How to feed a Golden Retriever
Or, what I've accidently learned about preventing
hot spots, lick sores, "allergies", dry coats, intermittent multi-coloured loose
stools, fleas and much more by a Golden owner (but not a vet) Kathy Partridge
Golden Retrievers are getting a Bad Rap
Golden Retrievers have become famous for their "hereditary skin allergies"
and some vets are now referring to them as "tumor factories" as well. They are
riddled with genetic defects - so the experts tell us. I disagree. While there
is no doubt that hereditary problems do exist in Golden Retrievers, it is my contention
that many, (many!) of the chronic problems besetting our dogs have their true
roots in the commercial diets we feed.
Do I have scientific proof of this? Nope.
But I am currently owned by 14 Golden Retrievers, and I have seen with my own eyes the amazing
transformation that took place once I began feeding them like the carnivores they
are. That's all the proof I need. The biggest genetic problem Goldens have is
that they are dogs. Goldens are not bovine or equine, they are Canis lupus familiaris
- first cousins (maybe closer) to wolves, or Canis lupus. The sooner we start
acknowledging this, the sooner our breed will begin to regain its health.
What should you Feed your Golden Retriever?
Many people want the definitive (and easy) answer to
the question: "What's the best food to feed my Golden Retriever?" Sorry to disappoint you,
but there is no "best food". Do not be fooled by claims of nutrient precision.
Every dog is an individual.
I also believe that different breeds have different
needs - but here, we'll just consider the needs of Goldens. While I can name a
few good brands (and there are very few), what I'd really like to do is encourage
people to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own dogs' health.
Don't do it because I said so. Pick lots of folks' brains. Read everything you
can get your hands on. Do not close your mind to any information - you do not
necessarily have to act on it, but keep it in mind. Pay attention to the science,
but realize that science is not perfect, science does not have all the answers,
and very often, science and profits go hand in hand. Science has something to
offer, but so do laypeople.
Experienced dog people can be excellent sources of
real-life practical information and they have nothing to gain (no money, no fame,
no glory) when they share it with you. Among dog folks a Great Dane breeder and
a Samoyed breeder were gold-mines of information for me. You don't have to listen
to just Golden people.
Think for yourself! Make up your own mind - what are you
comfortable with? What can you handle? What makes sense? If you do not empower
yourself in this way, you are at the mercy of the dog food companies and their
pitchmen. They will tell you what they want you to know, no more. They will regularly
try to entice you to buy their latest fad formula - no, it's not necessarily what
your dog needs, but they're hoping to increase their market share with it.
Every dog has to be fed as an individual. One size does not fit all. Laypeople can and
do figure this stuff out - it is not brain surgery or rocket science. The dog
food companies have brainwashed us all (including our vets) into thinking that
the subject of canine nutrition is just too complicated for our feeble little
Why has it gotten so complicated? Because we've moved
so far from the fundamentals. If you're so stupid, how have you managed to feed
yourself and your family? And how the heck do wild canines do it? What food chemists
and PhD nutritionist balances their diets?
Wolves kill and eat whatever's available.
It's never cooked and processed. Their diets include a variety of foods but by
far, the majority of what they eat are animal tissues. They do not graze fields
of soy, eat corn by the bushel and wait anxiously for the wheat harvest to come
in. Their prey may eat some of this stuff (only seasonally), but by the time the
wolves get to it (in the intestines), it's been thoroughly chewed and partially
Wolves and wild dogs eat the entire carcass of all but the largest prey
animals (like moose). They eat the organs, the intestinal contents, and the muscle
meat. Later they finish off the entire skeletal remains as well as the hide, and
hooves. They occasionally eat some grasses and vegetation on their own (often
covered with blood from the recent kill), but they are carnivores.
Consider the following: "Robert Wayne, now of UCLA, studied the molecular evolution of the
dog family. He found the earliest fossil remains of the domestic dog to be 10-15
thousand years old. [And let me point out here that we've only been feeding commercial
kibble for the last 50 years or so.]
