yellow lab eating kibble from silver bowl

What’s Important When Choosing My Dog’s Food?

When we are choosing a food for our dog, it can be rather intimidating! We want the best food for our dog that is within our budget-but what does that actually mean? Companies use TV ads with celebrity branding, doggy taste tests, fun music and charts and graphs to confuse consumers and to try to tell us theirs is the best food on the market. However, as the pet parent, we need to make sure that we look through all of the hype and get down to the facts about the brands we are considering.

We want to determine which foods are full of sugar and cheap fillers, and which are high quality, biologically appropriate diets. There are some special dietary requirements for giant breed dogs and for tiny toy breed dogs but the most important thing I would recommend for any dog is to feed a high quality formula or formulas that you can trust.

Here are a few things to consider when deciding on your dog’s diet:

Rotation Diet

All dog foods, which carry the statement of “complete and balanced” must meet AAFCO requirements for nutritional adequacy. Unfortunately, the AAFCO requirements are very broad and haven’t been substantially updated in more than 20 years, despite numerous nutritional advances in pet care. So, you will find foods with wildly varying levels of calcium or protein, but which are all considered complete and balanced.

A great way to make sure your dog gets a variety of all of the nutrients he needs is to try a rotation diet. This is what I do in my home, as do many other experts and nutritionists. At home, my husband and I feed 5 different brands of food to our 3 dogs and 3 different brands to our 2 cats. Within these brands, there are a variety of formulas, each with different levels of nutrients such as calcium, protein, fat, phosphorous and fiber.

Many pet owners are concerned about feeding a rotation diet because their experience has been that you should never switch a dog’s food because it can make the dog sick. This can be true, but the logic is somewhat flawed. When a dog…or a person for that matter, eats the same thing day in and day out, the digestive enzymes which are each activated by specific nutrients will start to go dormant. Eventually, on the same diet, most of the enzymes become dormant and only the specific variety and quantity of enzymes to digest that specific food are active in the gut. By contrast, when a dog is accustom to a variety of foods, all of the available digestive enzymes and bacteria are active and engaged in the gut. This allows for better overall digestion and nutrient absorption of any food. If your dog is only used to one food, you’ll want to gradually introduce new foods and new ingredients slowly, but with increased frequency.

Food Brands

There are hundreds of dog food brands available on the market today. They’re manufactured by a variety of different types of companies. There are some with celebrity endorsements and that carry a celebrity namesake. There are some manufactured by major multi-national conglomerates and still others that are operated by large marketing firms. Unfortunately, many of these have the primary goal of profit over all else. Writing as the representative of a “for profit” organization, I completely understand that if a product isn’t profitable, it can’t continue to be produced. My concern, however, is that many of these companies are under increasing pressure from investors and shareholders to increase profit, which at a certain point means decreasing cost. In the food industry, there are only a few reliable ways to reduce cost, and most of them involve decreasing quality.

It’s for this reason, many of the brands in Hollywood Feed’s stores are brands of which most people may have never heard. Fromm, Orijen and Answers are some of these brands. (Read more about these brands here: Fromm  Orijen  Answers) These companies were each begun with extremely high standards and have adopted a customer base that demands those standards. They’re aware that a reduction in quality could make them more profitable in the short term. However, they also know that if they take this approach, their core customer base will abandon them for one of the other up and coming food brands.

Quality

When discussing quality, there is a lot to consider. Organic, grass fed and grass finished beef is typically going to be of higher quality than factory beef. However, if you want to get a 30lb bag of dog food with all organic ingredients and an appropriate amount of meat, you would have to spend hundreds of dollars per bag. On the other side of that coin, you can find some 50lb bags of dog food for about $16-but when your bag of dog food costs less than a bag of fertilizer, it’s a pretty good sign that it’s not going to be nutritionally sound.

