By Dr. John Andersen
Common etiquette says you should never discuss religion or politics in polite company. I would like to add “dog food” to that list! This topic is rife with misinformation, invokes very strong beliefs that are often not evidence-based, and it is very important to your pets’ health.
“What should I feed my pet?” is a routine question for veterinarians and these days it’s getting harder and harder to answer accurately. The one thing I will say for certain is that nobody can stand on a soapbox and tell anyone “you should feed your dog this” or “you should always avoid that.” I will humbly try to give you my opinions on this hot topic, followed by an update on Christianity in the postmodern world, and last by a discussion of the challenges for the Republican Party in 2016…or maybe I’ll just stick to dog food!
First, most dogs will be very healthy eating most any commercial dog food out there. Just like us, dogs’ bodies are adaptable. Consider the strong opinions some people have on the merits of feeding a “natural” diet like Nature’s Choice over let’s say Purina Dog Chow. There is an argument in favor of the Nature’s Choice: higher quality ingredients and fewer byproducts and preservatives. However, consider canine wildlife like wolves and foxes. They fight for every meal, often going for days and sometimes weeks without food, and also battle parasites, weather, and other stresses of the wild. Yet as a species, they have survived for tens of thousands of years because they’re adaptable and their bodies are resilient. They don’t care about their protein percentages or whether they’re eating grains. If they could speak, they’d tell us to quit whining and just feed our spoiled dogs whatever!
Our dogs are spoiled, and they live long lives. I have heard many a client wonder if their 17-year-old dog got cancer because of what they were feeding it. My answer is, “I hope my dog lives to be 17!”
Let me be clear, though, that diet is a common cause of many ailments in dogs and cats. Dietary intolerances are the most common reason for chronic vomiting and diarrhea, and a very common reason for chronic allergic skin disease. I see several cases every day where the answer to the dog or cat’s problem is in their diet. Interestingly, these issues are often not related to the quality of the diet. I have had many a case where the clients wanted to “upgrade” the dog’s food to a more “natural” diet and switched to more expensive food only to be disappointed as the dog experienced steady diarrhea on the new diet.
But again, diet plays a very important role in both health and disease. By optimizing diet on an individual level, I have cured diabetic cats, dissolved bladder stones, stopped chronic diarrhea, halted chronic ear and skin infections, and many other transformations. Still, most pets will do fine on most commercial pet foods out there.
So, now I am going out on a ledge and publicly announcing my recommendations on some feeding guidelines for dogs and cats. These are my opinions based on over 10 years of clinical practice, recommendations from nutritional and medical specialists, and a lot of study and research.
For cats: All cats should be fed canned cat food. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need very little carbohydrates and outside would hunt small rodents. Dry food has 30-50 percent carbohydrates, less-than-ideal protein levels (and often much of that is plant-based protein that is NOT the same as meat-based protein), and no water. Canned cat food is much lower in carbohydrates (often 5 to 10 percent), has higher protein levels, usually only meat protein, and is roughly 80 percent water—just like a mouse! Some of the most common issues in cats‚—obesity, urinary problems, and diabetes—are completely related to eating dry food diets. That said, some cats live long lives on dry food only. However, I recommend that at least half of your cat’s calories come from canned food.
For dogs: If your dog is active and healthy, and has no history of skin issues, vomiting, or diarrhea/loose stool, you probably do not need to consider a diet change.
I do think, however, that the “ideal” dog food is a diet that has meat as the first ingredient, is grain-free (or limited in grains), and does not have significant amounts of preservatives or byproducts. These diets are readily available now days.
Just as important as what you feed is how much you feed. If your dog is overweight, it doesn’t matter if he is on a perfect diet. His health will suffer. Dogs should be fed to a thin body condition. In other words, if they are overweight, they simply need less food. Just as with people, a diet that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein will foster weight loss.
Raw diets are generally not a great idea because, as numerous studies show, there is a high prevalence of pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli and Campylobacter contaminating these foods. That said, dogs seem to be able to eat cat poop without a problem! I do occasionally suggest a raw food diet in some of my most difficult intestinal cases.
And last, to reveal all, what does the Gazette Vet feed his pets? I feed both of my dogs Eukanuba Pure, which is a grain-free diet with limited byproducts and preservatives. It is not outrageously expensive and it’s convenient for me to purchase through my work. We give them their kibble for treats and an occasional Sam’s Yam (dried sweet potato treats). Both 60-pound labs are very active and get only 1¼ cups, twice daily.
I feed my cat canned Fancy Feast, classic formula. I even add a little water to it as she has some early kidney failure (she’s 12). She gets one 3oz can in the morning and one 3oz can at night.