In the dog food debate, I’m a hopeless moderate

Can I confess something?

I don’t like reading internet discussions about dog food.

I feed Silas mostly raw. I’m not the most diehard advocate for the cause, but I see the benefits. I agree that it can be a miracle for dogs with food allergies, which is why we do it. I enjoy being (mostly) in control of my dog’s diet. But I think raw feeding attracts a lot of very intense, very controlling people. And those people tend to butt in everywhere, even when they aren’t wanted. “What kind of kibble should I feed?” “Kibble is poison! Why did you even get a dog?!” I don’t like to watch it.

When we first switched to raw, I spent a lot of time looking for the “perfect” nutritional supplement and mix of foods to make his diet (you guessed it) “perfect.” I worried about the fact that one expert wanted X amount of vitamin E and another felt that Y was better.  I doodled little lists. I was in charge, dammit, and I was going to be great at this.

When our food allergy diet was finally far enough along for me to start adding in supplements, I tried a few. This is when I got hit by the ugly fact:

Silas is not going to eat that stuff.

There was a brief, shining moment where it looked like he might (finally) be okay with one multivitamin, and then that, too, fell flat. Salmon oil is the only thing he will take consistently.

At the same time, I’ve had to accept that we have a moderate but very real food availability problem. I am blessed with a year-round source of at least some turkey parts, including heart and liver. I can get pork, if I’m willing to pay for it (nobody in my house is eating factory-farmed pork unless it’s a serious emergency), but not organs. Venison is similar–for a price I can get plain ground, with or without bone, but no organs unless I wheedle them out of hunting family members.

Because we rotate proteins, this lack of liver is worrisome. I add slightly more during the times Silas is eating turkey, but too much liver at once is hard to digest. I couldn’t quite balance it out. This combination of fewer nutrient-rich organs and an inability to give supplements drove me back to (gasp! shock! horror!) feeding Silas some commercial dog food including (gasp! shock! horror!) one with grains. I don’t know that my mixed bag of foods will really save me from long-term nutritional issues, but it’s the best I can do.*

The long and the short of it is, though, that Silas’s allergies are inconvenient but apparently limited to proteins. I can’t see any clear reason why I shouldn’t let some commercial food into his diet.

And that’s why I don’t like listening to people go on and on about their elaborate supplement regimens and the twelve hours a month they spend pre-packaging ideally blended meals to put in the deep freezer. I just don’t see the benefit, except for the extreme minority of dogs who have more extensive allergies than Silas does. Neither the science nor my own experiences with a delicate flower of a dog support the hysteria.


*This is not to say that Silas’s diet is anything wild. I find it vaguely hilarious that I am half-expecting to get scolded for what is, in fact, still a very solid raw diet. On a typical day, he has Honest Kitchen (either Keen or Preference)+ground meat for breakfast, with some kind of plain bone-in meat at dinner. (Venison is ground+mix for both meals.) Once or twice a week he gets canned or freeze-dried food. There are actually a few kibbles out there now that Silas isn’t allergic to, but after all this time away he doesn’t seem to digest them very well in large amounts.

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16 thoughts on “In the dog food debate, I’m a hopeless moderate

  1. I’m always worried when I publish an article on what Choppy eats that I will get all sorts of horrible responses. I am glad to see that I am not the only one who therefore avoids such discussions to avoid those reactions!

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    1. There is a lot of paranoia in dog food right now. And I think only a very small part of it is really justified. I know dogs who do phenomenally well eating high-quality kibble for every meal. For that matter, I know dogs who eat total garbage, because that’s all that the people in their wonderful, loving homes can afford. And they’re fine, too. (Although maybe a little stinky–that one does seem to be a strong correlation.)

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  2. I used to be a bit rabid about what kind of kibble people fed their dogs and then I heard about the raw diet and read some of those (somewhat ugly) exchanges and realized I sounded the same way about high quality kibble versus “junk”. Since then, I’ve relaxed about what people feed their pets. We all do the best we can (well, most of us that really do love our animals) and if other people are really that opposed to how I feed Blueberry – they are more than welcome to supplement my income and/or come over and make her those “miracle” raw food diets. Blueberry is happy, healthy and her poop is nice and solid. What more could a dog owner want? 😉

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    1. I do still try to educate people in the kibble conversations, but ONLY when it’s clear that they just don’t know and might want to. Even there I try to be logical and stick to the facts.

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    2. Agreed! Aside from Boca having a propensity for ear infections I have to keep an eye on (which may possibly be food-related but it is not severe enough to warrant the hassle of an elimination diet – I keep them mostly grain-free except the occasional treat and she hasn’t had a flare-up in months), my girls are shiny, fit, healthy and happy. I obsess about their food mainly because it’s fun and I like to learn, but I doubt I will ever switch over to raw when they do well on commercial food.

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  3. Raw crusaders are so ridiculous. I’ve fed raw, combing the Mexican grocery store for chicken backs, pork hearts, and really disgusting stuff like snout and kidney. I’ve also fed premade raw which is so darn convenient. If I could afford it I’d still do raw because I think that eating less-processed meat must be better for them than kibble, but the only things I actually noticed were less shedding and less greasiness if I let them go too long without a bath.

    I used to judge people who fed cheap kibble until I realized that I was being a classist shithead. I can afford to feed Orijen and The Honest Kitchen but not everyone can, and that doesn’t mean they don’t love and care for their dogs.

