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Canine Nutrition 101

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Food For Thought...


Over 2600 years ago, the Greek physician Hippocrates had the right idea when he advised us to "let food be our medicine and Medicine be our food". Today, we could all
benefit from a good dose of this medicine, and our dogs are no exception. With the advent of processed/fast foods for humans and the canine equivalent - kibble - both dogs and their people are experiencing a rise in once obscure autoimmune diseases. Cancer being on the top of this list. Gastric torsion (bloat) is a health crisis primarily affecting deep chested breeds, and is entirely caused by the expansion of kibble in the gut. Non genetic temperament issues are synonymous with diet - in one study using Golden Retrievers, it was found that the overall temperament of these dogs changed dramatically for the better when fed homecooked vs. a kibbled diet.

Housebreaking issues are often connected to poor nutrition. Normal accidents are unavoidable, but when a dog physically can't hold its bowels or urine for reasonable periods of time, we need to question diet. Dogs fed commercial food are in a constant state of digestion. Dry kibble takes 12+ hours to completely digest - to move out of the stomach and the digestive tract - whereas raw foods taken an average of 4-5 hours to move out of the system and home cooked only slightly longer. Then take into account that kibble expands after ingestion. One cup fed can double to the equivalent of 2-3 cups in the stomach. If dry food is lingering in the digestive tract as more is being fed, the dog will have to 'go' much more frequently. Much more.

In addition to this, kibble is only 10% moisture. Compare that to meat, which is around 78% moisture. Our bodies are mainly comprised of water, and we need fluids to survive and thrive. Dogs are no exception. Kibble fed dogs have a tremendous thirst, and thus, will urinate substantially more frequently than a dog fed raw or cooked foods. In addition, excess water in the stomach only weighs down with the already expanded kibble. When it becomes too heavy, the stomach will distend, twist, effectively cutting off the oxygen supply to the organ. That is gastric torsion, or bloat.

It is also well worth mentioning peridontal disease is a serious and often overlooked deterioration of the gums and teeth caused by over consumption of canned or poor quality kibbled diets.


To Kibble Or Not To Kibble?


Not all kibbles are created equal. Certainly, some are superior and well worth feeding, while others are absolute garbage and I wonder if their contents are not comprised of materials swept off the rendering plant floor. However, going with raw or home cooked may be time consuming, more costly (in the short term), and easy to botch if not enough research is devoted to balancing the diet.

After years of experimenting with diet, I've come to the conclusion that my own dogs do not derive the same type of nutrition from commercial products as they do with a raw diet, and although I have not fed kibble exclusively for several years and feel my hounds are the better for it, do still supplement with a high quality dry diet.

Now, is a HIGH QUALITY dog food going to kill or harm your dog? Absolutely not. Having said all this, a good kibble is worth its weight in gold and does have its benefits. More holistic companies are emerging with a better grade ingredients than in years past, and are extruding their kibbles in innovative ways that lowers the cooking temperature, thereby preserving the integrity of the product. We also see manufacturers focusing on digestibility/bioavailability of their foods, definitely a step in the right direction!

Currently, the brands in our rotation are Wellness Small Breed & Chicken Soup For The Dog Lover's Soul. Both use chelated minerals (which are absorbed more efficiently by the body) and are amongst the best commercial diets I've used in quite a few years.

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FAD & OTHER DANGEROUS DIETS


FISH BASED KIBBLE


Some dog food companies have begun to use all fish diets as an alternative to other animal based protein sources. Fish is invaluable in kibble as it adds abundant amounts of zinc and DHA/EPA - essential long chain Omega 3 fatty acids. The main problem with feeding a diet solely comprised of fish as the protein source is simply that this otherwise nutritious food is not meat. Canines must have sufficient quantities of meat to maintain a proper urine pH level. Too much fish quickly alkalizes the urine. While a properly acidic urine will kill excess bacteria and stones/crystals in the bladder and urinary tract, an alkaline urine promotes the overgrowth of bacteria and encourages the formation of stones.

Furthermore, the high levels of magnesium in some types of fish also contribute to kidney problems in susceptible animals. Combine that with the 'off' pH it produces and its almost certain urinary trouble. After consuming fish on a daily basis, magnesium levels build up and place a great strain on the kidneys, whose job it is to excrete this mineral. An acidic urine is also helpful with dissolving stones/crystals and preventing them from forming at all or keeping them small enough to pass safely through the urethra. Acidic urine kills excess bacteria that can cause urinary tract infections, as well.

Probably the most convincing reason for me to never feed all fish diets on a regular basis is the fact that ALL fish meal MUST be preserved with ethoxyquin as per Coast Guard rules. Ethoxyquin is a chemical preservative, and a known carcinogen. It has been found to cause cancer in lab rats, and unfortunately, is still being used as a preservative in small animal/rodent food! Unbelievable! If you've ever owned a hamster or guinea pig or gerbil, you've probably lost one or more of these little pets to a cancerous tumor(s). Small animals fed real food live longer, have calmer/more docile temperaments, and do not succumb to tumors. Even if your particular fish based food does not list ethoxyquin on the ingredient panel - it can still be in there. By law, the food manufacturer is not required to list any preservative they did not themselves add.



