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.


Homecooking: part deux

Well, it’s been two weeks since I put Parker back on home-cooking and boy am I glad I did. His breath is 100% better, his energy levels have improved, he is sleeping more soundly at night, his reactivity has gone down significantly (more on that later), and he is so motivated and happy!

This past week has been really busy and at one point I woke up and realized that I had no prepared meal ready for Parker. It was quite a rush and that will be my downfall. I’ll have to be more organized going forward. In a rush, I made oats, pumpkin, carrots, apple, banana, chicken breast, tuna. It was quite disgusting. And by disgusting, I mean he loved every moment of it.

Yesterday I was in a bind and made up brown rice, chicken hearts, carrots, bananas, strawberries and broccoli. Lesson learned. Parker thinks chicken hearts are weird and has to chew them 4 times before he believes they are food. He is not a fan of fruit (we knew this before). Chicken hearts are too rich, smell terrible, and cause him to have rabbit poop and Dramatic Groaning Syndrome all day.

Today I got up and raced to Sobey’s to stock up on his ingredients (and heck, even do a little grocery shopping for me too!) and came home with a whole lot for a whole $8.00. It’s important to shop for sales and for fruits and veggies that are in season.

I spent almost an hour in the kitchen preparing the next weeks’ worth of meals for him and he spent that whole hour singing to the heavens just outside of the kitchen. I kid you not. I wouldn’t dare stop him – it was the only entertainment I had while I slaved away in a hot kitchen.

So for this week, his meal consists of:
– oatmeal
– cheerios
– boiled chicken breast
– canned tuna or salmon
– zucchini (HIS FAVOURITE!!!)
– carrots
– apple (still not sure if he will enjoy this long term)
– banana (learning to tolerate)
– green peas
– celery (chopped so small he can’t tell it’s there)
– vitamins/minerals
– safflower oil (sauteed the veggies in this briefly)

What did I learn? He loves peas. I had no idea, but I’m not really surprised. He is like his mama – he loves his veggies, but could live without fruit unless someone force-feeds him.

What did I learn that is even more important? That I have taught my dog to beg and now have to retrain some manners into him. Feeding your dog human food does *not* cause them to beg. Feeding your dog human food from the counter, the stove, the table, the couch – *that* will cause your dog to beg. Oops.

Trainer error. Please try again.

🙂 And now, for a picture-dump. Again, so good that I would eat it.


Parker has been eating Orijen for years and it has served him quite well up until recently. (They changed the formula so that there is more protein and less fruit / vegetables.) As soon as he started eating the new formula, his stool changed (smell and consistency) drastically and so did his breath. Suddenly when he opened his mouth, you could smell it from across the room. Not pleasant, I tell you.

I thought “time for a change” so I switched him over to Taste of the Wild as it has extremely high ratings and great feedback from colleagues, clients, and friends. The issues did not disappear and it’s been almost a month.

I’m a pretty patient person, but I like to see results sooner than that…so I made another decision. Keep him on Taste of the Wild (he seems to enjoy it more than the Orijen) but go back to mostly home-cooking for him.

When we first adopted Parker, we tried a few different foods and some were good, some were *really* bad (Science Diet which caused him to develop acute colitis where he passed blood instead of feces) and finally I gave up on kibble. I listened to my mother (we all should) and started home-cooking for him. Everything changed – his stool was consistent, his coat was shiny and smooth, his breath was neutral, he had great energy and slept soundly, his weight remained consistent, etc…

However, after a few months of that, I found it difficult to maintain with a full-time job so I put him on the highest quality kibble we could find – Orijen. Like I said, it served him well for years.

So here I am, home-cooking again and I am really looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Tonight I made a pretty stellar mash for him:

  • brown rice
  • lean ground beef
  • sweet potato
  • canned tuna
  • kidney beans
  • spinach
  • green beans
  • green peas
  • safflower oil
  • vitamins/minerals

He does really well with veggies and the rice really seems to settle his stomach quite a lot. I kept the protein level high but not as high as the commercial kibble he’s been eating.

Here are a few pictures of how it turned out:

I’m still supplementing each meal with some Taste of the Wild kibble and he also gets the occasional dollop of cottage cheese or plain yogurt plus healthy snacks like banana, blueberries, carrots, etc… and he will continue to get his raw or smoked bones in order to keep his teeth clean (plus regular brushings).

I’ll keep regular updates as we go along and we’ll see how things turn out. I’ll also post recipes as I move through the different options. This mash was pretty exciting and I may tone it down going forward, but it feels nice and balanced for now as long as he’s got some fruit in his snacks.

Stay tuned!