Healthy Food For Our Canine Companions

All this week, I’ve focused my blog posts on family.

Getting the kids eating right, exercising as a family and tuning in to what type of overall regime might best suit the whole family is key in ensuring everyone is on board, healthy and bonding as a family unit at the same time.

There’s one very important part of the family whose needs haven’t yet been addressed: our canine companions.

Does their diet consist of fresh, natural foods akin to what their wild ancestors may have eaten, or is it more along the line of a dog version of fast food?

Is your dog healthy and vibrant with a shiny coat and a consistent energy level that’s balanced out by a regular exercise regime?

Or is he sluggish, with a dull coat, chronic allergies and an awful body odor with bad breath?

What are you feeding him or her?

In 2014, Americans spent over $58 billion on their dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association[1], including more than $22 billion on food alone.

From lower priced kibble that you might find on the shelves of chain-grocery stores all the way to top of the line, ‘premium’ kibble purchased from a boutique veterinary clinic, it’s still kibble.

What exactly, then, is kibble?

It’s ground meal shaped into pellets, especially for pet food[2].

And just why must food be shaped as a pellet?

It all goes back to shelf life.   Just as with food marketed to humans, processed, preserved and packaged simply lasts longer versus fresh and natural.

And highly processed it is.

Making kibble involves combining ingredients including meat, grains, vegetables, grinding them together, steaming the mix at high temperatures, extruding the mixture through a die cut machine to make dough in little shapes we know as kibble.

The extruder, similar to a giant meat grinder that is heated, is where the primary cooking phase for dry extruded pet food products occurs. The dough is cooked under intense heat and pressure as it moves toward the open end of the extruder. At the end of the extruder, hot dough passes through a shaping die and knife (similar to the action of a meat grinder) where the small pieces expand rapidly into kibble once they are under standard air pressure.

Kibble is dried in an oven until its moisture content is low enough to make it shelf stable like a cookie or cracker.

The drying oven is followed by a cooling phase and then the kibble may pass through a machine that sprays on a coating, which is generally a flavor enhancer[3].

Then, it’s packaged, sealed, shipped and delivered to the shelves of your vet clinic or grocery store.

Sounds vaguely familiar… oh, right! Just like packaged, processed ‘food’ for us humans!

And guess what?

The results of dining on this type of cuisine aren’t that different compared to humans to regularly eat boxed, packaged, shelf stable items.

Research in the United States and the United Kingdom puts 25 to 40 percent of middle-aged cats and dogs in the overweight or obese category[4]!

Whether this is due to giving pets table scraps of food that wasn’t even healthy for humans to be eating in the first place, inactivity to accompany inactive human guardians or simply from eating solely kibble is unknown, but sadly, many don’t look more closely at what the pets are eating until they’re sick.

Then, it’s a raw food cancer treatment diet, or a low allergen lamb and rice formula… but what if we took the same approach with our pets instead and fed them fresh, real food from the get go?

Well, for one thing, it’s daunting.

Even though I made food for our older Weims in their later years, after I began implementing a Paleo regime for myself and husband, I felt uncertain about how to properly prepare the perfectly balanced diet for our new puppy, Preston.

After conversations with veterinary nutrition experts at both UC Davis as well as Cornell and our local vet, I felt even more concerned that somehow I’d risk hampering his development if I tried my hand and making his food.

As comfortable as I am making recommendations for my human clients, I wouldn’t dare risk his health by assuming he’d need what we need!

So first, I spoke with our local vet, who candidly said he had no idea what or how much a growing puppy should eat.

Then, conversation with experts at both universities warranted the same response: Don’t make your puppy’s food for at least one year. You’ve got to use a commercially prepared puppy formula dog food, to make sure he’s getting everything he needs.

And who determines and regulates this?

Ah! The good old FDA.

The FDA’s regulation of pet food is similar to that for other animal foods. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled[5].

If the very same organization that is ignoring the fact that synthetic dyes can trigger hyperactivity and other behavior problems in susceptible children and still has not banned partially hydrogenated oil[6], so how much credibility is really due to them?

In my opinion, it would behoove us, and our dogs, to think outside that same nutrition box that we do for our own diets for theirs, too.

We’re also given grossly erroneous information by the powers that be, including the myth that we need grains to consume adequate fiber or that dairy is the best route to bone building.

But rather than haphazardly deciding to just give our dogs some raw, ground grass fed beef, we’ve got to do our homework, as their needs are different from ours.

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to find a holistic vet in our neighborhoods and ask for a recipe or two for the perfect homemade dog food.

Short of that, we do have some other options:

  • Fresh, local dog food delivery – again; do your research to make sure your dog is getting top quality food from humane sources
  • Reading up on the subject and making yourself a dog food culinary expert. In particular, one book I find highly valuable is Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats[7], which is to dog food making what Dr. Cordain’s The Paleo Diet[8] is to our overall approach to eating well.

You can cook the dogs’ food in batches, freeze it and in just a couple of hours per week, create the foundation upon which he or she will thrive for many years to come.

No extra time in your schedule to do this?

Just as with your own healthy eating and exercise routine, you’ve got to make the time.

What, after all, is more important than health?

[1] Carter, Zach. “Looking For The Safest, Healthiest Pet Food? Good Luck With That.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 12 Aug. 2015


[3] “How Dry Pet Food Is Made – Pet Food Institute.” How Dry Pet Food Is Made – Pet Food Institute. Pet Food Institute, n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2015

[4] “Kibble Confusion.” Tufts Now. Tufts University, 03 Mar. 2011. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.

[5] “U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” FDA Regulation of Pet Food. US Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2015

[6] Jacobson, Michael F. “FDA Is Not Protecting Consumers From Unsafe Food Additives.” The Huffington Post., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2015

[7] Pitcairn, Richard H., and Susan Hubble. Pitcairn. Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 1995. Print.

[8] Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011