Friday, October 18, 2013

Our Vet's Best Advice on Nutrition

by Dr. Julie Buzby
courtesy Llima via
When I wrote my All Things Dog Blog debut article, 10 Tips for Fido’s Longest Life, I purposely avoided ranking the recommendations according to merit.  But I promise you that vying for first place on the list is nutrition.

In humans, many chronic medical conditions are related to diet.  It’s common knowledge that nutrition correlates to both quality and quantity of life.  “Eat your vegetables,” is a mom’s mantra.  In contrast, no one encourages their kids to eat more processed foods.

Yet unknowingly, many people feed their dogs junk food, day in and day out.  For example, here’s the ingredient list for one of the most popular, readily available diets on the market: 
Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), rice flour, beef, soy flour, water, meat and bone meal, propylene glycol, sugar, tricalcium phosphate, phosphoric acid, salt, animal digest, potassium chloride, sorbic acid (a preservative), dried peas, dried carrots, calcium propionate (a preservative), choline chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, Vitamin E supplement, zinc sulfate, Red 40, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, niacin, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Vitamin A supplement, Blue 2, calcium carbonate, copper sulfate, Vitamin B-12 supplement, brewers dried yeast, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin D-3 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), calcium iodate, folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite. 
Please note that the front of the bag has pictures of veggies seductively swirling with chunks of meat, but inside the bag, carrots and peas are less plentiful than sugar and salt.  Legally, ingredients must be listed in order of abundance, with the largest quantity listed first.  By virtue of their place on the list, vegetables are practically nonexistent in this diet.

I’ll leave you and your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your dog, because ultimately there is no one-size-fits-all superior choice, but here are some basic rules of thumb:

1.   Don’t get fooled by the packaging, marketing, and advertising.  Become a label reader!  Even though almost all commercially available diets are “nutritionally balanced”, that doesn’t mean they are optimally healthful for your dog.

2.   Dogs are omnivores (eating both meat and vegetation), but I want to see meat as the first ingredient on a dog food label, not corn. 

3.   Generally, you get what you pay for.  There’s a reason you can buy 40 pounds of dog food for $18 at the big box stores.  High quality ingredients are costly.  But pay now or pay later!  By feeding a high quality diet, you will likely save on vet bills in the short and long term (commonly for skin and gastrointestinal problems).  Feed the best diet you can afford.

4.  Don’t be afraid of variety!

5. Home-prepared and raw diets aren’t for everyone, but my patients that are on balanced home cooked or raw diets often thrive.  They typically have clean teeth, trim waistlines, and enjoy long healthy lives.  I prefer formulated home cooked diets over raw diets, because of the inherent risks associated with handling/feeding raw meat.  Please understand there is room for serious error in home cooking/raw feeding.  Vitamin/mineral supplementation is required and must be done correctly to avoid creating dangerous nutritional deficiencies/imbalances. Consult your veterinarian for advice, and keep in mind that board certified veterinary nutritionists can create custom, balanced recipes for your dog.  

Here’s a link to a 2004 article about a dog that lived to be 26 years old.  Note to what his owner attributes his longevity. 

Dr. Julie Buzby is a homeschooling mom of seven, American Veterinary Chiropractic Association and International Veterinary Acupuncture Society certified holistic veterinarian, and passionate advocate for canine mobility.In her free time she serves on the Advisory Board for The Grey Muzzle Organization. She can be found at Twitter @DrBuzby and on You'll also find more of Dr. Julie's posts at our Ask the Vet Archives page.

You may also enjoy reading her recent articles:
Dr. Julie's opinion or advice does not replace an actual exam with a veterinarian.

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Bocci said...

Great information, but so rarely heeded. It's an endless source of frustration for Parental Unit to see what so many folks feed both themselves and their pets...

Dawn said...

What a terrible list of ingredients. Thanks to you and some other bloggers who have done their homework, I now have a better understanding of dog food ingredient labels.

Healing Paws said...

We have excellent success with putting patients on homecooked/raw diets! Pugs and Cavaliers and the like lose weight without even trying!

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