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Basic Health Care
If you are what you eat...what does that make your dog?
by Tracy Atkins
Complete Canine Training
The Woodlands, Texas
281-825-6404 www.YESPUP.com

Just some of the things the Association of American Feed Control Officials, AAFCO allow in your pets food include (if you're squeamish, skip to the next paragraph) "dehydrated garbage, ground almond shells, processed animal waste derivative" and "poultry hatchery by-product, hydrolyzed poultry feathers, meat meal tankage, hydrolyzed hair, hydrolyzed leather meal, undried processed animal waste products".

Or is your dog eating "polyethylene roughage replacement, precipitated chalk, pasta product, ball clay, petroleum jelly, saccharin bisulfate?" What about some ingredients like "BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin and TBHQ"? Those have been linked to everything from kidney and liver problems to immune related diseases, even cancer. Those are just SOME of the things pet food manufacturers can put into your pets food and still call it "100% Complete!"

The most common food question our trainers are asked is "what brand is best?" That's like asking what's the best diet program for humans. There really isn't such a thing, as we all have at least slightly different nutritional needs. Instead, this will help YOU evaluate what foods are nutritionally appropriate for YOUR dog.

Food is designed to nutritionally rejuvenate the body. To that end, what goes in must be processed and any waste materials come out. It's important to remind ourselves that food is critical to the physical and behavioral well being of our dogs. Because there's no diet "perfect for all dogs", lets look at how to tell if what you're feeding is right for your dog.

First is behavior. If your dog is hyperactive; or the opposite, lethargic, changing food may make a difference. Unbeknownst to most owners, hyperactivity can be directly related to diet, as can lethargy. Hyper-activity doesn't just happen because you have a puppy. In many cases we see, it's diet-related.

Aggression may worsen with high quantity, low quality, protein foods. Veterinary behaviorists may recommend high quality proteins as low as 13%. However, most dogs do very well with 24-26% protein.

Next is the hair coat. A properly fed dog should have a shiny, but not oily coat. The coat should have some dense texture. A "puppy-soft" coat is incorrect for most breeds. Even in shedding breeds, shedding is kept to a minimum with a proper diet. If you're vacuuming daily you may need to change diets! The skin itself should appear soft, milky-white. If it's bright pink or purple, that can be allergy related symptom. Changing diet can help reduce or even eliminate the allergy itself. Flaking or dryness in the coat may also be a sign that something in the diet is missing, or that the body is not processing the all the nutrients the dog is consuming.

"New and Improved!" Marketing forces companies to change formulas frequently. After all, for most companies, certainly for the publicly traded pet food companies, it's about the bottom line. To optimize profits, they adjust formulations based on the availability of cost effective products. Basically, since most of the parent companies provide human foods, the "waste" product can be sent to their pet food divisions. Delicious.

"What is premium?" you ask. We'll talk about specifics later. For now, lets say "premium" foods are most likely to be found at a training center, vet clinic, small pet supply store or a human health food store. They usually cost more but the price is typically a reflection of the high quality of products that go into the food.

What's best, dry or canned foods? Well, that depends on several different factors. First off, what does your dog look and act like? Go back to the above paragraphs and decide if your dog looks and acts like it would if it were receiving quality food. Generally a dry food diet is a good place to start.

"Premium" dry foods should have high quality ingredients which have been processed properly to allow the highest food value to remain in the end product. Dry food should list a meat source as its first ingredient: chicken, lamb, beef. Avoid by-products. The next several items it will contain are fillers; commonly wheat, corn or soy. If your dog has any type of allergy or auto-immune problem, seek foods which are devoid of those fillers. Instead choose a product with ground brown rice (not hulls) or whole rolled oats.

Look for natural preservatives like Vitamin E. Pro-biotics (bacteria, like that found naturally occurring in the intestinal tract) like dried Lactobacillus fermentation product, actually work to process foods more efficiently. Also, pro-biotics can help reduce/eliminate gas - a good thing if you own a Rottweiler or Boxer! However, if your dog is gassy on a particular food, he may not be processing it properly. A change in diet may be needed.

