The Vital Role of Canine Nutrition
Let’s talk about canine nutrition! Last night Jeff and I were settling in after another busy day. We were both exhausted and almost ready to call it a night, when Ellie, our 7 year old Bullmastiff started initiating play with Lexi, our 4 year old Newfoundland/Shepherd mix. Ellie was full of life at 8pm at night, doing play bows, letting out little barks, sneezing, and wagging her tail into oblivion! Lexi absolutely loved the play session, too, and they both enjoyed a healthy and fun interaction. It was so fun to watch and Jeff and I looked at each other and both said, “she hasn’t acted like this in years!” Ellie has always been low energy, low drive, and would almost always prefer to go to bed than go outside. She is, after all, a mastiff. However, after attending the IACP Conference in September and learning some incredible tidbits on nutrition and the vital role it plays in our dogs’ lives, we knew we had to make some changes. The results have been incredible!
The first thing we did was cut the dogs’ kibble almost in half. What we learned from Rodney Habib’s “Bio Hacks” presentation at the conference was that the guidelines on the bags of kibble are vague. Rodney cited a study of Oliver – the dog who went over 100 days without food and was still jumping over walls and otherwise very agile and full of energy. By no means are we advocating you try and replicate this study, we absolutely are not! What Rodney explained to us is that since dogs have the genetic makeup of wolves, they do not need to eat as much or as often as we humans are feeding them. Think about wolves and what their routine is. They rarely stumble upon food in the wild. First, they must work together as a pack to hunt. They are natural born predators. They put all their energy into the hunt and a large percentage of time, the hunt is not even successful. They can go days and sometimes weeks or longer with no substantial source of food. Domesticated dogs on the other hand usually have easy access to food and treats without having to work for them at all. This goes against their very nature and without an outlet to exercise their muscles, brain, and creativity, they start to gain weight, lose energy, and lose their zest for life. (Giving dogs free access to food and other resources without having them work for it is also a surefire way to create behavioral problems, but that is a post for another time!)
Look at your dog’s mid section – can you see the lower couple of ribs? Can you see the outline of their ribs at all? If not, they are overweight. It is important to look at your dog’s physique everyday before feeding them, and adjust portions accordingly. Our habits are to feed them the usual one or two scoops without even thinking about it, but a little mindfulness here can go a long way.
Another important fact worth talking about is the link between the prevalence of canine cancer since the inception of kibble 100 years ago. The rise of commercially processed dog food and the rise of canine cancer are nearly parallel. Now while feeding your dog raw food is one of the best things you can do for them, we understand that is just not possible for many dog owners. Luckily, there are many ways to improve the quality of food we feed our dogs without breaking the bank.
Think back to years ago when dogs weren’t domesticated and lived in the wild – what did they eat? What was available? Experts believe they consumed vegetables, nuts, meats, and organs, among other things.
A 2005 study found that dogs on a diet of dry commercial pet food that were also fed leafy green vegetables at least 3 times per week were 90% less likely to develop cancer than dogs that weren’t. That same study also found that dogs that were fed yellow and orange vegetables at least 3 times per week were 70% less likely. (Pet food study: http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/why-adding-human-food-to-your-dogs-diet-is-so-important/) These are important facts to know, since today’s experts claim that 60% of dogs will develop cancer. Another study found that dogs who were fed 25% less food than the average dog lived 15% longer (average of 2 extra years). They have also found that adding in coconut oil and omega 3s significantly improve cognitive functioning. We learned all of these facts from Rodney’s presentation. We urge you all to follow him on Facebook here and also keep informed with the Truth about Pet Cancer series here.
As a summary, this is what we have done to our dogs’ feeding routine to optimize nutrition:
Cut their kibble by ¼ – ½
Added ½ cup of vegetables like kale, spinach, brocolli, yellow and orange peppers
Added in omega 3s through supplements (you can also use sardines)
Added 1 teaspoon of coconut oil
Raw vegetables can be difficult for them to digest, so we steam them up and then puree them. We then pour the batches into ice cube trays and put them in the freezer. When it’s feeding time it’s so easy to pop a few veggie-cubes out and put them in the food bowl! Sometimes life gets crazy and I run out of time to make the puree, so I always have bags of frozen veggies to fall back on – brocolli, peppers, and spinach that I just pour over their food. It doesn’t get any easier than that! We also use Advocare’s omega 3 supplements. They are 3rd party tested (watch this video) and passed with flying colors. We became Advocare members and you can purchase them through this link here. Whatever brand you choose, just make sure they are safe and 3rd party tested, and watch for mercury levels. The supplements expire within 30 days of opening the bottle.
There are so many ways to help our dogs live longer, happier, and more fulfilled lives. These 5 “Bio Hacks” as Rodney refers to them are a fantastic start:
1. Add veggies 3x/week
2. Increase the amount of exercise
3. Caloric Restriction
4. Add coconut oil and Omega 3s to their diets
5. Switch to raw food (even 1 day of raw per week significantly reduces disease markers)
On top of all of the benefits, these hacks lower insulin levels, which takes pressure off their brains, which increases cognitive functioning tenfold. Isn’t that amazing? Your dogs will lose weight, feel better, have more brain capacity, be more eager to learn, and be more playful, just by changing their nutrition. All of these attributes make for a much more trainable dog! We have found all of these things to be true with our dog Ellie. She has been happier, more engaged with the family, more willing to play, keeps up with us when we bring her hiking, and is all around a more present and fulfilled dog. What a wonderful gift to give our best friends.