Additionally, most of the ingredients on a bag of food must be specifically defined by AAFCO and those definitions are potentially misleading. For example, there are big differences between chicken, chicken meal and chicken by-product meal, but none of these ingredients are necessarily better or worse than the other 2, just based on their name. Suppliers can buy chicken by-product meal with various ratings, and the by-product meal could potentially be of higher quality than chicken meal. Also, when you consider that plain chicken is approximately 70% moisture, the volume and weight of that chicken product is reduced greatly when the food is cooked and/or dried.

Ingredients are listed on the back of the bag in descending order by their weight prior to cooking. If chicken is the first ingredient and rice is second, then after cooking chicken will lose about 70% of its weight but the rice will only lose 8 to 10% of its weight. So, looking at the food on a dry matter basis, it’s easy to see that there is actually more rice than chicken in that formula. This is why I prefer foods that have a mix of a whole muscle meat as well as a meat meal (the dried form of the same, previously mentioned muscle meat). There are some foods which contain high-quality chicken by-product meal, but most brands have abandoned that ingredient due to customer perception.

Raw Diets

Perhaps the best foods available to our dogs is a high-quality raw diet. Many people are concerned by raw diets due to potential pathogen contamination. While this is possible, it’s much more of a risk for people than it is for our pets. The digestive tracts of dogs are naturally equipped to digest raw meat without regard to things such as e-coli or salmonella.

The veterinary and pet industries are divided on the benefits of raw diets, but I can personally attest to their benefits and safety. My 11 year old Lab/Golden mix was having some mobility issues, so I put him on a raw goat’s milk fast for a month. His blood levels were tested before and after the goat’s milk fast and every single value was improved after the fast. Additionally, he has started eating an all-raw diet since the goat’s milk fast ended, and his health has continued to improve. Read more about Skeeter’s health problems and goat’s milk fast here.

The primary reason some veterinarians are against a raw diet is because they say there haven’t been enough studies done to warrant the benefits. However, it’s only been in the past 8 years that large companies have begun to look into raw diets. It’s these large companies that can afford the expensive feeding trials and clinical studies, and most of them produce kibble so it’s not necessarily in their best interest to research or promote a raw diet. History, on the other hand, has proven that dogs, wolves, foxes and other canine species have, can and will thrive on a biologically appropriate raw diet.

I know this is a lot to consider, and a lot of information to process, but remember: the associates at your local Hollywood Feed attend 60+ hours of training classes each year so that they can become experts on nutrition and different brands of food. Please ask them your questions and to help you pick out the right food next time you are shopping!

dog wearing thundershirt

ThunderShirt Works for Annie’s Anxiety: A Product Review

ThunderShirt is an interesting, unique and effective product for helping to keep dogs calm. There’s nothing else like it for dogs that I’ve ever seen. Interestingly, though, pressure has been used to comfort cattle, infants (through swaddling), and people with autism for many years.

So what exactly is ThunderShirt? ThunderShirt is a vest we can put on our anxious, stressed or scared dog. The vest is fitted to our dog with easy to use ‘hook and loop fasteners’ making it very easy to adjust to our dog’s exact size. We wrap a ThunderShirt snugly around our dog (though not too tightly), and it then provides constant pressure on her torso. It’s like experiencing a calming, comforting hug for humans!

Why Use ThunderShirt?

So, in which scenarios may we consider using ThunderShirt? There are so many situations or behaviors for which a ThunderShirt will come in handy! Here are the most common situations in which ThunderShirt may be useful, but this list is not all-inclusive:

Does your dog become stressed or scared during:

  • Thunderstorms
  • Fireworks
  • Construction noise
  • Loud children

Does your dog experience:

  • Separation Anxiety
  • Travel stress

Does your dog display anxious behaviors, such as:

  • Leash pulling
  • Barking
  • Licking
  • Scratching
  • Shaking
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Hiding
  • Running away
  • Even seizures!

If your dog experiences any of the above behaviors and you have not found an effective training solution, or you want to stop dosing your dog with lots of medication, then ThunderShirt is definitely worth trying. Can you imagine how different life might be if your dog didn’t hide in the corner and whine during every thunderstorm? Or what if your dog stopped chewing up your blinds every time you leave the house?

