Diet & Nutrition

How to Feed Your Dog

There is no "one right way" to feed your dog. Period.

Like humans, individual dogs can have different nutritional needs. Even in the same family, one dog can thrive on Food-A while the 2nd dog eating the same thing in the same household has constant GI issues or chronic skin conditions.

This is the modern world we live in. Humans and canines alike have drifted far away from the diets we evolved eating over hundreds of thousands of years. It’s only been in the last 60-70 years that most dogs in this country are being fed highly processed commercial dog foods containing ingredients that canines never ate before. Ever. (And in terms of evolutionary history, 60 years is the blink-of-an-eye.)

It’s the most popular question I get — “What’s the best food to feed my dog?"

Canine nutrition is an absolutely huge subject with a lot of opposing opinions on EVERYTHING — just like with human food. You need to educate yourself, experiment with your dog to find out what works best for him, and in the end, you have to do what you think is right for you, your budget and your lifestyle.

Here’s how to start:

#1 - Don't feed the same food month after month. Your dog NEEDS variety.

      • There is too much risk of your dog missing out on one or many more micronutrients he needs to be healthy. You wouldn't feed your kid the same thing every day for life -- don't do it to your dog.

      • THIS is the most important tip of ALL -- don't feed the same food month after month!

#2 - It's not enough to just switch varieties within a company -- SWITCH BRANDS too.

      • Many companies use similar formulas for their various products. Just as there is no one-perfect-diet to feed people, the same goes for dogs. Dogs are individuals too. Give your dog a variety so that over the course of a year he has the chance to utilize the nutrients and micronutrients HE NEEDS from the widest array of HEALTHY food ingredients possible.

#3 - The easiest way to get a variety is to simply buy a different HIGH-QUALITY dog food every time you need a new supply.

      • Find 2 or 3 different companies making high-quality dog food your dog does well on, and rotate every time you buy between those companies and their varieties. Over the course of a year that's a LOT of variety. This applies no matter what you feed -- dry-kibble, canned or raw.

      • Some dogs need to be transitioned slowly from one food to the next. If that's the case with your dog, just take your time and spend the last week with the old supply mixing it with increasing amounts from the new supply.

          • The more your dog gets used to eating different foods, the easier it will be to switch. MANY dogs have no trouble switching from the old to new food in one meal.

      • There is NO one-dog-food that is best for every dog. Dogs are individuals, and like people, you need to do some experimenting to find out what is best for YOUR dog. (See #8 below.) But he still NEEDS a variety!!

      • You get what you pay for in dog food. Cheap dog food is loaded with cheap ingredients and lots of fillers. Marketing Departments earn their salaries making cheap dog food sound like something you'd like to serve at your own table. :)

#4 - The easiest way to find new high-quality dog food is to get some advice from someone who really knows dog food.

      • My top choice for nutrition advice in my geographic area is Jody Page, the owner of Pages Healthy Paws in Lake Zurich, IL. Jody is highly educated and experienced in canine nutrition and knows more about dog food than anyone I know. Stop in her store and let her advise you on the best choices for your particular dog.

      • Pages carries only high-quality pet foods -- dry, canned & raw -- so do yourself and your dog a favor and see what they have to offer you.

#5 - For those people who want to learn more about dog food -- or anything else about dogs in general -- subscribe to The Whole Dog Journal (WDJ).

      • WDJ has an entire section devoted to DOG FOOD and has many in-depth articles in print and online about canine nutrition. They also evaluate and rate different dog food brands.

      • WDJ's website is super educational for dog owners with information you can trust.

      • WDJ is a terrific resource for everything you want to know about diet, nutrition, health care, training, dog equipment reviews and more. WDJ is like Consumer Reports for dogs -- NO advertising, just unbiased reporting.

      • WDJ is a monthly magazine (in print and online) for a very low subscription price. It's appropriate for both beginners and experienced veteran dog owners. You don't even have to be a subscriber to start learning at the WDJ website. Check it out.

#6 - Here's an excellent short article about the necessity to switch foods and brands often.

#7 - How do I determine whether my dog is "doing well" on a food?

  • "Doing well" means your dog has a normal stool. "Normal" is NOT mushy, watery, blood flecked, overly stinky, or of huge volume. A normal stool should (more or less) keep its shape when you pick it up. If it passes out of your dog with the consistency of ketchup or tomato paste, that is definitely not ideal.

      • If your dog's digestive tract was able to utilize more of the nutrition in his food there would be less waste for him to excrete and his stool would be able to hold its shape upon exiting (barring other issues that might affect stool consistency). Generally, the larger your dog's stools are means that more of the food he is eating is passing through his body as undigestible. (And "undigestible" means that he can't get the nutrition he needs out of those parts.)

      • Lower quality kibble/dry-food is famous for large, voluminous, stinky stools. Kibble contains grains, potatoes and/or legumes -- the amounts of which vary greatly between recipes. The canine digestive tract is not designed to deal with "carbs", so they pretty much pass through undigested. As a rule of thumb, the lowest quality foods produce the largest volume of stool.

