We all want what’s best for our fur babies, and as a pet nutritionist people often ask me what the healthiest pet food is.

So what is the healthiest food for your dog? Let’s discuss.

Pet food marketing

Popular pet food brands advertised on TV or lining supermarket and pet shop shelves do not necessarily deliver top nutrition. Commercial brands, more often than not, contain ingredients that aren’t good for dogs or cats. Some examples are corn, rice, wheat, and animal by-products. It’s impossible to buy 20kg of healthy food for $40 – these foods are cheap for a reason, and likely contains ingredients which would make you feel sick if you knew the truth.

How the kibble-making process destroys nutrition

Dry dog and cat food (kibble), even the premium varieties, are processed using heat and pressure. This destroys the vital nutrients in the food, that are then replaced with synthetic vitamins. Diets lacking in moisture force your pet’s internal organs to work overtime, resulting in conditions such as kidney problems and UTIs.

People also ask if they should allow their dogs to free-feed on kibble. Allowing a dog or a cat free access to kibble is one of the easiest ways to cause obesity or diabetes in animals. Obesity is one of the greatest premature killers of our companion pets, and causes all sorts of joint and health problems.

Dogs that are kept lean live an average of 2 years longer than their overweight counterparts, and veterinary treatment for age-related health conditions can also be delayed for around 2 years when dogs are fed a lean, natural, species appropriate diet.

You can’t count on your vet either, as chances are they’ll recommend a special diet for your dog, which not only will be more expensive, but will still be a kibble full of grains. Don’t believe me, take a look at the ingredients list.

Finding the healthiest food for your dog (or cat)

Here are some tips for finding the healthiest pet food for your best friend:

1. Buy food that’s closest to fresh.  Contrary to popular belief, raw fresh, raw frozen, dehydrated pet food or freeze-dried foods are better than canned foods, which are in turn better for your pet than dry kibble. Yes, a good quality canned food is better than kibble! This is because pets need moisture in their diet that kibble can’t deliver. Many people find fresh or raw frozen foods inconvenient, and that’s where dehydrated pet foods can bridge the gap between quality and convenience (although they do come at a cost).

2. Read the label. The first ingredient should be one or more “named” animal proteins for example chicken, lamb, kangaroo or pork. The broad term “meat” can mean anything, and often does. If you have any questions, ring the manufacturer’s toll-free number on the label. Don’t be fooled by labelling trickery either, as a kibble which is meat first and a whole list of grains will in reality have very little meat.

3. Avoid all by-products. These are the parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered animals, including the spleen, brain, blood, bone, fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines. Many would say that by-products are perfectly appropriate to feed our animals, however, this is a cheap, low-quality protein with inconsistent ingredients, and the quality and source of your pet’s protein is important, particularly as they get older.

4. Don’t accept meat meal.  Again, this involves the use of bone and by-product as cheap filler, and reduces the quality of the protein you are serving. More often than not, meat meal can be carcass, such as chicken carcass.

5. Reject corn products and gluten meals. Corn and gluten are common allergens. Wheat gluten is used as an attempt to boost protein without the use of meat. Mars brand Advance Dermocare in Australia, made significantly of corn, fell foul to a mycotoxin known to originate from crop disease in corn. This led to a spate of dogs with incurable condition megaoesophagus as well as a number of fatalities.

6. Say no to chemical preservatives (like BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, propylene glycol). Opt for natural preservatives such as Vitamin E or Rosemary instead. Australian pet food labelling regulations allow for ambiguous ingredients which can conceal such chemicals, so avoid any dog or cat food which lists “antioxidants” or other questionable ingredients.

7. Avoid “light” or “senior” or “puppy” or “breed-specific” foods. These variations on pet food are marketing gimmicks, sold at a premium, with little or no real benefit to your pet. As our pets age they become more dependent on the right diet, such as meats rich in protein, yet these fad diets reduce such ingredients under the guise of your old pet is slowing down so doesn’t need the energy from an appropriate diet.

8. “Natural” or “human grade” foods are best. This is because they generally use the best quality ingredients, free from harmful toxins and chemicals. One caveat though, as some Australian brands trick you by saying “made with ingredients from a human grade facility” which doesn’t mean the ingredients they use are human grade, or even “contains human grade ingredients” which only means perhaps one small inclusion is human grade.

9. Variety is great. Feed several types of protein sources, vegetables and fruits your pet tolerates well, and rotate them frequently. We don’t eat the same food every day, and neither should your pet.

