Health and Nutrition

Food – What Difference Does it Make?

– by Wendy Volhard

Your dog’s behavior, happiness, health, longevity and overall well-being are inextricably intertwined with what you feed him. Dogs, just like everyone else, have specific nutritional needs. And, not to complicate matters, the needs of individual dogs vary. For example, even though your first dog may have done wonderfully well on Barfo Special Blend, it may be completely wrong for the dog you have now. We are not trying to turn you into an expert on canine nutrition, but you do need to know some basic concepts.

The most common and most visible symptoms of nutritionally caused deficiencies are allergies of one kind or another. In his best selling book, “Pet Allergies: Remedies for an Epidemic”, Alfred Plechner, DVM, paints a dismal picture for the future of our pets.

“Because many commercial foods are woefully deficient in key nutrients, the long term effect of feeding such foods makes the dog hypersensitive to its environment. . . . [I]t’s a dinosaur effect. Animals are being programmed for disaster, for extinction. Many of them are biochemical cripples with defective adrenal glands unable to manufacture adequate cortisol, a hormone vital for health and resistance to disease.”

Allergies can be, and often are, unrecognized deficiency diseases. Recognizing nutritional deficiencies will save you a great deal of frustration and allow you to make the necessary adjustments in your dog’s diet.

Choosing the Right Food

Not all dog foods are alike and there are enormous quality differences. The cliché “garbage in, garbage out” applies with terrifying validity. There are so many choices available today that trying to make an informed decision can become an overwhelming task. We are going to tackle the job by the process of elimination. Two commonly used criteria immediately come to mind: advertising and price.

Forget about what the ad says about how good this food is for your dog. You have to look at what’s in it. Forget about price. This works both ways. Just because it costs more doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than a less expensive variety.

Following is a quick check list to determine if your dog is getting what he needs:

  • he doesn’t want to eat the food
  • he has large, voluminous stools that smell awful
  • he has gas
  • his teeth get dirty and brown
  • his breath smells
  • he burps a lot
  • he constantly sheds
  • he has a dull coat
  • he smells like a dog
  • he is prone to ear and skin infections
  • he has no energy or is hyperactive
  • he easily picks up fleas
  • he easily picks up worms and has
  • to be wormed frequently
  • his immune system is impaired

All of these can happen occasionally with any dog, but only occasionally. When one or more of them occur frequently, or continuously, it’s time to find out why.

A Carnivore Needs Meat

Your dog is a carnivore and not a vegetarian. He needs meat. His teeth are quite different from ours — they are made for ripping and tearing meat. They do not have flat surfaces for grinding up grains. His digestion starts in his stomach and not in his mouth. All the enzymes in his system are geared to breaking down meat and raw foods. There is no doubt about it, your dog is a carnivore.

Your dog’s body, as well as yours, is made up of cells, a lot of them. Each cell needs 45 nutrients to function properly. The cells need:

  • protein, consisting of 9 to 12 essential amino acids
  • carbohydrates
  • fat
  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • water

All these nutrients need to be in the correct proportion for the necessary chemical reactions of digestion, absorption, transportation and elimination to occur. If the cells are going to be able to continue to live, the exact composition of the body fluids that bathe the outside of the cells needs to be controlled from moment to moment, day by day, with no more than a few percentage points variation.

These nutrients are the fuel, which is converted into energy. Energy produces heat and how much heat is produced determines the ability of your dog to control his body temperature, critical to a healthy life. Everything your dog does, from running and playing, to working, and living a long and healthy life, is determined by the fuel you provide and the energy it produces.

The term calorie is used to measure energy in food. Every dog eats the quantity of food he needs to meet his caloric needs. The food you feed must provide sufficient calories so your dog’s body can

  • produce energy to grow correctly
  • maintain health during adulthood,
  • reproduce, and
  • grow into a quality old age.

The Dog’s Staff of Life — Protein

On the back of dog food packages you will be told how much protein is in the food. Protein content is important, but even more important is the source.

The manufacturer has choices as to the kind of protein to put into the food. The percentage of protein on the package generally is a combination of proteins found in plants or grains, such as corn, wheat, soy, rice, etc., plus an animal protein, such as chicken, beef, lamb, etc.

By law, the heaviest and largest amount of whatever ingredient contained in the food has to be listed first. By looking at the list of ingredients it is easy to see the origin of the protein. For example, if the first five ingredients contain 4 grains, it tells you that the majority of the protein in that food comes from grains. The more grains in a dog food, the cheaper it is to produce. We wonder what your dog thinks of such a food.

