Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Feeding the Dog

In the dog world, there are two things which will predictably provoke arguments: training methods and dog food. I’ve spent a lot of time discussing training on this blog, I haven’t really talked about what I feed my dog, so let’s do that today!

Maisy’s diet is kind of complicated. I feed a combination of kibble, pre-made/frozen raw, and whole/bone-in meats. Maisy also gets some fruits and veggies, both cooked/pureed and fresh, and of course, she has a supplement cocktail, too. So, not only is there a fair amount of variety, but I further complicate matters by keeping track of the rough amount of calories I’m feeding.

“Normal” people think this is excessive, but the truth is, I feed the way I do for a reason. I think the part that throws people the most is the calorie counting, but honestly, I think it’s the most important part. Argue all you want about the comparative benefits and risks of raw, kibble or home-cooked, but when it comes down to it, the best thing you can do for your dog is to keep her at a healthy weight. This is doubly true for performance dogs, as well as the long-backed among us. Both kinds are at risk of injuries, especially to their joints, and since Maisy has already had some back issues at the tender age of three, it is especially important that I keep her slim. And, at 17.2 pounds, she is on the slender side of normal. There is absolutely no excess fat on this dog, anywhere.

Okay, on to what I feed. The anecdotal evidence for raw food is pretty overwhelming, and in fact, my vet recommended that I consider switching to raw. My problem is that there are a lot of ideas of how to feed raw, with very little science to back up which way is best. This makes me hesitant to start with, but even more nerve-wracking for me is the idea of balancing the calcium to phosphorous levels, not to mention all of the other nutrients. As a result, I tend to favor the pre-made raw mixes that meet the AAFCO definitions of a “complete and balanced” food.

My favorite pre-made raw food is Primal. I chose it primarily because of the size and shape: it fits perfectly in a medium Kong, and Maisy gets one or two cubes every day for breakfast. She eats the duck variety, a flavor I picked for a couple of reasons. The most important consideration is that Maisy has food allergies to lamb and eggs (she’s also allergic to a whole host of environmental factors, ranging from grasses to wool to human dander, a fact I don’t believe I’ve mentioned on this blog before). Anyway, while many of the pre-made raw products include eggs, Primal doesn’t. It’s also one of their lower-calorie options, coming in at approximately 50 calories per ounce. And finally, it’s generally considered a “cooling” food in Chinese Medicine, and although I’m not entirely sure I believe in that, people I respect do, and since all of Maisy’s issues (physical and reactivity-wise) are ones that would be blamed on a heat imbalance, I’m willing to try it. Even if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t hurt, either.

For supper, she gets kibble in a food toy. I probably wouldn’t feed kibble at all, but Maisy loves the toys, and they provide her with valuable mental stimulation, so we keep them. Most of the time, she gets Taste of the Wild- Pacific Stream, which is a grain-free, fish based kibble. Maisy loves fish, and it’s generally considered a cooling food. Depending on what else she ate that day (including number of treats, and whether or not she asked for extra at breakfast), she’ll either get one-third of a cup (120 calories) or one-half of a cup (180 calories). Sometimes, though, I’ll give her Wellness CORE: Ocean instead. This product is also a fish-based, grain-free kibble. It has more calories, so she only gets one-third of a cup, for 150 calories.

I also add in some fresh foods. Although this isn’t “complete and balanced,” Monica Segal says you can replace up to one-fourth or so of your dog’s daily calories with other foods without unbalancing the diet. This includes treats, of course, but I use such small treats that it doesn’t make up that much of Maisy’s diet.

Once or twice a week, I’ll give her some raw meat, usually chicken quarters because I can pick them up cheap. I usually remove about half of the skin and any excess fat, plus I usually cut the quarters into three, with the goal being a 3-4 ounce portion. I do feed it bone-in, and although that was scary at first, she’s had no problems crunching through, and honestly, it’s kind of cool to watch her use her teeth the way nature intended. Sometimes she’ll get a bit of extra beef or turkey instead- whatever I’m eating that night.

Whenever I have leftover veggies, or just veggies I need to get rid of before they go bad, I’ll cook and puree them, then put them in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, they fit well in the Kong, and at 10-15 calories, make a perfect snack on the days she asks for more food. I’ve also done this with canned pumpkin and even ground turkey.

And that’s what I feed my dog. I don’t know that it’s the “perfect” diet, but I’m very comfortable with what she’s eating. I feel like she’s getting a nice variety of foods, and I don’t worry about there being a possible imbalance of nutrients like I used to. Best of all, Maisy loves everything she gets, and she’s very healthy right now. And really, what more could a girl want?

