You are what you eat is as true of dogs as it is of us. If you eat Big Macs all day, you don’t only get fat! You’re also less healthy because of all the additives, colourants and preservatives in MacDonald’s food. These chemicals can result in poor skin and hair, digestion problems, food intolerances, itchy skin and mood swings. An extreme response can be the kind of behaviour problems you see in some children who can’t tolerate additives.
Dog food is exactly the same. Some foods give dogs poor, flaky and itchy skin. They can be prone to stomach upsets and many of them can have aggression problems and hyperactivity because of the food they’re eating.
If your dog paces a lot, pants, barks in the house or fusses to be let out into the garden to bark, then it is very likely that her diet is having a bad effect on her. A happy, calm and relaxed dog should sleep on average 17 hours a day and should sleep through the night without disturbing you. If your dog is sleeping less than that, then I would be looking at her diet to see if that would improve her quality of life.
CHEAPER IS POORER
Poor quality, cheap food isn’t the bargain it might seem to be. If it’s cheap, then it’s full of ‘fillers’ – cheap waste products like wheat, maize and other cereals that dogs’ stomachs aren’t designed to cope with. Some dogs will do ‘ok’ on feed with cereals and grains – but they won’t do the best they can. Dogs’ systems aren’t equipped to deal effectively with carbohydrates – feeding them grains is a relatively modern phenomenon.
Carbohydrates break down into sugars and are stored as insulin. Dogs find it very difficult to break down these sugars, and they are unable to regulate their energy, hormone and stress levels. This is why so many grain fed dogs have problems with over-excitement, anxiety and reactivity. They quite simply can’t control themselves because their brains and bodies are struggling to synthesise the chemical reactions from their food..
And it’s true that you get out what you put in:
Good food = energy, concentration and healthiness
Bad food = hyperactivity, inability to concentrate and poor health
WHAT COMES OUT
You also get another clear sign of whether or not a food is good quality: Poo. If a dog is pooing more than twice a day, producing large, smelly, poos that range from light brown to almost orange in colour, then she is eating poor quality food. And most of the money you have spent on that food is being poohed out as waste material.
Good quality food results in smaller, less smelly, harder poos. You feed less of the food, so a £50 bag of kibble lasts longer than a £10 bag of supermarket own brand food. You also spend less time at the vets, because your dog has fewer health problems. Our dogs very rarely visit the vet because they don’t need to – they don’t have problems with teeth, skin, or behaviour. All of them are rescues, and all of them came to me with physical problems as well as behavioural, but a good diet started to sort out the physical problems within months. Dogs fed a good diet don’t get ear infections or have that ‘doggy’ smell (meaning no visits to the groomers, if you have a short-haired dog). They are, in short, healthy.
There are several ‘complete’ foods on the market which come close to a raw diet. They can be fed either as a kibble (biscuits) or as a wet food (this isn’t the same as canned food. Canned meat is also very low in nutrients)
Check the amount of protein in a food if you have an excitable or troubled dog. Protein sources have an effect on a dog’s behaviour. If the protein is pure, organic chicken, then the protein level in the food can be up to 38% and you will get no corresponding behaviour problems. If the protein source in your current dog food is ‘mixed animal derivatives’ or ‘turkey meal’, or anything that sounds similar, then the protein will make your dog fizzy, no matter how low it is. You may need to experiment for a while until you get the best food that suits your dog. All dogs are individuals, and some can be quite fussy about what they like. Using wet trays is often a good start, because most dogs prefer wet food. You can then try adding small amounts of kibble. Monitor for a week and see if your dog calms down – you should see a significant increase in calmness within a week if the food is suitable. Pets at Home are very good at changing unfinished bags of food so your local branch may be supportive if you need to experiment to find the right food for your dog.
Avoid any food that contains molasses, beet or sugar – these are likely to make your dog hyperactive.
Avoid any grains and cereals, such as wheat, maize, rice or oats. Some dogs can’t tolerate potato, either, so sweet potato is a good alternative
Glucasamine is an additive to boost the development of healthy ligaments. Added natural herbs in high-end dog foods are also good for digestion.