    I lived through the Great Recall of ’07 and ever since I’ve been afraid of feeding kibble. Even brands that were well-respected and trusted (at the time anyway) like Natural Balance were involved, and I’d been feeding that to my cat. Years later I was using California Natural Kangaroo and Red Lentils for Suki and she got sick right around the time it was recalled. I have trust issues and I’m not sure I’ll ever get over them.

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  4. People do get pretty up in arms about what dogs are fed. I feed Elka kibble as her main diet. Period. She gets grain free because she’s done well on it, not because I think corn is evil. She gets veggies and table scraps and dog treats. I’ve actively avoided conversing with people about what they feed their dogs, and I certainly NEVER strike up a conversation with that guy buying the 50 lb bag of Ol’ Roy at Wal-Mart. Because at least he’s feeding his dog? I don’t know. There’s a line.

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  5. This post reminded me that when I adopted Kaya, I was totally broke & I only decided I could afford a dog dog when I was in the pet section at Target and spotted a huge bag of budget kibble for 12 bucks. I soon adopted Kaya of course never bought the stuff. I spent hours & hours reading about dog nutrition, brands and ratings online. I started out with a medium range kibble, it upset her stomach, she had allergies and we worked our way up to the most premium kibble in the store(not Target by the way).

    I don’t mind the cost now. At least the dogs are healthy and enjoy their food. I’d like to switch them to raw some day but for now it’s working. I try not to judge what people feed their dogs either but it pisses me off that vets still boast Science Diet.

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    1. The thing that bothers me about Science Diet is that most people who buy it think it is medicated in some way. Which, it isn’t. It’s better than the very cheap kibbles, but for the price you can buy a *good* kibble.

      I think you’re bringing up the part of the budget debate that serious dog people flounder on–we would go without things for ourselves in order to buy better dog food. But that’s not something that holds true for the average dog person.

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  6. As much as I love raw-feeding, Elli is eating a combination of cooked meat and dehydrated veggie mix (Sojo’s) and Riko is eating a high quality puppy kibble. Elli fractured her tooth twice within 4 months of each other eating too-big bones, so she’s getting zero bones right now… until I can get a hold of some rabbit/sardines, and I didn’t feel confident making raw meals with adequate nutrition for a growing puppy. I will definitely offer advice if someone seeks it, but I’m not the type to walk up to someone and tell them they’re wrong for buying kibble. I know of several high quality kibbles and I’m happy if someone is seeking non-vet-given advice for feeding, so I’ll recommend them.

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    1. Yeah, I’d be a little hesitant to do raw with a puppy, too. The stakes are kind of high.

      The food allergies make feeding raw hard. I feel you about that–Silas can only eat a few pork bones and no venison bones. I have to stockpile tiny turkeys in November, otherwise he can only eat turkey necks (which I am lucky to get.) If he were much smaller or couldn’t eat turkey, I’d have to be just doing ground bone.

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  7. Yeah, as a human being with severe food allergies and, consequently , some real limits on what I can eat, this kind of thing drives me a little nuts, too. You have the freedom to eat anywhere! Don’t impose made up, nonsensical restrictions on yourself!

    But I’m actually grateful, to a certain extent, for some of these trends. Not only is there a much wider range of commercial attempts to replicate some foods I’m allergic to in an allergy friendly form (this is mostly baked goods and mixes, but I am eternally grateful for sunbutter), but similar trends in dog food mean that there is a decent variety of kibbles that I can feed Nala. And, yes, Nala mostly eats a high quality kibble (although we supplement with coconut oil and various human foods). I’ve been feeding myself for a while and I feel like I have adequate knowledge of human nutrition to create a balanced diet despite my limitations and restrictions. I can’t say the same in terms of dog nutrition. Maybe at some point I’ll have sufficient time, leisure, and finances to do something else; for now, I’ve read Dog Food Logic and I do my best, you know? Once we’re more adjusted to training classes, I’ll probably attempt something more like a rotation diet, but we’ve only had Nala for about three months. I’m not too worried about it yet.

    All of that’s to say, I’m grateful that there are people like you who manage to be both knowledgeable and moderate.

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    1. I wouldn’t be worried about three months, either. Most people recommend once you have a few foods that you just switch every time you get a new bag of kibble, but it takes a long time for adult-onset allergies to develop. (There is much pointless argument about whether these are really allergies. I tried to get into the science of it, but it was 1) way over my head 2) quite inadequately researched and 3) I don’t have an academic library anymore. There’s a post somewhere around here where I tried to explain it.)

      I also agree with your first point–if you aren’t allergic, why burden yourself so much? Or, more to my point here, if your dog has access to a nutritionally complete food that makes your individual dog happy and healthy and meets the needs of your budget and lifestyle, why freak out? Or worse, demonize the choices of people whose budget/lifestyle/digestive needs are different from yours. Not that, like you say, I haven’t benefitted hugely from this. We have a dedicated raw food store that has been a life saver. (Almost literally.)

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  8. Hear, hear! I’ve read a lot about raw, and I certainly believe it would be best, but it’s just not in our budget/time/wheelhouse right now. So, we feed a high-quality kibble, and the girls are healthy and happy with it. Sheps are famous for sensitive stomachs (among their litany of other health issues), so I’m really loath to switch it up; Pyrrha went through a longish bout of vomiting and diarrhea when we got her and were trying foods, so we are happy where we are. I totally agree with you that most of the hysteria is unwarranted and alienating.

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  9. I do believe food is a moral issue. But I don’t understand all the sturm and drang that accompanies any discussions of it. Besides the fact that abusing someone because they fed a dog kibble is not likely to make that person interested in looking for better choices.

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