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In follow up to yesterday’s “when to feed the dog” post, I thought I’d give my answers to another frequently asked question I get, “What to feed the dog.”

First off I’m not a vet nor am I certified in canine nutrition.  So, I always encourage clients to do their own research, homework and consult with professionals who have nutrition qualifications.

Then they usually ask, “Ok, but Katrin what do you feed your dogs?”

That I can answer, and really the answer boils down to, “I feed my dogs what works for each individual dog within my resources and budget.”  How’s that?  LOL.

No?  That doesn’t work for you?  Ok so how about, “I feed them ice cream?”  Strawberry ice cream.  From a spoon.

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Tom & Zora enjoying some ice cream to celebrate Tom’s birthday last year

In all seriousness, over the years that means I’ve approached meals with different dogs in different ways.  And I’ve learned there is no one size fits all.

Currently Tom and Zora eat kibble as their primary.  With training rewards (which are often left overs from our human dinner) throughout the day for training sessions.  (and yes the yearly ice cream treat for their respective birthdays.)  I’ve found for them, if I rotate kibbles they enjoy the change and their bodies seem to do well on it.  So one month I’ll feed one brand’s formula, the next month another.  I’ve found about 4 formulas from varying brands that they do well on, maintain their weight on, their coats feel and look good on, and that fit within my budget.  Every so often I’ll try something new, sometimes it works well and is added to the rotation, sometimes it doesn’t and we don’t try it again or maybe do a year or so later.

I’ve learned that bodies change over time.  So my dog might do well on a food at one point in their life, but over time stop doing as well on it.  Or might not do well on a food at one time, but a few years later it might be a great fit.

Past dogs of mine I’ve had have done best on raw diet, some on home cooked diet, some on kibble, some on grain free, some on high carb, some on high protein, each dog’s body has different needs.  And I do what I can to best meet those nutritional needs in the way their body tells me.  I’ve had dogs who could literally eat garbage and never be sick a day in their life (Monty!), I’ve had dogs with severe food allergies who if one bite of chicken crossed their lips would be in itchy inflamed hell for the following 2 weeks (Niche), and dogs in between (Regal, Obi, James, Tom, Zora).  Each dog has different nutritional needs to stay as happy and healthy as I am able to provide.

A couple of key markers I look for when I assess if the food choices are doing well with my dog are:

Weight: is my dog maintaining a good healthy weight, or am I having to really closely monitor how much I’m feeding of this food in order to prevent unwanted weight gain or loss?  An easy to maintain weight gives a check in the ‘food is working’ column.

Coat:  Is my dog’s coat feeling healthy, am I getting comments on how glossy their coat is, is shedding to a minimum?  Or is their coat feeling dry and brittle?  Are they shedding a ton, or am I getting comments on how dull their coat looks?  A healthy, glossy, low shedding coat gets a check in the ‘food is working’ column.

Skin:  Are they really itchy or having dandruff?  Are they scratching a lot or chewing at their feet?  An itchy dandruff filled coat gets a check in the ‘food probably isn’t working’ column.

Staining:  Are my dog’s eyes really tearing and causing staining down their face?  Are they getting brown staining around the mouth?  Are their feet and nail beds red or brown?  If so, a check goes into the ‘food probably isn’t working’ column.

Muscle Tone:  Is my dog seeming to loose or gain muscle tone even though our exercise routine is the same?  If the dog is losing muscle, a check goes into the ‘food probably isn’t working’ column

Infections/Medical Concerns:  Is my dog getting a number of eye, ear or other infections?  Am I needing to clean their ears constantly?  Is the vet finding yeast in their ears, skin, nail beds, or other places?  Are they getting UTIs, or having other medical concerns?  Has my dog been diagnosed with cancer?  If so, I research how food can impact the medical concerns found, and work to adjust their nutrition accordingly working with my vet.

Behavioral:  Am I noticing any unwanted behavioral changes that I can’t ascribe to other causes?  Is my dog seeming unusually hungry, guarding their food when they normally wouldn’t, seeming more agitated, anxious, or less tolerant?  Are they more grabby about treats?  Is my dog avoiding eating this food?  Are they seeming hesitant or slow to chew it?  Am I seeing any adverse changes around meal times?  If so, a check probably goes into the ‘food probably isn’t working’ column.

And an important consideration: Can I afford to feed this?  With Niche, who was my allergy dog from hell, sure his body preferred a raw or home cooked diet, but with the proteins and carbs his body did best on and in the quantities his incredible metabolism needed to maintain weight, I would have been paying $400 per month to feed him.  Which wasn’t sustainable on the budget I lived on.  So I worked hard to research other food options, and found a couple of pre packaged foods that his body did well with and that I could afford to feed him and that compromise worked.  He was as happy and healthy as he could be and I could pay the mortgage.

A couple of things I personally prefer to avoid when feeding my dogs are foods with added sugar, and with dyes.  I personally tend to avoid foods with corn as well as I’ve yet to have a dog who does well on a food high in corn.  I also have to tolerate the smell of the food myself (sensory stuff), so if I gag every time I open the food bin, it’s a no go.  I tend not to feed canned food routinely unless the dog has a medical condition that requires it, but when I do I tend to gravitate to the 1 or 2 ingredient cans.  Like the ones that are some named meat (lamb, beef, salmon, whatever) and water.

With my 2 current dogs.  Zora, if I have her on too high a protein and low carb food, she’s insanely ravenous.  So middle of the road protein to carb ratios is the way to go with her at this stage of her life.  Tom, if I feed him a food with chicken, turkey or sweet potatoes in it he gets disgusting gunky ears, so I avoid foods with those ingredients.  Zora food high in peas makes her fur begin to stain, so I work to avoid foods with peas high on their ingredients list.  Tom seems to really enjoy eating lamb and beef based foods, so because he likes them and his body seems to as well, I often have some of those in our rotation.  Zora seems to really like some of the fish based foods, so I try to keep some of those in our rotation.  One of the foods Tom really loves, I’d say it’s is favorite, is incredibly expensive, so it doesn’t come on the rotation very often.  I try to get it for him at least once to twice a year because he likes it so much, but feeding it more regularly on a cost benefit ratio doesn’t add up for us.

So like I said above, there is no one size fits all.  I’m a firm believer in listening to my dog and their body, and being willing to experiment until we find something that works.  And yup, sometimes that has meant I get a number of types of food and we run food trials at my house.  Testing each food out over a period of days or weeks, noticing how the dog responds, and from there figuring out what to keep, what to discard, and what to try next.  Life’s a work in progress.  Finding the right food for each of my dogs is too.

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Tom says, “Mmm birthday ice cream is the best!!”

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