Annie Tests a ThunderShirt

Annie and a Medium ThunderShirtMy Annie is a highly anxious dog in her everyday behavior. She is not a dog who is scared of storms or loud noises. Instead, her anxiety manifests as a need to be ‘on’ and ready for action at all times. She sleeps very lightly, must get up and follow me immediately as soon as I stand to do anything, and is a leash puller. She will whine and bark if she isn’t doing what she expected to be doing. She is 10 years old, and this anxious personality has been present since I adopted her at 6 months old, though she has mellowed some with age.

For Annie and I, ThunderShirt testing happened during a regular day with nothing new or stressful going on around us. As soon as I put the ThunderShirt on Annie, who was very tolerant even if she was annoyed by the brief process, I noticed a difference in her energy. Her usually tense and assertive demeanor suddenly changed to a calm and relaxed vibe. It was so strange to actually see a difference in Annie’s everyday, regular energy appearing right before my eyes.

ThunderShirt spread out on a counter topFor the rest of the day, Annie wore her ThunderShirt. As recommended by ThunderShirt, I took it off of her and checked to make sure there was no irritation and that the vest was not too tight every couple of hours, since this was her first day to wear it.

Throughout the day, Annie did not seem to feel the need to stand and follow me every time I got up to use the restroom or get a glass of water. When my husband got home from work and the dogs and I heard the garage door start to open, instead of the usually loud and annoying barking that Annie starts in my house, she remained completely quiet and merely stood up slowly and walked to the door to greet my husband!

ThunderShirt Features

Annie, a black dog showing off a ThunderShirt PatchI already mentioned the easy to use ‘hook and loop fasteners’ which make Thundershirt adjustable. The vest also has a patch on which you can put a calming spray, such as lavender and a reflective patch on the back which comes in handy for nighttime walks. ThunderShirt is machine washable, soft and comfortable, as well.

Pros:

  • Calms without medication
  • Easy to use
  • Effectively calms my dog from her usually high anxiety
  • Can be used to help with multiple issues
  • Washable, comfortable fabric

Cons:

  • May get dirty easily if worn outside
  • Eventually, ‘hook and loop fasteners’ will fray and become less sticky
  • Thundershirt may not be effective for every dog.

The Bottom Line: My Opinion

After the change I visibly saw in Annie’s energy, and the few small victories we had with her calm demeanor throughout the day, I am a fan of ThunderShirt! I am especially excited that this change occurred without any training or special actions on my part. All I did was put a ThunderShirt on Annie. I would definitely recommend ThunderShirt to my friends and family with anxious dogs!

Sizes, Price, and Where to Buy!

Annie, a black dog in a ThunderShirtThunderShirt is available from size XXS to size XXL. My Annie, who is 40 lbs and has a barrel chest, wore the Medium size very comfortably, and it is meant for dogs who are 26-40 lbs. You can find the right ThunderShirt for your dog, no matter what her size here or at any of Hollywood Feed’s store locations for $44.95 in any size (which is less expensive than new blinds or a new comforter, and definitely worth it to see your dog happy and calm!)

If you’re curious and would like to try ThunderShirt out, remember the Hollywood Feed Promise:

If your pet doesn’t love it, or of you don’t love it, we’ll gladly replace or refund it.”

~ Shawn McGhee ~ Proprieter ~

So, there’s absolutely no harm in trying ThunderShirt yourself, and in fact, there may be a great benefit for you and your dog!

Who has used a ThunderShirt before to help calm your dog? What was your experience like, and for what behavior did you use ThunderShirt? Let us know in the comment section below!

Read more about ThunderShirt and its uses in:

Fear, Anxiety, Stress and Phobias in Dogs
Fun on the Fourth for the Whole Family: Keeping Your Dog Safe Around Fireworks
How to Take a Vacation When You Have and Anxious Dog
Dogs and Fireworks Don’t Mix: How to Keep Your Dog Safe and Calm this New Year’s