Mitochondrial DNA studies of 7 breeds of
domestic dogs vs 23 wolf populations showed a difference of only .2% (that's 2/10
of 1%). So, measured against natural selection, we don't seem to have done an
awful lot of irredeemable damage..." If this is true, then our domestic dogs and
wolves still are very close kissing cousins, and very likely still have similar
nutritional needs. Perhaps we can take a few dietary lessons from the wolves,
With literally hundreds of products on the market, how
do you choose the few that might suit your Golden? These are my personal guidelines
for a top of the line, high protein (25 - 30%) food. Of course, in each line there
will also be lower protein foods with a higher % of cereal/grains, which is okay
(within reason) as these do serve an important function for some dogs.
Not all dogs need (or should have) 30% protein food. However, I have found that if the base
kibble I feed fits these criteria, my Goldens will likely do well on it. I apply
the following to all foods in a manufacturer's line:
1. First ingredient on the list is a meat or poultry
meal (not fresh, which generally gets to be first on the list because of its 70%
2. At least two meat or poultry meals in the first four
ingredients. For a 20 - 24% protein food, this will be 2 within the first 5 or
3. At least three different animal proteins in the food,
not counting the eggs (for example lamb, chicken and fish).
4. No by-products (exception: Bil-Jac as they only use
"good" by-products that they render themselves, like livers and kidneys, no hooves,
horns, heads, etc.)
5. No soy.
6. Minimal duplication of cereals, ie. brewer's rice,
rice gluten, rice flour. Many, many premium foods use this little deception. When
you see it, it's a sure sign that it's a cereal based food with a little animal
protein added. Add up all those rice variations (or corn, or wheat, etc.) and
you have a rice-based food.
7. No peanut hulls or cellulose.
8. Food must include probiotics.
9. Preferably preserved with C and E, although this
is very difficult with the high protein/fat foods. The issue of preservatives
is the most likely area you'll have to compromise in, in order to get the other
good qualities of a food. It always amazes me how many people pass up an excellent
but synthetically preserved food in favor of grain-based junk simply because it
uses C and E. They then spend a fortune at the vet's trying to figure out their
dogs' "allergies" with little success. (By the way, allergies are not due to a
lack of prednisone in the body.)
10. No added ethoxyquin.
11. Vitamins and minerals that are sequestered or chelated for better absorption.
12. A list of actual food ingredients that is as long
as possible. This is a sign that the company is formulating their products so
that the bulk of nutrients come from real food, not just synthentic and crude
vitamins and minerals.
13. No sugar in any form (sucrose, fructose, etc.)
Of course feeding any commercial food is an exercise
in compromise. I don't think there are any that meet all 13 of my requirements,
so I do the best I can. By the way, the more animal proteins there are in the
food, the more likely I am to "forgive" a fresh ingredient being first on the
list. I do believe all commercial foods should be judiciously supplemented (preferably
with real, raw food), as they are completely dead and processed.
After years of searching and investigating dog foods, I've found that the above
guidelines are most likely to lead you to a food your dogs will do best on. When
in optimum health, dogs do not have "allergies", hot spots, lick sores, g-i problems,
auto-immune problems, etc. They also are virtually flea-proof.
The majority of dogs with "allergies" do not have allergies at all. They are exhibiting the
effects of trying to meet their amino acid needs from a food that relies primarily on
grains and one animal protein as a protein source. My feeling is that only 10-20%
of dogs have true food allergies.
In my opinion, no matter what you're feeding,
if your dogs do not have allergies, hot spots, lick sores, g-i problems or fleas,
there is no reason to switch. That's the bottom line. However, if your animals
do suffer with some or all of the above, then you could be doing better.
Goldens and Allergies
The following recommendations are based on my own experiences
with my own dogs, and I can't promise they'll work for you. If you have any concerns,
you probably should talk to a veterinarian, preferably a holistic or complementary
Following my GRNews club column in the March-April '96 issue, I received
countless phone calls and letters from readers interested in knowing the specifics
of how they might solve the problems their dogs are having. Regardless of the
age of the dog, or the area of the country, the symptoms are consistent: hot spots,
lick sores, generalized itching, obsessive licking of feet or knees, recurrent
staph infections, chronic ear infections, poor quality coats, and they react terribly
The people I hear from are dedicated Golden owners who would do anything
for their animals and in most cases they have: repeated allergy testing and shots,
innumerable other tests, trips to veterinary teaching hospitals, etc. Over and
over, the answer is the same: it's "allergies". These animals are typically being
maintained on prednisone, antibiotics and antihistamines, but nothing helps. The
problems never go away; at best they're "managed".