Animal Protein Deficiencies

When your dog does not get enough animal protein as part of his diet, or there is an imbalance of his nutrients, one or more of the following may occur:

  • chronic skin and/or ear infections.
  • reproductive system, heart, kidney, liver, bladder, thyroid and adrenal glands may be compromised
  • may develop some kind of epilepsy or cancers
  • spinning or tail chasing
  • aggression
  • timidity
  • lack of pigmentation
  • excessive shedding
  • crooked whiskers
  • gastrointestinal upsets, vomiting or diarrhea
  • poor appetite
  • impaired ability to heal from wounds, for example, spaying and neutering
  • weakened immune system which cannot deal with vaccines, for example, may contract the disease.

This is only a short list of the more common symptoms associated with protein deficiency.

It has been our experience that the majority of the working breeds, sporting breeds, toys and terriers need extra animal protein in their diets. Dogs that lead a couch potato existence can survive on food with more plant than animal protein.

Amino Acids

One more thing you need to know about protein. Amino acids are the name given to the building blocks of protein. When they are heated they are partially destroyed. All dry and canned commercial dog food is heated in the manufacturing process. So commercial food contains protein that is somewhat deficient or destroyed through heating. To compensate for this loss, besides meat, you need to add an amino acid complex tablet.

The Critical Time of Growth

During the first seven months of your dog’s life, he will increase his birth weight anywhere from 15 to 40 times, depending upon his breed. By one year of age, his birth weight will have increased 60 times and his skeletal development will be almost complete. For everything to go well, he needs the right food. He also needs double the amount of an adult while he is growing, especially during growth spurts. Nutritional deficiencies now, even for short periods, can cause problems later on.

The most critical period for a puppy is between 4 – 7 months, the time of maximum growth. His little body is being severely stressed as his baby teeth drop out and his adult teeth come in. He is growing like a weed, and at the same time his body is being assaulted with vaccines, exposure to new viruses and parasites. The right food is critical so his immune system can cope with all these demands and onslaughts.

To find out how you can protect him as best as possible, you need to take a look at different dog foods to see which ones best meet the criteria for your young dog’s growth.

Puppy Foods and Reading the Labels

Puppy foods do contain more protein than adult or maintenance foods. Manufacturers know that puppies need more protein during growth and many of these foods provide up to 33%. Still, you need to know the source of the protein, that is, animal or plant.

What you are looking for is a puppy food that has 2 animal proteins in the first 3 ingredients, or better yet, one that lists animal protein as its first two ingredients. Avoid foods that do not meet these criteria. Your puppy is not a ruminant.

Once you have selected a food on the basis of it’s protein percentage, you job isn’t quite done yet. You have to check a few other items.

Carbohydrates – Sparingly, Please!

Your dog also needs carbohydrates or grains, and some vegetables for energy, proper digestion, stool formation and the correct functioning of the thyroid gland. Dogs do not need many carbohydrates to be healthy, so a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein is an ideal diet. Diets high in carbohydrates take a long time to digest, produce voluminous smelly stools and gas. They also build up tartar on your dog’s teeth, making his gums sore and his breath smell.

Oats, barley and brown rice are whole grains which contain a lot of vitamins and minerals. They also contain protein and fat. Corn is a popular grain because of its price. Soy is another carbohydrate that is found in some foods. Soy admittedly is high in protein, but binds up other nutrients and makes them unavailable for absorption. Stay away from dog foods that contain soy. It is best fed to those species of animals that have 4 stomachs or birds with gizzards that can digest them.

Carbohydrates have to be broken down for the dog to be able to digest them. Dog food companies use a heat process to do this and therein lies the problem. Many of the vitamins and minerals contained in grains are destroyed by the heat process.

The question that comes immediately to mind is “where do dogs in the wild get the grains and vegetables they need”? The answer is from the intestines of their prey, all neatly predigested, so the dog can utilize them.

Not All Fats Are Created Equal

Fat is either saturated or polyunsaturated and your dog needs both. Together they supply the essential fatty acids (EFA’s), necessary to maintain good health.

In the manufacturing of the majority of dog foods, fat is sprayed on as the last ingredient. Fat makes the dog food palatable, like potato chips and French fries.

Saturated fat comes from animal sources and is used for energy. For dogs that get a great deal of exercise or participate in competitive events, the food has to be high in animal fat.

