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Choosing a Diet for Your Dog

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Choosing a diet for your dog can be a difficult and daunting decision. There are so many different choices for makers and brands, flavors, protein and micronutrient make-up, treatment/age-focused foods, and prescription diets. Your pet’s activity level has a strong bearing on the diet recommended. Additionally, any medical conditions they have such as kidney disease, skin sensitivities, or joint pain also impact their nutritional needs. Always defer to the recommendations of your veterinarian, because they have a relationship with you and your dog. However, here are some general rules that may help you in selecting a quality food for your dog:

  • Choose a reliable brand.
  • Pick a food and stay with it.
  • Grain-free is not always the answer.
  • If your vet recommends a prescription food, you should stay on it until recommended otherwise.

Selecting a Brand

Choose a well-established, reliable brand. Furthermore, be cautious with selecting boutique brands. If you can’t find them in 2 or 3 locations or your vet has never heard of them, then you should consider an alternate brand. This food is the mainstay of your animal’s nutrition; consequently, it is vitally important that it be carefully balanced for long term health. Select a long-standing, reliable company that employs veterinarian nutritionists. The food pyramid looks different for your dog, and it takes a lot of detailed work to balance a single source of food to fulfill all of their dietary needs. Has the company been around for a long period of time? Are they widely available or is this a food you are going to have trouble finding and have to switch? The brands that I rely on for my own animals and recommend the most are Purina, Royal Canin, and Hills.

There is no reason to jump from flavor to flavor with your dog; pick one and stay with it. For example, my dogs have been on the same diet for 8 years. Boredom with a diet is a human characteristic, so don’t make it harder on yourself in the long run by trying to make your dog excited about their food.

Allergy Considerations

It is not recommended to hopscotch through different brands regularly or even different flavors from the same brand. Food allergies are becoming increasingly common in dogs. As a result, if you suspect that may be the case with your animal, I strongly encourage you to work with your veterinarian to diagnose it. If you do not know what your animal is allergic to and you are not transitioning diets correctly, you could actually create new allergies and make finding a diet for your animal even harder.

Limited-ingredient, grain-free, venison and quail meat diets, homemade preparations…the list goes on. Which one is right for your dog? The truth of the matter is that if you don’t know what your dog is allergic to and the allergen is part of their diet, they can have cross-reactions and develop allergies to something new. Diet trials are one of the most difficult diagnostic tools for food allergies and should be done carefully under the supervision of a veterinarian. This will help avoid wasting time, money, and patience because you’re going to need all three to find a lasting solution for your pet’s food allergies.

Animals are commonly allergic to protein sources, as well as certain carbohydrates.  If you aren’t eliminating all of what they are allergic to in their diet you could be creating new allergies, making your task even harder. There are diets available that are nearly hypoallergenic, but they are only available by prescription, tend to be expensive, and are not the most flavorful option available. Hypoallergenic diets for dogs are like humans living on Ensure shakes. They are not exciting and some dogs simply won’t eat it. As a result, diet trials should be supervised by a veterinarian.

Your animal may simply need a novel diet. However, making that decision and choosing the right one can be difficult, so let your vet spare you the time and headache. Your veterinarian can explain the common pitfalls of diet trials and recommend appetizing diets for your dog that save you some money and the labor of having to track down prescription diets. 

Rethink Grain-Free

Grain-free diets are the approximate equivalent of gluten-free diets for people. If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you desperately need to be strictly on that diet. However, if you do not have these conditions, you do not need to be on it. It’s a brilliant marketing ploy designed to appeal to your desire to help your itchy pet and tap into the comparison of dogs to wolves. Your dog is not a wolf. If you want your animal to live a long, healthy life, then it is very important to balance their single food source carefully.

A recent study by veterinary cardiologists linked grain-free diets to heart disease in breeds that are not normally prone to it. If your animal is allergic to grains, it absolutely needs a grain-free diet that may require additional supplementation for heart health. However, how do you know for certain your animal is allergic to grains? Your veterinarian can perform testing or — best of all — refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing. Fortunately, there is a board-certified veterinary dermatologist in Anchorage. Want a referral? Ask your vet.

Prescription Diets

Hydrolyzed protein diets are nearly hypoallergenic diets available by prescription only from your vet. If there isn’t a commercially available diet that accommodates your dog’s allergies, it may be right for your pet. Prescription foods are essentially mediations. They are specially formulated for a specific purpose, such as controlled protein diets for kidney failure, urinary acidifiers to prevent crystal formation, or low-fat bland diets for intestinal health. These diets can be expensive and hard to get, as they are available by prescription only. However, if your veterinarian puts your animal on one of these diets, you should not take them off of it for any reason without reconsulting your veterinarian. It’s a treatment that they deemed important to your pet’s health. 

Prescription-grade diets should be treated as a medication and cannot be adequately imitated by commercial products on the pet store shelf. In many cases, taking them off the diet may mean ill health or even death for your pet. If you don’t understand why your animal is on that specific diet or you want an alternative, just talk with your vet about options before grabbing something off the shelf.

Homemade Diets

Your dog gets all its nutrition from a single source (not counting a few treats under the table). It is so important that their diet is carefully formulated with micronutrients, protein, fats, and carbohydrates. For instance, you can even specially tailor homemade diets for your animal’s long term health. If that is what you choose for your animal, I encourage you to go to the website sponsored but UC Davis’s veterinary nutrition program for advice on micronutrient balancing.

Your veterinarian can be a great source of information on your pet’s diet, so I encourage you to consult them. Additionally, be careful not to rely on marketing ploys. Look for a brand that puts their money into the food safely, not on the cover of the bag. 

Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Dr. Paige Wallace

Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.