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!

itchy dog biting leg, thinning hair

What are Food Allergies and How Do I Stop Them?

When our pets have food allergies, it can be very frustrating for pet parents and for our dogs and cats. We don’t want our pets to lose hair, itch, and develop hot spots from excessive licking, and neither do they. But, where to start? There are so many foods on the market, so many ingredients to consider, and there are always conflicting opinions. There is also a lot of confusing information and marketing about what we should be feeding to our dogs and cats. I’m going to break down food allergies and solutions for you right here!

What is an Allergy?

An allergy is an inflammatory response to food, grass, dust, pollen, flea bites, etc. that causes an allergic reaction, or symptoms, that drive humans and pets crazy. Common allergic reactions are expressed through inflammation of the skin, which leads to itching, redness and hair loss.

An allergic threshold is the point at which we start to physically manifest symptoms. When allergens stay below that threshold, our body manages them well and symptoms are not expressed. Take a look at this chart:

The actual numbers on the chart are arbitrary and appear only to give scale. The yellow line would be the point at which these dogs begin to experience symptoms from the allergens listed in each column. As we can see, depending on how allergic our dogs are to each allergen, we can reduce the occurrences of allergic reactions by simply reducing the amount of contact our pets have with them. It is not necessary, or probable, to completely eliminate most allergens.

In addition, the more natural antihistamines, digestive enzymes and anti-inflammatories we introduce to our pets, the higher their allergic threshold will go and the less likely they’ll be to have symptoms manifest.

It is also important to remember that hypo-allergenic does not mean non-allergenic. Instead, hypo-allergenic means less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Advertisers love this word, so we should make sure we know the definition!

Questions To Consider When I Think My Pet Has an Allergy:

Have I tried an elimination diet with my pet to determine potential allergens?
To what ingredients do I suspect my pet is allergic?
What are the symptoms my pet experiences?

What is an Elimination Diet and Why is it Necessary?

An elimination diet is used to determine food ingredients which our pets can tolerate and isolate ingredients which we should avoid.

The most important thing to consider when feeding an elimination diet is that we must avoid ALL ingredients which are not part of that temporary diet. An elimination diet can take 12 weeks or even longer, but the results are very trustworthy and the cost is minimal compared to other less effective methods of determining allergens.

Before We Begin an Elimination Diet:

  • We need to isolate the primary ingredients in our pet’s food down to 2: one meat and one carbohydrate.
  • The selected protein and carbohydrate sources should be something which we can be relatively certain is not causing the problem.
  • I prefer to select protein sources with which our pet has had minimal contact. Some options include: pork, bison, turkey, duck and kangaroo.
  • Some great carbohydrate source options include: sweet potatoes, lentils, tapioca and garbanzo beans.
  • Other ingredients in the food should either be a healthy fat source, such as: fish oil, coconut oil or olive oil; or a simple vitamin or mineral supplement which should contain little to no allergic potential

Let’s Begin:

  • Now the diet we have carefully chosen should be fed as the sole diet for our pet. This includes any dog treats or table scraps we feed our dogs or cats. Absolutely nothing else!
  • We should observe our pets for an increase or decrease in symptoms. If symptoms begin to improve, then our pets should remain on that diet for up to 12 weeks or until the symptoms have completely subsided. If symptoms begin to worsen, it’s time to abandon one of the two primary ingredients and replace it with a different novel source.
  • It’s important that we only replace one ingredient at a time and then make note of the dates, ingredients, and any noticeable changes or benefits in our pet’s response.
  • We should continue to rotate through ingredients until we find a combination that drastically decreases or completely eliminates any symptoms.
  • At this point, we can start adding one ingredient at a time to your pet’s diet, in the form of treats or other similar pet food formulas, all the while taking note of your pet’s responses to each ingredient.
  • This is how we figure out, one by one, which ingredients our pets can tolerate.