      • Dogs do not NEED "carbs". The carbs are there so processed kibble can hold its shape as it is baked into kibble-shapes.

          • NOTE -- there are definitely higher quality kibble and lower quality kibble. You need to learn how to read labels in order to choose a healthier food for your dog. See #8 below.

      • Again, Marketing Departments earn their salaries making dog food sound like something you'd like to serve at your own table.

  • "Doing well" means no chronic skin issues or ear infections. A better diet can often clear up those issues.

  • "Doing well" means your dog has a healthy looking coat. It also means he just seems bright and healthy and happy.

  • Just as in humans, if there is a health issue of some sort, a better diet can go a long way to solving the root cause of that issue.

  • OVERALL, there is a BIG difference between "doing okay" and THRIVING.

#8 - How to read Dog Food Labels

Things to keep in mind: Aside from the actual ingredients list, everything else you read on the bag comes from a marketing team whose job it is to make this food sound so good to humans that you’d want to serve it at your own table. :) All their claims are anywhere from useless to misleading. It’s their job to sell whatever is in the bag. Unfortunately there is no government oversight on this… unless they are claiming their food cures cancer. :)

  • Here’s a website that will teach you how to read and understand the ingredients list on a dog food bag.

  • Dog Food companies will use every trick in the book to make their foods sound better than they are. The link (above) gives you a page that will really help you understand those ingredients lists. The rest of the website is also very informative and they rate hundreds of dog food brands and formulas. Personally, I’d stick with the 5 & 6 star stuff — BUT just because it’s highly rated doesn’t automatically mean that your dogs will thrive on it. Different dogs have different needs, so you need to take your time and experiment with small bags of food and see what works for your dogs.

  • Dogs are primarily carnivores and they don’t have the enzymes in their digestive tracts to be able to digest a lot of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates (grains, legumes, & potatoes, etc) are a main ingredient in dry dog foods because they are required in the manufacturing process to be able to make the ingredients stick together in kibble form. They are not there for nutrition (regardless of what the bag says) -- they are there as filler to keep the food in kibble shapes. Fillers are also conveniently cheap -- imagine that! The lower quality foods have a lot of grains and/or legumes in there as fillers and the more they contain, the less nutrition your dogs can get from what they eat. All the undigestible filler comes out the other end as poop. The bigger the poops, the lower the quality of the food is because all that filler is just passing through and your dog does NOT get the nutritional building blocks you think he’s getting.

  • A lot of higher quality foods will have much more ANIMAL-proteins (meat-protein) in the first 6 ingredients which tends to indicate that the food offers higher nutritional value for dogs. The link to the article above will educate you on just how many tricks manufacturers use to make it sound like there is more meat and less filler — but once you learn how to spot these deceptions, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out what the better foods are.

#9 - What do I feed my own dogs?

  • Over the years I've fed my dogs many things. In the last two decades I've come to believe a raw diet is the way to go for a lot of reasons. It's what dogs evolved eating and my modern day dogs have done exceptionally well on it.

  • You can feed "raw" two ways -- home prepared or a commercial preparation.

      • You can follow a recipe and make your own at home -- HOWEVER it is crucial that you learn to prepare food that is actually complete and balanced for a canine. Home-made natural diets can also be cooked if you don't want to handle and feed raw meat. Here's a book to get you started. Raw & Natural Nutrition for Dogs In my opinion this is "The Bible" on this subject. See my LINKS page for more information about nutrition information sources.

      • "Raw" is also available commercially from many manufacturers who follow a variety of complete and balanced recipes. Shop at a high-end, natural foods pet food store like Pages Healthy Paws for the best selection.

  • Raw is available in convenient frozen packages in patties for larger dogs and “nuggets” that are easy to measure and thaw for smaller dogs. Raw is also available in (1) an air-dried form that stores easily and you feed straight from the bowl as is and (2) a freeze-dried form that you add water to. Both types allow you to feed "raw" but allow you to avoid handling raw meat.

  • The 3 manufactuers that are my current choices for frozen raw foods are: Steve's Real Food, Stella & Chewy's, and Bravo Balance. I rotate between most of the varieties each brand offers to get a wide variety of protein sources and the best possible array of micronutrients. All 3 manufacturers also make "raw" in a freeze-dried form.

  • Convenient air-dried "raw" products now on the market include "Ziwi Peak" and "Real Meat Dog Food & Treats". Both available at Pages and other high-end pet food stores. New "dried/raw" dog food products are being introduced every day.

  • Do you have to feed raw? No. It's just like the choice you make for yourself if you choose to follow Paleo or Vegan or Carnivore or Vegetarian. You need to do what works best for your dog and can fit into your lifestyle and budget.

      • Take another look at #5 above and check out the research The Whole Dog Journal has to offer on their reccomended dog food brands. They evaluate ALL types of dog foods: raw, dry-kibble and canned.