Is it important to feed my pet a life stages diet?

Life stages diets are typically divided into puppy food, adult maintenance food, and senior diets. I think feeding puppy food is vital. The nutritional composition for a puppy is different than an adult that's already done with their growth. So puppy food is a good idea. Senior diets are more controversial and questionable. The problem with senior diets is that there is no standardization. So what one company calls a senior diet could be very different from what another company calls a senior diet, and they could have completely different nutrient profiles. So to me, the senior diet's fairly meaningless in its terminology. The way I like to do it is I will look at my older patients, see what conditions they have going on, see what problems they have, and we'll change their nutrition based on what's going to be best for their long-term benefit.

Dr. Kathy Boehme
The Drake Center

How do I wean my puppy onto an adult dog food diet?

The weaning process is pretty simple for most puppies. When their growth is complete, you just take a one- to two-week period to gradually wean them down from their puppy food while increasing the amount of adult maintenance food added to the diet. Most dogs can do that reasonably easily within a week. Some may take two to three if they have a very sensitive stomach. They may need to go a little slower. But it's a pretty straightforward process.

Should I feed my dog on a schedule?

Ideally, yes. When dogs are allowed to free feed, they often will overeat and become overweight, so meal feeding is ideal. Feeding on a schedule is the same as meal feeding. Then you know, one, is my dog eating well? Are they eating all the food that they should? You can pick up on medical problems earlier. If they're kind of off their food, you'll pick up on that quicker. And then, two, you can control the number of calories they're getting. It's much easier to keep a dog lean and fit when you feed them meals rather than free feeding.

I do have some dogs that just won't eat that way, and it's okay. You just have to be sure that you're controlling the number of calories they get. So if they're grazers, you can put their food down, but when it's gone, it's gone.

How do I know if I'm feeding my dog too much?

Oh, that's an easy question. They get fat. The bottom line is that you do need to be aware of your dog's body conformation. It is so important to keep dogs lean through their whole life because we have many chronic diseases that develop later in life related to being overweight. It's difficult to do when you see your dog every day, so the best thing to do is to feel them and to familiarize yourself with something called body condition scoring. There are body condition scoring charts available online that we can put a link on our website so you can see. When you look at your dog from the side, their abdomen should tuck up. When you're looking down from a bird's eye view, they should have a waist in front of their hip bones.

Now, for really fluffy dogs, that's not going to work, so you need to put your hands on them and feel them. The best place to feel a dog to see if their weight's appropriate is along the rib cage. Just like the bones on the back of your hand, there's nothing that lives between the rib and the skin other than fat, so you should be able to feel those bones easily. If there's a jelly-like feeling there or a little extra tissue, your dog's chubby, so we'd want to cut back on the calories a bit.

There are so many brands of food. How do I know if my dog is on the right food?

Yes, it's a very confusing market to traverse now. New diets are coming out on the market every day. There are tremendous amounts of marketing that go into trying to attract people to that diet. The best way to know if your dog's on the right food is to look at your dog. Their coats should be sleek and shiny. They shouldn't have a lot of dander. Their nails should look nice and translucent. Black nails should be shiny. Their stools should be consistently normal. They shouldn't have a lot of flatulence. They shouldn't be chronic vomiters. They shouldn't be going off their food one day and then eating for two days and then going off again. We want them to be energetic, inquisitive and have shiny eyes. Most dogs are very intelligent and engaged with us. That's what we're looking for. Really, you have to look at your pet. There's no blanket statement that I can say that this is the best diet for one dog because they're all variable, just like humans are.

When would my dog need a prescription diet?

Many conditions are amenable to prescription diets. I think of food as medicine, and that's the way I approach my patients. Some conditions benefit from having a very specific diet. The most common reason dogs need prescription diets is if they've had adverse reactions to over-the-counter foods—ingredients in over-the-counter foods if they have a food allergy. In senior dogs, we're looking at animals with inflammatory bowel disease or kidney disease, or liver disease. There are even diets for cognitive dysfunction, meaning dementia in older animals. There are diets for seizures. So there are lots of indications for a prescription diet. A healthy dog does not need a prescription diet, though. Many excellent over-the-counter maintenance diets are perfectly fine for healthy dogs. But when we start dealing with medical issues, it is nice to combine diet with other treatments to try and slow the progression or even reverse the symptoms seen with those diseases.

Does my dog need to be on supplements in addition to their diet?

