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Some potential ways to approach a change in the nutritional needs of your dog

In her latest column, local nutritionist Nonie De Long discusses some ways to approach the nutritional health of your four-legged friends
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Dear Nutritionist,

I want to know if you know anything about dog nutrition. Our dog has a problem with gas and it doesn’t seem to matter which food we use, it’s the same problem. She also has very loose stools and nothing seems to help. I know it’s a long shot but do you know of any solutions?

Thank you,

Dear Renada,

I’m not a nutritionist who specializes in pet needs, but I'm a dog lover and lifelong dog owner. As such, I’ve done some extensive reading on canine nutrition and I can share what I’ve learned from that.

Just like we do in human pathology, I suggest starting with an assessment. Has your dog been like this was since it was a pup or did it come about later in life or after an event? What makes it worse (food or event/stimuli)? What makes it better, if anything?

You can omit certain foods from the diet to discern if they are contributing. If your dog receives table scraps, for example, you can remove that for two weeks to see if there is an improvement. If it receives kibble you can change the formula for four weeks to see what difference that makes. Try a kibble that is very different - for example a kibble that only contains lamb and rice or one that has zero grains at all and only fish for protein. Fish and lamb are proteins that dogs are less often sensitive to. Chicken and chicken byproducts cause sensitivities far more frequently in dogs. The reason to go four weeks is that often the chance can cause digestive upset and you need that to settle down before you evaluate the result. Many people try something for a week then move on and this never gives clear information from which to assess the problem.

And if your dog doesn’t eat the food because it’s picky, leave it. After a few days it will. No animal will starve itself because it doesn’t like that particular food. If it is hungry enough it will eat the food.

In doing these eliminations you are looking for clues. Even if it doesn’t cure the problem it gives you information. For example, if removing table scraps creates a mild improvement you know the dog may be sensitive to a food you’re eating. If changing kibble makes zero difference, you know it may not be about the ingredients or there may be multiple food sensitivities. This test is best if you get a formula that doesn’t contain similar ingredients to what you use now. If you currently give lamb and rice, you might consider a grain free fish based kibble. And stick with it for a minimum of four weeks. Write down symptoms, as you will need to compare them and it’s easy to forget them over time.

A great food for elimination diets for dogs is to cook sweet potatoes and lamb or brown rice and lamb. Grind or chop it all up fine. Sprinkle it with bone meal and add some fresh apple or pear when you process it. This should not upset the tummy. Over time add green powder in for greater nutrition density. This is one of the easiest dog foods to make and to digest. Turkey is a great substitute if the dog can’t handle lamb.

When all of this fails, or if you just want to give your dog the best you can in terms of nutrition and digestive health, the BARF diet is hands down the most nutritious. This stands for bones and raw food. The dog gets raw meat with some veg and bone meal or raw bones. Marrow and cartilaginous bones are best.

You can find this food pre-made into a patty in the freezer section of pet food stores or you can make your own using ground bone (I slow cook or pressure cook mine first for broth) then put it in a grinder (it’s very soft by this time. Or you can use bone meal powder, then raw protein and veggies and fruit that dogs can have. I use a bit of apple or banana and sweet peppers, garlic, celery, carrots, and greens powder made just for dogs. I mix it all up (you can also add brown rice but I prefer grain free) and put it in a food processor or grinder. When it's all ground I add raw eggs and mix well then form meat patties and freeze between sheets of parchment.

A burger patty maker works well for this but if you don’t have one you can make them in the bottom of a sour cream or yogurt or similar tub to desired thickness then pop them out. You cut the tub to the desired thickness to make them uniform, then stack them when they’re done and freeze that way. You just pop off what you need as you go and thaw the food for that day. These keep a long time and use all waste that is generated by aging veggies or meat used in bone broths or bones and scraps from meat you eat. What I do is keep a bag in the freezer for all this and add to it as I go. When it’s done I can boil it all then strain and very easily grind it because the bones are very soft after slow or pressure cooking. I then add my fresh meat and veggies/ fruit.

You can also add some digestive enzymes in that blend by adding a little bit of papaya fruit. Be sure to avoid dairy and try removing grains if the dog has been gassy. But no matter what formula you use, you should include organ meat about once per week and include coconut oil or lard.. And you must include bone. Ground is safest to ensure there is no choking.

Yes, I said raw meat and eggs. A dog's digestive system is created to eat raw meat. They can handle bacteria and are used to it if the dog is healthy. If the dog is unhealthy, this may upset it even more. In this case a pet owner will see a decline and sometimes bloody or mucousy stools. This is when it’s appropriate to cook the food for the dog. This looks more like ground chicken, lamb, pork, or beef with raw or cooked veggies or greens and brown rice. For dogs that have sensitive tummies, brown rice can be beneficial. In such a case I would also suggest adding some food grade diatomaceous earth to the feed to help rid the animal of any parasites it may harbour. A teaspoon stirred in for a small dog is absolutely safe. For a large dog you can double this. Diatomaceous earth is approved for and used in feed for many animals, and even in cosmetics for humans. You can feel safe using it for this or as a flea repellant sprinkled in the fur everywhere but the eyes.

When it comes to raw bones you know you dog best. If you train them from puppyhood to have raw bones they learn to gnaw on bones as a way to soothe themselves and pass the time. They will often return to a bone that has looked bare for months, only to start on it afresh. Many people mistakenly think this causes broken teeth and it can if the dog isn’t used to them. But the primary reason for bad or broken teeth is poor diet. If a dog is fed kibble and / or soft dog food over time it will have very weak bones. Teeth are just an extension of our bones. Fresh spring water and bone meal in the diet give minerals a dog needs to sustain healthy bones for life. For a weakly dog, bone broth can be particularly healing. But once a dog has very weak teeth it is usual to see a dramatic decline in its health quite shortly. Or, it will have autoimmune or other chronic disease states. There are some breeds that have more problems with teeth than others, but I can’t help but wonder how much of that is due to overly processed trashy food marketed at toy breeds that we humans ‘protect’ from receiving real food and real bones, which are superior in every way. A small dog is still a descendant of wolves, with the same biological needs.

I have a shih-tzu and have long had variations on this breed and mine have all had raw lamb and pork bones regularly. Only once did a dog develop broken teeth but that was after major surgery and a very steep decline in health due to kidney and heart disease. This dog could not handle raw food but he did well on cooked food. Every other dog has thrived on a mix of both. If I have to default to kibble I try to get grain free high quality with few additives and quality protein. I still believe these are superior to those with multiple fillers. My dogs are happy, balanced, and healthy, with no digestive woes. If this advice does not help you figure out your dog's needs, please reach out and we can do a telehealth consult to address the issue more deeply with herbs that are safe and effective for use in canines.

Thank you, Renada, for the great question! As always, if readers have a health or nutrition related question, I welcome you to write to me here. And if you’re looking for more specific health information check out my website here, where you can contact me directly. I provide one-on-one health coaching online to help people better manage their health holistically.

Nonie Nutritionista