Not enough animal fat in the diet can create:

  • lack of energy
  • heart problems
  • growth deficits
  • dry skin
  • cell damage

Too much animal fat in the diet creates:

  • obesity
  • mammary gland tumors
  • cancer of the colon and rectum

Polyunsaturated fat comes from vegetable sources, such as flax seed oil, safflower oil, wheat germ oil, olive and corn oil. It is needed by your dog for skin and coat. Too little of this fat can produce skin lesions on the belly, thighs and between the shoulder blades. If your dog has a dry coat you may need to add some oil to his food.

Linoleic acid is one of the three essential fatty acids that have to be provided daily in your dog’s food. Cold pressed Safflower and flax seed oil provide the best source of linoleic acid and are the least allergenic. They are better than corn oil which contains only a tiny amount of lineoleic acid. Flax seed oil can be difficult to digest for some dogs.

Lack of polyunsaturated fat can cause:

  • coarse dry hair coat;
  • improper growth;
  • skin lesions on belly, inside the back legs, and between the shoulder blades;
  • thickened areas of skin;
  • horny skin growths;
  • skin ulcerations and infections;
  • poor blood clotting;
  • extreme itching and scratching.

Look for a food that has both animal fat and vegetable oils in it.

What Else is in Here?

The manufacturer has choices on how to preserve the fat in food to prevent it from becoming rancid. He can use the chemicals BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin or propyl gallate. If a fat is preserved with these chemicals, it will have a long shelf life and be little affected by heat and light. Even so, many of us would prefer not to feed these to our dogs, especially ethoxyquin.

Or he can use natural preservatives, such as vitamins C and E. Vitamin E will be listed as tocopherol. The down side is a shorter shelf life, no more than six months.

What is Missing?

Vitamins are needed in your dog’s food to release the nutrients and enzymes from the ingested food so the body can absorb and use it. When we were researching the original version of this book, we called manufacturers to ask them their source of vitamins and how they protected them against destruction from the heat process. Their responses were astonishing. They acknowledged awareness of the problem and to overcome it, added more to the food to make up the difference. Of course, this is nonsense. If vitamins are destroyed by heat, it doesn’t make any difference how much you put in the food — it will still be destroyed.

We also learned that the finished product was not tested. In other words, vitamins and minerals go into the food, but what actually reaches your dog seems as much a mystery to the manufacturer as it is us.

Different Kinds of Vitamins

There are two types of vitamins — water soluble and fat soluble. Water soluble vitamins are B’s and C. Any excess is filtered through the kidneys and urinated out between 4 to 8 hours after ingestion. For this reason they have to be present in each meal. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble and stored in the fatty tissues of the body and the liver. Both types are needed by your dog.

Vitamins are not only lost in the manufacturing process, but begin to deteriorate as soon as you open up your dog food bag and expose the food to light and air. Particularly sensitive are vitamins C and B. Vitamin C is needed for healthy teeth and gums. In the old days, sailors often suffered from vitamin C deficiency due to the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables while at sea. It is called scurvy and manifests itself in weakness, anemia, spongy and inflamed gums, and dirty teeth. The same thing happens to the vitamin C deficient dog.

A fairly common misconception is that dogs don’t need extra vitamin C because they produce their own. While it is true that they produce their own, it is not enough, especially in our polluted environment.

Vitamin C strengthens the immune system, speeds wound healing, helps the function of the musculoskeletal system and is needed whenever the dog gets wormed, is given drugs of any kind, or put under any kind of stress. A lack of vitamin C in the diet commonly results in urinary tract infections, cystitis and limps. Vitamin C is needed to break down the animal protein in the diet and helps to keep the immune system healthy.

The same holds true with vitamin B, which is made up of a number of individual parts and is called Vitamin B-Complex. Also a water soluble vitamin and fragile, Vitamin B is needed for energy and to promote biochemical reactions in the body which work with enzymes to change the carbohydrates into glucose, as well as to break down protein. Since not enough of either is contained in any processed dog food to meet our criteria for raising a puppy, you have to add this to his diet.

Minerals – A Little Goes a Long Way

Minerals make up less than 2% of any formulated diet, and yet they are the most critical of nutrients. Although the dog can manufacture some vitamins on its own, he is not able to make minerals. They are needed:

  • so the body fluids are composed correctly,
  • for formation of blood and bones,
  • to promote a healthy nervous system, and
  • function as co-enzymes together with vitamins.

