What should I feed my dog?
That’s a question many new dog parents ask. It’s a question that even longtime pet parents might ask; for me it’s always been an ongoing question.
Are you a multi-pet/species family? There are things that you can feed to both your dogs and cats, and even your birds. My focus for this post is mostly on our Labrador retriever mix, Luke, but I’ve learned a bit about what is good for our cat Samantha and even for our hens along the way.
I started writing this post months ago, when our beagle Cricket was still with us. I’ve added to it and refined it time and again. I recently decided to make a change to what we were doing with Luke’s food. By this point, this post has gotten quite long so I decided to break it into two parts. The first part will explain why I’ve made the choices I have and a bit about the brand name food we are using now. The second part will be about the extras we add and why I chose them.
Gone are the days when our only choice for feeding our dogs was dry kibble or grocery store canned food. When we got our first dog in 1993, we didn’t think long and hard about what we would feed her; we visited our local feed store and got one of the few brands available there. That is pretty much all she ate, other than other “store-bought” treats and I’m sure a few table scraps.
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and I am not recommending any diet to you for your pets. I am simply sharing what works for us to give you some ideas. You should check with your vet about nutritional needs, especially if your dog has health issues. While we will be naming some brands in these posts, we are not being compensated by any company for sharing about them, though some links may be affiliate*.
We never questioned our choice until Shelby was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 6 and passed away just a few months later. It always stuck in the backs of our minds that the food we fed could have been a factor in causing her cancer at such a young age. Therefore, when our next dog came along a few months after that, we wanted to try a different food. This time we chose the dry kibble that our vet’s office sold. If our vet sold it, it had to be good, right (for the record, I no longer believe that)? We stuck with pretty much the same program for the next few years and dogs. I was always under the impression that wet food was higher in calories and bad for their teeth, so we mostly stuck to dry.
Fast forward to many years later when I started blogging, and the pet food industry began to evolve. These days there are many options: dry, freeze-dried, de-hydrated, canned, and pre-mixes; as well as commercial fresh and raw foods, some that can even be delivered right to your door on a schedule! I learned much more about nutrition and we started trying some different things.
A New Way of Thinking
We have worked with different pet food companies writing reviews for this blog. When I first started doing this, I wasn’t completely comfortable with it. What would people think about me often changing foods and talking up the latest food company that was willing to pay me to do so?
I look at it much differently now. I had to let go of the thought that feeding your dog the same thing all the time was best. I’ve now come to learn that giving them a variety can be good for them, if you’re careful when you transition them from one food to the next to avoid upset stomachs. Dogs can develop food allergies when they eat the same thing all the time, so switching proteins and brands may be even better for them.
There’s also not one single brand that is necessarily best (though it’s my opinion there are many that are bad!). There is nothing wrong with having a few brands that you really like and switching between them every so often. We had been sticking with the same dry food brand for a while now, but we did switch between their different proteins every couple of months or so.
I’ve learned a lot about ingredients as well, and I have turned down many reviews if I am not happy with what the food contains. The truth is, it can be confusing and overwhelming at times, but I try to be careful and do the best I can. There is conflicting information out there, and sometimes you simply go with what makes sense to you and that your gut feels is best.
We’ve tried many different types of food now, and there have been some we really liked that were cost prohibitive, so we had to set them aside for now (such as fresh food delivery). When our golden retriever Sheba was diagnosed with cancer, I wanted to help her out by feeding her at least a partial homemade diet with fresh or human grade ingredients. We’ve written about Sheba’s cancer diet, but I wanted to update what we’re doing now. I got away from the homemade meal toppers when she first passed away, but I wanted to get back to doing it to help keep the other dogs healthier. We started all this when Cricket was still with us, and her heart condition was always a consideration in my choices.
