Selecting the Best Kibble for Your Dog

Selecting the right kibble for your dog can be an overwhelming task. After all, there are dozens of choices on the market these days. To help simplify your decision, ask yourself these seven questions:

1. What life stage is your dog in?
This is an important initial question, as it will then help to narrow your choices, says Korinn E. Saker, DVM, president of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. Puppies, for instance, should be on a growth diet, which will contain the proper nutrients for their rapid development. For healthy adults, an adult maintenance diet may be best, and senior dogs will thrive on food made specifically for their geriatric needs.

2. What's the health status of your dog?
If your dog is healthy, choose a food based on life stage. If your dog has health conditions, talk with your veterinarian, since another type of food could make a difference. For instance, if your pet has allergies to pollen or grass, a food with omega-3 fatty acids could help minimize inflammation associated with allergies, says Dr. Saker.

3. Does the food meet AAFCO standards?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets standards for pet food manufacturers. The product will carry a statement indicating it is complete and balanced, as well as what life stage it is intended.

4. What does the ingredient list include?
Ingredients appear in the proportion in which they occur in the food. For instance, if chicken is first and rice is fourth, that food has a higher proportion of chicken by weight than rice.

Take note of how much protein is in the food. Higher-level protein diets generally work well for puppies, pregnant dogs and service animals that may have more physical demands. Older canines additionally need very good quality protein, so look for foods with the actual meat or meal close to the top of the list.  

5. How big is the manufacturer?
The bigger the company, the more money it has to spend on research and development. “It may also have more stringent quality control measures and be able to offer high-quality foods at reasonable prices,” says Dr. Saker. That doesn't mean you cannot buy from a smaller company; just be aware of this potential difference. 

6. How big is your dog?
Dog food comes in kibbles of various sizes. While you might think any size will work, buy one that is appropriately sized for your dog's mouth.

7. Is your dog overweight?
If your dog is a little heavy, the weight issue needs to be addressed. But don't do it by cutting back on your dog's regular food. "You'll reduce calories, but you'll also cut valuable nutrients," says Dr. Saker. Instead, purchase a calorie-restricted food, which reduces the amount of fat calories while still providing optimal nutrition. Be sure to follow the feeding instructions on the food’s packaging.

The ultimate test, however, will be passing your dog's lip-licking taste bud evaluation.

Hidden Health Dangers of Dog Tail Chasing

Look up “dog chasing tail” on YouTube, and you will find thousands of videos showing breeds, ranging from sprightly adult collies to yipping tiny lap dogs running around in circles, trying to catch their elusive tail. Your own dog may even be a tail chaser, since the playful behavior is quite common.

But too much tail chasing can be a symptom of health problems, including high cholesterol, according to new research. Does your dog need professional help, or does it just enjoy some good old-fashioned tail fun? We’ve got the questions to help you determine the answer.

How often does your dog chase its tail?
A recent study conducted by Hasan Batmaz and colleagues from the University of Uludag, Turkey, found that dogs exhibiting compulsive tail chasing engaged in this activity for a minimum of 60 seconds per bout, several times a day. Additionally, “all owners reported that their dogs commonly whined, barked or growled during tail chasing,” according to Dr. Batmaz, a member of the university’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, and his team. They observed dogs rapidly spinning in tight circles over and over again. The canines would also sometimes back up against a wall and stare at their tail or sit in a corner in an apparent effort to grasp the tail.

Does your dog demonstrate other obsessive-compulsive behaviors?
In addition to tail chasing, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in dogs can include behaviors such as grooming, flank sucking, pacing, whirling, snapping at air and chewing. Most canines do all of these things every so often, but similarly to an OCD-afflicted person, when behaviors become overly repetitive, they can signal a problem. (The TV character Detective Monk, for example, is forever trying to keep his hands clean, to the point of obsession.)

What is your dog’s age, sex and breed?
Lisa Peterson, a dog breeder who is the director of communications for the American Kennel Club, says that while tail chasing is usually just a puppy thing that happens when young pups discover they have a tail, it can also be influenced by a dog’s age, sex and breed. Dogs with OCD will remain obsessed with their tails long past puppyhood. Females and certain breeds also tend to chase their tails more.

The Uludag scientists, whose research was published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice, studied many different breeds. They believe terriers, German shepherds, Anatolian sheepdogs and dogs originally bred for herding appear to be more prone to tail chasing.

Have you recently had your dog’s cholesterol levels checked?
The majority of dogs with obsessive tail chasing in the recent study were found to suffer from high cholesterol, with HDL and LDL cholesterol both significantly higher than in dogs that only chased their tails on occasion. High amounts of cholesterol may clog cell membranes at the microscopic level, affecting flows of brain hormones involved in mood and behavior. High cholesterol has also been linked to people who suffer from panic attacks and/or OCD.