Because of the high moisture content, most canned foods can cause tooth plaque to develop more quickly (it just isn't scraped off the teeth like dry kibble). Not to mention, the majority of canned foods are mostly water. So either add a bit of water to your dogs dry food, and save some money, or purchase quality canned foods. According to the Whole Dog Journal (WJD) Canidae® ,Sensible Choice® , Spots Stew®, and Wysong® (available at Complete Canine Training) are all top rated (high quality food source) canned foods.

The WDJ stated in their October 2000 evaluation of canned foods ‘we rejected any food containing meat or poultry by-products. This eliminates most grocery-store food, as well as the foods long regarded by pet store managers as "premium" (read, "Expensive, due to extensive advertising, not due to superior ingredients." We're talking about Iams, Science Diet, Nature's Recipe, etc.)'

If you really want to be on top of dog food diets, you needn't look in a pet supply store. A modern trend in dog feeding is the "B.A.R.F." diet. Bones and Raw Food (BARF) diets consist of raw, meaty bones like chicken necks, backs and wings and raw, finely ground vegetables. Basically, it's the original canine diet. It's not without its problems however. B.A.R.F. diets require far more preparation time than processed food, can be expensive, and if done properly require a fair amount of research. However, feeders of B.A.R.F. diets claim their dogs are extremely healthy (in some cases eliminating extreme physical and behavioral ailments) and very happy too!
Note: The B.A.R.F. diet added three healthy years to the lives of this authors 14 year old Golden and 11 year old Rottweiler. The Rottweiler died just six months after stopping the B.A.R.F. diet.
Caution: Should you consider this kind of diet, please read extensively. Simply adding a raw chicken neck to your dogs food can prove to be extremely dangerous to you and your dog!


While we are on the subject of food, it's also important to monitor your dog's weight. Even with the best food, overfeeding can cause problems. Keep in mind that even the best pet foods will list only guidelines for feeding amounts. Feed your dogs according to how they look!

Three point weight check:
1.)Rib Check - With your thumbs on your dog's backbone, put fingers from both hands on his rib cage. With slight pressure, you should be able to feel his ribs.
2.)Profile Check - Stand five feet from your dog. When you look at his profile, you should not be able to see his ribs, but you should be able to see a clearly defined underline (abdomen).
3.)Overhead Check - Looking at your dog from overhead, you should be able to see his waist. He should appear to have an hourglass figure.

How much your dog weighs is up to you. It is critical to your dogs overall health that your dog be at a proper weight. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 40% of dogs in the USA are overweight.

If your dog is a proper weight but seems to be hungry, you can supplement his diet in moderations with fresh, raw vegetables and fruits like carrots, broccoli, spinach, apples, watermelon, bananas even strawberries and grapes!

If your dog inhales food, try some simple solutions, like placing a tennis ball in the bowl with food. This can slow down the eating process because he has to knock the ball to get to the kibble. Or, you can invert a smaller bowl in a large bowl and place the food in the small, remaining ring. Some dogs have choking issues which can be resolved by simply raising the feeding bowls.

By now you're probably thinking "where do I start?" Start by evaluating your dog. How does he look? How do you think he feels? If he looks okay and appears to feel fine, keep doing what your doing. If not, decide what your dog needs. More shine to the coat? Less pinkness to the skin? Hyperactivity? Lethargy? If so, and it's not medically related, consider changing foods.

As it says in Don't Squat With Your Spurs On, A Cowboy's Guide to Life, "Remember, it's not so important to know what it is, but it's critical to know what it was." Think before you feed.

Suggested Reading Canine Diet/Food:
click on bold print for book links
Consumers Dictionary of Food Additives by Ruth Winter, 1999
Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs by Richard & Susan Pitciarn, 1995
Food Pets Die For by Ann Martin, 1997
Give Your Dog A Bone by Ian Billinghurst, 1993
Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog by Wendy Volhard & Kerry Brown, 2000
www.wysong.net (for health information - dogs, cats, equines and humans)

Copyright 1994-2005 Tracy Atkins, Complete Canine Training, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this site may be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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