When was the last time you enjoyed a bowl of Total or Special K for breakfast? It may have been earlier this week or even as recently as this morning. But when was the last time you ate that cereal exclusively for your breakfast, lunch and dinner? I bet the answer is never! Still, that is the way we feed our dogs. They face the same bowl of the same brand of kibble meal after meal, week after week, year after year because many of us have been convinced that it is the only correct way to feed them.
When was the last time you went to the doctor for a check up and received a stern lecture about laying off those salads or cutting back on your fruits and vegetables? Again, I’m guessing never. After all, fresh fruits and vegetables and a varied diet are essential to our good health. So why does the same not hold true for our four-legged friends? I’m not going to try to convince you to stop feeding kibble. I do want to encourage you to look more closely at today’s commercial canine diets, to start asking more questions, and to incorporate some good old common sense into how we are feeding man’s best friend.
Let’s take a look at the history of kibble. Pre-packaged commercial dog food was not even “invented” until after World War II. It was brilliant marketing if you think about it, coming up with a way to turn all those previously discarded, worthless bits and pieces not fit for human consumption into pure profit. The strategy stressed convenience, economy and shelf life. To that end, over-processing destroyed what little nutritional value the offal used might have offered in the first place. Previously, dogs had eaten a mixture of table scraps, leftovers, and foods they were able to scavenge. You may remember your grandparents feeding their dogs in this manner. It was not uncommon for dogs of that era to live to be 18 or 20 years old, despite rarely ever seeing a veterinarian during their entire lives.
Over the intervening decades, the commercial dog food industry has convinced us that people food is terrible for our dogs and that only if they eat from a bag will they be getting a 100% completely balanced diet. (Their bag, that is. Certainly not their competitors’ bags!) Veterinarians jump on the bandwagon as well. People food will kill your pet! It is no coincidence that vet school curricula typically offers an average of 8 hours of nutrition training over an entire four year program, and the information taught is usually provided by the large pet food conglomerates such as Iams, Eukanuba, or Science Diet. And not coincidentally, those same brands often end up being sold out of the eventual offices of those budding vets in training. I am not saying that you should not trust your veterinarian. In fact, the fat-laden, junk foods of today are no better for our pets’ bodies than they are for our own. I am saying that, in matters of nutrition, label reading is not that difficult and your companion’s nutritional needs are something you can research yourself.
The Whole Dog Journal is a publication that does not depend on the good will of deep-pocket advertisers. Each year The Whole Dog Journal rates the top 10 dog foods in an unbiased format. Their list is a must-read.
What about balance? Let’s go back to that three meals a day of Total or Special K, or for that matter last night’s dinner. Was it 100% balanced? Most likely it wasn’t. Balance is achieved with variety and it is something to be aimed for over time, not within each individual meal. You might have cereal for breakfast, a salad for lunch and a steak for dinner, but over the day you achieved a balanced diet. Variety over time is the key to good, healthy nutrition in the canine world too.
I can hear it now: “Won’t my dog get loose stools if I change his food?” If your dog has been eating the same diet for years, absolutely! Imagine if you had only eaten a bland diet or nothing but Total cereal for every meal for years and then you went out for a big Mexican dinner! You get the idea. If you have been feeding the same diet for years, you will want to transition or add new foods slowly and gradually. Pumpkin can help with the transition. My dogs eat a huge variety of foods over week’s time, from quality kibble to raw to cottage cheese. They rarely if ever have stool problems although they have been fed this way for years. Even my puppy mill survivor who had eaten the same cheap kibble daily for his entire life tolerates a huge variety of healthy foods in his diet today.
Not sure you are ready to add fruit, veggies, other meats and proteins to your dog’s diet? Start with a few healthy baby steps. Dr. Karen Becker, a renowned holistic vet in the Chicago area, teaches at her seminars that if you are feeding a dead diet (meaning a kibble), at the very least add some pumpkin seeds, oils (fish, tuna, flaxseed to name a few), some fish, berries or other healthy ‘people food’. Variety is the key. If you do opt to feed only kibble, at least rotate the brands; if your brand is lacking in certain nutrients and you feed only that food for life, your pet will have serious problems down the road. No commercial kibble is as 100% complete as its manufacturer would lead us to believe. Just remember that there are other good, healthy options to feeding kibble, like raw diets or home-cooking for your dog.
Many dogs in today’s world are developing allergies. Could feeding the same food from the same protein source day after day, year after year be one of the reasons? Introducing variety helps minimize the risk of allergies developing later in life. Dr. Becker puts it best when she says, “The only people who want you to feed the same one food for the life of your dog are the manufacturers!”..
Last but not least, there is the boredom factor. I know I would quickly grow bored and compromise my health if I had to eat the same thing every day. I enjoy spoiling my dogs but at the same time I want to know they are getting a sound diet with lots of healthy variety. After all, isn’t that why we have our companions… to provide for their wellbeing and to make them happy? My dogs eat a broad combination of healthy people food, raw diet, and high quality kibble. Their diet varies daily, keeping them highly motivated eaters right through their senior years. Feeding variety is one of the best ways I know to protect my pets’ health and to keep the excitement in their mealtime. And what could be more rewarding than sharing our lives with happy, healthy pets!
From the author:
I have worked in sighthound rescue (Greyhound, Whippet and Italian Greyhounds) for over 40 years. A sales food rep in a pet store almost two decades ago talked to me about dog food. Prior to that, like most people, I thought dog food was dog food. Although he was trying to sell me on his food, he did me a great service that day and taught me about label reading and that all food was NOT created equal. About that same time, my adopted dog was diagnosed with early signs of kidney disease. I bought the veterinarian-recommended kidney diet but when I got out to the car with his new food, I noticed that ingredient #1 was peanut hulls… and it was preserved with BHA! How could this be healthy? Since then I have attended numerous seminars by vets, nutritionists and other experts in the field. I read anything and everything I can get my hands on about canine nutrition and have consulted with a holistic vet for additional information. Today I teach basic classes on nutrition and continue to spread the word about the importance of educating ourselves when it comes to food choices for our companion animals!
Disclaimer: The information is not meant to diagnose or treat a health problem. If your pet has a medical problem, you should consult your veterinarian and ensure that you are informed about all of the ingredients in anything that is offered to your pet for treatment or maintenance. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader. Opinions expressed here are those of the author.