Feeding Your Dog

David McCluggage, D.V.M., C.V.A.
Chaparral Animal Health Center

To understand how to feed a dog, we first need to understand some basic aspects of canine nutrition. Dogs are almost strictly carnivores. They will eat some grains, fruits and vegetables. Dogs thrive on diets made up almost entirely of meat, as long as we feed some organ meat, bones, grains and vegetables.

Most dogs on any diet will benefit from a good quality Nutritional Supplement. Our favorite products for dogs are:

Conventional-minded veterinarians often say that commercial diets are superior to home cooked natural foods because the commercial diets are balanced, while home cooking creates nutritional deficiencies and diseases. The reality is just the opposite, as we will see. First, it is really not hard to feed a good, nutritious diet of fresh foods that you prepare. As we will explain, it is actually easy and very rewarding to provide the type of diet that dogs love to eat and actually thrive on.

Information on ordering Flint River Ranch pet foods is available.

First, let’s look at commercial diets. The long-standing veterinarian recommendation has been to feed nothing but a commercial diet (usually one of the “kibble diets”, meaning the hard, crunchy, dry diets). These diets claim to be nutritionally complete, balanced, and “AAFCO Certified”. According to conventional thinking, feeding anything else will lead to a multitude of nutritional diseases. But, when looked at more closely, this idea makes little sense. First, we know that basic anatomy, biochemistry, and organ function is essentially the same for dogs and humans. For people, the most basic concept of a good diet is eating fresh foods and eating a variety of these foods. We would never think of feeding ourselves out of a can, or feeding ourselves a monotonous piece of dry “people” kibble. And we would never think of feeding ourselves the same food day in and day out, because we know how important variety is to the total diet.

Many dogs should recieve a calcium supplement when home feeding, we recommend Calcium Citramate. Click here to see about Calcium Citramate.

Years ago, nutritionists thought that it hardly mattered what type of foods one ate, as long as the food contained certain levels of amino acids (proteins), fatty acids, and carbohydrates (simple and complex sugars). The “old thought” used to be that the body’s digestion would break down any food item into simple amino acids, sugars and fatty acids. then reassemble them in the body to form the complex molecules required by life. This explains the evolution of foods such as Wonder Bread with 13 added vitamins. As the study of nutrition has advanced, we now know that the body does, indeed, absorb complex nutritional compounds, not just simple sugars, carbohydrates, and fatty acids. Not only can these complex compounds be absorbed, but the body requires them for optimal health. The body actually “expects” to have these nutrients available, and will utilize these chemicals as building blocks for a variety of processes, including immune function, nerve function, and rebuilding damaged cells to name a few.

Let’s look at some of the most recent research on human nutrition:

“Consuming a diet rich in plant foods will provide a milieu of phytochemicals – nonnutritive substances in plants that possess health-protective benefits.”

“Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, herbs, nuts and seeds contain an abundance of phenolic compounds, terpenoids, sulfur compounds, pigments, and other natural antioxidants that have been associated with protection from and/or treatment of conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

������� Craig W, Beck L. Phytochemicals: Health Protective Effects. Can J Diet Pract Res. 1999 Summer;60(2):78-84.

Many of these phytonutrients are not heat stable, especially when cooked extensively, as with commercial dog foods.

Considering the high temperature, high pressure, and processing that commercial dog foods receive, we can expect that these dog foods are totally devoid of the beneficial nutrients mentioned by Dr. Craig in this well-respected study.

In recent years, the practice of recommending commercial diets as the only source of food for dogs has come under increasing scrutiny, often by trained nutritionists. It has been stated by one veterinarian with a Ph.D. in nutrition that we “are killing our pets with commercial diets”. Most holistic doctors agree that the best diets are those with home-prepared foods as part of the diet. Many conventional veterinarians will at least agree that diets will improve when we offer some fresh foods and use variety.

I have seen the health of almost all dogs deteriorate, in general, when fed commercial diets. Conversely, when my canine patients are placed on wholesome diets, fully a third of the dogs that arrive in our practice diagnosed with a chronic, incurable disease return to complete health just by the change in diet!

