your own food, read The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, 2nd Edition, by Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown, DVM (Wiley).
Benefits of the Natural Diet
The advantages of feeding the Natural Diet are many:
– The diet increases health and longevity. Diabetes, skin, ear, and eye problems are rare, and so is hip dysplasia and bloat. Teeth rarely, if ever, have to be cleaned. Fleas, ticks, and worms are almost unheard of on the Natural Diet. Overall vitality and energy are unequaled.
– You can tailor the diet to individual needs. Doing so is beneficial for some breeds of dogs, especially imported dogs or relatives of imported dogs, who have difficulty in digesting corn contained in the majority of prepared commercial diets. You can also substitute individual ingredients as necessary. Dogs are able to digest and utilize the Natural Diet.
– The diet contains a lot of moisture in the natural ingredients. As a result, the dog drinks little water.
– Young dogs raised on this diet grow more slowly than dogs raised on commercial food. They also have fewer musculoskeletal problems.
– Dogs love to eat it. A happy dog is a healthy dog.
Transferring to the Natural Diet
Unless your dog is already used to a raw diet, you need to put him on the following short-term transitional meal plan to avoid digestive upsets that may come from the switch to the Natural Diet.
Note: This diet is for a 50-pound dog. Adjust it according to your dog’s weight. And make sure that fresh water is always available to your dog.
Day 1: No food. At mealtime, feed 2 teaspoons of honey mixed with a cup of lukewarm water.
Day 2: In the morning, give honey and water as in Day 1. In the evening, give 1 cup of yogurt or kefir and 2 teaspoons of honey.
Day 3: In the morning, give 1 cup of yogurt or kefir and 2 teaspoons of honey. In the evening, give 1 cup of yogurt or kefir, 2 teaspoons of honey, and 1 teaspoon of dry or 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs.
In the fall and winter, rotate the following herbs: Parsley, nettles, corn silk, burdock root, ginger root, golden rod, watercress, rosemary, sage, dandelion root, and alfalfa.
In the spring and summer rotate dandelion leaves and flowers, borage, peppermint leaves, sorrel, goldenrod leaves, rosemary, watercress, comfrey leaves, alfalfa, and milk thistle.
Day 4: In the morning, give 2 cups of yogurt or kefir, 2 teaspoons of honey, 1 tablespoon dry or 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs, and 1⁄2 ounce (dry weight) of cooked oatmeal. In the evening, give 1 cup of yogurt or kefir, 2 teaspoons of honey, 1 tablespoon dry or 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs, 2 ounces of (dry weight) cooked oatmeal, and 1 garlic capsule.
Day 5: In the morning, give 1⁄2 normal ration of cereal and supplements as listed in the Natural Diet chart shown in Table 18-1. In the evening, give 1⁄2 normal ration of meat meal as listed in Table 18-1.
Day 6: In the morning, give the normal amount of food as listed for Days 1 through 6 in Table 18-1. In the evening, give the normal amount of food as listed on Days 1 through 6 in Table 18-1.
Now your dog is ready to follow the full Natural Diet listed in Table 18-1.
Table 18-1 Natural Diet — 50-Pound Dog
Breakfast (Days 1–6)
Dinner (Days 1–6)
3 oz. grain mix (dry)
12 oz. meat (days 1–5)
2 teaspoons of molasses
21⁄2 oz. liver (days 1–5)
2 teaspoons of safflower oil
14 oz. cottage cheese (day 6)
200 IU vitamin E
200 mg vitamin C
200 mg vitamin C
1 teaspoon of cod liver oil
50 mg vitamin B complex
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
11⁄4 egg, small (4 times per week)
1⁄2 teaspoon of kelp
1⁄2 cup of yogurt or kefir
1 teaspoon brewer’s yeast
11⁄2 garlic capsule (325 mg)
21⁄2 bone meal
2 tablespoons of wheat germ
3 tablespoons of wheat bran
2 teaspoons of dry herbs
2 tablespoons of fruit (alternate days)
Breakfast (Day 7)
Dinner (Day 7)
2 1⁄3 oz. grain mix (dry)
200 mg vitamin C
50 mg vitamin B complex
1 cup of yogurt or kefir
4 teaspoons of honey
Give your dog a bone
Once or twice a week, give your dog a bone as a special treat. They love large beef bones, raw chicken necks, and the tips off chicken wings. If you’re not sure about how long these items have been in the supermarket case, douse them with boiling water to kill any bacteria before feeding. The side benefit of feeding bones is that your dog has beautiful, pearly white teeth that don’t need to be cleaned.
What about table scraps?
There is nothing wrong with adding table scraps to Buddy’s food, provided they don’t exceed 10 to 15 percent of his total diet. Many dogs love leftover salad, meat scraps, and veggies. In fact, for the picky eater, table scraps are often the best way to get him to eat his rations.
You do need to avoid certain foods, particularly those with a high sugar count, such as chocolate and highly salted foods.
Feeding too many bones, however, can give him constipation and hard, chalky stools. Be careful, too, to give your dog only large bones that can’t splinter.
When you give your dog a bone, leave him alone. Dogs get possessive about their bones. Bones are one of the few items that may cause Buddy to growl at you if you try to take one away from him. It’s a very special treat, and he wants to be in a place to relax and enjoy it. Let him go to his crate, which is the perfect place for him to enjoy his bone in peace. Letting him go there gets him away from other dogs or cats in the family, the children, and you. Give him a few hours just to indulge himself. Let him be a dog. After a few days of chewing a fresh bone, it loses its magic, and most dogs will allow the kids, other dogs, or you to pick it up or handle it.
by Jack and Wendy Volhard