10. Buy Australian. By buying Australian pet food you are supporting local growers, producers, and the economy, but you are also ensuring your pet’s food has not been treated or irradiated as part of its importation into Australia. This too comes with a caveat, as without proper pet food regulations in Australia, you need to ensure the pet food you’re buying is in fact good quality.

Lot’s of dogs and cats are fussy eaters. Especially cats (who believe it or not are slightly autistic and get confused by a new food).

If you know you’re feeding something good and healthy, like a meaty bone, then here’s some methods to stimulate the appetite and encourage eating in finicky or sick pets:

Yummy ThingProsCons
Soups, broths or stockCan add flavour and variety to any type of meal.Choose salt-reduced, MSG free, and onion free   formulas.
Raw or cooked meatsHigh quality nutrition as nature intended!Calcium, vitamin A, or other deficiency   possible with long term use without balancing the diet using raw meaty bones,   vegetables, fruits, oils and supplements.
Canned fish in spring water:  salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchoviesGreat for cats! Great for dogs!Can be high sodium (salt). Larger fish such as salmon and mackerel can be high in toxins and heavy metals.
Liver (cooked or raw)Great nutrition!Only feed once or twice a week. Can worsen feline bladder problems.
Tamari (Organic Soy Sauce) – 2-3 drops on top of mealA favourite of cats.High sodium (salt). Please choose a brand that does not contain MSG.
Parmesan or other grated cheeseA favourite of both dogs and cats.High sodium (salt).
CatnipA favourite of cats.Hallucinogenic. May cause cat to roll in food rather than eat it.
Dairy products – cottage cheese, kefir, yogurtLow in lactose, great source of calcium. High fat   varieties may help with underweight pets.Choose low-fat options for maintenance diet.
Brewer’s (nutritional) yeastHigh in B vitamins.Can worsen bladder, digestive, or skin/ear problems.
How to get a fussy dog (or cat) to eat

Please note that some appetite stimulants can create problems, even when used in appropriate quantities for short periods.  Anything containing high levels of sodium can be addictive. Some may not be suitable for your pet.  Remember, the best way to decide on these is to weigh the pros against the cons.  Though all of these have been used safely on many pets, please use them at your own risk.  Please use common sense or consult your pet health professional when trying new foods, and introduce any changes slowly.

When winter is just around the corner, everyone in Real Food circles is talking about Bone Broth.

But is it a fad, and is it really good for our dogs?

All about bone broth

Sometimes bone broth is referred to as “stock”, and it’s far from being a fad.

Bone Broth has been used in most types of traditional cooking for thousands of years. When you are feeding a healthy, natural diet to your dog, there are lots of things you can enjoy sharing. Human grade meats, veggies, fruit, chia seeds, natural supplements, and even a cup of herbal tea!

Well I’m pleased to say that Bone Broth is one of those tasty, nutritious “comfort” foods that will not only benefit your dog’s health, but also your own!

Why is bone broth healthy for your dog (or cat)?

Bone Broth is a healthy addition to any dog’s diet, but particularly a sick pooch or picky eater. The traditional “convalescence” diet for a dog is chicken and rice – but we know now that dogs shouldn’t eat a lot of rice, and that chicken can be an allergen for many dogs. For us people, Bone Broth can be had as a healthful warm drink, or as a stock for many favourite recipes.

In addition to being high in minerals, collagen and micronutrients that are easily absorbed by the body, there are two main nutritional benefits to Bone Broth – its ability to assist in nutrient absorption, detoxification and oxygenation and its powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

How does bone broth work?

  1. Nutrient Absorption and Detox: Bone Broth works by detoxing the liver, which can be depleted by toxins in the environment, in medications and in processed foods.
  2. Anti-Inflammatory and Joint Support: Bone Broth contains crucial molecules – called glycosaminoglycans – that promote healthy joints, ligaments and tendons by lubricating them and soothes pain from arthritis and luxating patellas. Bone Broth contains lashings of glucosamine, hyaluronic acid and chondroitin.

Bone broth for dogs is incredibly easy to make!

Not only that, but you can add nutritional herbs such as dandelion root, astralagus, and burdock root to turn your bone broth into an absolute health powerhouse!

Any cooked or raw bones can be used to make bone broth, but the trick is to cook them slowly for a very long time – 24 hours in a slow cooker/crock-pot is ideal in order to ensure all the nutrients are extracted from the bones and that the bones are soft.

Please note that Bone Broth is not supposed to be a long-term or exclusive diet, but rather a base for your dog’s meals or a supplement to their regular diet. It is an ideal accompaniment to any type of dog diet and can be used to rehydrate freeze or air-dried products like Balanced Life, Vets All Natural, K9 Natural, or Frontier Pets. 