Tell Me More about Ingredients

A true food allergy is caused by a protein. Almost all food items contain some form of protein, but many food items have a much higher percentage of protein than other food items. For example, a dog can be allergic to carrots. This is because their body recognizes the proteins found in carrots as a threat and will try to eliminate it from the body. This is why blood and skin tests done at veterinary offices will often return positive allergic responses for foods such as carrots, flax, potatoes or other produce. The problem with this classification of allergic reactions is that they typically fall well below the allergic threshold we discussed earlier, and probably do not need to be eliminated from our pets’ diets. When we are deciding on food for our dog or cat who is displaying allergy symptoms, we should avoid all foods containing beef, wheat, chicken and soy. These are the most common food allergens. Wheat and soy, while being grains and not meat, still contain a high percentage of high allergen proteins.

To replace those very common pet food ingredients, we should instead look for the novel ingredients we spoke about earlier: rabbit, duck, pheasant, kangaroo, and bison, all of which are commonly available in pet food. Again, good novel carbohydrate sources include sweet potato, tapioca, garbanzo beans, and lentils.

*Remember that any consumed food items can potentially trigger a reaction, not just our pets’ primary diet. We should be sure not to feed our allergic pets table scraps or treats which contain any of the most common allergens. Especially while we are doing an elimination diet to determine the source of our pets’ allergy. Most of the treats sold in grocery stores contain wheat, soy, beef or all three. Additionally, something as simple as the crust from a slice of white bread can set off a dog with severe allergies.*

What Are Some Brands to Consider?


Hollywood Feed carries many diets great for pets with allergies and for trying an elimination diet in all of our stores. The brands below have novel ingredients as well as high levels of natural antihistamines and anti-inflammatories. A few of my favorites are: Answers Pet Food, Orijen, Acana, Fromm, Holistic Select, and Natural Balance, which all have hypo-allergenic formulas. Also, the most common food allergens such as beef, wheat and soy are absent from the majority of the formulas and brands that we carry.

What Else Should I Know?

Finally, I should point out that food isn’t the only thing that can cause an allergic reaction, it’s simply the easiest to manage. Grass is another very common allergen, but because there’s virtually no way to escape it, we should minimize exposure. But we also need to be realistic about dogs being dogs. By eliminating as many other allergens from our pets’ lives as possible, we can most likely bring them under the allergic threshold to a point of comfort.

For an outline on skin/allergy disorders as well as some of the best nutrition available, watch and read: Dermatology and Our Pets, Cats, Dogs and DermatologyI Have an Itch that Needs Scratching and Solve 90% of Pet Health Problems through Answers Raw Nutrition .

older yellow lab looking happy getting cuddles on the floor

The Power of Prayer…and Goat’s Milk

November 18th, 2014

Halie Snider knew exactly what she wanted for her 14th birthday. She wanted a puppy…a yellow lab mix, rescue puppy to be exact. The dog she would adopt would soon become the love of the entire family. A loyal companion, Zayda, a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, loved to spend time doing anything with any of the Sniders. Life was good. Move forward six years to April 2014 and tragedy strikes the Snider family. Their beloved Zayda was in danger and not expected to live much longer.

Dogs Have A Way of Finding The People That Need Them…

Excited about finding a furry best friend, Halie scanned the Birmingham-Jefferson Animal Shelter’s available dogs online. That’s where she spotted six month old Zayda.

“She found Zayda’s picture and fell in love,” said Halie’s mother, Vanessa. “The next Saturday, which was her birthday, we went to the shelter and found Zayda. There were so many cute dogs, and we encouraged her to look around. We even got several others out of their enclosures and took them out to play with them. But she would not be swayed! We ended up adopting Zayda!”

Zayda quickly became a steadfast member of the family and everyone’s favorite playmate. Games of fetch and tug were a mainstay around the house, and car rides were a MUST. The Snider girls had to spell out the words to keep Zayda from getting too excited about an R-I-D-E, but they took her regularly. She even befriended the neighbors and began a routine of running next door to visit them to snag an extra treat every now and then.