Anyway, I’d love to hear about what you’re feeding your dogs. Do you feed a “complicated” diet, or do you trend towards something simpler? And why do you choose what you do? Let me know!


Jen said...

great post - I love reading about WHY people feed what they do... not just WHAT they feed.

I'm a true foodie with my dogs, though fostering other dogs gets in the way sometimes... so we resort to kibble during those times.

like your dog - mine seem to thrive (or at least prefer) fish based, grain free kibble. Right now they are eating Acana Pacifica. They were on EVO herring, but then they sold to P&G.

They also get some raw - I often get good deals on Nature's Variety Venison/Lamb because its near impossible to find Primal local to us. I also make patties myself now that I have a grinder... they'll get beef meat/raw smelt/turkey all ground together with some chicken feet or necks as a meal. I'll ground up spinach, apples, kelp, carrots, peas, sweet potato, alfalfa and garlic too and mix it with kefir - they LOVE it.

I have also cooked the above (minus the necks/feet) and made it into a hearty meatloaf if we're traveling or if someone else has to feed my dogs for me.

I don't watch calories- though I should. I watch for allergies and sensitivities mostly which is why we are grain free (as much as possible).

Crystal said...

I think watching for allergies and sensitivities is incredibly important. I ended up spending the Big Bucks to get an allergy test done on Maisy (the environmental allergies were screwing with the food trials, plus... eggs! That one would have been hard to figure out), so I don't worry too much, as long as I avoid lamb and eggs.

As for counting calories... I admit I'm a bit obsessive, but my vet and I wanted Maisy to lose two pounds, so it was the easiest way for me to do it. If your dogs are maintaining a healthy weight, I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I feed kibble. While i would love to feed raw there are a lot of factors why I don't. Mainly cost since I don't feel like I know enough to do it myself I would want to get the pre-made stuff.
Another big reason is training time. Training the dogs at meal time is one way I force myself to train on a regular basis and getting rid of their kibble would make that very difficult! A last reason is I'm vegetarian and really don't want to handle all that meat :)

Right now the boys eat Natural Balance since Vito might (???) have some allergies so we switched over to their duck and potato from Canidae. We are now in the process of switching to Taste of the Wild and seeing how Vito does. I mainly pick my foods by quality plus my discounts. I can now get Taste of the Wild really cheap so I hope it works!

Crystal said...

The pre-made stuff is not cheap. I can do it with one small dog who eats it as half of her intake. With more than one dog, or a larger dog, it would not be as affordable.

Oooh, I hope Vito doesn't have allergies. I guess it wouldn't be the end of the world- once I figured out Maisy's allergies, it's been fairly easy to manage- but one mistake makes life kind of miserable for her. :(

I love the Taste of the Wild- it's really reasonably priced for the quality. One of my cat eats it for his "crunchy" meal (he eats canned for the other).

Anonymous said...

It sounds like Maisy gets the best of both worlds!

Layla is allergic to chicken, turkey, soy, corn, barley, flaxseed, and peas. She also reacts to any kibble/processed food as if it were an allergen, even if the ingredients sound okay. My vet suggested that this is due to cross-contamination with the equipment.

Due to this, she gets a raw diet with very occasional canned. I do keep kibble on hand as a back-up in case I run out, and she seems to do okay with no more than 5-10 pieces of kibble 3-5 times a week in a puzzle toy.

Like you, I also believe that keeping her lean is the most important aspect of her diet. She gets 4-5oz of food twice a day, depending on her activity level. She's healthy at 28-32 pounds, depending again on her activity level (when she's more active she's more muscular, and muscle weighs more than fat so her weight goes up). I like to be able to see her last 3 ribs or so, and feel all of her ribs easily.

She gets:
30% raw meaty bones (duck necks, lamb necks, pork necks or ribs, canned salmon or jack mackeral, beef ribs, oxtails)
10% liver/kidney (lamb kidney or beef liver)
10% or more beef heart
2-5% veggie mush (yogurt, coconut oil, and apple cidar vinegar mixed with pureed or cooked veggies)
45% muscle meat (duck hearts, hamburger, ground venison, pork chops, beef tongue, tripe, and other meaty cuts depending on what's on sale)

When she gets canned food once or twice a week, she gets a 5.5oz can of Tripett (beef, lamb, or venison tripe), California Natural cat food (there are a couple flavors that are okay for her), or Evo 95% meat cat food.