If Bone Broth is something new for your dog, make sure you introduce it slowly, a spoonful at a time.

So how do you make bone broth?

Well here’s a very simple bone broth recipe for dogs!

Go on, give your Dog a Bone Broth!

It is currently estimated as many as 95% of Australian pet owners feed their dogs and cats some form of commercial canned or dry foods.

In a highly competitive market, clever marketing will sell any pet food, no matter what its nutritional value. Many petfoods are labelled as ‘premium’, ‘super-premium’, even ‘ultra-premium’. Products labelled as such are not required to contain any higher quality ingredients than are any other products. And all kibbles and canned foods, without exception, have been cooked and processed, and also contain starch – this is what creates the consistent biscuit shape. But a great marketing tool none-the-less.

“Grain Free” kibble is currently trending worldwide, and many manufacturers are jumping on that bandwagon. But unfortunately the starches contained in them are just as unnecessary for dogs and cats, and equally as indigestible. Most “natural” and “holistic” diets are based on rice. Others are made using white potato. These are not great ingredients for dogs or cats.

Veterinarian and author Tom Lonsdale, in his first 15 years of working life promoted the feeding of what he now refers to as “McCans” and “McKibble” and believes this was the one common uniting feature of the animals needing his services. Many pet professionals including Vets, Breeders and Trainers feel the same way.

So do we.

Thankfully there are a few pet food brands in Australia which offer your dog better options. Look for human grade, chemical and colour-free dog foods, preferably dried (such as air-dried or freeze-dried) or raw/BARF, and also consider whole prey, carcases, fresh meat, and offal.

Our philosophy is that Fresh, Natural, and Human Grade is best for pets.

We know great dog food isn’t cheap. Producing and distributing high quality, real foods is labour intensive and expensive, and feeding raw or dehydrated meals isn’t as easy and convenient as scooping some dry brown balls into a bowl.

But for the love of Dog, your own Dog, stop feeding them junk pet food, and start your pet on the road to a healthier, happier life!

Everyone is talking about turmeric. But what is it about this ancient medicine, and why is the Western world finally catching up to what Eastern and Ayurvedic medicine has known for centuries? And how can it help your Pooch?

Feeding turmeric to dogs

Turmeric is one of the most extensively researched herb-spices for pharmacological use. It is recognised for its beneficial use in treating and reducing symptoms linked to an extensive range of health conditions due to its effectiveness as:

  1. A pain reliever;
  2. An antibacterial and antiseptic;
  3. An anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant; and
  4. Antiseptic.

A great deal is known about Turmeric’s medicinal effectiveness, and it can be used to both prevent and treat the following in both canines and humans:

  • Arthritis and joint inflammation
  • Bacterial infections, wounds and burns – can be teamed with raw honey and applied topically as an external broad spectrum antibiotic (see recipe below);
  • Blood purifier – beneficial in the treatment of skin disorders;
  • Cardiovascular conditions;
  • Chemotherapy – reduces the negative side-effects of chemotherapy;
  • Detoxifier;
  • Settling upset tummies;
  • Preventing gas/bloating;
  • Alleviating inflammation (turmeric’s anti-inflammatory quality has been compared to topical hydrocortisone); and
  • Treating Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

In addition it is also high in fibre, rich in vitamins and can aid weight loss as it speeds up the metabolism.

There are many ways to use Turmeric. These are my Top 4:
1. Daily Supplement for Arthritis, Skin and Digestive Health   

Whilst Turmeric powder can be simply sprinkled over food, making it into a “Golden Paste” increases its bioavailability. 

The paste can be used for both pets and humans, with wonderful results. 

2. Turbo Turmeric Kefir Smoothie (or Pupsicle)

This is an awesome and yummy treat for your pooch and you to share, full of probiotics and nutrients for gut, skin and joint health.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Goat Kefir (if you can’t find kefir, use a good quality natural yoghurt)
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh berries including blackberries, blueberries; raspberries, strawberries
  • 2 tbsp Manuka or raw honey
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Blend all ingredients together and serve in a bowl, or put the smoothie mixture into small paper or plastic cups, stick in a paddle pop stick and freeze.

3. Turmeric Bone Broth

Bone broth is anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and a detoxifier. It alleviates joint pain, heals and seals the gut and is incredible for fur, skin and coat. Rich in minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals, it is highly digestible and easily absorbed. In this age of processed pet foods, our pets have lost key nutrients that their bodies desperately need. A great way to replenish these nutrients is by feeding Bone Broth and broth is a great way to deliver specific nutritional herbs such as turmeric to your pet’s diet, particularly after surgery or if undergoing Chemo or other treatment. See our recipe here. Don’t forget to add a teaspoon of turmeric to your pot of broth.