Since between 50 to 80% of minerals are lost in the manufacturing process, we recommend that you add extra minerals to his food.

Stay with us — we’re almost through the things you need to know to make intelligent decisions on feeding your dog. We will give you some ideas of which foods to choose and what to add to them to make up for the deficiencies caused in processing. But first, one more piece of information, so everything falls into place for you.


Your dog should have access to fresh water in a clean stainless steel bowl at all times. The exception would be when the puppy is being house trained. Then you limit access to water after 8:00 p.m. so the puppy will last through the night.

Digestion Time

According to a Swedish study, raw foods pass through a dog’s stomach and into the intestinal tract in 4 1/2 hours. So after that time span, the dogs were already receiving the energy from that food. Raw foods are the most easily digested by the dog.

Semi moist food, the kind that is found in boxes on the shelves in the supermarket and shaped like hamburgers, or found in rolls like sausages, took almost 9 hours to pass through the stomach.

Dry food took up to 16 hours. So if you choose to feed your dog any kind of dry processed dog food, it will be in his stomach from morning, noon ‘til night.

So what’s the point? Well, let’s take a closer look.

Enzymes and Enzyme Robbing

Enzymes make a body tick. They are either already contained in the body, or made through what we feed our dogs.

When that semi-moist food or dry food sits in the stomach of the dog, it does so because there are not enough enzymes in the stomach to break it down. Remember, a dog’s stomach is designed to deal with raw foods.

So the stomach sends a message to the brain. “Hey, brain, we need some more enzymes down here.” And the brain comes back “Okay, okay, but I need some time”. It then gathers enzymes from the heart, the liver, the kidneys and other parts of the body to be transported to the stomach. In the meantime, the food sits there until enough enzymes are collected for digestion. This process is called enzyme robbing.

Robbing various parts of the body of enzymes which they themselves need to function correctly, can have a detrimental effect on those organs. A predisposition for problems in those areas, can hasten disease and reduce the life span of the dog.

How to Feed Your Dog

Our 30 years of breeding, raising, working and living with dogs of several breeds, has had a profound effect on our way of thinking and we know that a homemade diet is best. Even so, we are realists. You are a busy person and may not even cook for yourself, much less be concerned about what goes into your dog. Fortunately, using dog food as your base, you can take some shortcuts to safeguard your dog’s health.

Option 1 – Commercial dog food, supplements with some fresh foods added
Healthy Dog Diet for a 50 pound Dog
(Adjust According to Weight)

Find a dog food that has two animal proteins listed in the first 3 ingredients, preferably the first two, and that is preserved naturally with vitamin C or E. Your puppy also needs some fresh foods which contain their own enzymes. Feed the following:

Twice a Day:

  • Commercial dog food following the directions for the weight of your dog
  • 500 mg of Vitamin C in the form of calcium ascorbate, twice a day
  • Vitamin B-complex, twice a day
  • 1/4 teaspoon vitamin/mineral mix, which contains digestive enzymes and probiotics. Feed 2 x day until your puppy is through teething and all his vaccinations, then stop. After that, use only when your puppy is going through a growth spurt, or during times of stress.
  • 2 Tbsp of fresh vegetable
  • 2 Tbsp of fresh or dried fruit
  • 1/4 cup of raw meat: either beef hamburger, 20% fat (80% lean), (or 2/3 meat and 1/3 beef liver for a total of 1/4 of a cup). You can also substitute chicken and chicken livers.

In the morning only:

  • One Amino Acid Complex
  • Digestive enzymes for 3 weeks (helps with the transition to raw meat). After that it can be decreased and stopped. If dogs has problems, you can start adding it again. A loose stool is often a sign of too much enzyme supplementation.

Four times a week:

  • One large egg with shell boiled for 5 min
  • Once a week substitute cottage cheese for the meat on one day, and unflavored yogurt containing acidophillus on another day.

These supplements replace those destroyed in the manufacturing process. For more information, consult :Dog Training For Dummies®, by Jack and Wendy Volhard (pg.131), and the Supplemented Kibble Chart.

Available through “phd Products” (800) 743-1502. Supplemented Phd was the combination clinically tested. This does not mean that other combinations are not acceptable. Blood tests are recommended to verify adequacy of supplementation.

You can give raw vegetables, like a carrot or stalk of broccoli, or put them through a food processor and mix with the food, or slightly steam them. Do whatever it takes for your dog to enjoy them.

