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dog diets

dog diets

Whole prey – love/hate/love

A few weeks ago Doug and I offed seven young roosters (NOT a great experience – and no, not the one in the picture; I wouldn’t do that to you!) and gave them to the dogs as soon as we knew they were deceased. Feathers-on, everything exactly as in life except that they weren’t in life anymore.

I sort of thought there might be lots of hemming and hawing and nosing around and feather-pulling amongst the dogs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They ate those birds like it was the best thing they’d ever been given; every single bit was eaten except a few of the biggest wing feathers.

It was all they ate for about four days and they’ve been snacking ever since on the frozen-and-buried portions they have stashed in the snow.

Because of this I am forced to come to the following conclusions:

1) I hate killing things.

2) The dogs look intensely amazing.

Seriously, where they’ve always had great coats, typical raw-fed dense gorgeous hair, now their coats are PACKED, from the skin out. Juno looks like a fur seal; I have to dig hard to touch Clue’s skin. And they’ve all put on hard flat muscle over the hard muscle that was already there. Bramble combined his rooster experience with a crash diet (meaning “If you steal food from people one more time I’m going to crash you”) and he lost all the typical dachshund heft and looks like a teenager again.

The casualty of the diet was poor Ginny, who was so appalled that she was being offered something that had feathers on it that she went on a hunger strike and refused to eat anything even resembling chicken. I caved today and bought her Bravo and Orijen because she was looking decidedly wan.

So, aside from Ginny, we now know we need to keep supplying whole birds to the other dogs. There are two or three more that are heading in that direction thanks to a sudden fondness for crowing, and after that I need to figure out whether I’m going to buy and raise meat chickens for the dogs or whether I can maintain enough of my own production to give each dog a whole one every couple of weeks and keep the pullets for myself. I also need to streamline the “process.” Ick.

More to come as we figure out how to do this the right way.

dog diets

Reading to decipher dog food ingredients

I bought kibble yesterday.


I never buy it, but for various reasons we needed some and I wanted a conventional kibble, not a grain-free one (when I am buying grain-free I get Orijen). I wanted the conventional kibble with the most meat.

Here are the first few ingredients of the three brands we looked at:

1) Brand A: Duck, Chicken Meal, Chicken, Brown Rice, Pearled Barley, Oatmeal, Menhaden Fish Meal

2) Brand B: Deboned Chicken, Deboned Whitefish, Chicken Meal, Oatmeal, Ground Peas, Ground Barley

3) Brand C: Chicken meal, brown rice, white rice, rice bran, cracked pearled barley, peas

OK, so which one did I buy?

If I say C, does that surprise you? Because that’s what I bought.

Here’s why: The protein levels in the three kibbles were 24%, 24%, and 26%, respectively. Meat all by itself, in a dried form, is about 40%-50% protein, depending on the species. Brown rice is 7.5% protein. So the further you get away from that 40-50 amount, the lower the meat content.

The 26% protein kibble, which is the one with the fewest named meat ingredients, is actually the one with the most meat.

What gives?

The trick is to know the names. The AAFCO, which is the body that governs how dog food ingredients can be listed, distinguishes between the meat and the meat’s “meal.” When a company includes a meat with no word after it, that means they weighed it raw and wet, right off the animal. When the word “meal” is used, it means the meat has been cooked, dried, and ground.

The raw product is always going to weigh more than the cooked and dried product, but they’re weighing water. Make no mistake, they’re going to have to make that raw stuff into its “meal” before they can extrude it into kibble – it’s not like the dog isn’t getting the mealed form of it, and there’s no advantage to not buying something labeled meal. Leaving off the word meal just lets them put the meat higher on the ingredient list.

All three of these kibbles, by the way, are good ones. I’m not knocking A and B. I have, however, had several people tell me that brand C wasn’t a good kibble, because there were so few meat ingredients. But comparing the protein levels shows that it’s not true.

There are a ton of reasons to pick different kibbles, and I don’t want anybody to go rush out and buy brand C all of a sudden. What I want to point out is that you can’t stop after you read the list of ingredients. You need to compare them with the analysis of the protein (and, for some brands, the fat, though in this case that was not nearly as helpful because it didn’t follow the same progression as the protein – brand A was 16% fat, B was 11% fat, and C was 15% fat) to know what you’re actually looking at. If your kibble has a ton of fancy ingredients but a low protein level (21 or 22% is common), it’s pretty much guaranteed that in fact the greater proportion of the kibble is the grain ingredients.

dog diets, Dog Health

The myth of dog food switching

So how do you switch from one food to another? Do you begin by adding a few kibbles at a time? A quarter-cup? Gradually add a scientifically calculated increasing proportion until you’re finally down to 99% new brand and 1% old? Did you try going cold-turkey once and the dog had diarrhea for a week?

