Dog Food Part 2: Working Through The Tips

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qualitycontrol            In our last post, we discussed four tips to help you navigate the pet food industry: (1) Do your research, (2) Price does equal quality, (3) Consider country of origin, and (4) Know your canine’s needs. I specifically wrote the post from a neutral standpoint because it is an industry needing clarification and is already filled with opinions, false statements, varying “safe standards” and even research with opposing results.

So, you have done your research… still feeling lost? Did you jump onto DogFoodAdvisor.com and see the hundreds of different food listed and think: How will I ever know what is right?

What is THAT Ingredient!?!

What is THAT Ingredient!?!

Below, we will discuss each section listed last week as a whole – using my particular viewpoint as the base for examples so that you can see the research process in action. Finding the right food isn’t too overwhelming, but it is about reading labels and making informed decisions when choosing the optimal nutrition for a new or existing canine family member. Knowledge is power and the effectiveness of our decision is based on the time we spend looking into product.

Steps:

1. Does the canine have any pre-existing medical conditions, such as allergies or gastrointestinal limitations, that require us to immediately refine our search based on key ingredients, or ease of digestion, etc.? For some, our adopted canines don’t come with this information so mediccarefully watch their eating and “business” (poop and pee) habits to give you some insight into this area. Do they already have coarse fur, dry skin and lots of dander, or maybe itchy paws? It can be as simple as a hygiene fix, but for others these are signs of an allergic reaction and are indicators that a change is necessary.

2. Then, I start with DogFoodAdvisor.com. Begin by looking through the products listed under the 5-star rating. There are lots to choose from, but you will then see what brands keep showing up and the specific products they order. This is your starting point. Why?

In general, the five star rated foods will be more expensive (large bag between $65-80 CAD), but these producers know where their individual ingredients are being sourced from; they will have higher standards for their finished product, check their quality more frequently and offer, in general, a product with “available nutrition” for the dogs being the primary driver – pushing fillers and less nutritious items much further down, or completely off, their ingredient list. There are a few outliers that have managed to produce products that are fairly nutritious and more cost effective and these will fall into the 4-star range (e.g. Kirkland Dry Food), HOWEVER, these products have ingredients sourced from multiple locations based on the size of their corporations’ reach and the cost effectiveness for them in doing so. But remember, not all countries follow the same rules and standards, etc. Unlike Petco, Costco still sells food products from China, which as we discussed last week, have been found to make dogs very sick and even kill.

3. Write a list of a few brands and specifics types (e.g. chicken, beef, fish, or lamb) that you think will suit your canine best. Now jump online and go to their individual company webpages. Look at areas such as their mission and mottos. While they will (of course) want to look as favorable to potential consumers as possible, the companies that really care about their products will tell you all about how they source their ingredients, how the food is prepared stampand why (listing benefits), and will sometimes give you a more in-depth nutritional breakdown and ingredient list. Still can’t decide? Contact your veterinarian to see what products they endorse and add that to your information gathering (NOTE: some veterinarians are sponsored by companies to promote their products so while they are a wealth of information, if they only sell one brand out front you might want to contact a variety of veterinarian offices to see what they might recommend).

4. Call your local vendors to determine availability and price point. You don’t want to necessarily pick a food that is iphonehard to find, or one that always needs to be ordered in. If they don’t carry it and instead offer you an alternative or two, write those brands down and do a little more research before committing.

5. Start with small bags, a few cans or a couple weeks of a raw food diet. Transitioning to new food takes time, so transition to new products slowly over two weeks, by gradually incorporating larger proportions of new-to-existing kibble for each meal time so that, by the end of the transition, they will just be beginning to eat only their new kibble. Then, try the new diet on its own for an additional 1-2 weeks to determine if it is working for your canine (through obvious and less obvious signs such as energy level, stool analysis, etc.).

Always consult your veterinarian or canine dietician when it comes to your canine’s nutrition. Many veterinarians have acknowledged the role nutrition plays in our canines’ lives and have kept up with the rapid changes that have occurred in the dog food industry. However, the more knowledgeable you are going into that discussion, the more specific your questions can be about your own canine’s needs, and the more confident you will feel leaving the vet’s office.

It’s a great feeling to know that the time you spent researching food for your canine will help them live a happy and healthy life, free from the impacts that a less nutritious diet can have on their mental and physical health. Have any more questions? Contact me and I’ll be glad to use my resources and colleagues within the pet food industry to answer your questions as best I can.

Happy Kibble Hunting!

Keeping a Canine Health Record

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            Canine allergies are a very real problem, a fact that was made very apparent in a recent webinar I attended. Forty percent of dogs are hypersensitive to fleabites, many suffer from seasonal allergies, and up to 10% of the population suffer from food allergies. Just like an allergic response in our human bodies, the release of histamines creates a reaction in our dogs. For us, it often causes itchy, watery eyes and a sniffly nose; for canines, the number one allergic response is itching. To complicate matters further, of those dogs with seasonal allergies, 80% will also show hypersensitivity to fleabites, and those with food allergies can also display gastrointestinal issues such as cramping, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting.

These stats only begin to cover the complexities of allergies in canines, so caregivers and veterinarians are left in a quandary… without more testing and detective work to determine root causes (and so attempt to eliminate those negative reactors from the canine’s life), treating the symptoms as they arise may seem like the only option.

So question: What if there was an easy step that we, as caregivers, could take that would allow us to track their health, follow changes in their daily lives, and even act as an early warning system and help us determine patterning? There’s a surprisingly simple answer: Keep a canine health record!

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            Taking notes about your dog’s life may sound laborious and, frankly, overkill. Before you discount the idea, you might be surprised to discover just how much habitual information you already keep track of on a daily basis. Most caregivers can, off the top of the head, tell you in great detail about the day their dog just had: the number of times they went for a walk, their quality of playtime at dog park, their, ahem, regularity of bowel movements (yes, you know it’s true!). Even being able to “interpret” particular behaviours as being part of the norm, or being unique and even strange for that day, engaged canine caregivers are more aware of their dog’s daily life than they might initially think.

Your canine health record doesn’t need to be fancy – it could a simple as a ruled notebook, or a blank 12-month calendar. Not every detail needs to be recorded. As I just mentioned, we have an amazing ability to recall normal day-to-day activities. What is important is to record the changes and variations to these activities. No difference is too small either, so these changes could be things like:

  • Being woken up in the middle of the night because your pup is itching frantically.
  • Finding a hotspot during your daily dermal inspection.
  • Coming home from work to a little present in the form of their undigested breakfast sitting on the floor.
  • Noticing your dog’s paws are red and inflamed after playing at the local park.

As you build up a record, you will be able to see trends in behaviours and health. Using the red, inflamed paws as a health-related example, if you noted this occurring more frequently during a particular month, or time of year, then you can begin to get a greater understanding of the potential impacts. Behavioural anomalies can be recorded in the same way. Canines are not one dimensional, and lead very dynamic lives. Maybe you find that there is one particular dog in the neighborhood that doesn’t get along with your canine. Recording these events will allow you to reveal a pattern, if any, and can contribute to identifying the root cause versus just “treating the symptoms” through avoidance or physical aids.

A large part of the educational experience offered at Canines By Design is learning the nuances of the dog world and canine language, and applying that understanding to you and your dog’s particular situation.  By arming yourself with a detailed record of events, you can take an active, informed role in your dog’s core mental and physical wellness. Think of it like an insurance policy: the information you have gathered can act as an early warning system for potential swings and major changes in health and mood, and will help you and your canine set up for success.