In each of these scenarios,
if diet is mentioned, it's because some of these veterinarians advised putting
the animal on a lamb and rice diet. So to the vets' credit, they do have some
inkling that diet is involved, but their advice is next to useless, since there
is nothing magical about lamb and rice diets. I know that lamb and rice diets
are espoused as being 'hypoallergenic'. They may have been at one time, but they
aren't any more.
Still, I don't believe that the majority of Goldens are allergic
to their foods at all. A few dogs really do have true allergies - their immune
systems see a threat in corn, or wheat or whatever and overreact. The problem
is that the symptoms of true allergies are similar to those that result when a
dog is deficient in animal protein.
In my experience, the source of most Goldens'
"allergies" are the commercial foods we feed. Dogs are dogs. They are not cows,
sheep or horses. Their wild ancestors ate a diet that consisted almost entirely
of high quality animal tissue. Muscle meat, organs, bones, and even skin and hooves.
Strictly speaking canines aren't 'true' carnivores because they do consume the
partially digested plant matter in the intestinal tracts of their herbivorous
prey. But this is a relatively small percentage of their overall intake.
However, stop and think for a minute what a moose or caribou or buffalo - the wolves' prey
- eat. They roam and graze. They eat grasses, leaves and lichens. They do not,
to my knowledge, eat a lot of grains in their mature form, the seed heads of wheat,
rice or ears of mature corn. If they do so, it would only be seasonally, in the
late summer or fall. However, the dog food companies take the fact that wild canines
consume a small amount of predigested plant matter on a regular basis and use
it to justify the huge amounts of grains upon which their foods are based.
Wild canines eat a lot of animal matter with a little plant matter. The dog food companies
turn this upsidedown and manufacture plant-based foods with a little animal protein
thrown in. Why do they do this? Because it makes for greater profits - cereal
grains are cheaper to buy than animal protein. So their foods are based on cereals
to maximize profits.
In 1990, it cost approximately $10 to manufacture a bag of
Eukanuba. How much do you think it would cost if it were truly a meat-based food?
(And believe it or not, Eukanuba does use more animal protein than many of the
other foods out there.)
Lamb & Rice Foods - The Myth of Hypoallergenic Diet
Here's the truth about lamb and rice foods. Once upon
a time, all readily available commercial dog foods were based on beef, chicken,
corn and wheat. You couldn't buy a lamb and rice food "over the counter". Since
it's constant and repeated exposure to foods or food ingredients that are the
triggering mechanism of allergies, many dogs eventually became allergic to beef,
chicken, corn and wheat. The solution was to put the dog on a lamb and rice food,
which at the time, was only available from your vet. The lamb and rice food helped
manage these allergic dogs because they hadn't been exposed to it before.
Wow! Lamb and rice soon became known as 'hypoallergenic'. The dog food companies jumped
on this and started manufacturing their own lamb and rice formulas. Well intentioned
puppy owners decided the smart thing to do was to start their animals on this
'hypoallergenic' formula from the beginning, in the mistaken belief their dogs
could never become allergic to it. Not true. Through constant, repeated exposure
to lamb and rice, your dog can become just as allergic to these ingredients as
Because the lamb and rice foods have been so overused in this regard,
the vets now have new, more exotic hypoallergenic formulas to dispense to dogs
who are allergic to lamb and rice. Most of these are some combination of duck,
fish and potato.
So when you feed your Golden a diet based on plant proteins,
he has to struggle for the nutrition he needs. His system was designed to break-down
animal protein. He doesn't have the complex digestive tract that cows or horses
have for breaking down plant material. The dog food companies' will tell you that
cooking makes up for this, but does it really? And we know that cooking destroys
and alters nutrients, making it even more difficult for a dog to do well.
