Canine Nutrition

On Sunday I attended a Canine Nutrition seminar by Erica Garven, hosted by All About Dogs. I have been looking forward to this seminar for weeks. As soon as I saw Renee post it, I jumped on it and registered. I was admittedly the first to arrive, sitting on the curb outside, anxious for ten o’clock.

When the seminar began, I could almost feel my skull crack and open up in order to allow the knowledge to pour in. If I could have opened my eyes or ears wider, I would have. I didn’t want to miss a single word or or slide.

Here’s a little background information for you, before you assume that I’ve lost my marbles. My mother is a nurse and I can remember when I was wee and she was in nursing college, I would sneak her textbooks into my room or onto the bay window in order to sift through the information and try to learn some “big girl words”. I had trouble saying stethoscope but that didn’t stop me from trying to spell Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Since those early days, I have always been interested in medicine and the sight of blood has never bothered me. I collect medical textbooks, I watch medical docu-shows and download surgeries to watch during dinner. (Double-lung transplants are by far the most fascinating.) Anything medical or health-related fascinates me, so of course nutrition would be of interest to me – it’s the foundation of good health, after all.

So in comes Erica and I open my notes. She starts off by talking about the simpler ways to eliminate (potential) allergens and what is on the top of the list? Stainless steel bowls. Are you serious? Apparently dogs can have a pretty serious allergy to stainless steel and eating out of the bowls can cause symptoms similar to food allergies, as well as discolouration of the area around the mouth and nose. Instead of switching over to a plastic bowl (which can contain toxins that discolour the nose, turning it pink), she recommends using ceramic bowls.

She told us about her dog, Toby…who is a “lemon dog” (you know exactly what I mean.) and of his serious allergies that she has been able to eliminate or at least manage thus far, giving him back a wonderful quality of life that most of us would likely not have known how to do.

We talked a lot about allergies and what the signs are. Some of the symptoms that I see frequently are:

  • inconsistent or poor stool quality
  • itchy skin
  • chronic infections (ears, eyes, etc…)
  • dull, flaky coat
  • inconsistent behaviour

When I’m working with dogs, one of the first questions I ask is about diet and I include questions about the amount fed and the timing of the meals – oftentimes people are confused about how this is related to training and behaviour, but many times I have seen a complete 180º turnaround simply because of a change in the diet.

Those of you who know me, know that I am a serious kibble investigator and that I’m a big believer in scheduled feedings that take place at least twice per day. I never suggest one meal per day (imagine how that affects our blood-sugar levels!) or free-feeding (leaving food down all the time). I have a list of kibble that I do recommend, but even then, I always suggest keeping up to date with the company’s recall information, product changes, ownership, etc…

Since attending Erica’s seminar and soaking up all the knowledge possible in three hours, I came home and implemented a few changes to Parker’s diet. If you’ve been following lately, I’ve put Parker back on home-cooked food and have seen some incredible changes. His breath no longer smells, his energy levels have evened out, his coat is super-shiny, he is excited about his food (that’s not normal for him), and he’s sleeping better at night. He has also been showing some interesting puppy-like behaviour lately – he’s become more playful with his friends but also his humans. It’s really quite nice.

His regular meals consist of (in no particular order):

  • brown rice
  • two vegetables
  • one fruit & one berry
  • yogurt
  • vitamins & minerals
  • one protein
  • safflower oil

I’ve used cooked rice (of course), raw veggies and fruits, and a cooked protein (or canned if fish). So far it’s been a lot of trial and error – most days have been great, but other days have been not-so-great. I’ve found that sweet potato, carrots and kidney beans go right through him and come out looking just like they did when they went in. I tried cooking them a little longer, but that caused them to come out looking pale and whole. No big change except that I was sure the nutrient value was lessened.

After Erica’s seminar, the changes I made were:

  • use more protein
  • use less carbs (rice)
  • boil all veggies to release the nutrients (but don’t over cook)
  • add water (or broth) that the veggies are boiled in
  • use a food processor to puree everything
  • freeze in weekly portions
  • add this to a high quality kibble
  • use vitamins & minerals

Last night I got to work and I made the first batch. It included:

  • veggie puree (spinach, parsley, zucchini, carrots, sweet potato)
  • strawberries & blueberries
  • vitamin & mineral powder
  • Nature’s Balance kibble

The kibble covers the protein and I’ve added all the extra nutrients that make it even healthier (and tasty). Oftentimes companies try hard to add in all the right ingredients, but if you think about the process kibble has to go through, how many nutrients really make it to the end product? Adding veggies, fruits and berries will only serve your dog well in the end.