Kibble (biscuits) isn’t necessarily any better for your dog’s teeth than wet food, in fact there is a condition known familiarly to vets as ‘kibble tooth’. Dog saliva often doesn’t wash away the deposits of kibble that get left in your dog’s teeth, so wet food is possibly better for your dog’s teeth. Whatever you feed, natural chews (see below) are vital for good dental health. Using a tooth brush to clean your dog’s teeth once a week is also important for dental health if chews don’t do enough to remove the build-up of plaque.
If you do feed kibble, I recommend soaking it in warm water (boiled, then allowed to cool) for half an hour before feeding it. This helps ‘fussy dogs’ because it smells really good when warm. It also means that the higher levels of protein are more easily managed by the dogs’ kidneys. You can almost feed it as a ‘gruel’ (a very liquid, sloppy mix!) to slow down fast eaters so that they have to take their time over it.
We feed our dogs raw, and are finding that many of our customers are choosing a raw diet for their dogs. It’s the best food you can buy – raw meat and bones are what they were designed to eat. This gives them everything they need nutritionally, and gnawing on a raw bone is the best kind of toothbrush there is.
A raw diet should be based on minced chicken or rabbit, with added lamb, venison or any fish. Only ever feed raw meat – cooked meat adds-on calories, changes the nutritional value, is more difficult to digest, and cooked bones are potentially deadly to a dog. They can choke your dog, or perforate the gullet or gut. Raw bones are softer and will simply pass through the dog’s digestive system.
You can add salmon oil, natural yogurt, mackerel in oil, tuna and goat’s yogurt. Contrary to what the ‘anti-raw’ brigade like to believe, raw meat isn’t high in protein. The tests that have been done in research on protein in raw meat have been done with the moisture removed. As it is fed, raw meat has a 70% moisture content, which reduces the protein to between 12% and 17%.
And this is another reason why I feed raw. Poor quality protein, or even too much high quality protein, puts too much stress on your dog’s kidneys and renal system. So many of our dogs get renal failure in later life, because of the quality of the food that they’re given. Raw-fed dogs very rarely suffer from kidney problems, but those fed on foods that are very high in protein (anything over 25% is too high) are at risk of renal failure in old age. If you choose a high protein food for your dog, make sure that you soak it in at least the same weight of boiled water to ensure that enough water is absorbed in your dog’s system.
The foods to avoid at all costs are: Bakers * Wagg * Supermarket own brands, Beta and Alpha. They all contain maize or maize meal, which many dogs can’t tolerate. Iams and Eukanuba are foods that are presented as ‘high quality’ but are still full of cereals and beet. Beet is a sugar, which tends to make most dogs ‘fizzy’ and unable to control their levels of hyperactivity. Beet can also create intolerances in some dogs, such as itchy skin and weepy eyes.
Not only does it contain the ‘nasties’ I have mentioned, but Bakers includes some ingredients which are toxic in large amounts. Many of the ingredients are outlawed in Canada and Europe. Several of the aggression cases I work with have been improved within a matter of days when the owners have taken their dogs off these low quality foods.
Some dogs have real intolerances to grains and cereals. Another surprising intolerance is to white potato, which can be a problem with complete kibbles that are Grain-Free. If you have chosen one of the kibbles from our list below, and are still finding that your dog displays any of the behavior below, then I would advise feeding Symply or Nature’s Menu Grain Free wet pouches.
THE MYTH OF PUPPY FOOD, ‘SENIOR’ and ‘LIGHT’
Food manufacturers want to sell as much food as they can for the greatest profit. Dogs fed on a raw diet have exactly the same nutritional input whatever their age. This is because there is no need to feed a puppy on specific Puppy Food – it frequently has far too high protein content (23% is the maximum needed) and results in hyper-active, over excitable puppies. It’s sold because it appeals to owners, rather than because puppies need a different diet from adult dogs – the same with Senior foods and Light foods. If your dog gets the right amount of exercise and the right amount of food, then she will be the right energy and weight.
