Dogs are very opportunistic when it comes to food. This means they will eat a wide variety of foods unless they are allowed to become picky eaters. We can discuss the causes and factors about picky eating dogs at a later time. This post will be focused on nutrition. What do I feed my dogs? What do I recommend my clients feed their dogs? Is raw good or bad? What about vegetarian or vegan? Allergies?
Puppy nutrition through the weaning process is a whole different topic but here is a cute photo of some pups learning to lap milk replacer.
Lets start with my recommendations and varieties we feed our dogs.
Wellness brand for any variety with whole grains
Wholehearted I prefer the all life stages varieties with whole grains
American Journey with whole grains
Honest Kitchen with whole grains (this includes their dry kibble and their dehydrated varieties)
Earthborn with whole grains
Merrick with whole grains
Fresh Pet with grains (some varieties require refrigeration)
RedBarn rolled dog food with grains (must be refrigerated after opening)
Kirkland's Nature's Domain with grains and their canned variety
Homemade dog food - should be cooked and include whole grains and meet AAFCO standards - this is easy to due if you are using JustFoodForPets mineral and vitamin powder and following their recipes OR using Honest Kitchen's base mix and only needing to add a healthy protein
Scrambled eggs for omegas and quality fresh protein
Fish or fish/krill oil for the health omegas and DHA
Joint supplement - usually Farnim or similar that is for dogs (possibly other species too), containing glucosamine, chondrotin, MSM, and HA
Probiotics - I have been using Probios (a multi species formula) for years and love it. Great price and wonderful way to sprinkle some probiotics into their food
What about treats?
Full Moon - chicken or beef (these come in jerky sizes and training treat size)
RedBarn rolled dog food chopped into training sized peices
Fresh Pet makes a variety that is kind of like small meatballs and can be used for training treats
Zuke's training treats
Wholehearted training treats
Sometimes hot dog, chicken breast, beef, cut into training pieces
How about chews? High value treats?
Full Moon jerky
Pork skin rolls
Possibly pig ears
Sometimes raw (chicken necks for eating or large bones for chewing while monitored)
Freeze dried fish skins
Kong stuffed filled with canned/wet dog food and frozen (use a similar canned food to their primary feeding
Nylabone marrow bone with canned/wet dog food filled and frozen
Leftover - unseasoned meats, cooked vegetables, slightly overcooked rice, pasta, or bread (no BBQ sauce, garlic, onion, or other heavily seasoned foods) - always be cautious about high fat content (no bacon and no deli meats!)
While dogs are primarily carnivores they have domesticated along side us and are able to digest grains and some fruits and vegetables. Remember wolves will eat the stomach and it's contents of fresh caught prey. This means that a certain amount of healthy grain is important. Here is a list of brands that I don't recommend:
Kibbles & Bits
Science Diet (unless the dog NEEDS a prescription diet - this is much more rare than many think as there are great diet options for dogs with certain medical conditions
Purina - yes I have fed some of their premium varieties but pound for pound there are more economical food available
Taste of the Wild or Diamond
Retriever or similar grocery or store brands (although Kirkland, Target's Kindfull, and Tractor Supply 4Health are OK)
homemade diets without proper nutritional add in such as Honest Kitchen base or JustFoodForDogs mineral and vitamin with their recipe
What do I look for in a dog food?
Read the ingredients! Corn should not be listed anywhere, wheat should not be either. The first 2 ingredients should be a meat protein, the next 3 ingredients should be different from each other (rice & brown rice can be separated on the bag but that means if you combine their weight it is likely greater than the meat protein sources). Ingredients are listed by weight. Corn meal, lentils, and similar non-animal sources can artificially increase the protein % of a dog food. Protein meals are important as they are dense sources of organ meat and sometimes ground bone and provides the nutrition a whole prey animal would provide that can not come from boneless, skinless chicken, turkey, or other meats.
Read the AAFCO statement. It will tell you what life stages the food is appropriate for. Puppy & growth of large breed puppies, Maintenance for adult dogs, and the All Life Stages including the growth of large breed dogs. I prefer foods that are all life stages as I feel my adult dogs should be getting a food as nutrient rich as my puppies and that these varieties meet stricter standards.
Be cautious with variety protein sources (rabbit, venison, buffalo, etc...). While rabbit is a meat source that a dog could have as a whole meal the requirements for these exotic meats is not necessary unless the dog has a true allergy to chicken or beef or pork.
I typically stay away from pork and duck or utilizing a fish based food every bag. Duck and pork seem to be greasier for my dogs and I like to supplement with fresh canned salmon or mackerel.
Why do I not recommend raw? It is a very slippery slope and sometimes can be a treat but proper sanitation and very careful handling is necessary to keep the people and the dogs safe from food borne illnesses. Dogs can also choke on the bones and some can splinter even if fed raw. Primarily there is no reason to feed raw as it presents an unnecessary health risk and is not the "best" way to feed your dog full time. Ultimately it is not worth the risk.
Why do I not recommend vegan or vegetarian diets? Dogs are NOT ruminants or omnivores. While they may not be obligate carnivores like felines they do need meat proteins for proper nutrition. You can get close to meeting a dogs nutritional needs by feeding a diet that includes humanely raised animal meats or one that focuses on eggs and fish as a primary food source. Dogs should not be kept on inappropriate diets. If you do not wish to meet a dog's nutritional needs please get an animal that has a natural diet closer to the one that meets your ethical or religious requirements.
There are always exceptions however having an honest discussion with an animal or canine nutritionist for dogs with food intolerances is much better than feeding a corn based prescription diet.
I prefer to mix things up and I don't keep my dogs on the same formula. This is preference but I like to split things up and keep a variety. Sometimes they get some homemade dog food, scrambled eggs, a bit of rice & chicken, leftovers that are safe for them, or a high quality food that is on sale!
Again this information is not to replace a veterinarian's recommendations but possibly discussing alternative diets or options than a prescription from Hill's or Purina or Royal Canine. However Zignature brand offers many limited ingredient diets and a variety of protein and grains without needing a prescription and typically being more affordable of an option.
How much should my dog be eating? The feeding guidelines on the back are a place to start however they very seldom end up being the correct amount for your dog. Typically feeding the guideline amount will cause your dog to gain weight. You also want to subtract the amount of treats they get throughout the day and their activity level. Puppies and growing young dogs will need more food than is typical for their weight class. Pregnant and nursing females also will need quantity and frequency increases. Use the Purina Body Conditioning Scoring.
Puppies, young growing dogs, and pregnant and/or nursing females need frequent feedings. When puppies start weaning around 5 weeks we feed 4 times a day. By week 7 they are at 3 feedings a day and at 12 weeks they are fed twice a day. Adult dogs do not have this requirement of frequent feedings. Most recent studies show that once a dog reaches sexual maturity that they be fed only once per day. Something as simple as only feeding your dog once a day can decrease their risk for many conditions including a decreased risk of gastrointestinal, dental, orthopedic, kidney/urinary, live/pancreas disorders. The Dog Aging Project stated that the dogs fed once a day had lower mean scores on the cognitive dysfunction scale.