Why do you need to add a supplement to your dog's diet for optimal nutrition when you have been led to believe that the commercial pet food that you are buying is complete and balanced?
As a Certified Pet Food Nutrition Specialist, I can reveal to you insider information about the pet food industry. “Complete and balanced” simply means that a food meets the nutritional adequacy guidelines for its intended purpose as set by AAFCO, The Association of American Feed Control Officials.
Now the science of nutrigenomics is showing this to be an outdated way of thinking about your dog's nutritional needs.
What is Nutrigenomics?
This book covers a science-based approach to creating health through food. These authors are offering the cutting-edge of canine nutrition and want to start your dog's journey to optimal health.
So What's the Industry Secret?
Commercial foods may contain one or more ingredients that set the body up for inflammatory disease through gene expression. Although a food meets the minimum guidelines, it doesn't mean it promotes health at a cellular level.
Also, there is no possible way that one piece of kibble can contain all of the beneficial nutrients your pet needs. Regardless of whether you are feeding your pet a dry kibble, canned or raw diet, they will benefit from eating additional whole food supplements.
Is the Food That You Are Feeding Your Pet Functional?
Let's talk basics on evaluating pet foods to see if they are functional, meaning that they can switch on a gene's expression to fight disease and switch off the expression to promote disease.
There are some important rules for selecting processed diets so that you don't have to rely on an online dog food advisor who admittedly bases the rankings of pet food only by reading label ingredients.
When you look at a pet food label, you will see that the main building blocks of nutrition are proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Tip #1 It is always a good idea to rotate your dog's diet to minimize the risk of excesses or deficiencies in the diet.
Deficiencies or excesses can happen when the manufacturer adds a premix of vitamins and minerals to the food to replace what was lost in the processing. Adult dogs will accept new diets on rotation much easier if they have been introduced to different diets as a puppy.
Just because you have fed a certain brand to your dogs throughout their lifetimes, it does not mean that the brand has maintained the same quality. Many smaller companies with tight quality control have been bought out by large companies that put profits for their stockholders and high-priced advertising above quality food for your dog.
What If Your Pet Has Allergies?
Switch your dog's diet between kibble, canned, dehydrated and even raw.
Dry food, or kibble, is the most highly processed form of commercial pet food due to the cooking process. Certain ingredients in the food may cause a reactive response or cellular damage when they are eaten individually and when several are combined, your pet suffers with allergic reactions.
The cooking process called extrusion kills valuable enzymes and probiotics. By removing the moisture from the food during the cooking process, the reactive molecules in the food are concentrated.
Even premium ingredients are altered and the dog's immune system responds to them as though they are foreign invaders. You may see these immune responses as chronic itchy skin and GI problems that are associated with food intolerances and sensitivities.
This lack in the diet caused by inferior ingredients and processing is why it is important to learn how to supplement kibble with some home-cooked, raw, freeze-dried, dehydrated or canned food.
Any whole food supplement you buy in tablet form should be made by the same brand as the food you are feeding your pet so that it complements rather than competes with the nutritional ingredients in the pet food.
What Are Your Choices?
Experts that understand the shortcomings of commercial pet foods will tell you that ideally, every dog and cat should be eating either raw food, freeze-dried food or a very high quality canned diet. These diets will incur the least amount of nutrient loss. They also contain the lowest amount of carbohydrate in the total analysis.
However these diets may not be realistic for you or your pet due to inconvenience and cost or other concerns. Richard S. Patton PhD explains why raw is better in his book Ruined By Excess, Perfected by Lack and this article written for Dogs Naturally Magazine.
How do you know if you can trust a company?
First, check out the company's recall frequency on the FDA.gov website. What were the recalls for? Sign up for recall alerts. Call the 800 number on the label and ask questions.
Do not rely on Internet websites that promote certain foods based on how they read the labels. The labels do not reveal the quality of the ingredients or how long the food has been stored or the safety controls of the storage facility.
I went so far as to meet the co-founders of one company, the company executives and the pet product formulator before using and recommending their products.
So you want your pet to thrive…not just survive
Supplements enhance the dog's nutritional level and its health, so allow me to share some more simple tips to help increase the nutritional value of dry and processed diets.
Supplementing your dog's diet for superior nutrition is not a topic that is covered well by your veterinarian that has not invested time in learning more about nutrition from a source other than the pet food manufacturers themselves.
How to Supplement Your Dog's Diet For Optimal Nutrition
Tip #2: Supplement With Probiotics
Probiotics are an important addition to processed diets. These intestinal floras are needed for the digestion and the absorption of food. They are essential for immune support and play a role in preventing cancer. They also contribute to a healthy urinary tract and mucosa.
The high temperatures and processing of dog food destroys all bacteria, not just the pathogenic bacteria. High-pressure processing (HPP) for raw diets kills not only pathogens including E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria but also kills yeasts and molds.
Some commercial dry foods contain probiotics, but are they viable? You will see listed a minimum number of CFU or colony forming units on the guaranteed analysis. CFU is the amount of living bacteria per serving or per dose. For general health, most experts recommend at least 6 – 10 billion CFU daily.