If so, let me suggest that you’re maybe thinking the wrong way about how dogs should eat.

Wouldn’t you be pretty concerned if every time you ate more than a quarter-inch slice of something you got raging runs? It’s no more normal for dogs than it is for us. What we’ve done very incorrectly is that we’ve been convinced that dogs should only be fed one brand, often only one flavor of one brand, for their entire lives.


Dogs should be able to handle just about everything you throw at them – hopefully healthy, but let’s face it. It’s not evolutionarily sound for a dog to not be able to tolerate an occasional dose of Quarter Pounder leftovers and a heel of bread, much less a switch from Mister Magoo’s Chicken and Sweet Potato to Mister Magoo’s Lamb and Rice Formula.

The reason they get so out of sorts is that their stomachs and intestines are tricked into thinking there are only five substances in the world – chicken that’s been cooked at 500 degrees for half a day and then ground up, ground yellow corn, sweet potato flakes, and tomato pomace. Or substitute whatever ingredients your kibble uses. A digestive system that has never seen anything else freaks out when lamb meal and rice are introduced – it speeds up to dump what it thinks might be dangerous strange stuff out as fast as it can, and the dog gets what we affectionately call “cannon butt.”

The solution is SO simple, all it requires is ignoring TV commercials. Oh, and sometimes your vet. Dogs do NOT, heavens no, need to stay on one brand or one flavor. You can have twenty-five bags sitting on your counter and take from each as you desire. For most people that’s kind of silly, but for sure you should never be scared of feeding two or three. Or, if you absolutely love your one brand and flavor, scrape the peas off the kids’ plates into the dog bowl. The next night empty the yogurt container in it. Keep a bit of variety going in every day.

This will really save your bacon when you get a hundred miles out of town and realize your husband forgot to pack the food that you have to mail-order from Tasmania every six months. Knowing that you can pick up a small bag of a lesser-but-acceptable stuff and your dog will feel normal on vacation is a heck of a relief.

dog diets, Dog Health, raising your puppy

When should I switch my dog off puppy food to adult food?

Answer: He never should have been on it in the first place.

This question is one of those “If I had a nickel” ones. It comes up pretty much daily on general-interest dog boards and breed discussion lists.

The problem is this: the whole idea of “puppy food,” which is just a higher-calorie (often vastly higher-calorie) formulation of kibble, is based on two flawed assumptions and one major marketing truth. Assumptions first:

1) Puppies need to be “supported” in rapid growth; just keep them from getting fat.

2) Rapid growth is better than slow growth.

And the marketing truth:

People love to feel that they are doing something special for their new baby. I’ve seen discussions on pet-food marketing boards about this, because numbers one and two up there are well known in the industry. They know perfectly well that there’s no reason to feed puppy food.

But people WANT it. They clamor for it. When it comes to a puppy, even those who are going to feed Ol’ Roy or Pedigree (the sales of which, by the way, so completely dwarf all other brands that it’s staggering) will pay the extra two bucks a bag to get Pedigree Puppy and Ol’ Roy Puppy.

Up at the higher end of the scale, you have companies whose main product is the typical chicken-based food in a carefully low-key high-end bag suddenly breaking their two-color-press rules to feature pictures of tiny puppies  so you’ll know they’re the right choice; even hipsters go mushy for baby dogs.

Even companies who will TELL you you don’t need a puppy food (like Innova) still make one. They lose huge wads of people who go buy a competitor’s product because it has the picture of the Golden puppy on the front if they don’t.

Here’s the truth:

After puppies are fully weaned, they need to grow as SLOWLY as possible. Slow growth is strong growth.

Slow-growing dogs have a dramatically lower rate of joint issues, including hip and elbow dysplasia, OCD, and so on. Part of this is because the growth of the bone doesn’t outstrip the growth of its tendons and muscles, and some of it is because slow-growing dogs are lighter dogs and don’t put as much strain on developing joints. Both are good reasons to keep a puppy growing for a long time rather than a short one.

Puppies will use every bit of food they’re given to grow. Puppies don’t get fat unless they have so many calories dumped on them that even their incredible metabolism is overwhelmed. You can’t judge whether a puppy is getting too much food by whether he or she is fat.

Puppies are not cows. You’re not finishing them for market before they’re a year old. They should not look adult or have anything close to an adult weight until they really ARE adults. If your puppy has 95% of his adult height and weight at six months – and many people consider this to be normal and expected – you’re following the principle of fattening a lamb for slaughter, not growing a dog.

