Attitudes to a dog’s diet have changed radically in recent years, especially since that some health issues have been reported using well known brands of commercial dog foods. Commercial diets became popular because home made diets were frequently unbalanced, and problems such as rickets were very common. Commercial diets, especially well formulated ones, have their place.

WE STILL RECOMMEND A DIET THAT IS BASED ON AT LEAST 75% COMMERCIALLY PRODUCED DRY FOOD. We do, however, also recommend that the brand is chosen carefully, and in that selection, you consider what your dog’s particular needs are. We also advise that you add some fresh, raw food as part of their diet.

There are 100’s of brands of dried dog food available. The quality varies enormously, and the price usually does approximately reflect the quality of the food. To be sure, look at the ingredients panel carefully.

The ingredients panel:
This is the list of ingredients in the dog food. They are listed by weight with the heaviest first. This sounds straight forward, but can be manipulated – products that contain a lot of water are found higher on the ingredients list so, for example “Meat” on the ingredients list has less nutritional value than “meat meal” which is essentially meat that has had most of the water removed. Also, sometimes byproducts of other processes are represented as fresh product.

This would include beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, duck and any other animal species. Meats have the best quality protein. Dogs have a gut that is designed to extract nutrients from whole animals that they have killed or scavenged. So we like to see various meats at the top of the list. NOTE – it is better to see “meat meal” than just “meat.” Meat is approximately 50% water, whereas the meat meal has very little water content. If it was weighed as whole meat then it appears that there is a higher percentage of meat in the food. This is one way cheaper brands try to make their contents look better! Meat by products are also of very poor quality.

One of the big “fashion trends” that is being promoted in dog food currently is that better diets are “grain free”. Keep in mind:

  • most dogs tolerate grain well, but quite a few dogs do develop a sensitivity developing skin allergy problems, or “irritable bowel” issues.
  • Most dogs do not utilize the carbohydrates and very low quality protein in a lot of the grains.
  • Dog fed a lot of carbohydrate tend to become overweight quickly.
  • Grain is relatively cheap and is often used to bulk out dog foods. You will need to feed more of these foods for the same nutritional value.

So, although I do not think grain is the big “no-no” that a lot people think it to be (unless you dog has developed a sensitivity), it is not the best choice for the digestive system of a dog. I tend to choose grain free foods. Oats and barley are probably better than wheat and rice.

Many of the better quality dog foods are now using legumes instead of grains as a non-meat source. Legumes have better, more complex carbohydrates, and their protein content, although not as good as animal protein, is much better then grains.

I am happy to use dog foods containing some legumes for most dogs, with one LARGE EXCEPTION. I do not like to use a lot of these foods for breeding dogs and bitches because many of legumes and a few other foods are high in phytoestrogens. These foods are perfectly OK for desexed dogs, in fact they may help desexed bitches in the same way they are good for menopausal women.

Foods high in phytoestrogens should be avoided for dogs that are to be bred with. Not all dogs are sensitive, but litter sizes here dropped significantly when our girls were fed food high in photoestrogens.
The following foods have high phytoestrogen levels:

  • Flax seed. I would not use a food with any flax seed for my breeding dogs, although the refined flax seed oil can be used in small amounts.
  • Soy beans, nuts or any soy products such as tempeh, miso or tofu is also very high in phytoestrogen.
  • Chick peas and their relatives such as mung beans, garbanzo beans,red beans, black-eyed peas are also moderately high in phytoestrogens, and I would avoid using them. Other peas and beans may be included in this group, although normal green peas are fairly low in phytoestrogens.
  • Pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts, garlic have a moderate level of phytoestrogen so I would use some

Dogs utilise fats to create energy far more efficiently that they utilise carbohydrates. Too much fat will obviously cause the dog to become overweight, but generally fats are metabolised well and are healthier than carbohydrates as an energy source for dogs.

Dogs have no problem with cholesterol or “hardening of the heart arteries”.  They do not have the type of “heart attack” common in humans, so it is absolutely fine to give dogs fatty food.

But dogs still need a good balance of fats, in particular, a correct balance of omega 3 and 6 oils, for all the same reasons as humans: good skin, good brain development,  good immune system, good for reproduction and good “everything”. Fish oils, flax seed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil are useful.

We give a daily fish oil capsule.

We like variety in our dog’s food. A variety of fruits and vegetables should be on the ingredient list but low down. They should only be a very minor proportion of the dog’s diet.

A good place to look when trying to compare dog foods is this website:

I would advise a grain free diet with a high proportion of meat, and possibly some legumes as part of the protein source. There should be sources of omega 3 and 6 oils. Fat is not a bad thing unless your dog tends to become overweight. Low carbohydrates are best for dogs. There are a lot of good brands.

Remember, diet should be varied, so there is no problem buying different brands each time. In fact, changing the brand each time is a good thing

For those with dogs they want to breed with, finding a brand with low phytoestrogens is a more difficult job. There are a couple of brands I have found:

-Healthy Everyday Pets: all varieties
Lamb and Kangaroo
Turkey and Pork

-Taste of the Wild:  Not all varieties. (some varieties have garbanzo beans
High Prairie Bison and Venison
Wetlands Roasted Fowl
Sierra Mountain Roasted Lamb
Pacific Stream Smoked Salmon Puppy (Not the adult variety)

Variety is very important in the diet of all species. We like to give our dogs lots of different extras to be sure that they get all those micronutrients that are only found if a few different foods.

Treats are a daily feature of our dogs’ diets. We used commercially prepared balanced diet sausage cut into treat size. We also use cheese.  Occasionally we use our left over foods.

For dry treats we make our own. Either commercial dog food sausage cut into strips and dried.  Or we use mince mixed with various fruits a vegetables and maybe peanut butter; it is spread into thin flat sheets and dried. We used to use commercial treats, but changed when one of our dogs developed a food sensitivity. If looking at commercial dried treats, then look at the ingredients panel with the same critical eye as when you choose your dog food. Generally speaking supermarket brands are full of rubbish, but there re some good healthy treats available on line or pet sops (although I find certain pet shops chains to be very expensive.)

We give raw meaty bones once a week to keep gums and teeth clean and healthy and because the dogs love them.  We use turkey wings and turkey necks – they are a good size for German Shorthaired Pointers. If you give large beef leg bones leave them with the dogs for a few hours.  Do not leave them to chew on the really hard bone, which can crack their teeth.

Each evening we give the dogs something extra in the dogs dinner. It might be yoghurt (goat’s milk yoghurt or Greek yoghurt); another night they get an egg each, some canned fish, dried vegetables, a portion of dried liver or a BARF pattie. We make our own patties with turkey mince, beef heart and lung, vegetables all blended together. Or find them in the freezer section of your local pet shop.

I also concoct a powder made up of tripe powder, kelp granules, green lipped mussel powder, turmeric, a powdered garlic and few other supplements. This is mixed together and given on their food once a week.

Our dogs also eat our left over fruit, vegies, and salad. They love carrot peelings, strawberry tops (the green bit) and anything else that comes to hand.

Hence the dogs, as well as a good foundation to their diet, receive a lot of variety with good quality nutrition.