The fact is, even dogs that don't show clinical signs of animal protein deficiency
aren't exactly thriving. You will never get the major dog food companies to admit
to this - they hide behind their science which supposedly "proves" their foods
are good for your dog.
Problem is, the science is, in many cases, up to 60 years
old, and it's one sided. Since nearly all canine and feline nutritional studies
are funded by the pet food companies themselves, it's not in their best interests
to look at the alternatives to their formulas - if they did they just might find
out that their foods aren't as good as we've been brainwashed to believe.
Another problem with grain-based foods is that many of them are too alkaline for many
breeds, especially those of European origin like our Goldens. When the diet is
too alkaline, the animal is much more susceptible to bacterial infections - hence
recurrent yeast (ear), staph and bladder infections that many Goldens have to
live with on an on-going basis. So the solution to many "allergy" problems that
Goldens are plagued with is to put these dogs on a meat-based diet that is more
acidic. There are several approaches to this.
Cooking For your Dog
An all natural home-cooked diet is the approach I would
use if I had a dog with chronic, long-term problems. If your dog is really a mess,
forget the commercial foods completely and put him on one of the home-made diets.
There are several, and one of the best is the natural diet that Wendy Volhard
originated many years ago. The diet is thoroughly explained in her book, The Holistic
Guide for a Healthy Dog. Her diet is one of the more complicated ones, but I would
encourage you to buy the book and consider it, since I believe it's one of the
Dr. Pitcairn gives many recipes in his book, Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide
to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. However, many of them rely too heavily on
starches - potatoes, grains and beans so be careful. You're trying to move toward
a meat-based diet for your dog. Toward that end, you could feed some of his cat
recipes which are higher in animal protein (the author states that it's okay to
do so.) In fact there is a Scottish Deerhound breeder in California that feeds
the Fatty Feline Fare as a sole diet and she is thrilled with her dogs' condition.
Apparently this combo is well suited to her breed - they're doing better on this
than they have on any of the other home-cooked diets.
Another diet that's growing
in popularity is Dr. Ian Billinghurst's "meaty bone" diet, as explained in his
book Give Your Dog a Bone. Dr. Billinghurst is a veterinarian in Australia, and
his diet is extremely popular there and in England.
Tricks of the Trade
There's no shortage of protein in commercial dog foods,
problem is, most of it is from cereal grains and that's what gives our dogs such
grief. The labeling laws don't mandate that we be told what percent of protein
is from plants, and how much is from animals. That information would help us a
lot. We are at the mercy of the manufacturers. To some degree, we just have to
trust what they tell us - we read the label and have to believe that what they
say is what's in there. But you all know what an animal is. (See? It's not brain
Go get your dog food bag and look for things like Meat Meal, Chicken
Meal, Poultry Meal, Fish Meal and/or Lamb Meal. These are animal proteins. You
should see three of these in the first 4 or 5 ingredients listed AND one of them
should be the very first ingredient on the list. Any kind of By-Product Meal is
less desireble because it contains lots of feet, beaks, heads, etc. Not as good
as the plain Meals listed above. (By the way, Meat Meal is very often pork, but
a lot of manufacturers don't want to say so because of cultural and religious
"biases" against pork.)
NOW, here's where the companies get tricky. If your
bag of kibble says Lamb, Chicken, Beef, or Fish (not followed by the word "Meal")
then they're cheating you. That means they mixed in fresh (well, how fresh is
actually debatable, I've heard stories about chickens sitting out in the hot sun
for days until they turn green - before they're finally mixed into the food) raw
meat of some kind. That's good, right? Nope. Not for our purposes. Because fresh
meat is around 70% water. And the manufacturers count the weight of the water
when listing fresh meats, so they are listed first as a result of the water weight.
The water is removed during processing, what's left is the actual animal protein,
and taken by dry weight, it's way down on the list. These foods are really cereals
in disguise, there's very little animal protein in them.
Also, count up the number of plant ingredients. You also know what these are: Soy, Corn, Wheat,
Rice, etc. How many times is the same ingredient duplicated? Like Ground Yellow Corn, Corn
Gluten Meal, Corn Germ Meal. Add up all that corn. Chances are you have a corn-based
food, even if you have a Meal at the top of the list. Added up, the total
forms of corn will outweigh the Meal. Sneaky, aren't they? Nutro does this with rice.
