3 Dietary Changes to Greatly Improve Your Dog’s Health
You eat healthy. You’ve swapped out high-fat, processed food for more whole, natural, and even organic fare. Perhaps you eschew your previous indulgence of a large chocolate chip cookie for a piece of fruit after dinner?
Would you like a veterinary version of “Eat This, Not That?” I have thought long and hard about which dietary swaps might make the most difference to a dog. Here are my top three recommendations.
1. Feed People Food: Wait. What? A veterinarian just told you the exact opposite of everything you’ve been told about pet nutrition?! Allow me to clarify my point: I recommend that you incorporate vegetables into your dog’s everyday food allotment. I do this because vegetables are a great way to supplement dietary fiber (they help with digestion and anal gland problems), provide natural vitamins and minerals, and help satiety. Many veterinarians recommend including vegetables every day as a way to control excess weight gain in dogs.
Veggies on the “OK” list include:
- Green beans
- Baby carrots
- Bell peppers
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, cabbage, chard and lettuce, as well as leafy herbs like parsley, cilantro, and basil): Some dogs love this category, while some don’t. It’s worth a try for the potential nutritional benefits alone.
- Fruits are OK but they have more sugar and calories than most veggies. Stick with berries or small slices of apples or melons. Bananas, tropical fruits, and citrus fruits can be especially dense in sugars. Use these in moderation.
- Also to be used in moderation: Potatoes and sweet potatoes. Nutritional powerhouses, yes. Calorie-dense starch? Yes, that too.
More important is the “no” list; do not feed the following veggies to your dog:
- Onions, scallions, shallots (anything in the allium family): These can cause anemia in dogs.
- Grapes and raisins: These can cause kidney failure in a certain population of dogs.
- Avocados: The flesh of an avocado is not toxic to dogs — but it is highly toxic to pet birds. It’s the pit that is of concern. Large fragments of the large round pit can cause intestinal obstruction. Caution here too regarding excess fat and calories. Avocados are tasty and full of healthy monounsaturated fats, but a little goes a long way with our faithful companions. I prefer to avoid feeding avocado entirely with dogs that are prone to weight gain.
2. Upgrade Treats: Put into human terms, would you end a day of healthy eating and exercise with a jelly donut? I’m guessing that you would not. So extend your dog the same nutritional courtesy. To augment the healthy diet you provide for your pet, offer very healthy treats as well. Read the label on your treats. You should be able to pronounce everything on the label. For more information about finding healthier treats, check out my post, "Trick or Treat? Choosing Treats That Aren't Just Empty Calories."
3. Multi Purpose Foods: For pets with medical issues, many pet food companies have developed formulas designed to target specific health concerns. In the last few years, health-targeted foods have become even more specialized. For example, urinary health/anti-stress diets for cats are available, along with obesity management/arthritis diets for older, stiff and overweight dogs.
Over-the-counter foods are starting to follow suit. Some companies offer supplements in the food designed to maximize health and longevity. Probiotics, Omega-3 fatty acids, prebiotics (which aid beneficial intestinal bacteria), and glucosamine are now commonplace in wellness diets. Think of these as a way to provide more nutritional bang for your buck.
By incorporating one or more of these ideas, it is possible to significantly improve our pet’s quality of life. We and our dogs have but one life to liv — let’s feed it well!
Jennifer Deming, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She strives to improve her patients' wellness through nutrition counseling and preventative medicine. Dr. Deming lives, works, and plays in the beautiful community of Durango, Colorado.