This week’s column has been let off the leash. We are going to talk about what you feed your dog.
First of all, what ever happened to the good old days when your dog happily thrived on kibble from the grocery store, Milk Bones for treats, and the occasional table scrap? Well, in the good old days we also didn’t wear seat belts, pregnant women drank alcohol, and doctors would smoke in their offices. We know better now. Or do we?
Nowadays there are so many choices for our dogs. There are special diets for heart health, kidney and liver function, weight loss, shiny coats, old age. Some people opt for the raw meat diet, others have converted their beloved toutous to vegetarianism. Have we reached a point in our culture where we have anthropomorphized our dogs far too much?
My curiosity and concern over this matter was sparked by the dog menu at a local pet-friendly hotel that shall remain nameless. The offerings range from petite portions of greens, carrots, and apple for your “vegetarian” dog to “chef’s menu selection of cold cuts,” “a proper piece of meat spiced with secret dog herbs,” and “a huge portion of a grand dog’s favorites.” Cold cuts, really? Ham, salami, and mortadella are considered a meal for your dog? The “proper piece of meat” is in fact a Hebrew National hot dog — a sodium nitrite, fat-filled weiner. I’m sure your dog would love to scarf that baby down, but I can assure you, he or she will no doubt be emitting fragrant pouffies throughout the night in your hotel room. The “huge portion of a grand dog’s favorites” is meatballs, people meatballs, with all the spices, salt, and fillers your dog doesn’t need.
We all love our dogs and want what’s best for them. I asked a number of friends what they feed their dogs and consulted my dogs’ veterinarian at East Hampton Vet Group, Dr. Paul Hollander.
Susan feeds her 9-month-old Portuguese water dog “high octane” puppy chow from Orijen and the occasional bully stick. Orijen is an excellent brand of dog food. Nancy’s dog eats a special dog food from the vet, supplemented with a little chicken, string beans, sweet potatoes, and . . . matzo . . . to make it interesting. My friend Ellen, who lives on a ranch in Carmel, Calif., has a standard poodle that steals apples from the trees and enjoys a “taste of the wild” killing and eating gophers and rats. Yikes! My friend Jule gives his dog a little bit of his leftover oatmeal every morning, in addition to his regular dog food.
Peter and Betsy win the prize for most reasonable, well-balanced, and properly informed dog owners. Peter’s bottom line? Common sense: “Don’t be cheap when it comes to your dog food. Most big brand dog food consists mainly of cereal or corn, i.e. carbs with vitamins and minerals added. This is like eating mostly pasta and taking vitamin pills and thinking you are eating a healthy diet.” Betsy is a believer in the raw food diet as long as it comes from a reliable source. She is a fan of Aunt Jeni’s Homemade brand.
Just as you should read the label on what you eat, so too should you read the label on the dry and canned foods you feed your dog. Keep in mind that the ingredients are listed in order of volume. If the first ingredient listed is corn, fuggedaboutit. You should also be wary of the raw meat diet. Some of the lesser brands have numerous recalls due to salmonella. Some online recipes, including Rachael Ray’s, call for raw ground meats and raw ground fish, liver, and kidneys. Not a good idea, folks. These uncooked items can carry salmonella and e. coli bacteria.
What does Dr. Paul Hollander recommend as the ideal, balanced diet for your dog? It should have meat, and dry food is not enough. A good canned dog food with real meat and vegetables is healthy and Dr. Hollander supplements his dogs’ meals with frozen beef stew meat that has been seared on the outside to kill surface bacteria.
It should go without saying that raw chicken, pork, and ground beef are no-nos. His dachshund mix, Buddy, is 16 years old and has a chronic kidney condition for which he gets a special diet of dry food in the morning and canned food in the evenings. His spunky 5-year-old Yorkie, “Txiki” — pronounced “cheeky” — which means “little one” in Basque, eats regular dog food supplemented with the seared raw meat. Dr. Hollander is adamantly opposed to a vegetarian diet for dogs and reminds us “they are descended from wolves! Since when did dogs choose to become vegetarian?”
I asked Dr. Hollander why it seems dogs have developed more allergies over the last 20 years. Like doctors for humans, he points out that perhaps it is our ability to detect these allergies, along with diabetes, kidney and liver function, skin conditions, etc., that have enabled us to modify diets for certain ailments. Last but not least, I asked the good doctor, “Do you feed your dogs treats and table scraps?”
“Very few,” is the first answer, then “Do as I say, not as I do,” followed by a chuckle and the admission, “We all spoil our dogs. We love them; what else are you going to do?”
Dogs, like people, need protein, carbohydrates, sufficient vitamins and minerals, and some fat. Combinations like lamb and rice, beef and potatoes, and chicken and pasta are okay. Dogs have short digestive tracts, so vegetables and brown rice tend to just pass right through, unless they are precooked and finely minced. Stay away from onions and garlic, raisins and grapes, macadamia nuts, and chocolate.
Personally, I believe in high quality, commercially made pet foods, supplemented with some healthy tasty goodies from my own kitchen — bits of chicken, a bite of cheese, the carrot that dropped on the floor. This is my philosophy for myself. Everything in moderation, well balanced, no deprivation, and I believe the same should be true for our pets.
These recipes sound relatively harmless. Naturally, you should consult your veterinarian before you start making homemade doggie biscuits and casseroles for your fidele compagnon.