Here are a couple of pictures:

For Parker, I add a couple of tablespoons to his kibble at each meal and every now and again he’ll get a full home-cooked meal with a little carb and home cooked protein. Pureeing the veggies and fruits will make it easier for him to digest and metabolize, whereas, as Erica says: “in a carrot, out a carrot”, which is exactly what was happening.

Confession: I tasted it. I swear I did. My brother was witnessing the cooking process and suggested that we try it. It’s just fruit and veggies, so why not? We grabbed a tablespoon of each batch and gave it a shot. The greenish one was very veggie-heavy and a little tart. The lighter coloured one had more strawberries in it and it was a little sweeter. Both tasted good. It made me reconsider how I eat. If I did this for myself every day, I’d be a healthier person…but that’s a whole other post.

I’m looking into booking Erica for a seminar soon and would love for you folks to hear what she has to say. If you’re interested, email me to be notified of the event, or stay tuned on the website.


About Caryn Charlie Liles
Caryn is a Toronto-based “people-trainer for dogs” and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). She is the founder of Whatta Pup!, a pet dog training company established in 2008. Seeing a growing need for specialized training due to an increase in aggression in Toronto, Caryn co-founded The Toronto Centre for Canine Education, specializing in “the socially-challenged dog”.

11 Responses to Canine Nutrition

  1. Lindsay says:

    Good. All very very similar guidelines to fat loss in human diets. And none of it shocked me.
    ie. less low GI carbs, more protein & fats … weekly portions divided and frozen.

    Question re: boiling veggies vs steaming (what I’m currently doing).
    Don’t the nutrients leak out into the water it’s being boiled in? Or would you just use that as the liquid, to help puree it? (rather than the typical boil, drain method)

    I’ve also been sprinkling a high quality kibble on Logan’s food, and I think it’s made a big difference.

    • whattapup says:

      You can steam or boil – I put about an inch of water in the pot and toss everything on top of it, so essentially I guess I *am* steaming them. I use that liquid in the puree, yes.

      Which kibble are you using?

  2. Lindsay says:

    awww, yes! that makes sense 😉

    I’m giving Logan Carna4 – it’s amazing.

    What are you using??
    I’m so hesitant with kibble these days, and the change/switch of quality ingredients.

    • whattapup says:

      Natural Balance Sweet Potato & Fish

      The stuff she told us about kibble was shocking. Nothing I hadn’t read, but hearing it aloud made it that much more real and really threw me off.

      The ones she recommended are the ones that were on my list:

      California Natural (Innova, Evo, etc…)
      Natural Balance
      Champion Pet Foods (Orijen, Acana)
      Petcurean (Go!, Now!)
      Eagle Pack
      Old Mother Hubbard
      Ziwe Peak

      • Lindsay says:

        amazingly valuable list.
        Would you mind if i reposted it on my blog?

      • whattapup says:

        Go nuts –
        I used to have Taste of the Wild on my list, but Erica notified us that they refuse to answer whether they add Ethoxyquin to their food, which is terrifying.

        Ethoxyquin is used in most commercial petfoods as a preservative. Initially developed as an herbicide and also as a stabilizer in rubber production? It is believed by many veterinarians to be implicated, if not the primary cause, in the following:
        a) kidney damage
        b) liver damage
        c) cancerous skin lesions
        d) loss of hair
        e) blindness
        f) leukemia
        g) spleen and stomach cancer
        h) immune deficiency syndrome
        i) liver cancer
        j) chronic diarrhea

  3. Lindsay says:

    I read about that buzz word a couple of weeks ago!!!
    I nearly crapped my pants in fear!

  4. Shauna Tedder says:

    I agree with your post and feel strongly with what you’re talking about but I’ve been told, on numerous occasions, that dry kibble should not be served WITH home cooked meals or raw food diets as they’re digested at different rates…any insight?

    • whattapup says:

      Erica said the same thing about the raw. She said that if you’re going to do raw, stick with raw and don’t mix cooked/kibble with it.

      Homecooked is totally fine to mix kibble with as it’s all cooked / processed.

      I thought of you the whole time I was there. It might be worth your while to meet up with her to talk about my boyfriend, Tucker. If anyone can help, it’s her.

  5. Lindsay says:

    What kind/brand of vit/min powder did she recommend? And what kind do you use with Parker?

    • whattapup says:

      She recommended something called Bio-Comm (sp?) I believe…but I’m going to chat with her and get clarification. I use Hilary’s Blend (which she approves of as well) but I’m doubtful that I’m using the correct amounts.

      Trying to balance a diet for a dog is way harder than it looks. I’m going to perhaps book a session with her. I need some guidance.

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