What is the right food to feed my dog?

Good question. It depends on what stage of life your dog is in. If you've got a puppy, they're going to have different nutritional needs from a five- or seven-year-old adult dog, which will have different nutritional needs as opposed to a geriatric dog, a senior dog, a dog that is 12, 13, 14 years of age. We also have to consider if your dog might have some medical issues requiring them to be on a prescription-type diet. So, it depends on your dog's lifestyle and life stage.

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

What are the life stages of feeding my dog?

Let's go over them a little bit more in-depth. We may deal with puppies, adults, and geriatric or senior dogs. Everything on puppies' whole body's all about growth and development. So they will have higher needs for protein for muscle development, for example. Higher requirements for vitamins and minerals because they're pretty much nutritionally depleted to some extent because they've been getting nourishment from mama while developing. Now they need all these extra nutrients in order to grow and develop into adult dogs. For adult dogs, there's a recommendation for how much protein to get. Then we get into the senior stage. We have to be a little more attentive to what source of protein they're getting because we do have to be more concerned about kidney or liver issues as they age. Those are dogs' different life stages, and we must feed them accordingly.

How do I wean my puppy and get them on regular food?

That's a two-pronged question. A lot of people may not know the word wean. Essentially, we typically use the word weaning when we're talking about going from nursing on mama to introducing food. The question asked is how to wean a puppy to regular food. Some people might think it means going from puppy food to an adult diet. I'll address both. Let's talk a bit about going from nursing from mom dog to getting on puppy food. Usually, when they're about four or four and a half weeks of age, that's when I generally like to introduce some so-called solid food. It doesn't have to be dry kibble. I will start to introduce a little bit of dry kibble moistened with water. Please don't use milk. Just use some warm water and let it sit for a few minutes. It'll soften the food, and then you should put it where it's easy to reach for a little puppy of about four to four and a half weeks of age. That's going to be an appropriate age to start introducing solid food. Of course, the puppy will start to learn to enjoy solid food. Mom is going to be more inclined to kind of push the puppy toward solid food as she starts winding down during the nursing period. As far as a puppy getting into an adult diet goes, it usually depends on the breed or the dog's size. Generally, when they're about ten or 11 months of age, that's going to be an appropriate time to wean them, to get them away from the puppy food onto an adult diet. You can just transition gradually. Have a little bit of puppy food left, and then start adding some adult food that you're going to switch them to until they get accustomed to the new diet.

Should I feed my dog on a schedule?

Let's talk a little bit about the schedule. I think we all agree that we humanize our pets. There's nothing wrong with that, but we generally have a schedule where we eat two or three times a day. And so we think, well, gosh, my dog should be eating two or three times a day as well. We generally put them on a schedule where they're eating, getting some food in the morning, and food in the evening. Some people will have some containers where the dog can sort of self-feed. They'll put a certain amount of food in there for the day so they can graze throughout the day. There's no right answer, and there's no wrong way to do it. The one issue I'm always concerned about is the quantity. How much food are they getting during the course of a day relative to their actual current weight or their actual nutritional needs?

How do I know if my dog's nutrition is suffering?

The best way I can answer that question is if whatever you're feeding your dog is appropriate for your dog. Just keep doing what you're doing. If, however, you're giving your dog what they call a sad standard American diet and you're giving them Cheetos, chips, popcorn, and licks of the ice cream bowl and that sort of stuff, yes, come on, please. No more of that. That's not going to be nutritionally or sustainably appropriate for you, but it's also certainly not going to be in your dog's best interest. Your dog does have different protein demands than you and I. We want to make sure they get more protein into their diet. As far as getting in the appropriate type of food goes, make sure that dog food is the bulk of what they're getting. I can't sit there and watch what everybody's doing. I don't care if somebody gets a little bit of table food every now and then, but the key thing is to make sure you're getting the appropriate food for your dog, and it's dog food.

How do I know if I'm feeding my dog too much?