See, this is the deal. Animal protein costs more than
plant protein. They want to make cheap food, and sell it for what the traffic
will bear ($35 - $40 per bag) to maximize profits. So they employ these tricks
to make you think you're feeding animal protein when in fact, you may as well
be feeding Wheaties. The companies will tell you that the dog's body doesn't care
if his amino acids come from plants or animals. Well, my Goldens do care. Their
coats, energy levels and overall condition tell me what I need to know. It does
make a difference. Do I have scientific proof of this? Nope. Do I care? Nope.
My dogs are far more trustworthy than any dog food rep. Even many foods that are
more animal-protein based, like most of the Iams and Euk are still too one-dimensional.
All the dog gets is chicken. No lamb, no beef (and I think beef is very important
for Goldens), no fish. Again, feeding a variety of nutrient sources is better
insurance against problems. All the home-made diets rely on raw meat - don't be
afraid of feeding it this way.
However, Wendy Volhard does have some good advice in
this regard for those whose animals are in poor condition or ill when the diet
is started. Feeding raw foods is critical - they contain enzymes, bacteria (good
ones) and other 'life forces' - trying not to sound too New Agey here, but I don't
know what else to call it - that are essential to good health.
If you doubt that vegetables are 'alive', consider this - if you plant a raw potato, it will
grow and reproduce. If you plant a cooked one, it will rot in the ground. Raw foods
are 'alive' in some way that cooked foods are not. Because of the lengthy explanations
involved, I'm not going to attempt to outline any of the exact recipes or diet
plans. My best advice is to buy the books and read them cover to cover. Besides
you shouldn't be doing this because I said to - you need to understand for yourself
what you're attempting to do.
Fresh (or 'people') Foods you Should Not Feed
Large Amounts of Egg Whites
The feeding of large amounts
of egg whites will cause a deficiency of biotin, a B-vitamin due to the presence
of a destructive substance called avidin. However, this is of no concern if the
yolks are also being fed, since the effect of the avidin is offset by the high
biotin content of egg yolk. Whole eggs are among the best sources of protein available.
I feed them raw, with the shell.
Contains theobromine which is toxic to dogs
and cats. Unsweetened chocolate is the most dangerous, containing 16 mg. of theobromine
per gram. Milk chocolate contains about 1.5 mg. per gram. The LD50 (the level
at which 50% of test subjects die) for theobromine in dogs is between 240 and
500 mg/kg of body weight, but deaths have been reported after ingestion of as
little as 114 mg/kg. Bottom line: No chocolate!
Consumption of a sufficient amount (equal to
more than 0.5% of body weight, which isn't much) of onions results in hemolytic
anemia, fever, darkened urine, and death. The toxic principle is n-propyldisulphide,
Spinach, Swiss Chard, and Rhubarb
While these are not toxic, they are high in oxalic acid, a compound that interferes with calcium
absorption, so don't feed these very often.
The Combination Approach
A second approach is to feed a combination of commercial
and fresh foods. This is what I do. However, I have gradually moved to a diet
that really emphasizes variety so that my dogs have whatever nutrients they need
whenever they need them. They don't have to wait for me to wake up, notice a problem
and switch foods.
Our dogs have the capacity to keep themselves perfectly
healthy if we provide them with the raw materials to do so. Every dog is an individual
- who are we to say that this dog should do well on chicken every day, that dog
needs lamb? What if your dog really needs a little bit of the nutrition from fish?
What if it's not in the food?
What I've found is that if I give them a little
bit of everything, but not too much of anything, my dogs are very good at using
that as they see fit. Saves me from trying anticipate and guess their needs as
much. Just make sure you pay attention to animal protein - that's critical. Without
it, your dog has to struggle to stay healthy.
The basis for this "combination approach" is a good
animal-protein based kibble. There are very few of them out there and all of them
are formulated by small companies. No Science Diet - even though all the vets
sell it! (In my experience, Science Diet is one of the most troublesome foods
for Goldens. Read the ingredient list. What's first and second? Corn and soy.