What matters with a puppy is that she is fed small amounts, frequently during the day, because her stomach is small. So a young puppy needs 4 meals a day, graduating down to 3 at 16 weeks. By 6 months, she should be on 2 meals a day.
WHEN TO FEED
Twice a day, morning and evening. Leave the bowl down for 10 minutes, and if she doesn’t finish her food, then pick it up. I would also be thinking of changing her diet if she doesn’t finish her food – it probably means she doesn’t like it. Saying that, if she is moving from a cheap food to a better quality one, you may find you need to add a quarter of a tin of sardines in oil (or even just the oil) for a while. Fish oil is very good for dogs, and I add it daily to mine. It will help with the transition from addictive sugars (which is why they’re added – to make the food more tasty) to proper, healthy food.
Leaving bowls down all day to allow your dog to ‘free feed’ doesn’t give the digestive tract a chance to rest. Dogs are like children, they’re not very good at self-regulating and their systems aren’t designed to ‘graze’.
If you feed twice a day, food becomes more important to your dog, rather than always available. This means that the dog that ‘won’t respond to treats’ suddenly becomes interested in them, because she can’t get food whenever she wants it.
RECOMMENDED COMPLETE FOODS
Bear in mind that manufacturer’s recommended amounts advised on the packet of food tend towards giving ‘more’ rather than ‘less’. They’re aimed at dogs getting quite a lot of exercise, and don’t consider the amount of treats that you will be giving your dog while on the Thinking-Dog Programme. When feeding your dog, reduce the amount suggested by between an eighth and a quarter.
This is my favourite kibble food, and we use it for sprinkles and training treats throughout the day at home. It has no ‘nasties’ in it, or any the known allergens that may affect dogs. We love it!
NATURE’S MENU – COUNTRY HUNTER POUCHES
This is one of the best grain free foods available and comes as a ‘wet’ food. It’s what we feed our dogs if we take them away on holiday anywhere that doesn’t have a freezer to store their raw food.
WAINWRIGHTS GRAIN FREE WET TRAYS
Wainwrights wet trays are a good food, without any ‘nasties’. The protein content is nice and low. Be sure to get the wet trays, though, rather than the dry kibble. The protein content in the kibble is far too high, at over 25%.
NATURE’S MENU RAW – FREE FLOW MINCE AND CHICKEN WINGS
This is what we feed our dogs in the Paws Den, along with ½ tsp of seaweed powder daily, salmon oil, coconut oil and Brewer’s Yeast daily. They are the healthiest bunch of hounds I’ve ever owned because of their raw diet, with visits to the vet down to ‘barely ever’ throughout their lives (Maggie has never been, at 5 yrs, other than for her first vaccinations)
If you would like advice on feeding raw, please let Fern know and I will guide you through the transition. There are other companies that provide raw food for dogs, but they all have unnecessary additives. DAF is to be avoided because the meat isn’t human grade and contains anti-biotics. Nature’s Menu is the most ethical company in the UK for raw, pure meat.
BARKING FISH N DELISH GRAIN FREE (trout and salmon)
This is an excellent food from Barking Heads, who are an ethical, British-based company. They source local products and their foods are of the highest quality.
This may be one of the most expensive foods that is available, but you do get what you pay for. It’s very, very good. If your dog can’t tolerate chicken, then I would feed Symply Salmon and Potato instead.
SYMPLY Salmon and Potato
This is a good quality food and can be bought from Pet’s Corner behind the Moorland Centre in Lincoln. Some dogs find it bland and don’t adapt to it, so only buy a small bag at first to see if it suits your dog. They do a small dog bite size version which suits puppies. I often buy a bag and use it for treats at home if I haven’t time to make my own – they’re not high enough value for taking on a walk, but they’re great for training at home. The new recipe does have beet in it – if you’re finding that your dog is still a bit hyper, then it could well be the beet, so changing to one of the other recommended foods is a good idea.
Protein – 22%
LILY’S KITCHEN Chicken and Duck.