I also give her Cosequin and fish oil daily.

Initially her diet was a LOT of work, but now that I've got the hang of it it's really not a big deal. About once a month I spend 2-3 hours weighing and packaging up meat into single-serving bags, which I can then just dump out at mealtimes. Initially her food was also quite expensive, but now that I can buy in bulk I end up paying about $1.00/pound: cheaper than most high-quality kibbles.

Switching her to raw is one of the best things I've ever done for her. Her chronic ear infections, which she'd had since I adopted her at 16 weeks, finally cleared up. Her coat grew in thicker and silkier, and she doesn't shed as much. Her skin is no longer red and dry, and if I'm careful to keep her off processed food/treats, she doesn't leak urine. I've also learned so much about foods through her. For example, tocopherals and canola oil can come from soy, and linseed is another name for flax.

Duke, the Labradork, still eats kibble (we rotate brands, right now he's on Evo red meat), but I'm slowly switching him to raw as well. My hope is that getting him onto raw will help his urinary issues (he's become prone to infections as he's aging) and hip dysplasia. Carbs/starches promote inflammation, so I'm really hoping that getting him off all carbs/starches will help him to feel more comfortable. He has trouble digesting bone, so we're taking it very slowly and using digestive enzymes to help him make the transition. The cat gets canned food with some pre-made raw.

Lindsay said...

Both of my dogs are fed a raw diet. Though the variety that I add in daily and their supplements are varied. They have their basic mixture of chicken, turkey, and beef parts that I bag up after buying in bulk from the butchers. Then throughout the week I rotate in raw eggs, fish, and whatever veggies I'm steaming for us to eat that night. For training treats, the dogs really enjoy kibble and it's really the perfect size for this. I have found that they LOVE the Tast of the Wild kibble. Even though it's a training treat and sort of "candy," I still wanted it to be decent and I wanted grain free. Though I do throw in store bought dog treats in special situations as special treats to get more of their attention.

Anonymous said...

Ira's breakfast is a raw mix made by Feed This! It's organic meat and organs mixed with local organic veggies. Expensive, but since I'm able to afford it, it's worth it. For dinner he gets bones -- I give him chicken feet and wings since those bones are softer and easier to digest. When he was eating necks he would still poop out undigested pieces.

He has been SO itchy for the last couple of months and I think I'm going to have to take him to the dermatologist at UC Davis again. I've been putting it off but he's not getting any better... :(

Crystal said...

Sara- Layla DOES look great. I've always admired how sleek and shiny she is! Maisy will never look like that- the wiry coat just prevents it. When she's wet, though, she looks a good 5 pounds lighter! :) What do you use for training treats for her?

Lindsay- I agree that training treats should still be healthy, and I love that you and Laura use kibble to train. I do that, as well, but I also use a lot of other stuff. I really need to write about reinforcers, because there's so much I use with Maisy.

Krecik- I hope Ira's feeling better soon! You've taken him to the dermatologist before? What did you learn then?

Jules said...

I just discovered your blog and food and supplements are one of my favorite subjects. I feed both my boys raw and add supplements. We do a variety of Primal, NV (only the rabbit), Oma’s, duck necks, and other assorted bones. One boy (Bug) is allergic to beef, chicken, and duck eggs; the other boy (Ike) is allergic to lamb and venison. Needless to say they do not eat the exact same diet which certainly makes it more complicated and my freezer tighter.

I keep both boys at what I call xylophone weight – I can feel all their ribs. Lean dogs live longer and Bug is of the long-backed variety. I am not obsessive about calories, I add ounces based on how their ribs feel. Unfortunately I am trying to finish Bug’s breed championship and had to add a bit of weight to him. To do that I added some carbs to his diet (brown rice and steel cut oatmeal). Those in the conformation world think he is still too skinny, but I feel like he’s lost his ribs!

For low-value training treats I use Zukes Salmon Mini-Naturals. For high value I use Buffalo Bites, canned Evangers in a squeeze tube, baked pork, and dehydrated fish of some sort (usually Bravo!). I avoid cheese with Bug because it is a dampening food and his acupuncturist thinks he has stagnant liver qi, but Ike is a big fan of low-fat string cheese.

I am looking forward to reading more of your blog. Great post!

Lauren said...

I feed Frodo TOTW Pacific Stream right now. I feed it because I can't afford to feed raw the way that I want right now, and because I use it to train. Because Frodo is on a diet (for all the reasons you listed above), and since a lot of exercise isn't an option now, food is my best bet for getting him to drop some pounds. He gets 2/3 cup of food a day and rarely do I give him any extras.

