The vast majority of dogs are fed commercial pet food. Whether it’s canned, bagged, or semi-moist, until recently dog owners have just grabbed their dog food off the grocery store or pet store shelves. Most still do.
Happily for the dogs, in the past few years, more and more dog owners have begun to realize that the commercial foods, with their additives and often questionable ingredients, are not the healthiest choice. Road kills, body parts of diseased animals, heavy-metal contaminants, and other charming items end up in many brands of food. I could write a whole article about this alone, but I would rather not think too much about it!
Where do you turn to find good information on what to feed your dog?
When the pet food recall of 2007 had many dog owners asking that question for the first time, the American Veterinary Medical Association put out a press release, “Homemade Pet Food Requires Study of Nutrition, AVMA Warns.” The sentence that made me laugh ruefully was, “certainly home-cooked diets are not created with the care that these commercial pet foods are.” The short press release did not address the relationship between dog food and dog behavior.
At the end of this article, I will list some resources for finding out how to feed an optimal diet for both health and behavior, but now — in contrast to the AVMA — here are the findings of noted dog trainer Wendy Volhard. She and her husband Jack Volhard have been breeding Newfoundlands for decades, and they are co-authors of Dog Training For Dummies. You only get to write a “For Dummies” book if you are an acknowledged authority on the topic, and in fact they have written quite a few other books on dogs and dog training as well.
She says on her website, “We have made our own food for well over 30 years now, and our dogs are living longer and longer each generation.” She adds that ten years ago Newfoundlands lived to be 6.2 to 6.7 years old on average, but now their Newfies have even reached the advanced age of fifteen! (I couldn’t help noticing that she is comparing apples and oranges here, average age versus longest, but still the numbers are so different that they impressed me.)
She also states on her website, “Behavior problems, even aggression, can be caused by what you feed your dog…after years of virtually being ignored, the connection between nutrition and behavior, longevity and overall good health is finally being recognized.”
Some people try to discount the work of the Volhards because they are not veterinarians. They can’t say that about Richard H. Pitcairn, who has not only a DVM degree but also a PhD in Veterinary Microbiology. Over twenty years ago, he and Susan Hubble Pitcairn wrote a book that has become a classic, selling over 400,000 copies thus far: Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.
This large book explains what is really in commercial pet food and how it is deficient, then describes how to create a nutritionally balanced natural diet for your dogs and cats. It covers a lot of other topics too.. . I’ll just quote one bit here that is pertinent to the discussion of homemade dog food and dog behavior: He says — based on his many years of working with dogs as a veterinarian — that if you are dealing with behavioral disturbances, “Take your pet off commercial food, if you have not already done so. Any food that contains artificial preservatives, coloring agents, or other additives contains chemicals that can irritate the brain tissue and cause abnormal responses. Feed our fresh foods diet.”
To sum up, if you want a healthy and happy dog, you need to consider your choices of dog food. Will it be commercial, homemade, or (as I do) some of each? Even since the most recent edition of Pitcairn’s book came out, there has been a blossoming of much higher quality commercial dog food, typically made by small companies. While experts may know more about some aspects of the topic than you and I do, we still ultimately have to make up our own minds regarding what we will feed our dogs.
Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, by Richard H. Pitcairn and Susan Hubble Pitcairn. The link takes you to Dogwise.
Whole Dog Journal is an excellent magazine, available both in print and PDF formats. It takes no advertising, which gives it a rare objectivity. It does annual dog food reports that are highly respected; I have found them very useful. This is where you can find the best choices in commercial food, in my opinion. WDJ also provides a lot of great dog training information. You can buy reprints of back articles from the site.
Wendy Volhard has detailed information on her dog food recommendations at http://www.volhard.com/holistic/artbywv.htm
She has also written, with Kerry Brown, DVM, Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, which I have not read. It seems to cover similar topics to Dr. Pitcairn’s book. The link takes you to the book at Dogwise.
There’s a widely publicized ebook called Dog Food Secrets — the link takes you to my review of it. I didn’t like its over-the-top scary sales page but found the book to be reasonable, informative, and useful. Its author is not an expert per se, but then, sometimes that is fine.
There are many other good books on natural health and nutrition at Dogwise; the link takes you to the page where you can browse them.