If you suspect that your dog might chase its tail too often and could have high cholesterol, experts suggest the following:

Schedule a visit with your veterinarian A simple blood test can determine your dog’s cholesterol levels. It’s a good idea to do this on at least an annual basis, since high cholesterol can be associated with many other health issues, including:

  • Kidney disorders
  • An under-functioning thyroid gland
  • An over-functioning adrenal gland
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreas inflammation
  • Bile duct obstruction

Feed your dog a high-quality commercial dog food Manufactured pet foods must all meet governmental regulations for protein, ash, fat and water content, and more.

Look for high-quality fat sources on dog food labels Fats from poultry and fish sources not only help to keep cholesterol levels in check, but they also help your pet maintain a healthy skin and coat, metabolize vitamins, and last but not least, they can be tasty to your dog when mixed with other good ingredients.  

Don’t feed your dog table scraps While dogs don’t suffer from hardening of the arteries, you can elevate your dog’s blood cholesterol levels by feeding it table scraps, like that half-eaten burger snuck under the table. “Dogs don’t naturally gorge themselves on junk foods like we do,” says Peterson, who adds that we determine how healthy our dogs’ diets are.

With proper maintenance of your dog’s health and diet, you can enjoy watching your pet engage in the occasional tail chase without worry. Just ask the owners of Angel, a Maltese puppy featured on YouTube. After running in circles chasing his tiny stub of a tail, Angel gave up and enjoyed a relaxing head brush.

Put Your Dog Food to the Test

Do you have a quibble with your dog’s kibble?

How do you know if your dog chow choice meets your pup’s daily nutritional needs? Your furry friend can’t exactly take a taste test or raise a paw and tell you if he’s not getting his recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.

As a dog owner, you can try to assess your dog’s health by behavior, activity level, outward appearance and the consistency of your pet’s stool. You can also read pet food labels and opt for foods that meet or exceed pet food industry standards. But canine nutritional experts say there is a lot more you can learn. Take the quiz to find out.

1. What is the optimal amount of protein your dog’s food should contain?
A. 18 percent
B. 24-30 percent
C. 50 percent or higher

Answer: B
Protein is an important dog food ingredient because it helps your pup maintain lean body mass, bone integrity and enzymatic system. Canine nutritional standards -- established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the organization that sets pet food industry standards -- require that dog foods contain a minimum of 18 percent protein for adults and 22 percent for puppies. But a growing number of pet foods exceed those minimum standards today, arguing that contents of 20, 30, 40 or even 50 percent protein make the food more evolutionarily sound, since in the wild, canines would eat more meat. Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, a professor of clinical nutrition at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, doesn’t completely buy that argument. Many of the dog breeds people keep domestically are a far cry from their wild ancestors. The AAFCO minimum is “adequate,” says Dr. Wakshlag, but he personally advises feeding dogs food that contains “somewhere between 24 and 30 percent protein.”

2. Are all added fats and oils created equal?
A. Yes, fat is fat
B. Mineral and vegetable oils are better than animal fats
C. Fish oil can help add needed omega 3 fatty acids

Answer: C
Added oils and fats can help keep your dog’s coat shiny and reduce flakiness and dryness to the skin underneath. Most foods add some animal fats for taste, and vegetable fats from grains. The addition of fish oil can help balance out the fatty acids in your dog’s diet, says Dr. Wakshlag. The reason is that the industrial revolution has created a very grain-based world, not only for humans, but for our pets as well. Grains added to most commercial pet food provide our dogs with their necessary omega 6 fatty acids, but they need additional omega 3s to better achieve a more natural balance to their diet, according to Dr. Wakshlag. Omega 3s also have potential health benefits aside from coat and skin health in that they may be able to help dampen chronic immune problems in your dog.

3. Should you supplement your dog’s food with table scraps?
A. Yes, add scraps to your kibble at every meal
B. A few pizza crusts or bits of protein per day can’t hurt
C. No, table scraps can lead to obesity and throw off the nutritional balance of prepared dog foods

Answer: C
Most foods that meet AAFCO nutritional standards don’t need to be supplemented, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University. “We can unbalance a diet by adding to it,” Dr. Beaver says. “The big problem we run into is obesity.” A good test to determine whether or not your dog is overweight is to see if you can feel its ribs through the coat without an effort. If you can’t, your dog may be overweight. However, if you can see the ribs, your pet might be too thin.