Frodo was raw fed a few years ago and I loved everything about it (even preparing it), once we don't need to use all his calories for training and I can afford it, I am definitely going to swap him back over.

Crystal said...

Hi, Jules! Welcome to my blog. :)

I just checked yours out, and it looks great. We do a lot of chiropractic, homeopathic, TCM type of stuff, too! :)

I like your description of "xylophone" weight- that's exactly what I do, too. I like to feel ribs, and when my fluffy dog's wet, I like to see a nice waist tuck, from above and the side.

I'd really like to get a chest freezer so I can do more raw. I saw a great deal this weekend, but I've used up the alloted dog food space in the freezer and couldn't buy any more. :(

elegy said...

I'm an unapologetic kibble feeder. And not grain free even right now (I'm not particularly comfortable with the super high protein grain free diets because I don't think that level of *dry, processed* protein is good).

Ideally I'd feed raw but I can't afford it, I don't have space to buy in bulk, and I'm not any more comfortable putting supermarket meats into them than I am putting good quality kibble into them, so I go for the ease of kibble (though I always float it with water). Would that I could buy in bulk from a good, ethical supplier and feed them all raw, but that's not possible on my paycheck right now.

Once upon a time, I fed completely raw (frankenprey style) and the dogs did well on it, but in all honesty, I haven't seen a significant change in them being kibble fed (with the exception of bigger poops). They're still fit and trim and shiny and have good teeth.

Variety being the spice of life, I do add a lot of stuff to their bowls- fruit, yogurt, raw eggs with shell. Mom gives me her freezer-burned meat sometimes. (I don't eat meat so I don't have it around for scraps/leftovers).

I don't watch calories exactly, but I am careful to keep them all trim. Mushroom is heavier than I'd like, but he's super super annoying when he's thinner, so I let him be the weight he is (he'd like to weigh twice that please) and am content. Luce I am especially careful to keep thin because of her bad knees, and the BC I have trouble keeping weight on because he never stops moving.

Crystal said...

So you made me look up the protein levels in Maisy's food. Taste of the Wild (her primary kibble) has 25% protein, and the Wellness CORE (used once or twice a week) has 34%... both of which seem reasonable to me. The Primal is a teeny-tiny 13%!

Incidentally, I have a cat like Mushroom: heavier than I like, but annoying when not eating, so... yeah.

The Benevolent Dictator said...

I love this post! I am as obsessed with the animals' nutrition as I am with our nutrition. But I think you hit the nail on the head by saying that whatever else you do, DON'T let them get overweight. Every time we go to the vet, they tell me how wonderful it is to see animals who are not overweight - I get the feeling it is an all-too-rare experience for them.

Lots to think about in here - thanks. :-)

Anonymous said...

Training treats: processed foods make Layla leak, but I can usually get by with using a few processed treats as long as I'm careful. She gets a variety depending on what's on sale that doesn't contain common allergens. Mostly, I use Premier's Liver Biscotti small bites since I can get it in 5-lb bags.

Other than the few processed treats, she gets string cheese, organic grass-fed nitrate/nitrite free hot dogs, and various cooked meats. I just see what's on sale, cook it, rinse it well with cold water to get off any excess fat, and cut it up. I try to cut treats up every other month or so and package it up in little contains which I freeze.

Besides treats, I also use a lot of other rewards. Treats probably make up about half of the rewards Layla earns in training. The other half are toys (currently not using any because of her neck issues), being cued to do another known behavior, and real-life rewards.

Please do write about what you use as reinforcements for Maisy!

Megan said...

Can you read my mind and blog from it more often please?

I feed raw, kibbles, and canned. I fed raw exclusively (to everyone, cats included) for a couple months a couple years ago. It ended when I went back to school and had to leave critters with the mother-force.

Right now the dogs are eating Fromm (because I'm lucky enough to have friends who go in on a lot with me so I'm getting it for less than $1/pound, how much less depends on variety). I've fed the Salmon for years, but am slowly switching to the Duck.

I feed franken-prey raw when I can (I try for a couple times a week, it's been a couple weeks though since our last feeding... uhoh) and they (everyone) get eggs at least a couple times a week.

Canned food goes in Kongs to occupy dogs.

Treats? Zukes, string cheese, NB roll, chicken, liver, whatever I find in the fridge that looks like a good training treat!