Or Soy and corn. Does your Golden look like a cow? Then why feed cow fodder? What
kind of animal protein do they use? By-products. Yuk. I'll tell you, Science Diet
was the all time worst food I fed. My dogs were a mess of skin and G.I. problems.)
No ProPlan, Eukanuba, Iams, NutroMax, Sensible Choice, etc. They're all very similar;
lots and lots of grains in proportion to the animal protein. At some point or
other, my dogs ate all of the above and never did well on any of them.
Once you have a base kibble, you need to supplement
with fresh foods. Please don't call them 'people foods' - who ever said they were
put here for just us??? You have a couple of ways to do this; if you have several
dogs, you can use Pitcairn's higher-protein recipes. His meat, egg and cottage
cheese 'kibble boosters' are especially good, but I would add more veggies. Or
you can share your food with your dog - but make sure it's the good stuff. No
junk food or table scraps - if you wouldn't eat it, or you know it's not good
for you, don't feed it to your dog.
The Wysong booklet gives good advice on this. Use lots
of variety - raw ground beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, finely
chopped veggies (my dogs digest chopped frozen vegetables best, just thaw and
run through the food processor), and occasionally, fruit. In the good weather,
I let my dogs graze on grasses; in the winter, I give them greens powder. There
are several of these available in health food stores. If you let your dogs graze,
make sure the area hasn't been treated or fertilized. Almost any vegetable is
fair game - broccoli, carrots, kale, mustard greens, cauliflower, etc.
To 'acidify' your dog to help keep those pesky infections
at bay, start adding 1 - 2 oz. of apple cider vinegar to each gallon of your dog's
drinking water. Some people put it in the food, but I think most dogs find it
more acceptable in the water. I normally use one ounce, but have cured the beginning
stages of a bladder infection by doubling that amount for a few days. My dogs
all drink it willingly. Use raw, organic ACV. Apples are one of the most heavily
sprayed fruits, plus the raw ACV has a much better flavor than the grocery store
variety which is cooked.
If your dog is currently having a lot of problems, add
1 or 2 amino acid complex tablets to his daily diet until he's recovered. You
can add them any time the dog starts to have problems - stress does cause dogs'
needs to change, and sometimes the diet needs an amino acid boost. Increasing
the ACV also helps. Make sure you use a casein-based amino acid complex, most
dogs accept them without problems. I am told the soy based tablets can cause an
allergic reaction. DO NOT try to guess which amino acid your dog needs - it's
impossible to do and since they work in concert with each other, you could be
making things worse. Use a complex so that your dog will get them all. Let his
body pick and choose what he needs.
I do use some other supplements, I like whole food supplements
best. Kelp, honey, and seaweed are good. Also B-complex and vitamin E. For coat,
you can add chelated zinc. I do not feed these every day, I rotate so that they
get each one once or twice a week. I do feed vitamin C powder every day. I feed
ascorbic acid with citrus bioflavonoids. Other people use the buffered forms of
C - sodium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate.
A good source for vitamins is Bronson
Pharmaceuticals, 1-800-235-3200. Start slowly and work up to 1000 to 2000 mg.
per day. If you start with too high a dose of C, you dog will probably get diarrhea.
I also have fed an herb based vitamin-mineral supplement. Odyssey Formulas' makes
some excellent ones, call 1-800-206-1861 for more literature. The Canine Complete,
and Beta-Lac Puppy Formulas are especially good.
One last note: as you switch from your current feeding
program to a higher quality one, your dog may go through detox or a healing crisis.
This is when his body takes all this wonderful nutrition and uses it for some
much needed internal repairs and housecleaning. In the process, he will dump his
coat, and may get small round 'silver dollar' hotspots. These will open up, ooze
for a couple of days, then crust and heal over. They won't spread or itch like
your typical hotspot. His eyes may have a discharge, and you may notice some mashed
potato stools - not runny, but not well formed. His body has a lot of stored toxins
and junk that he has to get rid of, and any exit will do. He will probably eat
like a pig and lose a lot of weight. Feed him extra, he's making up for lost time.
When he starts to gain and his coat starts to come back, the detox is over. You
may then have to cut back on the food a bit, or he'll get fat!