4. Should I look for a source of glucosamine in my dog’s food?
A. Yes, glucosamine may help keep joints healthy
B. No, this is just another myth

Answer: A
Glucosamine can be found in several dog food ingredients, such as poultry and meat products. This substance helps protect and maintain cartilage, which safeguards your dog’s joints and bones. Throughout your pup’s lifetime, your dog will naturally wear down some of this cartilage. Glucosamine can help prevent cartilage degeneration, Dr. Wakshlag says.

5. Are antioxidants, like vitamin E and beta-carotene, important to boost immune system health?
A. Yes
B. No

Answer: A
Antioxidants are naturally occurring nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. They’ve proven to have benefits for dogs in terms of slowing the aging process, improving immune responses and helping vaccines work. Antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and compounds such as beta-carotene. Dog food ingredients such as tomatoes, spinach, peas and carrots all contain antioxidants.

Ultimately, you may have to rely on your dog to communicate to you whether it is getting the nutrients it needs. The best way to determine if your dog food is appropriate is to look at your dog, says Lisa Peterson, communications director for the American Kennel Club. “A shiny, healthy coat, clear eyes, pink gums and ideal weight are all signs that speak louder than words.”

Sauce up Your Dog's Food and Life

When the kidneys of Laura Alderman’s elderly dog began to fail, a veterinarian advised the San Antonio resident to encourage her pet to drink as much water as possible. This was no easy task until Alderman had a lightbulb moment: Her dog loved gravy. She watered down some commercial dog sauce, offered it to her pooch and the liquid was gone in no time.

Enticing your dog to drink its water is just one of many uses for dog sauce, which is now prepared by leading pet food manufacturers. Here are five other ways you can incorporate these savory and nutritious mixtures into your dog’s life and diet.

No. 1: Enhance meals Lisa Peterson, a well-known dog breeder and spokesperson for the American Kennel Club, says for some dogs, “Eating cold food out of a can is comparable to eating cold canned tuna straight out of the fridge: filling, but not very satisfying.” To turn a ho-hum meal into a mini masterpiece, simply add dog sauce to dry or wet dog food and microwave until just warm, or for about 30 seconds.

No. 2: Add variety to your dog’s food Changing foods, and even flavors, can be tricky, according to Peterson, who advises that all such switches should incorporate a transitional period because dogs, not unlike humans and other animals, can be creatures of habit. An easy way to maintain your dog’s diet while still adding a bit of new zip? Top your buddy’s food with sauce. Manufacturers are now offering dog sauces in such flavors as pot roast, bacon and country chicken -- enough to get the mouth of both you and your dog watering. (But it goes without saying that dog gravies are especially formulated for canines.)

No. 3: Sneak medicine into the gravy Your dog may go to great lengths not to take prescribed pills, but accepting a spoonful of yummy gravy is another story. “Just put a pill in the middle of a spoon and pour some gravy over it,” Peterson instructs. “Your dog will probably lap it up in one lick.”

No. 4: Supplement your dog’s nutrition While quality commercial pet foods are formulated to include just the right amount of nutrients, dog gravy can supplement them without disrupting regular mealtimes or adding too much fat. Look for pet gravies that contain 3 percent or more protein, 1.5 percent or more fiber and moisture not exceeding 90 percent.

No. 5: Incorporate dog gravy into training sessions What’s better than a dog biscuit reward? A dog biscuit that has a bit of gravy on it, says Peterson. Canines can connect rewards to positive behavior, as can humans. Humans note the quality and size of the reward; for example, if a friend does a minor favor for you, you may reward him or her with a little gift, but if your friend really goes all out, you may offer an even bigger gift. Use this psychology when adding gravy to dog biscuits during training, saving the extra yum-o factor for when your dog earns an A+, or in this case, a biscuit plus sauce.

The Dos and Don’ts of Sauce for Dogs
ever feed your dog gravy meant for humans. It often contains too much salt and could include ingredients, like onions, that are toxic for canines.

Do select a sauce for dogs that is appropriate for your pet’s stage of life. Sauces are often made specifically for puppies, adults and mature dogs. Check labels to make sure you choose the right one.

Do store sauces for your dog in the refrigerator after opening. They will generally last for up to a month.

Don’t ever substitute dog sauce for an actual meal. Like salad dressing, sauce for dogs is meant to be an addition to food and not a replacement for it. Once you start using sauces for your dog, however, you’ll likely find that they’re a handy staple. Alderman keeps a stash in her refrigerator, for both her elderly canine and her younger dogs, which now crave a bit of gravy goodness each day.