Why are commercial diets so poor?

Here are some of the reasons:

1.                Cost

  • Even premium diets cost about one dollar a pound. When we factor in manufacturing, marketing, shipping, packaging, and markup costs for the manufacturer, the wholesaler, and the retailer, the true cost of the basic ingredients is more likely 10-50 cents per pound.
  • Reflect on what type of raw ingredients can be purchased for this price.
  • Commercial diets are primarily conceived and developed to minimize costs, not maximize nutrition.
  • To keep the cost so low, commercial diets have foods in them that have been rejected for human consumption. Even those that refrain from using condemned foods must resort to including foods that are far worse than what people would demand for themselves.

2.                Diets are made to meet minimal standards, not optimal standards.

  • Again, due to cost considerations, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, and high-quality digestible proteins are kept to a minimum in the diet.
  • Healthy animals can survive on these diets, but over time, there is a price to be paid in deteriorating health and a more rapid aging process for your canine companion.
  • Sick animals, and those with a more fragile constitution, require high quality, optimal diets.

3.                Over-processing (i.e., high temperature cooking under pressure) is used to make indigestible foods digestible.

  • Food processing plants have known for a very long time that if one wants to feed a food item that is essentially indigestible, the way to do this is to cook the product so excessively that it turns into a soup. Then, by adding grains (again, after extreme cooking methods), one can cook the product once more and turn it into a hard biscuit or kibble.
  • Unfortunately, all of the complex compounds we already mentioned as being so essential have disappeared.
  • Vitamins are also gone, so the commercial food industry will then spray vitamins mixed with oils (which have likewise been destroyed) onto the resulting hard kibble at the end of the processing. The vitamins are often synthetic, and the minerals are often poorly digestible at best. An example is zinc oxide and ferrous oxide, forms of zinc and iron supplementation that are often preferred by the food industry because they are so cheap (they are, in reality, rust). But they are very poorly absorbed, making them almost useless to the body.

4.                “Garbage in garbage out,” a long-standing truism in the computer world, is just as true in diets: poor quality foods can’t become good quality foods, no matter what one tries to do with them.

  • To the degree possible, diets should start with the highest quality, most digestible and wholesome food possible, instead of starting with the worst foods and trying to improve them with synthetic vitamins and false claims of being “nutritionally complete”.
  • This is called the food’s “Biological Value”.

Labels and Labeling Requirements

All regulations that control the labels on dog foods are created by AAFCO. AAFCO, as has already been stated, is a group controlled by commercial animal food manufacturers.� It is not surprising to find that there are enough loopholes in labeling requirements to make it completely impossible to know what is in a diet, let alone the quality of the diet. Any manufacturer who wishes can create the marketing image that their product is a “premium diet”.

In fact, most of these premium diets are, at best, only marginally better than the average diet, and many of them are conceived entirely as a marketing ploy to sell an average diet with a higher markup, creating higher profit margins.

One example of how easy it is to use subterfuge to create an image of wholesomeness, or using a term popular in the industry, “natural”, is in the use of preservatives. Many companies will use standard preservatives such as ethoxyquin; yet not mention this in the ingredient list. This is possible if the company adds the preservatives themselves instead of buying a product that already includes them as a preservative. Making the situation even worse is that it is common to then say on the package, “preserved naturally with Vitamin E”. This statement naturally implies that no other chemical preservative is in the product, when in fact the company can make this claim by simply adding a little extra Vitamin E than is required by AAFCO to meet minimal needs. The ethoxyquin can then be purchased in a product such as chicken fat that contains ethoxyquin, and thus that information never needs to be placed on the label!

Basic Diet Recommendations for Dogs©

Note: These diet recommendations will always vary in practice due to the age, health, disease status, and constitution of the dog.

Dogs are carnivores, so they need meat. No plant foods contain all the proteins that a dog needs to thrive. This is why we do not recommend a vegetarian diet for a dog.

Always start the following recommendations gradually, introducing these foods slowly, over a couple of weeks. If you have any problems or questions as you start this new diet for your dog, please give us a call!