Even if a food guarantees living organisms, there probably aren’t enough to maintain a healthy microflora. The bacteria are anaerobic which means they will be destroyed as soon as they are exposed to air unless they are protected. Dairy based probiotics can sometimes aggravate allergies in many dogs.
Probiotics must be added back in as a supplement. If you are buying a human probiotic supplement, then assume the directions are for a 150# human and adapt the feeding guide to the weight of your dog or cat.
You can also add prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients that feed the probiotics in the gut. You can buy prebiotic supplements or you can add foods like banana, raw dandelion greens, asparagus or garlic to the diet. Do not rely on the viability of prebiotics like guar gum, chicory and fructooligosaccharides (FOS) already in some processed foods.
Fermented foods such is kefir or fermented fish stock will not only add probiotics but will also add new nutrients and enzymes to your dog or cat’s meals.
Conveniently, there are many pre-made fermented goat milk products for dogs and cats that are now available. The fermented milk contains 200 different probiotic strains which may survive stomach acids because of the proteins that accompany them.
If your dog likes veggies, then try feeding fermented vegetables. They carry the same benefit and can be fed at about 1 teaspoon per 15 pounds of body weight. You can buy these at higher quality grocery stores unless you want to make your own. Start with small amounts until you reach the desired amount.
Tip #3: Supplement With Whole Food Source Vitamins
The synthetic vitamins that are added to kibble aren’t well assimilated by the body. To overcome this lack, you can feed a kibble without synthetic vitamins and minerals or add a multivitamin supplement that’s made from whole foods.
Tip #4: Supplement With Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids or fish oils don't survive processing either so your dog might be deficient in EPA and DHA. These fatty acids can also turn rancid when exposed to air since most fish oils are still unstable and can oxidize very easily. This is why you should also never buy a fish oil in a pump bottle because air is infused into the oil with every pump.
Instead, look for a fish oil with an International Fish Oil Standards Program (IFOS) rating of 5 for purity, potency and freshness. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation by regulating cellular metabolic functions and gene expression. Besides fish oil, you can incorporate anchovies, halibut, herring, mackerel, wild-caught salmon and sardines into your dog's diet.
Phytoplankton is also a source of Omega 3’s but not as good as fish oil since dogs do not efficiently make the conversion of ALA into EPA and DHA in the body. It’s a whole food that offers a wide range of nutrients that support skin and joint health. Very small amounts are needed…about 1/6 of a teaspoon daily is enough for most dogs and cats.
Krill oil is popular. It contains antioxidants plus the EPA and DHA. While some producers of krill oil have been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, there is still a risk of krill being over harvested. This threatens the food supply of large ocean mammals and birds like whales, seals and penguins.
Tip #5: Supplement With Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has been scientifically proven to improve brain function in older dogs and people too. This is yet another supplement that you can share with your dog.
Coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride that helps the body use omega-3 fatty acids more efficiently and increase omega-3 concentrations in the brain. For optimal nutrition from oils, use both coconut oil and fish oil.
Coconut oil also supports skin health and healthy digestion as well as the immune system, metabolic and bone health.
Buy virgin or extra virgin coconut oil that is preferably organic and cold-pressed. Coconut oil should be packaged in a glass jar.
In order to avoid loose stools, start coconut oil slowly and work up to about 1 teaspoon/day per 10# of body weight.
What Should You Do For Canned Diets?
Canned diets are more nutritious than kibble or dry diets so supplementing wet food is a bit less important than dry food. However, canned diets are still processed so you should fill the nutritional gaps by using some of the same supplements you would use for kibble or dry diets.
Should You Supplement Commercial Raw Frozen Diets?
Some commercial raw frozen diets are a much better option than dry and canned foods as long as you buy them from an experienced producer that adheres to raw sanitation protocols.
Some raw frozen diets contain vegetables and fruit along with the main ingredients which are probably muscle meat, organ meats (liver, kidney and heart) and bone. You can add about 20% colorful vegetables, if they are pureed or lightly steamed to make them digestible, and about 5% fruit.
Again, you will want to look for a source of Omega-3 oils even if they are already in the food because they won’t survive being frozen. Just add them right before feeding.
Do NOT feed raw fish since fish from certain areas can contain parasitic cysts or flukes, particularly around the liver. A dog can become very ill eating fish containing flukes.
Adding just 1/6 of a teaspoon of phytoplankton as the main source of essential fatty acids is also an option.
You can alternate coconut oil or hempseed oil to provide medium-chain fatty acids. If you are feeding a high-pressure processed raw food, then you should add probiotics and prebiotics.
Keep in mind, AAFCO nutrient recommendations are for the minimum requirements for health. Follow these 5 Simple Tips to Supplement Your Dog's Diet For Optimal Nutrition to help make your dog's commercial diets more complete.
Use what works for you…your dog will be happier and healthier because of the educated effort you feed into his life. Be comforted in knowing that no matter what food your pet likes to eat, what your budget is or your time constraints, by feeding fewer calories, you can lengthen your pet's life.
With love, compassion and empowerment,