GRAIN FREE/HIGH PROTEIN KIBBLE


The grain free high protein/low carb diets are probably one of the most dangerous commercial dog foods on the market today. They are problematic on many levels. It's not so much the higher percentage of protein that is the main issue, its the phosphorous that inevitably tags along with any animal based protein. The two are connected so that all high protein foods also contain high phosphorous levels. Phosphorous is a necessary mineral that needs to be in ample supply in a dog's diet and is found mainly in meat, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this mineral & by no means should it ever be avoided. Along with calcium, it's a bone sustaining nutrient.

The grain free kibbles with protein numbers ranging from 35-40%+ are advertising the product as a more natural, "evolutionary" diet that any wolf would eat in the wild. One company goes so far as to claim their food is what to feed when you can't do raw. And isn't that true? Wouldn't a wolf have evolved on a high protein diet? Aren't raw diets high protein? No, to all of the above. Meat is higher in protein than grains, yes. So, perhaps in that sense, we could argue that the natural diet of a carnivore is high protein, although in actuality this is not entirely true. Raw meat is between 16-20% protein on average. No raw feeder or wolf in the wild will ever feed as many protein sources in one meal as to raise the levels to around 40%. To do this, one would have to feed (or less likely, a wolf would have access to) two separate meat sources, say chicken and turkey. Cottage cheese, eggs, fish - ALL IN ONE MEAL, every day, to achieve that amount of protein.

The ideal calcium:phosphorous ratio for canines is 1.1:1.0, the smaller figure being the phosphorous amount required. These numbers are not fixed in stone, but the closer to them you stick, the better. Calcium amounts should always be slightly more than phosphorous. With some of these grain free diets (as I mentioned, the true culprit is the mineral levels that tag along with the protein) the calcium:phos ratio climbs up to 3.0:2.0!!! Over time, this will have a deleterious effect on the skeletal system, kidneys. Because of this, the manufacturer often recommends they not be fed to growing pups under 2yrs of age. Of course, as it would be a disaster.

Next is the myth that these foods are low carb simply due to the lack of grain. They're NOT! Dry food must have a binding agent to give the kibble its hard, crunchy form. Too much meat, and the kibble falls apart - hence the reason why even the best are carb heavy. These companies will use potatoes, tapioca, anything else that sounds appealing to humans to bind the food into a kibble. They still contain starch, and in the case of the tapoica, even the highest quality ones are made with pure white sugar. These new starchy binding agents contain LESS quality nutrition than a good quality whole grain such as brown rice or oatmeal would provide.

While healthy, nutritionally dense grains such as oatmeal or brown rice control blood glucose levels after a meal, the starchy potatoes used to bind grain free foods spike the blood sugar, causing crashes which may lead to hypoglycemia. I have personally seen it happen, and it led to hypoglycemic fits in both instances.



TO SUM IT ALL UP...

With kibble, digestibility, balance, and the vitamin premix take precedence over individual ingredients. However the only way to ascertain whether a food may be worthwhile or junk is to READ THE INGREDIENT LABELS!!! At all costs, artificial dyes (red #40, yellow#5, ect), chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, sodium nitrate, propyl gallate & so on should be avoided like the plague. As should sweeteners such as sorbitol and glycerin (the latter has now been added to Pro Plan/Purina ONE to give the kibbles a moist, meaty texture).

Such 'ingredients' have no place in anything edible. Foods that list the first ingredient or several of the first ingredients as grains or soy are not appropriate for dogs. Avoid generic terms such as "meat meal or meat and bone meal" and be cautious in purchasing foods that list gluten meals on the top of the list.


FOODS TO AVOID:

Please Note: We no longer recommend Iams/Eukanuba products due to drastic changes in quality and formula. We also retract our former recommendation of Purina ONE due to the company's downgraded quality and dubious ingredients in recent years.


- Mighty Dog
- Pedigree
- Beneful
- Chef Michaels
- Alpo
- Mainstay
- Kibbles N' Bits
- Ol' Roy
- Generic Store Brands (i.e. Path Mark brand dog food)
- Diamond
- Dog Chow, Purina ONE, BeyOnd, Pro Plan
- Nutro Max
- Science Diet
- Pro Pac
- Rachel Ray Nutrish



WHAT'S LEFT? YOU ASK...

Some great kibbles, most of which are moderately priced are:

- Precise
- Merrick
- Royal Canin
- Premium Edge
- Wellness
- Blackwood
- Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul
- Now!
- Eagle Pack
- Taste of the Wild
- Fromm
- Healthwise
- Innova
- Vet's Choice
- Newman's Own Organics
- Evangers
- Raw or home cooked :)


Remember, diet is just as vital as genetics in determining the lifelong health of your Beagle. It is up to you to spend a bit more on the purchase price of a good dog food or fresh meat to ensure he is getting proper nutrition. And a dollar more spent on food is a hundred less spent on vet bills. The cheap will always come out expensive in the end.

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