The Dog Food Project
The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master. - From the Portland Oregonian, Sept. 11, 1925. By Ben Hur Lampman
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Questions on Diet
I see a lot of different references to protein. I have a brochure that states the percentage of protein derived from animal sources, is that important?
Some manufacturers list the percentage of protein derived from animal sources in their product, but this does not tell you how much protein is in the food or how much of it is actually digestible. A manufacturer could for example rightfully label a dog food that is made up entirely of rendered chicken feathers, cattle hooves and horns as "100% protein derived from animal sources", yet it would provide very little nutritional value for a dog since those forms of protein can barely be broken down and utilized by the body. Look at the ingredient list and determine whether there are more grains than meat sources and if they are of high quality or just mostly byproducts and generically named ingredients. The further down in the list the nutritionally valuable ingredients are, or if they are even absent entirely, the lesser the quality of the food. Also, once again, keep the water content of meats and byproducts in "wet" form in mind - when you are looking at the final product, its meat content may have decreased by 70% or more. The protein content you want to look at is the one listed in the Guaranteed Analysis. This value doesn't give all that much information either since it is just the "crude" percentage of total protein in the product, but it gives you a general idea at least.
As far as my personal preference goes, I would rather trust a product that includes a balanced mix of animal and plant protein of good quality than a product that has a lot of poor quality animal protein but not much else to show for. If a product has little or none of a required source of nutrition, the rest doesn't matter at all, even if it was top quality human grade.
So I went and bought one of the better brand foods and my dog won't touch it. Doesn't this show that the other food was better for him? And what do I do to make him eat the new food?
Unfortunately the palatability of a food is completely unrelated to its quality - dogs do not know what is healthy and good for them, otherwise they would not try to get snacks out of the garbage or cat litter box for example. Especially poor quality dog foods rely on sweeteners, salt, beef tallow, lard, digests of various animal parts and other flavoring ingredients to make bland and uninteresting products very attractive. If a dog prefers a "junk food brand", which is very likely due to the above mentioned ingredients, you have proof that someone working for a big pet food company designed a very successful flavoring mix.
If your dog won't eat the healthier food, you might have switched over too quickly. Don't change foods overnight if you can help it, but mix increasing amounts of the new food with the old over a week or two. If he picks out the old and leaves the new, try moistening (not soaking!) it with tepid water, or if that still isn't good enough, something that tastes more interesting. Low sodium broth, vegetable juice, plain yogurt or cottage cheese are all excellent additions to a dog's diet that you can feed without worry.
Won't my dog get bored eating the same food all the time?
Dogs are creatures of habit, so they do not have a problem eating the same food all the time. This doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't provide some variety though! For this you don't have to feed different brands of food at the same time (see "Myths about Dog Nutrition"), but you may want to consider rotating between several quality products instead of feeding the same one for many years. Don't stress the animal by switching food too often either.
Personally I recommend giving some variety in meals by adding different fresh, unprocessed foods such as leftover bits of meat or vegetables, plain yogurt or cottage cheese, an egg, pieces of fruit and other things as often as possible. Dogs love it and that way they will get nutrients that are less likely to be present in ample amounts in commercial dog food.
How do I switch foods properly?
If you have the time, mix the old and the new food and gradually increase the amount of new food over about a week. If you notice very loose stools, take it even more slowly and add a bit of canned pumpkin (not the ready to use pie filling but just plain pumpkin!) to each meal.
In case you just have to switch quickly because there is no other way (rescue, adoption etc.), I recommend either a 24 hour fasting period (no, your dog won't starve! or feeding oatmeal and plain yogurt for a day before starting on the new food. Any time a dog's digestive system is stressed, giving an Acidophilus supplement is also a good idea.
So what do you recommend to feed?
Individual dogs are as different as individual people and have specific needs, so I can not evaluate a situation without comprehensive information about the dog in question. Please have a look at the consultation options I offer. If you'd like to book a consultation, please contact me and I will send you a questionnaire.
Canine Nutrition Consulting
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