In a wolf pack, which is how your dog’s body evolved and how its metabolism still works, when puppies are eating EVERYBODY’S on a low-calorie diet and the puppies are on the lowest of all. The size of the pack is indirectly related to the number of calories consumed; when there’s a litter growing up (and in wolves this is until about 18 months old, when they leave to form their own groups) everybody’s skinny. After the regurgitation phase is over, puppies are not given anything close to the choicest bits. They’re supposed to survive on what they can get their heads in and grab. That’s a very good rule of thumb for growing dogs as well; 18 months is when you should see full growth and (close to) full weight. Males in particular will often put on a little bit more later, but you should be able to visibly tell between a 12-month-old and an 18-month-old.

In my experience this also translates to a much later maturity in other ways; I don’t get first heats in the girls until they’re well over a year old. Calories are given first to maintenance (living), then to growth, then to reproduction. If the calories are low enough to limit growth, they don’t get put into reproduction until growth slows. This follows the wolf rule as well, and protects everybody. Bodies shouldn’t be reproducing until the structure can support them, and a first heat at 15 months is a breedable heat and the bitch will be fine. (I haven’t even bred on a first heat, before anybody freaks out, but at that age I would not hesitate to do so from a health standpoint; she’d probably have an easier time of it than most!)

So what should you do?

In all breeds but the toys, if you’re not feeding raw you can wean right to an adult food and keep them on an adult food their whole lives. And there’s no magic in a single brand, either; go ahead and mix six of ’em if you want to.

The toy breeds, which are prone to hypoglycemic crises, sometimes need a more nutrient-dense food for a few more weeks so that every bite has enough calories to keep their blood sugar from dipping too low. But even the toys can go on adult food as soon as that danger period is over.

Whatever you feed, if you have a normal healthy puppy who eats eagerly, you should NOT be feeding to satiety. The puppy should not be walking away from food. A good healthy puppy should be lovingly licking the bowl or the floor for a few minutes after he or she is done, wishing for more. If your puppy is not a good eager eater, you may need to coddle them a bit more, but don’t fall into the trap of feeding too much just because the puppy only takes a few mouthfuls at a time.

Your puppy should be smaller than the other puppies his age at the dog park or training class. Since most people ARE going to be feeding way too much, your puppy is going to look small and wiry and they’re going to look big and sleek and beautiful. Don’t feel bad! Your puppy is going to be much better off in the long run.

What’s thin-but-not-too-thin?

One of the most often misunderstood directions for dog weight is “can you see a waist from the top.” You can ALWAYS see a waist from the top. Very few dogs, even the tremendously obese ones, have no indentation where the waist is. Heck, I have a waist and I’m (mumble mumble bad number). What you want to see is that there is a clear sinking in behind the bulk of the BONES OF THE ribcage (the top arrow up there on Juno, who conveniently stretched out so I could show you) and then a clear widening where the BONES OF THE pelvis and femur come out (the bottom arrow). Not “the big mounds of fat vaguely associated with the bones of the ribs and pelvis.” A proper “waist” is relatively long and rather square.

Juno was 19.8 lb yesterday; she’s almost 7 months. If I was letting her grow as fast as she wanted this would be a DISASTER, because it would mean she was going to top out at 22 lb or something. But since I know she’s going to grow for a long time I’m not at all concerned. Juno’s never going to be big, which is exactly what I wanted, but she’ll make her mom’s size (typically 26-27 lb) just fine.

A small, hard, wiry puppy? Great. A skinny puppy? No. If you’re looking at a puppy you should not be able to see the bones of the individual ribs or put your fingers between them. You should not be able to see the bones of the hips or put your fingers between them. The femur should be surrounded by good strong muscle, and you shouldn’t be able to grab any bone ends. When the puppy breathes or runs, you should see the trailing edge of the ribcage and (on short-haired dogs) count the last two or three ribs. You shouldn’t be able to count all the ribs unless the puppy is a sighthound.

On the typical 9-point scale, which is commonly used by vets to characterize body condition, I like to see a puppy at about a 4 and that’s where I keep my adult dogs too. I’ll bring them up to a 5 to show in order to smooth out the topline a little, but that’s about it.

Clue says: I can hardly wait until my puppies are eating; that is my favoritest time ever. Also, I am NOT at a 4 right now. (Sigh; true! I am anticipating that she’ll get really sick again this time so I’ve brought her up to about a 6, the heaviest I’ve ever let her get. She’s about 29 lb now and she looks weird and bad to me.)