Vegetables to use include: carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, green or yellow beans, broccoli, parsnips, squash, leeks, kale, collard and turnip greens, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower. Our dogs love salad vegetables, and so they always get some lettuce, cucumbers, or whatever variety we choose when making a salad for ourselves.

Since vegetables contain cellulose from the stalks of the plants and dogs can’t break down cellulose, putting them through a food processor or par-boiling makes them easier for your dog to digest.

Fruit should and can be used frequently. Fruits to use are bananas, plums, prunes, raisins, apricots, apples or anything your dog tells you he needs. Dried fruits are wonderful as treats.

Give Your Dog a Bone

Once or twice a week give your dog a bone as a special treat. They love large beef bones, raw chicken necks and the tips from chicken wings. If you are not sure about how long these have been out in the supermarket case, douse with boiling water to kill any bacteria. The side product of feeding bones is that your dog has beautiful, pearly white teeth that don’t need to be cleaned. Feeding too many bones will give him constipation and hard, chalky stools.

When you give your dog a bone, leave him alone. It is a special treat, and he wants to be in a place where he can relax and enjoy it. A crate is the perfect place for him to enjoy his bone in peace and quiet.

Option 2 – Making your own food

Instead of leaving it to someone else, you can make your own dog food. Many people, ourselves included, do it, and there are many recipes available. We have made our own food for well over 30 years now, and our dogs are living longer and longer each generation. Whereas the normal life span of a Newfoundland in 1998 was 6.2-6.7 years according to a national survey done by the Newfoundland Club of America, our dogs, and other dogs following the Natural Diet, live up until 15 years of age.

Wendy Volhard’s Natural Diet
50-pound dog

Days 1-6 Breakfast

  • 3 Grain mix (dry/oz)
  • 2 Molasses (t)
  • 2 Safflower Oil (t)
  • 200 Vitamin E (IU)
  • 200 Vitamin C (mg)
  • 50 Vit. B Complex (mg)
  • 1.25 Egg, small, 4 x a week
  • 1/3 Yogurt or Kefir (C)

Day 7 Breakfast

  • 2 Grain Mix (dry/oz)
  • 200 Vitamin C (mg)
  • 50 Vit. B Complex (mg)
  • 2/3 Yogurt or Kefir (C)
  • 4 Honey (t)

Day 1-6 Dinner

  • 12 Meat (oz) – days 1-5
  • 2.5 Liver (oz) – days 1-5
  • 14 Cottage Cheese (oz) – day 6
  • 200 Vitamin C (mg)
  • 1 Cod Liver Oil (t)
  • 1 Apple Cider Vinegar (T)
  • 1/2 Kelp (t)
  • 1 Brewers Yeast (t)
  • 1.5 Garlic Capsule (325 mg)
  • 2.5 Bone Meal (T)
  • 2 Wheat Germ (t)
  • 3 Wheat Bran (T)
  • 2 Dry Herbs (t)
  • 2 Fruit (T) on alternate days

Day 7 Dinner

  • 1/2 Day Fast

The Natural Diet has been clinically tested all these years, and is the only recipe on the market that can boast such testing. All other recipes are as yet unproven — long term.

The “Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog” 2nd edition, Howell Book House, IDG Books, Volhard/Brown, DVM, March 2000. This book contains more information on supplementing a high quality dog food diet, proven recipes for making your own food, weight charts for your dog, preparing diets for sick dogs, feeding by the seasons and invaluable health information.

Option 3 – Natural Diet Foundation
The dehydrated version of the Natural Diet

The new Natural Diet Foundation is the closest thing you can come to feeding your dog a homemade diet. It is the dehydrated version of my Natural Diet, which uses only human grade ingredients. While you buy it in a box, it comes in two bags, one for the morning meal and one for the evening meal thus separating out the grains and vegetables from the meat. It is the only diet that utilizes the concept of food combining for your dog. You add water, yogurt and some in season vegetables to the morning meal, and just water and fresh raw meat (either beef or chicken), to the evening meal. This diet has been extensively clinically tested on all life stages of dogs, and living in different climates. The homemade version of the Natural Diet and Natural Diet Foundation is the only natural diet recipe that has been clinically tested in this country.

More information about the NDF: phd Products

Reprinted with permission from Volhard Holistic Care Articles by Wendy Volhard — — The site for the discriminating dog owner.

Note: This section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters.

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