Keep Calm and Hug Your Dog

Things were great until April of this year when Vanessa had shoulder surgery and was home for the next four weeks for recovery and rehab.

“I began to notice that Zayda didn’t want to go out with our other dog, Zoe. She just wanted to lie on the ottoman next to my chair,” said Vanessa. “I thought she didn’t want to leave me. Although she is my daughter’s dog, she and I are very close and very attached to one another.”

Then, one night, she began vomiting. Zayda couldn’t keep anything down, and the Sniders decided to take her to the vet. The doctor feared she had pancreatitis and kept her overnight. The next day Zayda was doing much better and was allowed to go home with a few food and water instructions to help her further recover from the illness.  She did well that Saturday but soon started vomiting again Sunday evening.

“She refused food, and threw up even the little water she was drinking. She just lay in one spot and didn’t want to move,” explains Vanessa. “First thing on Monday, I called the vet and took her back.”

The veterinarian kept Zayda for further testing and called back that afternoon with results of an x-ray showing a mass in her abdomen. Not being able to tell much about where exactly it was, he wanted to keep her for another night and perform exploratory surgery the next day.

The Snider family had been anxiously awaiting the call, and when it came, the news was grim.

“He said he had bad news…there was a large tumor attached to her pancreas and it had metastasized to her liver,” Vanessa explained. “He said there was really nothing that he could do. He suggested that we take her home and ‘love on her as long as we could stand it.’ He thought she might live a week at the most.”

The Sniders didn’t want to lose their beloved Zayda, but they also didn’t want her to have to endure anymore pain. After talking with her husband and children, Vanessa decided to wait a day before making the decision. Kate, the oldest Snider daughter, was celebrating her 22nd birthday and Vanessa didn’t want her to remember it as the painful day they lost Zayda. Vanessa’s husband, Jimmy, called to tell the doctor the decision, and the doctor explained that Zayda was standing up and wagging her tail. She wasn’t in too much pain at the time. The Sniders knew if Zayda wasn’t in pain they had to bring her home. The decision wouldn’t be made until Zayda let them know the time was right. The vet sent her home with pain meds, and left the shunt in her leg to easily inject the medication to put her to sleep when the need arose.

“Because she really couldn’t eat or hold down much food, I wanted to try to find something I could give her that would give her the nutrition she needed, and ANYTHING that might help her condition,” said Vanessa. “I looked online for ‘holistic pet stores’ and Hollywood Feed is the only one that popped up. Although not far from my house, I didn’t know anything about it.”

All You Need Is Love…and Goat’s Milk

Vanessa drove to Hollywood Feed in Mountain Brook, Alabama, not knowing what she would find, if anything, to help her sweet Zayda.

Vanessa explained to the staff that she had a “sick dog – very sick – who couldn’t really eat.” She was hoping to find something to give Zayda that provided the vitamins and minerals that she needed. The Hollywood Feed employee immediately recommended goat’s milk and led Vanessa to the store’s freezer.

“She told me it was raw and had all the nutrients my dog would need, even if she couldn’t eat,” explained Vanessa. “She told me how much to give Zayda, and told me about grain-free food, and I left with several cans of food and two quarts of goat’s milk.”

Vanessa immediately started to mix the goat’s milk and food for Zayda (and even mixed some goat’s milk with Zoe’s food).

“I began to see immediate gradual improvement. At the end of the first week, the vet’s office called to check on Zayda (because I truly believe they thought we would have already brought her back). I told the vet’s assistant that she was doing better, eating and keeping her food down, and seemed to have more energy. She sounded a little skeptical, but told me to keep in touch.”

The same happened multiple times. The vet’s assistant would call to check on Zayda and Vanessa would explain that it seemed that every day and every week Zayda got a little better. “I also told her about the goat’s milk at that point. I could hear the skepticism and maybe a little doubt (like maybe I had gone crazy), but she said ‘well, just keep doing what you’re doing I guess.’