Your Animal’s Specific Recommendations

Each dog is a unique animal with specific and varied nutritional needs. We do not believe in the concept that one diet fits all needs (a false concept propagated by commercial diets and AFFCO regulators). The following guidelines are meant to cover most situations. In practice, most animals will receive a variation on this plan once we know the specifics of your dog.

I.                Meat Portion:

a.     All dogs should be fed, by volume of the total amount fed each meal, 25-50% meat

b.     The meat can include:

                                                              i.      Beef

                                                             ii.      Chicken

                                                           iii.      Turkey

                                                          iv.      Fish

c.      The easiest way to start this program is to use ground meats. Take the portion to be fed, mix with water, and cook on the stovetop or in the microwave until the meat is cooked medium (pink) to medium-well. Some animals will thrive on raw meats, but do not start this practice in the beginning.

                                                              i.      Take this meat portion, including the water, and add it to the rest of the ingredients

Your Animal’s Specific Recommendations: Only available following a phone consult

II.            Commercial Dog Food Portion

a.     Although there are many good home-cooking recipes (which we can provide you), we feel that most owners have little time or inclination to routinely feed an entirely home-cooked diet for their dog. Good intentions fall by the wayside, and the diet plan is not followed as it should be. Instead, by feeding some meat, some commercial diet, and the rest as outlined below, the dog receives an excellent, well-balanced diet. Costs are kept at a minimum, and the time required to prepare the diet is so moderate that even the busiest person will be able to follow this feeding protocol.

b.     There are many commercial diets that are good diets. However, none stand out as clearly superior to any other (they are NOT home cooking, after all). There are, however, a large number that are not worth feeding because they are either of too poor a quality or they are not cost effective (remember the average commercial diets that masquerade as premium diets). There are too many of these to mention, but a good clue that the diet falls in this category is if it claims to be “just as good as such and such, but costs less”, or the “premium diet costs less than about a dollar a pound”.

c.      We use and recommend the Flint River Ranch diets, and will gladly provide you with information on how to order them.

d.     The commercial diet, whether dry food or canned, should be of as high a quality as you can afford, and should make up no more than 25-40% of the diet.

Your Animal’s Specific Recommendations: Only available following a phone consult


III.        The Variety Component

a.     Since grains and other carbohydrates are not necessary, we recommend they be fed sparingly. Their biggest benefit is that they are inexpensive. Using the plan we are outlining, they are even less necessary, because the commercial diets contain grains. One of our favorite grains to use is white rice. Many dogs have digestive problems, which improve when rice is fed.

b.     Vegetables should be routinely added. We recommend:

                                                              i.      Carrots

                                                             ii.      Broccoli

                                                           iii.      Peas

                                                          iv.      Leafy greens

c.      Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, yams, and squashes are all excellent additions to the diet. Sweet potato is especially good, inexpensive, easy to prepare, and readily accepted. Sweet potato should be cooked, and can then be used a portion at a time over a few days. They can be mashed and mixed so well into the diet that all animals will accept them. Carrots often need to be cooked lightly or shredded/chopped finely, or they may not be accepted or completely digested.

d.     Dairy products can be included sparingly. Our favorites are:

                                                              i.      Yogurt

                                                             ii.      Cottage Cheese

e.     Eggs are great to feed, and can be fed cooked or raw. We recommend no more than a couple of eggs a week, if fed raw. Cooked eggs can be fed a little more frequently.

f.       Leftovers can be fed as well, as long as they are good food and not excessively fatty or sweet.

g.     The variety component should be just that: fed for variety, one thing one day, and another thing another day. Don’t get caught up in a routine where you are feeding the same things all the time. Variety is just as necessary for your dog as it is for yourself.

h.     A couple final thoughts:

                                                              i.      Corn is not a vegetable. It is a grain, and it is in plentiful supply in almost all commercial diets. so there is no reason to feed corn.

                                                             ii.      Legumes (beans, peanuts) are good sources of proteins and fiber, but do not have particularly large amounts of vitamins and tend to provide excessive carbohydrates, which leads to obesity.