Oh, that's a good question. Supplements are a huge market. There's a lot of good information out there, and there's a lot of misinformation. I am very skeptical of many supplements because no one tightly regulates them. In general, a dog on a good diet that's thriving and healthy does not need supplementation. There are many medical conditions, though, that I do recommend some supplements along with dietary changes. And in breeds that are prone to arthritis, once they hit middle-age or so, I start to consider putting them on some supplements that may be beneficial for their joints, like omega-3 fatty acids. Those are also really good for older dogs as they develop cognitive decline. Omega-3 fatty acids have been known to help preserve brain health. So there are specific indications for supplements. In general, I think most dogs, especially young dogs, don't need them.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (760) 456-9556, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Nutrition - FAQs

Dr. Kathy Boehme
The Drake Center

Is a dog able to live on a vegan diet?

Dogs can live on vegan diets. First, let me define a vegan diet. That's a diet that does not have any animal products in it. The primary protein sources come from things like seeds, nuts, legumes.

Dogs can get their protein requirements from a vegan diet. However, studies have been done on the commercially available vegan and vegetarian diets that show that the amino acid profile, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, are not in most of those diets described on the label. They're deficient in the amino acids that are required for normal growth and maintenance for dogs.

Also, the other thing that's been found with those diets is that they are often contaminated with mammalian DNA, meaning there are animal products in those diets.

I would not recommend that a dog goes on a vegan or a vegetarian diet given the lack of an appropriate commercial diet available currently unless the dog had a medical condition that required a vegan diet.

I have to admit, I would either use a prescription vegan diet, or I would work with a nutritionist and formulate my own cooked vegan diet for my pet because, quite honestly. Right now, I don't trust the over-the-counter commercially available diets.

Is wet food better for my dog than dry food?

Just because a food is wet or dry doesn't tell you anything about its nutritional value. The difference between wet and dry food is basically the amount of water in it. If your pet has a condition that requires them to have more water, like kidney disease or bladder stones, canned diets may be a direction you want to go in because they would help alleviate that water deficit.

In general, there's no better quality with a canned food diet than a dry diet. However, it's a costly way to feed. Unless you have a picky eater or have a dog that needs more water in the diet, it's unnecessary to feed canned food.

Are prescription diets better for my dog?

A prescription diet would be better if the dog has a medical condition that that prescription diet helps treat or slow the progression of.

Again, a healthy dog does not need a prescription diet. If they have a condition that your veterinarian has suggested may benefit from a prescription diet or, again, slow progression of that disease process, then a prescription diet's a good way to go. They've been heavily researched and with feeding trials done and studies to show that they are beneficial, but I would go by the guidance of your veterinarian on that.

If my dog eats grass, does that mean something is missing in their diet?

Boy, isn't this the $10 million question? Over a long period, people have been asking that question, and I always find it interesting. Studies have been done on it, and they have not shown any deficit in a diet based on grass eating.

We suspect that some dogs eat grass when their tummies are upset. It's more of an upset digestive tract symptom rather than a deficiency in the diet. However, most grass-eating dogs just simply like to eat grass, and there is no concern over that. Even if it makes them vomit, there's not a big concern with a dog eating grass unless it's grass that's contaminated with something.

Will human food make my dog overweight?

Human food won't necessarily make your dog overweight. What makes your dog overweight is eating more calories than they expend and being sedentary. Again, human food is no more harmful than a kibble diet as far as weight gain goes; if they're eating more calories than they're burning off. That's the thing to focus on.

Will free-choice feeding make my dog overweight?

It could. Free-choice feeding is one of the culprits in obesity. There is undoubtedly a growing epidemic of obesity in our small animal patients, just like it is mimicking human obesity. We don't want to allow a dog to eat as much as they want.

There are a very small number of dogs that don't overeat, and with those animals, grazing is fine. We need to control how much the vast majority of dogs are eating, and meal feeding is an ideal way to do that.

What are some other popular dog nutrition myths that you want to go over?

There are many dog food myths. There are a couple that are big for me. One is that many people are very afraid to feed foods that have the word byproduct on the label. I think it's a poor understanding really of what byproducts are. Byproducts are organ meats. They're not the inedible parts of the animal. Byproducts are not horns, hooves, beaks, feet, hair, or feathers. Those are not allowed to be byproducts. Byproducts are organ meats. There's not a big demand in human nutrition for organ meats. A lot of people don't buy organ meats for themselves.

When food animals go into pet feed, there's a lot of waste. What pet food manufacturers have done, they're able to buy those organs and put them into their diets, and they're tremendously healthy. I think honestly; dogs don't get enough organ meats in their diets. We're looking at lungs, spleen, liver, kidneys; all those things are very healthy, digestible, and nutritious for dogs. There's no reason to be afraid of the word byproduct.

There is some marketing in pet foods where they say, "Does not contain byproducts," but then if you look at the labels, they're listed out—heart, liver, etc. They're included in there, but they've gotten away from saying that they're byproducts, so they don't scare people off. Don't be worried about byproducts; they're very nutritious.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (760) 456-9556, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.