An outstanding, British-made food with many health-giving ingredients. If you want to shop ethically, this is probably the best food you can get for your dog. It may be expensive, but being ethical costs, and this is a remarkable company with an excellent reputation
WAFCOL Salmon and Potato
This is a popular Grain-Free food that dogs seem to like. It’s reasonably-priced, available on-line and at stores such as Pets At Home. It comes in different sizes for small, medium and large, giant breeds. The protein content is a little higher, so avoid if you have a Grumbly/Scaredy/Fizzy dog.
Protein – 24%
Treats can also have hidden nasties, in fact many of them contain sugars. The best treats are natural, with no added colours or cereals.
Paddy wack (some dogs can find this to rich, so avoid if yours has a sensitive tummy)
Stag bar (deer horn)
Dried cow ears (less likely to upset tummies than pig ears)
Dried venison, chicken, liver (liver can be too rich for some dogs)
Dried lamb lung
These need to be small, tasty and smelly. Commercial treats are often full of nasties, are expensive to buy, and too dry to really be that appealing when you’re working with your dog. The following are described as ‘high value’ treats (really yummy). Take a pouch of these with you when you go out on a walk with your dog. It’s the difference between working for dry bread or chocolate!
Cheese, chicken, turkey, liver, liver cake, pilchard cake, veggie cake. Be aware of the salt content in cheese and ham. Some people use hotdog sausages, which are tasty but high in salt and cereal.
I buy cow ears, dried sprats and lambs ears from Ebay in bulk, which makes them more economical.
© Fern Ember Dog Behaviour 2014
Reviews.com have assessed the safety of common ingredients in dog foods available in the UK and USA.
A Guide to Safe (and Unsafe) Dog Food Ingredients
Dog food has become a controversial topic over the years due to many recalls and lack of industry regulations. Because of this, dog owners need to do their due diligence checking ingredients labels. The team at Reviews.com spent over 1,000 hours researching dog foods to determine which ingredients were not only safe, but also healthy for dogs. Here is an excerpt from their review:
Bad Ingredients, Poor Health
Just verifying all the ingredients in your food are “safe” doesn’t mean they are optimal or even healthy for your best friend. Dogs need the right combination of protein, fat, moisture, fiber, and nutrients to live healthy, happy lives. The wrong ingredients in the wrong combinations can lead to a host of health problems, both physical and mental.
Digestive problems, including bloat and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are symptomatic of poor ingredients that don’t contain enough whole, unprocessed foods. Food allergies can also lead to digestive issues — many of the experts we reached out to have seen evidence that dogs are sensitive to wheat and corn, both popular fillers.
Obesity is on the rise in dogs. One main reason for this is overfeeding, but many of the experts we talked to were quick to point out that poor grain-based ingredients are also to blame.
Physical problems are only half of it. There was a unanimous consensus among trainers and behaviorists we talked to that poor diet causes mental health issues in dogs, including poor temperament and lack of focus. Marc Abraham elaborates: “Certain popular pet food brands on the market contain extra colorings, additives, and E numbers that, in my opinion, can affect behavior, leading to hyperactivity and difficulty with training.”
Good Ingredients and How They Relate to Your Dog
However, many ingredients can’t simply be divided into “good” or “bad.” Some are downright controversial. Beet pulp, for instance, is a common binding agent found in many dog foods, but many conscientious consumers avoid it over concerns of digestive health issues. There is no scientific research as of yet to back this up, but the experts we talked to unanimously agreed: It’s best to avoid it.
Not only do ingredients matter, but also having the right combinations and ratios of ingredients matters. There’s an oft-quoted statistic that claims good dog foods contain 30 percent protein and 18 percent fat, with enough side nutritional content — omega-3s, vitamins, and fiber — to round out your dog’s diet. The experts we talked to disagree. To them, it’s really what’s best for your individual dog. “Protein is very important for your dog, but there are instances, such as old age or liver issues, where your dog should be on a lower-protein diet,” says Dog Files creator Kenn Bell. “Make sure you have a conversation with your veterinarian.”
To see the rest of their research, check out their full guide: