Dogs know two things: our love and the love you can’t eat. For many dog lovers, it can sometimes be difficult to separate the two, especially when berated with a pleading look from those soulful, manipulative eyes. However, just as it is not good for humans to eat certain ingredients ourselves, it is the same for dogs, which can have sensitive stomachs, and physical reactions to their food. (itchy skin, ear infections, anal gland problems, bladder infections, bladder stones, diarrhea, and seizures) Whether after meals your pet’s rear becomes a noxious weapon of doom, he exhibits diarrhea or vomiting, or appears to have no adverse reactions at all, one thing is certain; a healthy, balanced diet will allow your pet to live a longer, healthier life and allow for a less toxic living space. Win-win.
But where do you start? Well, the phrase “holistic food” gets thrown around a lot, but what does that mean? And how can you be sure it is what you’re getting?
First, a holistic diet for dogs is simply one in which all nutrition requirements are met, in quantities which the body can absorb and utilize. Essentially, holistic foods don’t mess around with extra stuff like dies, animal by-products, or chemical preservatives. Feeding dogs processed “people food”or allergenic ingredients is not a good choice, because it tends to have items that inflame the body or don’t break down very easily. They either wreak havoc with the digestive system (most notably the pancreas) or get stored as extra weight. Dogs, like people, need six basic nutrient types for energy, proper growth, and overall well-being (no sluggish, depressed mutant puppies for us!). These nutrient classes are proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water.
This will be the Schwarzenegger portion of your dog’s diet, sans the impressive biceps. As the basic building blocks for cells, tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones and antibodies, proteins are essential for growth, maintenance, reproduction, repair and energy. Proteins can be obtained from a number of sources. Animal-based proteins such as chicken, lamb, turkey, beef, fish and egg have complete amino acid profiles, meaning they contain all of the amino acids (the building blocks for proteins) that your dog needs.
The most concentrated form of food energy, fats provide your pet with more than twice the energy of proteins or carbohydrates. Fats are essential in the structure of cells and are needed for the production of some hormones. They are also required for absorption and utilization of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, and E. They are also essential for healthy skin and coat. Essential fatty acids are divided into two groups—Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Ingredients like chicken fat and sunflower oil are great sources of Omega-6 fatty acids while flax seed, herring oil and salmon oil are key sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. The correct balance of fats can be found in top rated healthy dog food. Because while people come in all shapes and sizes, dogs really should stay dog-shaped, not stumpy and round.
Carbohydrates are a key source of energy for dogs. Whole grains, like whole ground brown rice, and whole ground barley and oats, are all low-fat sources of highly-digestible complex carbohydrates. Whole grains are also a rich source of dietary fiber—both soluble and insoluble—which is crucial for healthy intestinal function (limiting deadly fume emissions). Whole grains are also helpful with the common problem of constipation in dogs, which can be caused by a diet that is lacking in fiber. So basically, the perfect amount of poop.
Vitamins and Chelated Minerals
Vitamins and minerals work together, in conjunction with your pet’s natural enzymes, to help with digestion, reproduction and muscle and bone growth. They are also essential for healthy skin and coat and support immune system health, too.
Here are some of the key vitamins your pet needs on a daily basis: vitamins A, B12, C, D, and E. A higher-quality dog food contains nutritious fruit and vegetables which provide many key vitamins. For example, peas, potatoes and carrots are great sources of Vitamin A, while blueberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C. Pretty much all the stuff you can’t get your kids to eat, except that they’re mixed with chicken or beef, so your dog is all about it.
Also, the better the food, the more likely it is to contain these minerals: manganese, iron, potassium, copper, and calcium and phosphorus. But, because these minerals are hard for dogs to absorb, it’s important their food be supplemented with “chelated” minerals (which sounds made up, but bear with me…). A chelated mineral is one that is “attached” to easily absorbable amino acids, which means they will get into your pet’s bloodstream more readily.
A vital nutrient, water accounts for between 60 to 70 percent of an adult pet’s body weight. While food may help meet some of your pet’s water needs (dry food has up to 10 percent moisture, while canned food has up to 78 percent moisture), dogs need to have fresh clean water available to them at all times. Water is the medium for all chemical reactions in the body that produce energy. Plus, how else would they manage to pee all over your garden/house/yard?
So how do you know all this is in your dog’s food? Well, it’s a long-held secret: you read the label. Magic, I know.
Conversely, if the label lists any of these products, try and avoid them: chicken or poultry by-product meals, corn, wheat or soy proteins (glutens), and artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. There is a lot of science as to why these items aren’t good for your dog, but the bottom line is they are non-essential and difficult to break down. And they are yucky (mmm, ground, processed chicken feet…).
So, there it is, a quick-and-dirty guide for a happier, healthier pup. Don’t forget though, that like humans, dogs can be born with digestive abnormalities, and can develop allergies. The best way to establish a nutrition plan is to run your research by your local vet.
This article comes from NerdWallet.com, a consumer-focused, data-driven website.
A reader asked me yesterday if I were anti-grain, because in my eBook, “Feed Your Pet to Avoid the Vet” and in my book, “Dog Dish Diet”, I start with meat and veggies. Many dogs seem to have sensitivities to wheat gluten and that is a known allergen. So I usually avoid wheat and barley until we are sure that they are comfortable with meat and veggies. Another reason is that many dogs are overweight and don’t need the additional carbohydrate calories in grains.
In the article, the writer comments about “human food” not being as easily digested. Most people assume quality dog food is better for dogs. Raw food and home cooked food are whole food ingredients that are healthy for dogs. I agree with the writer, it is all about ingredients. For example, overweight dogs may not be able to handle the high percentage of carbohydrate in dry commercial foods.
That’s why I wrote Dog Dish Diet and Feed Your Pet to Avoid the Vet. I want to help you make the right choices in how to feed your pet. No marketing or hype, just common sense.