Dog food and attitude – what our dogs eat and how it may be affecting their ability to change behavior.
I was excited to have an appointment with Craig and his dog Jake last week. Craig’s original complaints for me to address were counter surfing, excessive whining, barking at what appeared to be ‘nothing’ and leash pulling. It quickly came to my attention how dull his coat looked and felt as I reached out to pet his German Shepherd frame. When I probed what Craig had been feeding, he responded, ‘I’m spending a lot of money on premium kibble! How would a change in his food affect his coat and behavior?’
So begins our discussion.
Jake is on a 95% kibble diet and has been for 3.5 years. (treats making up the other 5%). The kibble company spends a tremendous amount of money overriding our common sense approach that anyone eating the same anything for 3.5 years are at risk for experiencing potential problems. Add to this that kibble is a highly processed, nutritionally devoid, carbohydrate-ridden food.
Craig has been feeling as though he was upgrading when he began feeding Jake ‘grain free’ and while this has been a positive direction for kibble companies to travel with their formula, there is still a HUGE carbohydrate load to these foods.
Awareness of human and canine nutrition and its affect on body/mind chemistry is a tap on my shoulder when I hear people tell stories of dog dilemmas. For Jake’s situation:
1. Can we blame a dog that is not getting his nutritional needs met when they forage on a counter?
2. Is it fair to punish the counter surfing behavior, and not a potentially strong physiological need behind it?
3. Is it realistic to ask whether highly processed food could be manipulating his blood sugar, contributing to anxious displays (whining) of behavior? If we were to consider the effects of nutrition on our human bodies, there has been much research to determine that what we eat can (and does) affect our behavior, so is not a huge leap to consider any other living form is affected as well.
Consider these facts and participate with me in a little exercise to calculate how much filler is in dog food:
- Begin with a piece of paper with 100% written at the top.
- Subtract the % of protein, % fat, and % moisture listed on the back of the kibble bag you feed,
- The remainder you see is carbohydrate composition of the food!
- Most will be surprised to witness this amount in excess of 40% (in other words, you are picking it up in the yard after your dog has spent time and energy processing it).
- Now consider that your dog operates optimally at between 11 and 18% carbohydrate intake for his system to function optimally.
Now let’s look at the first six ingredients in Jake’s food:
- Herring meal
- Sweet potato
- Canola oil
- Pea protein
That is the bulk of the food right there, and the remainders of ingredients aren’t any more flattering. How can a company have good conscience marketing this to us, who wish to do right by our dog. This particular formula rendered 52% carbs for Jake to digest, and there is no real substantive nutritional value in this at all. Dogs are carnivores, and the meat is missing!
When our dogs consume more carbs than their body can use, a list of problems can arise including (but certainly not limited to); blood sugar instability, digestive issues, obesity, imbalance with intestinal bacteria, allergies, arthritis, seizures, cancer, anxiety, and the list is growing with research. Carbs can bind vitamins and minerals in the intestines, whisking them out of their bodies with no chance of absorption. Now consider that one of the many duties of B vitamins, for instance, is as a calming influence, as well as capacity to improve brain function. Behavior problems that are rooted in anxiety, which is of course the opposite of calm, may be affected by not getting enough B vitamins.
Speaking to a dogs’ species appropriate diet and prior to when kibble came to be, Jake (this time of year for example) would be feeding on bunnies. He would be eating the innards of the bunny first to assist in digestion of the protein, bone, organs and fur they were about to consume. So this would consist of vegetation the bunny had eaten, packed with B vitamins, digestive enzymes, and probiotics that all help the body absorb food optimally. The enzymatic value of fresh food has been found to also help naturally remove plaque from teeth, and keep it off. Kibble cannot replicate this process. Maybe the ingredients that went into it at one time were nutritionally viable, but that was a very long time before your purchase.
Kibble companies would also have you believe that there is ‘better kibble’ than another. This may be the case for the integrity of the ingredients they applied to the recipe; however, beyond that, each and every kibble goes through the same nutrition degradation process in the highly processing procedure.
Below are some ideas for canine species appropriate (fresh, real food) commercial and convenient options to a highly processed kibble that are available:
Commercially prepared raw diets:
- Darwin’s – delivered to your door on auto ship basis
- Northwest Naturals
- Stella and Chewys
- K9 Naturals
Commercially prepared dehydrated diets:
- Stella and Chewys
- K9 Naturals
- Northwest Naturals
And ideas for Movie Night! Suggestions to bring ideas for further discussion:
- Pet Fooled, video
- Supersize Me, video
Please note, I am NOT suggesting replacing nutrition advice for behavior advice! Although I have witnessed what I consider miracles with a shift in nutrition, I am addressing it here more from the perspective that unless you have as much information about your dog as possible, then a behavior modification plan may be compromised. If a behavior is not responding to protocol that has been revised appropriately, it makes sense to investigate our dog’s physiology – and how they are FEELING!
In terms of Jake’s behaviors, I’m thrilled to say Craig’s now looking to his food bowl as potentially part of the solution. We are working diligently on Jake’s issues, as he has been reinforced in many ways, but we will save that for another chapter. Furthermore, Jakes coat is shining, and he loves mealtime!
There is still much to learn in the area of dog nutrition, many scientific case studies to be performed; however, we can take the gift that research has given us to move in the right direction. With all the good intentions of feeding what the kibble companies would have us believe is the highest quality food, we are picking up much of our money with a pooper-scooper.
For references of dietary suggestions, to learn how to begin feeding a more natural diet, or to unlock the mystery of the ingredient list on your bag of kibble, please contact Patti Howard for a copy of nutritional recommendations, free, via www.yourcanineresource.com Patti is Certified Specialist in Canine Training/Behavior, and holds Advanced Canine Nutritional Certification. Patti is convinced with 25 years experience in these areas that Your Dog Can’t Do Anything Wrong, as will be interpreted by her book of the same name, available this fall/winter.