Just look at them. If you have a doubt, your dog's probably overweight, so that's perhaps the best way to put it. Unfortunately, just like it is with people, obesity is such a huge problem in our pets, dogs and cats, and we know a combination of things causes it. It's not just a clear-cut "get more exercise, eat less." We know it's hard. We know it sounds easy, but it's not. It's difficult to implement. Are they getting enough, or are they the appropriate weight? The best way to know is to check if you can feel your dog's ribs. You should be able to feel the hips in the back end. If there's a doubt, let us know. We're always happy to give you some guidelines. We're not judging. We're trying to support your pet's best quality of life. The healthier they are, the longer they'll live with fewer problems, and the longer you'll be able to enjoy them. That's really what the whole key is.

What are the essential nutrients my dog needs?

Essentially, there are several different things that are appropriate for dogs, cats, or people. Let's break it down to the nutritional needs of every mammal. Protein is certainly important for dogs. That's going to be a crucially vital ingredient. Carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fat, which is absolutely essential, fiber and water. That's the core of all the essential nutrients that every person, every cat, and every dog needs.

How will a veterinarian be able to assess if my dog is getting proper nutrition?

That's a discussion we can have. If an owner has any questions about whether their dog is getting the appropriate diet or not, ask a veterinarian, ask us. We'll be happy to hold your hand through that discussion. I know we mentioned this a few minutes ago, but make sure your dog's primary diet consists of dog food. I don't care if it's dry kibble, canned food, or even a raw diet, whether it's a commercial raw diet or if you're trying to make your own. Although I'm always a little nervous about somebody making their own raw food diet because they tend to give to go out to Sam's Club or the grocery store, buy a whole chicken and make that their diet, which is going to be extremely nutrient deficient. It has a lot of protein, but it also lacks many of the other essential nutrients that your pet needs.

There are so many brands of dog food. How will I know the best one for my dog?

That gets back to the life stage as much as anything else. So again, puppies, adults, and senior dogs. I want to clarify that there is no best dog food out there. What's going to be best? That's going to be the one that your dog likes. If your dog doesn't like the food, it doesn't matter how good the food is. There is certainly a difference in quality. So absolutely, this is where it's easy. I understand people have some financial challenges when it comes to buying food, but these are your pets, and you obviously want to give them the best quality of life. You do that through nutrition. So spend a little bit more, get better quality food. There are lots of good quality foods out there, but I don't want anybody to go out there and pay four bucks for a 50-pound bag of food. No, don't do that. Your dog deserves better than that. The bottom line is there is no single best food. You also want to ensure you're tuned into your pet's life stage and feed them appropriately.

When would my dog need a prescription diet?

It's appropriate that your full-service veterinarian make that decision. There are so many different prescription diets out there. They can be for urinary issues, liver issues, heart issues, skin issues, and so forth and so on. There are some for geriatric situations. There's such a wide range, and your full-service veterinarian would best determine it. A lot of times, it's going to be determined from blood work or combining your pet's life stage at that time in addition to the blood work or other medical conditions. That's a discussion you definitely need to have with your full-service veterinarian for prescription diets. They can make a huge difference because, think about it this way; food is medicine. So every day, we're making decisions that will affect the quality of your pet's life by what goes in their food bowl or doesn't go in their food bowl. Think about that.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Nutrition - FAQs

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

How do I know what foods are toxic to dogs?

When you think of toxic foods, you're not thinking about dog foods. We're thinking about inappropriate food that you and I would feed our dogs. There are about three or four different foods we need to be concerned about, primarily chocolate. I think most people by now know that chocolate can be toxic. The darker the chocolate, the more at risk your dog can be. Certainly also the smaller the dog. That can be more of an issue just because of the relative amount consumed in the dog's size, but also consider how much is consumed. Bottom line, please do not give your dog chocolate or make sure that you avoid access for your dog, especially during the holiday season, when you will have brownies or Halloween candy that can always be easily accessible for a lot of dogs. Please be mindful of that.

The other big issue, which most people are aware of, and if you're not, good for you for tuning into this, are grapes and raisins. Grapes and raisins have been proven to be potentially fatal to a lot of dogs. Not every dog will be affected, but you don't want to find out the hard way. So please do not give your dog grapes or raisins. Again, there is a potential risk of death for many dogs. Those are the key things we'd want to avoid. One of the things I am going to make a point about, which is not actually food, is raw hides. I have no problem with people giving raw hides, but I am very intentional about where those raw hides are coming from. We know that raw hides that are coming from Asia, in many cases, do have a lot of toxins in them when they're cooked in this vat. There can be different types of lead or mercury or things of that nature that can be a source of toxicity to a dog. So if you're going to use raw hides, that's fine. Please make sure that you're using something from North America. That's crucial. Hopefully, that'll give you some insights if you weren't aware.