Most of the time detox will begin within the first 3
weeks of the new feeding program, although one of mine waited 6 months to blow
coat and lose weight. Generally you would want to give it a good 6 months to determine
the true benefits of the new program. When my dogs went through detox, they had
been eating Science Diet so the signs were pretty severe. If you have been feeding
a better diet, the signs may be more subtle. Don't let the detox scare you, however.
Your Golden should remain bright-eyed and active throughout. If he ever acts sick,
there's something more going on besides detox and you should probably see the
The Overweight Golden
Many, many Goldens are overweight and their owners are
constantly looking for a sure-fire formula for taking that weight off. Very often
they're advised to feed one of the "Lite" formulas. Some people combine this with
canned pumpkin or green beans, in an effort to fill the dog up, not out. They've
all been on diets themselves (hasn't everybody at one time or another?) and they're
upset by the fact that while eating such a regimen, their dog is probably hungry.
Before attempting to take weight off your dog by any method, you should first
have a thyroid test done. Many Goldens do have sluggish thyroids, and if this
is the case with your dog, no weight loss program is going to work until you correct
Hypothyroid Goldens have very slow metabolisms, and
can gain huge amounts of weight while eating next to nothing. The best thyroid
testing is currently being done by the lab at Michigan State University. You should
ask your vet about this. If your dog's thyroid levels are low, you will have to
supplement with thyroid hormone. Once you get the dosage adjusted (which will
involve further periodic testing), you will probably find that your dog loses
weight with no dietary changes on your part (assuming you were feeding adequate,
but not excessive calories before). If your dog's thyroid is fine, then you need
to address his diet.
In my opinion, "Lite" diets are dangerous. They are
extremely low in the animal protein and fat levels that dogs require for health,
and they contain extremely high levels of carbohydrates and indigestible filler
fiber like cornhusks, cellulose, or peanut hulls. Dogs on Lite foods are starving
for good nutrition and feeding an already fat dog more carbohydrates just makes
no sense. Most dogs on these diets eventually end up with dull coats, loose stools
and are very lethargic. More often than not, they don't lose weight either. I
have never fed a Lite diet, and I've never had a fat dog. I simply feed a good
quality combination diet - the source of quality nutrients in a form my dogs can
assimilate. If I see their weight creeping up a little, I simply adjust the amount
of kibble fed by 1/4 cup at one or both meals.
It has been my observation that my dogs' weight does
tend to fluctuate seasonally. In the summer, when they are constantly panting
(which uses a tremendous number of calories) due to the heat and humidity, they
tend to lose weight. In the fall and early winter, they tend to gain. I have found
that if I feed a diet that's too high (for my couch potatoes' needs) in animal/overall
protein, they will have so much energy that they run off every calorie they eat,
and then some. They will be thin - even too thin. The solution to this, of course
is to feed just the opposite - somewhat less protein and a bit less from animal
sources. Naturally, this will mean you will be feeding more carbohydrates, and
your dog will gain weight.
Based on this observation of my own dogs, it makes absolutely
no sense to me to feed Lite foods. Again, Lite foods lack the nutrient souces
and levels to keep a dog healthy, and what little there is in there is from carbohydrates,
which tends to make a dog even fatter!
How many calories? Here's a good rule of thumb, to be
used as a starting point for an average dog (geriatric dogs and puppies will be
the exceptions to this). You want to feed 290 calories for every 15 lbs. you think
your dog should weigh. So if you figure an ideal weight for your dog should be
70 lbs. you will want to feed him around 1,350 calories per day.
To find out how many cups of food that is, divide 1,350
by the number of calories in a cup of your food. If the caloric content of your
kibble isn't listed on the bag, call the company and ask. They should have this
information readily available. For example, if you're feeding Innova Canine (which
contains 556 calories per cup) you would do the following calculation to arrive
at the number of cups to feed: 1,350/556 = 2.4 cups per day. You could round this
to 2-1/2 cups, but if you find your dog isn't losing on this amount, or is staying
a bit over weight, adjust that to 2-1/4 cups per day.