How to Throw a Pooch Party

Coco Chanel’s recent birthday party evoked all the glamour of the famous clothing designer. In an exquisitely decorated party room, guests nibbled on appetizers served by uniformed attendants carrying golden trays. Only select partygoers, however, enjoyed the signature “Coco Cocktail,” a warmed, low-sodium chicken broth mixed with filtered water. As it turned out, many of Coco’s party invitees were just like her: Maltese dogs.

Handling nearly every aspect of Coco’s canine birthday bash was Dorothy Moore, owner of The Dining Dog Café & Bakery, an Edmonds, Wash. restaurant. It was a cakewalk, or one might say bonewalk, for Moore, whose restaurant, with its white tablecloths, soft music and chandeliers, caters to the needs of her canine customers. As one of the world’s leading party organizers for dogs, however, she frequently leaves her restaurant to orchestrate perfect pooch parties.

Working with such an expert means the doggie sky, and perhaps your budget, are the only limitations.

From Weddings to Fashion Shows
In the past, Moore baked wedding cakes for human couples, but now she prefers to cater dog weddings. During one recent ceremony, the furry bride and groom stared rapturously into each other’s eyes, while the proud owners stood nearby holding back tears of joy. She says, “Tiny framed pictures of the dogs decorated the top of the canine-edible cake, while guests received toy and treat favor bags.”

She also recently organized a fashion show extravaganza at The Beverly Hills Mutt Club. Humans and dogs modeled spring fashions. Afterwards, “owners savored fancy salads and pasta dishes, while all of the dogs gobbled up my special canine quiche, doggie cookies and appetizers.”

For other parties, Moore has brought in massage therapists, spa specialists and pet psychics. “The massage theme is especially popular,” she says. “Dogs receive their massage first on a soft, warm blanket. While they relax, their owners then get a soothing 10-minute massage.” The key to this event, and many others, she believes, is to make sure food and activities involve both canines and their owners, so no one feels bored or left behind.

Do It Yourself
Moore says you can successfully organize such parties yourself. “You might think of them as you would a children’s party, with that level of creativity and extra care needed.” She offers these tips:

  • Leash your pup “Instruct all guests to bring their dogs on a leash,” she says, adding that adults should also always be in charge of holding the leash. “I’ve been to some parties where the owner was having such a good time that he left the dog in the care of his kid. Adults really need to stay with their pets.”
  • Make a pit stop Be sure to make a bathroom stop before the event. For obvious reasons, it avoids embarrassing “party pooper” problems that might occur later.
  • Don’t bring antisocial dogs If your dog has a hard time relating to unfamiliar dogs and people, it probably wouldn’t be happy at the party anyway.
  • Prep for the party in advance Many large party supply stores now carry invitations, hats and other items suitable for a dog fest. Online businesses like Fun Stuff for Dogs even specialize in dog party items.
  • Choose a theme Carry your theme throughout all your party elements. At a St. Patrick’s Day party, for example, the guests received green hats, corned beef treats and enjoyed Irish music, played softly enough for sensitive canine ears.
  • Keep guests occupied One of the easiest and least expensive solutions is to use your party’s greatest resource: its canine attendants. Consider holding contests, such as “largest tail,” “best trick” or “floppiest ears,” with prizes or paper awards going to the winners.

Party Food
The preparation and serving of food for your dog party might at first seem like your biggest challenge, but it’s actually one of the simplest aspects to consider. Although Moore whips up special food treats, she admits that these are just snacks and that all dogs “should still follow their normal diets.”

That having been said, food time doesn’t have to be dullsville for your dog and its friends. Moore often likes to offer dogs their usual food favorites, only all together and in much smaller portions than normal, creating a sort of hors d’oeuvre arrangement. “Present it nicely, with the foods separated on a large tray or plate, so that it looks appetizing and festive to both dogs and their owners,” she advises. As for a business cocktail party, the goal is to enhance the overall experience with the food and not fill up your human and dog guests so that they all want to lie down and take a nap.

Another tip is to avoid serving dogs hard bones, chewy foods or other hard-to-bite edibles. While these may be fine for everyday home noshing by your pet, the added excitement of a party, or canines eating something they might not be used to, could lead to choking and spit-ups, which could understandably ruin any party.

Healthy for Dogs and Humans
Numerous studies show that positive socializing is healthy for you and your dog. Having a party for pets can even help shy people come out of their social shells. The friendly, uninhibited nature of canines somehow helps break the ice. Moore says, “I’ve had a lot of people show up to my events and tell me they hate parties, but at the end of the evening, they are usually the ones who are most into it and who don’t want to leave because they are enjoying good friends -- human and canine -- and good times.”