4. Turmeric Topical Salve

Use a paste of 1 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp manuka or raw honey to heal cuts, sores, surgical wounds and burned pads. Reapply 3 x daily and cover to prevent licking.

Kefir / PROBIOTICS

Kefir is a creamy, dairy based food made from the milk of cows or goats and is one of the oldest forms of cultured milk. Often labelled a “Probiotic Drink”, it is similar in taste and consistency to yoghurt, but kefir provides even more health benefits to your dog (and to you).

Typically, one tablespoon of kefir typically contains about 10 strains and 5 billion beneficial bacteria. Wow! Only the best of Probiotic Supplements for dogs even comes close, and it comes to you at a fraction of the price of prepared supplements. We prefer and recommend Goat Kefir. Expect to pay around $5 per 500ml.

What are the benefits of Kefir for Dogs?

If you’re not familiar with the enormous health benefits of probiotics, check this out. Probiotics:

  • Contain a substantial amount of B Complex vitamins, Calcium, vitamin A, Vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus;
  • Contain typtophan, an essential amino acid;
  • Help prevent illness by building immunity;
  • Contain natural antibiotics and have strong anti-fungal properties;
  • Promote anti-cancer and anti-tumour activity in the body;
  • Promote the faster healing of wounds;
  • assist in the treatment of a variety of intestinal disorders including IBS and constipation
  • can help restore the good bacteria and flora in the gut that is compromised by taking antibiotics

How to feed your dog Kefir

 If you are convinced that Kefir is a good addition to your pooch’s diet, please approach it in the same way you would introducing any new food to the diet – go slow. The probiotics in kefir are highly concentrated so give your dog’s system time to adjust. For the first few days, serve only half of the recommended dosage. This will avoid stomach upset as your dog’s system adjusts to the increased quantity of good flora in their GI tract. You can bring the daily dosage up to the recommended amount over the space of a week or two.

As always, if your dog has a negative reaction to any new food, stop giving it! Though negative reactions to Kefir are rare.

How much Kefir should you feed a Dog?

The following is a guideline on how much kefir you should feed your dog based on their size:

  • Small dogs: 1 tsp to 1 tbs
  • Medium dogs: 1 tbs to 2 tbs
  • Large dogs: 2 tbs to 3 tbs

For therapeutic dosage, such as following a course of antibiotics, you can double the above once your dog is used to having Kefir in their food.

The Importance of Phytonutrients for Dogs

Ever heard of phytonutrients? I like to think of them as the ultimate food Ninjas, phytonutrients have been described as antioxidant warriors, immune boosters, cancer fighters and anti-inflammation mascots. They come in different shapes and colours and we need them all. It is estimated that 80% of us aren’t eating enough colour. Well, what about our pets?

While it literally means “nutrients derived from plants” — phyton is Greek for plant, it has evolved to have a more limited definition. Phytonutrients are the compounds in plants that keep the body healthy and help fight off disease, similar to vitamins. They differ from vitamins since they are not considered an essential nutrient, meaning without them you will not die of some nutritional deficiency. There are no phytonutrients listed in the AAFCO nutrient profiles or other references Vets are familiar with, however research indicates that phytonutrients do help create a protective shield against the environment, including preventing diseases, including those that domestic canines are prone to. They can also assist in repairing damaged cells and helping to build the immune system. Many of these phytonutrients are also antioxidants and they give our fruits and veggies their vibrant colours or red, green, blue/purple, white, yellow and orange.

Some of the health benefits of phytonutrients in colourful foods include enhanced immune system activity, protection against cancer and heart disease, support of brain and bone function and aid in wound healing. Antioxidants also help slow down the signs of aging by cleaning up the by-products of oxidation within the body’s cells.

The powerful health properties of phytonutrients are thought to play an especially important role in cancer prevention. While the majority of the research is being done on humans, it’s likely most of the benefits being demonstrated also apply to animals, including domesticated pets.

There’s more than just a visual difference between the brown kibble or canned food many pets eat, and fresh, colourful foods.

What if you make your own food at home? An apple, some blueberries or beetroot, a generous amount of leafy green vegetables, a little bit of cauliflower or a pear, a carrot, sweet potato or pumpkin and you have all bases covered! Raw is best of course, but if your pet prefers cooked foods, just make sure you don’t overcook them to ensure the colours remain intact.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: please note that the above chart is for humans rather than canines. Do not feed your dog grapes, raisins, currants, or anything from the onion family as these foods are toxic for dogs.