Can I feed my dog human food?

You can. I don't really have any problems with that. I am concerned about what food you're giving to your dog. The best way of saying this is that we know in our heart of hearts what's healthy, what's nutritionally appropriate for us, and what's improving the quality of our life. We know what's good for us, and that's fine if you want to give that to your dog. We'll talk about some more specifics. If you are sitting there with a bowl of popcorn, Cheetos, and pizza, and you think that's appropriate to give to your dog, no, it's simply not. Again, those foods are not nutritionally valuable or appropriate for your dog if you're going to be giving what we would consider snack food or junk food. End of story. So basically, yes, you can give them human food.

So let's say you've baked some chicken tonight. Great, that's fine. I don't have any problem with you giving that to your dog. I don't have any problem if you want to brown some ground beef and give that to your dog. Beautiful. If you want to give them some vegetables, you can. In fact, my favorite treat to give to dogs is vegetables. I am fine with anything from baby carrots to zucchini to cherry tomatoes. I would much prefer you give vegetables over fruit if you are going to give a treat. I will lean on treats for dogs a little bit. Honestly, if it comes in a box or a bag, I do not recommend it. It's much better nutritionally, calorie-wise, with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, to give some vegetables. You can make some zucchini sticks, cherry tomatoes, or baby carrots. Those are all appropriate to give to your dog. I don't have any problem with that. Getting to the question about giving dogs human food, just be intentional about it. If you're going to give human food, that's fine, but just ensure it's nutritionally appropriate for your pet as it would be for you.

How do I know if the food I'm giving my dog is making them sick?

The best way is if your dog gets sick, either through vomiting or diarrhea. Granted, there could be a lot of reasons. It may not just be food. If your dog gets sick in the stomach, it could be something else. It could be an intestinal bug, like a virus or a bacterial infection causing the problem. It could be stress. It could be any number of things. But if we do see a dog that does get sick or we make a sudden change in their diet or something of that nature, and they don't seem to be able to digest it very well, then yes. So it certainly could be the case.

Can changing my dog's diet suddenly cause harm?

Not cause harm so much as maybe cause some intestinal distress. Nothing that would be permanent or lasting. Some dogs have no problems when we change a diet, and with a lot of dogs, you can just feed them different foods every day, and they're going to be absolutely fine. But some dogs are going to be much more sensitive. If that's the case, and if you happen to know that's going to be the case, then we need to make an appropriate change by slowly introducing a new diet while giving a little bit less of the current food. As far as causing any lasting harm goes, changing a diet will not. But as far as the potential for intestinal distress or upset, vomiting, or diarrhea goes, yes, that's entirely possible, but we can help manage that.

How does an elimination diet work?

Good question. That gets more into food allergies, and food allergies are a whole other subject. I will mention a couple of things about food allergies. I'm passionate about dermatology and its effects on dogs' skin health, and food allergies can be a big part of that. When we're dealing with a food elimination diet, what we're doing is we're trying to eliminate things that we think are causing intestinal distress or skin problems, biting, scratching, licking, itching, and chewing. So what we can do is go to an entirely different protein. We can introduce the new food the same way we mentioned a few minutes ago, by gradually introducing a new food with each meal you give less and less of the current diet.

That's an appropriate way to introduce a different protein or diet into your dog's routine. But just so you know, when it comes to food allergies, I'll speak to it very quickly. Do I ever do anything quickly? Probably not. When it comes to food allergies, chicken and beef are the two primary causes, followed by lamb and dairy, followed by pork, brown rice, wheat, soy, and corn. So if we suspect your dog has a food allergy, we want to get them off whatever the primary protein is, which is usually chicken or beef. We want to get them off that and get them onto an appropriate or a different protein that's significantly less likely to cause an adverse reaction. We can switch to salmon, whitefish, trout, venison, goat, kangaroo, or ostrich. So we've got several choices available to us. Essentially, that's what an elimination diet is all about. When we suspect food allergies, we're trying to eliminate the different proteins they were getting exposed to through their diet previously and get them onto something entirely different.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.