I often get asked what I feed my own dog, Odie. With my interest in nutritional therapies I have formulated several home-made diets tailored specifically to patients I have treated. I am a huge advocate of feeding whole foods to our pets as I believe that fresh, whole foods can provide nutritional benefits to some pets that may not be realized through the feeding of processed dog food alone. More and more clients coming through my door take their pet’s nutrition very seriously and spend a lot of time researching and selecting what they feed their pet. There is such a wide variety of diets available, and just as wide a variety of opinions on what is best to feed, that it can be difficult to sort through all the various marketing hype in order to make a truly informed decision. What about grain free, raw versus cooked, processed versus home-made, the presence of by-products, corn or soy, buying from a pet specialty store versus the grocery store and those veterinary diets my vet is always trying to sell me.
When discussing the best diet for my patients I often start by mentioning that most of the information we receive about pet nutrition comes from those wishing to market their specific product, whether that be a pet food retailer, manufacturer or veterinarian. Yes, as veterinarians we do market our products and services. I like to believe that we do so with the best motives, that is to inform owners of those products and services we offer that can truly benefit their beloved companions. However, if I suggest that a particular type of diet or brand is the best for every pet that comes to my clinic I am likely being a bit disingenuous. That is why at Guelph Animal Hospital we believe so strongly in individualized veterinary care and this applies to our nutritional recommendations for each of our patients. No two people or two dogs/cats are necessarily alike. Many pets have no problems with diets containing moderate amounts of grains such as wheat or corn while others may have specific sensitivities to these or other ingredients. Some pets with allergies cannot tolerate any commercial pet foods and must be fed home cooked or prepared frozen whole food diets their whole lives. Others with particular disorders may do much better on whole food diets, raw foods or grain free diets. Some may require low fat, low protein, high protein, high moisture or nutrient specific diets depending on their medical condition. Your veterinarian is probably the best equipped to provide nutritional advice when he or she takes your pet’s unique needs into consideration based on the current state of health.
So, now back to what I feed Odie. Let me start by telling you a little about Odie. He is a five year old, neutered Border Collie/Shepherd cross. He is in great physical condition, has a beautiful coat, goes for hikes several times a week and has not had any medical concerns other than a very small amount of dental tartar (because we are not very good at brushing his teeth on a regular basis). For his whole life I have fed him primarily Medi-Cal/Royal Canin veterinary diets. We started with a specific diet for puppies then switched to an adult preventive diet and in the last couple years we have been feeding him primarily a dental diet to help keep his teeth clean. In addition, almost every evening since he has been a puppy, we give him fresh vegetables (raw and cooked) as well as a variety of fruits and cooked meats. On average 20% of his evening meal includes these fresh whole food ingredients, based on what we may be eating that particular evening. I avoid giving him starches such as breads, biscuits, potatoes or rice since his dry kibble already contains enough carbohydrates. That means on a daily average 90% of his diet is a balanced high quality kibble and 10% is made up of a variety of fresh whole foods. If more than 10% of the diet is made up of whole foods I recommend to my clients that they should follow a balanced whole food recipe.
In theory it would be great if we all could take the time and prepare a balanced whole food diet for our pets. However, for many of us this is just not practical. Some of my alternative focused clients, and my holistic oriented veterinary colleagues, may be surprised that I feed my dog processed kibble when I often advocate for whole food diets in some of my patients. I did mention that Odie was in great health and he along with other dogs I have owned have lived very full and healthy lives on just such a dietary regime. Should he ever require it I hope I would find the time to prepare a more specialized diet for him but I am confident that he is currently getting all the nutrients he requires.
Rob Butler DVM, CVA, CVCH, CVFT