“The same pattern continued for the next several months, with Zayda improving and either the vet’s office calling me, or me calling them to check in. At one point, the vet’s assistant told me, like she had to defend their diagnosis, ‘I was in surgery with him with Zayda, and I saw it – I saw the tumor!’ I told her I didn’t doubt them, and also couldn’t explain Zayda’s improvement. I told them, and pretty much everyone, that the only things I could attribute her recovery to were goat’s milk…and prayer!”

You’ll Never Walk Alone Because I’ll Always Be With You

Jimmy took Zayda back to the vet just two weeks ago for the first time in six months. It was time for her annual visit and rabies shots. After a physical exam, the veterinarian thought he could still feel something in her abdomen but was completely amazed at how well Zayda was doing. Jimmy answered lots of questions the doctor had and told him all about the goat’s milk. The vet excitedly said “it’s working so don’t change a thing!” and recommended they “keep doing EXACTLY what you’ve been doing!”

The family and doctor don’t know for sure if the cancer is still there or not. There’s no way of knowing without doing another surgery, and that’s something neither wants to do. “The disease could progress again at any point, but everyone is AMAZED she lived beyond a few days, much less almost seven months now. And she hasn’t just stayed alive, she is happy and appears healthy, she has a great appetite, and runs and plays with Zoe and the family.

“She’s just a joy to have around, and we are so thankful to have been given more time with her, and that she’s been happy and felt good,” Vanessa said. “She is such a sweet dog and loves each of us and I can’t imagine our family without her. But even if the illness returned today and she passed, we are still SOOOO thankful that the folks at Hollywood Feed cared enough to ask me what I needed and took the time to talk with me and show me the goat’s milk, and the other grain-free food. They have been so caring…always asking about Zayda when I go in every couple of weeks for milk.”

“The Journey of Life is Sweeter When Traveled with a Dog.” -Bridget Willoughby

As for now, things are back to normal for the Snider family. The only difference? Goat’s milk is now a staple in the Snider canine diet! Fetch, tug, visits to the neighbors, and car rides are again part of everyday life.

We can all learn a lesson from Zayda. When the going gets tough, hang your head out the car window, feel the breeze rushing through your hair, then lean back in the car and give your favorite human a big, slobbery, kiss to let them know how much you love them. Never take one minute for granted, and never stop putting one paw in front of the other and moving forward. With the help of God, family, and friends you can make it through anything.

A Note From Hollywood Feed About Our Beliefs on Health and Nutrition

At Hollywood Feed, we live for days like this – days when we get to hear remarkable stories about how nutrition has made a life-changing difference in a beloved pet’s life. We’re delighted to provide paramount nutrition for dogs and cats and offer a veterinarian-trained staff to help guide consumers to what’s right for their specific pet. When customers return to us with stories like Zayda’s the feeling is indescribable. The only way I can think to express it is the feeling a puppy experiences when they FINALLY catch their tail; relief that we helped make life better for an animal, excitement that we now have more successful information to provide to the next customer, and joy – pure joy – that one more cherished pet gets to spend more time with his treasured human family.

We work hard to stay up-to-date on the latest health and nutrition needs of dogs and cats (and lots of other animals, too). We discuss our own research and reading amongst ourselves at the office and the stores, speak with veterinarians about different issues, and listen to customers when they tell us what has worked and what hasn’t all in order to provide our clientele with the best advice possible. We, in no way, want to undermine a veterinarian’s recommendations, and we don’t suggest that you ever stop giving medication or prescription food without talking with your pet’s doctor first. We also know that many times holistic nutrition choices aren’t enough. Sometimes God is calling your pet home and nothing can change His plan. This breaks our hearts and pushes us to learn more and more about providing nutrition that paves the way for a long and healthy life for our pets. Many times, desperation sends pet owners our way and a change in nutrition makes a huge difference in the pet’s life. Other times, we aren’t so lucky. We are, in no way, trying to make anyone believe that goat’s milk is the answer to all problems, but it’s definitely worth a try! But obviously, nothing can replace excellent care and, of course, prayer!