News on the home front: Clue is taking her sweet time. She’s beginning to get super affectionate and mushy with the other dogs, and spends long minutes carefully grooming Friday and Juno. She’s not very enthused about Bramble yet; she is flagging but I have learned to completely ignore that as a signal for her, the hussy. She still barely looks in heat, so I am guessing she won’t really do much until next week. Last time we bred her days 16, 17, 19, 20 and the 19 was the magic one. If that holds true this time I will ONCE MORE be shipping semen over a weekend. Geez. If you want convenience, don’t breed dogs!

dog diets, Dog Health, General

Is drinking ice water or eating ice bad for dogs?

The following story is making the rounds again. The first time I saw it on Facebook causing panic I thought it was silly; the second and third and fourth times showed that it really does need a response. Here's the text that is being spread:


Hello Everyone,

I am writing this in hopes that some may learn from what I just went through. We were having a good weekend till Saturday. On Saturday I showed my Baran and left the ring. He was looking good and at the top of his game. He had a chance at no less then one of the two AOM’s.

It did not work out that way. After showing we went back to our site/setup and got the dogs in their crates to cool off. After being back about 30 min. I noticed Baran was low on water. I took a hand full of ice from my cooler and put it in his bucket with more water. We then started to get all the dogs Ex’ed and food ready for them.

I had Baran in his 48′ crate in the van because this is the place he loves to be. He loves to be able to see everyone and verything. After checking him and thinking he was cooled off enough, we fed him. We walked around and one of my friends stated that Baran seamed like he was choking. I went over and checked on him. He was dry heaving and drooling. I got him out of the crate to check him over and noticed he had not eaten. He was in some distress. I checked him over from head to toe and did not notice anything. I walked him around for about a minute when I noticed that he was starting to bloat. I did everything I was taught to do in this case. I was not able to get him to burp, and we gave him Phasezime.

We rushed Baran to a vet clinic. We called ahead and let them know we were on our way. They were set up and waiting for us. They got Baran stabilized very quickly. After Baran was stable and out of distress we transported him to AVREC where he went into surgery to make sure no damage was done to any of his vital organs. I am very happy to say Baran is doing great, there was no damage to any vital organs, and he still loves his food. In surgery the vet found that Baran’s stomach was in its normal anatomic position. We went over what had happened. When I told the vet about the ice water, he asked why I gave him ice water. I said that I have always done this. I told him my history behind this practice and his reply was, “I have been very lucky.” The ice water I gave Baran caused violent muscle spasms in his stomach which caused the bloating. Even though I figured his temperature was down enough to feed, and gave him this ice water, I was wrong. His internal temperature was still high. The vet stated that giving a dog ice to chew or ice water is a big NO, NO! There is no reason for a dog to have ice/ice water. Normal water at room temperature, or cooling with cold towels on the inner thigh, is the best way to help cool a dog. The vet explained it to me like this: If you, as a person, fall into a frozen lake what happens to your muscles? They cramp. This is the same as a dog’s stomach.

I felt the need to share this with everyone, in the hopes that some may learn from what I went through, I do not wish this on anyone. Baran is home now doing fine. So please, if you do use ice and ice water, beware of what could happen.

This story has been circulating for a couple of years and it is FALSE. There is absolutely no reason that dogs cannot drink ice water or eat ice, including after heavy exertion. 

Ice water is actually very good for lowering body temperature and does NOT cause cramping. Or colic. It's good for horses, it's good for people, it's good for dogs. If the dog in the story ever existed in the first place (notice how all identifying information besides the dog's name has been stripped from the story, so this is reported as being anything from a Corgi to a Dane) it's the story of a dog who bloated at a show. As many, many dogs do. 

If people who have been exercising heavily fall into a frozen lake, they haul themselves out and actually experience less injury afterward than if they had rested. 

If horses who have been exercising heavily are soaked in ice water and given refrigerated water to drink, they recover faster. 

Dogs who are having heatstroke recover fast when ice water is dumped in their stomachs.

This persistent old wives' tale can, thankfully, join "Don't swim after eating" and "Gum stays in your stomach for seven years" – it's false, and your dog can enjoy as much ice and ice water as he would like. 

dog diets, Dog Health, General

Oh my gosh the obesity

Pem people, this has got to stop. If I see one more photo of Precious Pooky Peedler who can barely drag himself around because the amount of fat wrapped around his PROSTATE is more than any dog should have to carry over his whole body, I am going to scream. What is the deal? Why the epidemic of incredible fatness in this breed when owned by pet owners?