Keep adjusting until you find the amount that keeps
your dog at the desired weight. There should be no need to resort to canned pumpkin
or Lite dog foods. Of course, puppies need more calories than this, and geriatrics
will probably need less. But the above formula can be used as a starting point.
The lesson here is that too high a level of protein
(for your dog, remember) will give him lots of energy - to the point of making
him hyper and hard to live with - and keep him thin. Too little - particularly
from animal sources - and your dog will become obese and encounter real health
problems that will probably be labeled as allergies, or auto-immune problems or
such. The trick is to find the right levels for your dog. It is my hope that this
article will help you do this, and lead your dog to truly optimum health.
Diet and Immune Problems
We're constantly hearing these days about the number
of immune problems that are affecting our Goldens. Allergies, cancer, lupus, and
thyroid problems, to list just a few, all have a common link - a malfunctioning
immune system. Basically, there are two kinds of immune malfunctions. One is where
the immune system gets trigger-happy. Everything it encounters, including the
body itself, is preceived as a threat. So everything is attacked - including major
organs. This is referred to as an "auto-immune" problem. The immune system has
lost the ability to "recognize self" and conditions like arthritis, hypothyroidism,
and lupus are a result.
On the other hand, the immune system could be depressed
- not attacking much of anything, in which case the body can't protect itself
against foreign invaders or faulty cells within the body. If a dog's immune system
is not functioning well, it can't defend itself against cancer cells, or invaders
like viruses and bacteria. Much time and energy is spent on hand-wringing over
the current number of health problems in the breed.
Cancer is especially worrisome, and there's no doubt
that it is killing an inordinate number of middle-aged and young Goldens. Many
people feel powerless to do anything about it, figuring our only choice is to
wait for science to come up with the cure for all these "genetic" problems that
beset our dogs. I disagree. It is my belief that we can do a great deal to prevent
or at least delay the onset of cancer and other immune-related problems in our
dogs. We can feed for optimum health. A dog in optimum health has an immune system
in optimum health. It's functioning at peak efficiency. It is neither trigger-happy,
nor sluggish. It recognizes foreign invaders (and internally, faulty cells that
are the early stages of cancer) and reacts quickly to attack them. At the same
time, it stays "sane" and realizes that skin, thyroid, and other organs/systems
are part of the body and not a threat.
A dog in optimum health does not have fleas, rashes,
lick sores, infected ears, etc. These all relate to the skin, the largest and
most easily observed organ in the body. Logically, I think we can assume that
if the right diet can do all this for the skin, it also must be benefitting the
rest of the body - the internal parts we can't see. Admittedly, this does involve
a bit of faith, but in my opinion, it's a much better option than sitting around,
waiting for a cure, and keeping our fingers crossed while our dogs die prematurely.
Diet and Orthopedic Problems
It has been shown that diet is strongly linked to the
development of orthopedic problems in dogs as well as other species. Overfeeding
and rapid growth-rate predispose animals to all kinds of problems like OCD, HOD,
panosteitis and hip dysplasia. But I think there's more to it than that. I believe
that feeding for optimum health and growth rate (and by that I mean the growth
rate that Nature intended, not that promoted by the purveyors of puppy foods or
breeders who want their puppies in the ring and winning by six months of age)
are further protection.
My feeling is that for bone and muscle to develop normally,
the nutrients have to be there in a form that the puppy can assimilate. Again,
that means animal proteins from varied sources, preferably in a raw form, as well
as fresh vegetable matter, etc. We shouldn't overfeed (particularly in terms of
calories), but denying puppies proper, fresh, natural nutrients could also be
playing a role in the proliferation of many so-called "genetic" diseases. At the
same time, we can't deny the fact there may be and probably are, genetic bases
for many conditions.
The smart approach, I think, is to breed as if genetics
are everything. But after conception and the die is cast, there is a great deal
we can do to optimize the genetic potential of our puppies we produce. We must
then raise them as if husbandry is everything. If we can do both, we will give
our Goldens the best chance for a long healthy life. Only then should we consider
ourselves as true fanciers of the breed.
Note: all of the books mentioned in this article can
be obtained from: Direct Book Service PO Box 2778 Wenatchee, WA 98807 1-800-776-2665