Deciding what to feed your dog – or anyone in your care for that matter – isn’t something you should take lightly. Apart from exercise and mental health, diet is the biggest contributor to wellbeing. Feeding a healthy dog food is really important.
The eating habits we set up can mean the difference between a long and healthy life and programming our loved ones for failure. I’d like to share with you some of the most important principles that I apply in pursuit of the perfect canine diet.
I lead by example; all three of my dogs are lean, healthy and energy filled cuddle-monsters. My aim is to inspire you to produce your own dog’s meals.
If you’re happy with the current food you’re feeding, then incorporating even some of these suggestions will benefit your dog.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Do what you can, when you can. Some change is better than no change.
Here are my top 15 tips to improve your dog’s diet today…
1. Discard the marketing hype and take the label test
No matter how entertaining, relying on advertisements for nutritional information is not ideal.
Why? Because the people that produce the ads didn’t formulate the food. Their job is to make even the worst products appear healthy.
Carefully examining the labels on your dog’s food and treats will help you make more informed purchases.
Product labels always list the ingredients in order, from the largest to the smallest.
Google-search each of the first five ingredients. First, type in each ingredient followed by “bad for dogs” and then “good for dogs.” The results may surprise you. When you start researching, you’ll soon see why I’m against prescription foods sold by vets.
They may suit a diagnosed condition but can cause many other problems (and that’s not even taking into account the cooking processes or packaging).
Discuss the ingredients with the person or company recommending the products. If they can’t explain what each ingredient is, its source, why and how it’s good for dogs, then rely on your own research and judgment.
2. Avoid feeding shelf-stable foods as a staple diet
Thanks to clever marketing, the average consumer often overlooks the alarming reasons why processed food has a 12 to 24 month shelf life.
Marketing has conditioned us to believe that shelf-stable foods provide everything dogs need to live long and healthy lives.
Actually, the opposite is true. While there will always be the rare exception to the rule, don’t count on your dog being one of them.
Shelf-stable products have no live enzymes due to their industrial cooking processes. Learn more about dog lice.
They’re dead foods that rely on synthetic supplementation to meet the supposedly “balanced” nutritional standards set out by AAFCO.
My gripe with these products is not that they exist, but the way they’re marketed … as a staple, daily diet.
After all, if we could pack all the nutrition the body needs for optimum health into a pellet or a can, then there would be thousands of companies out there producing human “food” and promoting it as a staple diet.
Biscuits, kibble and canned foods have their place – in shelters, charities, on long trips, or on occasions when we’re pressed for time – but they should not be fed as a staple diet.
3. Introduce fresh whole foods
Fresh whole foods such as vegetables and fruit are full of live enzymes and will add a new dimension to your dog’s health.
Whole foods are also full of fiber, which aids digestion, encourages pooping and improves stools.
Many of the nutrients are destroyed by the cooking processes that create shelf-stable foods. So the manufacturers add synthetic nutrients back into the products.
These nutrients are synthetic imitations of those found in nature … and this is the vast difference between whole foods and industrially-produced foods.
Unlike most synthetic nutrients, whole foods contain nutritional co-factors that work synergistically to help the body absorb, assimilate and make use of nutrients.
You are not simply what you eat, but more importantly, you are what you can absorb.
Do your own research on safe whole foods for dogs.
There are certain fruits and vegetables that dogs must avoid; also, you’ll be amazed at which parts of the vegetables are the most nutritious. For example, broccoli stems contain more nutrients than the head, and beetroot leaves are full of goodness.
Puree vegetables for maximum nutrient absorption or feed whole as a bone substitute for teeth and gum maintenance.
4. Feed a variety of ingredients rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties
Inflammation is a major cause of disease so it’s important to research all ingredients in your dog’s diet, along with the manufacturing processes.
Inflammation is the leading cause of premature aging, not only in dogs, but in people, too.
As you’re probably now aware, processed commercial foods are inherently inflammatory. Pancreatitis and arthritis are common when you feed processed food too often.
If you must use commercial food it’s best to at least offset its ill effects by adding naturally anti-inflammatory whole foods into the mix.
Whole foods high in antioxidants also help reduce inflammation in the body.
Keep your dog young and healthy by feeding a variety of whole foods that are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
5. Avoid cooking meats
All species on the planet eat raw food except for humans.
When we cook our food to please our palates, we lose many beneficial nutrients.
It’s the same when we cook food for our dogs. While certain whole foods may release more nutrients once cooked, it’s best to avoid cooking meat for your dog whenever possible.
Irrespective of the stated nutritional values, here’s one of many reasons why commercial pet foods are fundamentally flawed.
According to Michael Greger MD:
“When the muscles of mammals, fish, or birds are cooked at high temperatures. carcinogenic chemicals called heterocyclic amines are created that may increase the risk of breast, colon, lung, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. Risky cooking methods don’t just include barbecuing. frying and grilling. Even just baking chicken at around 350 degrees F for 15 minutes leads to significant production of these cancer-causing compounds.”
If you prefer to cook meat for your dog, just lightly sear it instead of cooking it through.
Related: Can Cooked Dog Food Cause Allergies?
6. Use certified organic vegetables and fruit when possible
Many of the non-organic fruit and vegetables on the market are genetically modified, and with no labeling laws in place it’s impossible to know exactly what we and our dogs are eating.
Although approved for human consumption, evidence suggests that genetically modified foods are not safe.
If you’re concerned for the wellbeing of your family and pets, I encourage you to investigate the GMO issue for yourself.
“The process of genetic engineering can disrupt the functioning of the DNA in dramatic ways – it can turn genes off, permanently turn them on, change their levels of expression, and create all sorts of unpredicted allergies, toxins, carcinogens, nutrient problems etc.”
Jeffrey Smith, Author, Seeds of Deception
Dogs’ lifespans are typically about one-eighth the length of human lifespans.
The health problems we see emerging in dogs exposed to GM foods today will no doubt be seen in people in many years to come.
Findings show that 5th and 6th generation offspring of lab mice are affected by the genetically modified food consumed by their ancestors.
7. Wash non-organic produce in apple cider vinegar
We can’t always afford or find organic produce so we have to make what we can get safer.
Plants produce allelochemicals, which help prevent toxic substances including pesticides from penetrating their surface.
You can scrub the pesticides off non-organic fruit and vegetables with a clean soft brush while soaking them in one part apple cider vinegar and four parts water for a minute, then rinsing.
Related: 3 Simple Ways Apple Cider Vinegar Can Help Your Dog
8. Avoid gluten
Have you ever joked about how smelly your dog’s farts and poops are?
Many dry pet foods contain gluten meal. This dried residue made from corn is added to pet food to prevent inferior, unstable fats from becoming rancid; this causes waste products to be retained and can strain the liver and kidneys.
Corn gluten even in small quantities may harm your dog’s organs; to make matters worse, GMO corn is often used in pet food.