Keeping the Crew Happy & Healthy
One of the best things about adding special things to commercial food was that Cricket loved it. There were times when she was not feeling well that she didn’t eat very well, especially at breakfast. The variety of homemade and human-grade foods I added to their meals seemed to go a long way towards keeping her appetite better, so it became my habit to add the extras to that meal, and to use commercial food for supper (a combination of re-hydrated and dry kibble). Even the morning of the day she passed away she ate her breakfast with gusto.
Now I get satisfaction from watching Luke enjoy his meals every time. He has a routine where when I ask him if he’s ready to eat, he jumps up and then does some stretches as if getting ready for a workout or something. It’s so cute! I then have him give me kisses and then I prepare his meal. He lies down patiently somewhere outside the kitchen until I tell him it’s ready. Then he comes in the kitchen and jumps in front of me like a kangaroo as we walk to his stand with his dish. He always gives me a quick “sit” before diving in and eating with enthusiasm!
I’m not sold on raw, but I’m not against it either. We’ve used some raw mixers, and raw eggs are now a part of our regular meals. I am sold on fresh homemade, however, but that can be as complicated and time consuming as homemade raw. Right now, we’ve settled into a menu and routine that I’m happy with, and I wanted to share that with you in these two posts.
We were keeping dry kibble as our base for a few reasons: it’s more economical than other options, I liked the dogs to have some crunch in their food (we’ve never gotten cooperation with teeth brushing around here), and I don’t want to measure and balance the fresh and human ingredients I’m using for the dogs. Meals need to be nutritionally balanced, and I feel like with the commercial food as more than half of the meals, Luke is getting the balance he needs without me having to worry about proper portions of the foods we add.
We were feeding a brand of dry dog food I was pretty happy with, ever since we were involved with a campaign for it two years ago. I considered switching brands more than once but just could never decide what to switch to. However, when a blogging friend recently reviewed a different food, it brought into question one of the ingredients in our food, so I started looking at others again. What bothered me was that I could find a questionable ingredient in almost every dry food I looked at, even those that were a bit more pricey. It was frustrating! I’m not going to get into what those ingredients were in this post. The truth is I say “questionable” because, well, the internet is full of entirely too much information, often conflicting, isn’t it? One of the ingredients was even approved by a well-known holistic veterinarian, but other all-natural websites recommended against it (I do try to stick to reputable websites whose values align with my own).
We had also settled on Grandma Lucy’s freeze-dried, grain-free, food for evening meals as a topper to the dry food. We are currently feeding from the Artisan* line, though the Macanna* is really my favorite (it’s a bit more expensive though). They have quality ingredients, and you can read a review I wrote on their products by clicking here. Yes, we also found them through being offered to write reviews, but it has been our choice to stick with them now, after considering other freeze-dried brands as well. I like their choices of novel proteins, and we’ve been switching between bison and venison recently.
Grandma Lucy’s does not contain any of those questionable ingredients, so I made the decision to drop the dry food completely. We are currently weaning Luke off the dry food and switching over to Grandma Lucy’s as the base of his meals. All you need to do is add warm water so it’s not that much more work than dry. We choose grain free but Luke still gets other healthy grains in some of his treats and toppers.
So, evening meals are Grandma Lucy’s. Morning meals are ½ Grandma Lucy’s and ½ fresh or human grade ingredients (meaning they sometimes come from a can or frozen). It’s my preference to do all fresh foods, but where we live that is not always possible. I enjoy what we do the most when we’re harvesting from our own garden, where we grow everything organically. The plan is for this year’s garden to be much larger than years past.
I now give Luke a carrot stick every day to help clean his teeth, and will be trying some other recommended products for teeth cleaning as well.
I try not to criticize other people’s choices for their dogs; unless I think it’s something very bad, like a poor quality commercial food. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m picky, probably overly so. Even the Dadz would tell you that! I do consult with him, but he mostly leaves all food decisions to me, because I try to do thorough research before making them.
Even some of the choices I make might be controversial (I had a debate with our vet over one of them), and I don’t consider myself an expert. But I am careful, so in the second part of this series (hopefully next week) I’ll share some of the special things we add to Luke’s (and our cat Samantha’s food).