While this article is aimed at Golden Retrievers,
I feel its a great resource for all dogs, especially Sporting
How to Feed a Golden Retriever
(Or, what I've accidentally learned about preventing hot spots,
lick sores, "allergies", dry coats, intermittent multi-
colored loose stools, fleas and much more) by Golden owner (but
not a vet) Kathy Partridge
Goldens are getting a bad rap. They've
become famous for their "hereditary skin allergies"
and some vets are now referring to them as "tumor factories"
as well. They are riddled with genetic defects - so the experts
I disagree. While there is no
doubt that hereditary problems do exist in the breed, it is my
contention that many, (many!) of the chronic problems besetting
our dogs have their true roots in the commercial diets we feed.
Do I have scientific proof of this? Nope. But I am currently owned
by 14 Goldens, and I have seen with my own eyes the amazing transformation
that took place once I began feeding them like the carnivores
they are. That's all the proof I need.
The biggest genetic problem Goldens
have is that they are dogs. Goldens are not bovine or equine,
they are Canis lupus familiaris - first cousins (maybe closer)
to wolves, or Canis lupus. The sooner we start acknowledging this,
the sooner our breed will begin to regain its health.
WHAT SHOULD YOU FEED?
Many people want the definitive (and easy) answer to the question:
"What's the best food to feed my Golden?" Sorry to disappoint
you, but there is no "best food". Do not be fooled by
claims of nutrient precision. Every dog is an individual. I also
believe that different breeds have different needs - but here,
we'll just consider the needs of Goldens.
While I can name a few good brands
(and there are very few), what I'd really like to do is encourage
people to think for themselves and take responsibility for their
own dogs' health. Don't do it because I said so. Pick lots of
folks' brains. Read everything you can get your hands on. Do not
close your mind to any information - you do not necessarily have
to act on it, but keep it in mind. Pay attention to the science,
but realize that science is not perfect, science does not have
all the answers, and very often, science and profits go hand in
hand. Science has something to offer, but so do laypeople. Experienced
dog people can be excellent sources of real-life practical information
and they have nothing to gain (no money, no fame, no glory) when
they share it with you. Among dog folks a Great
Dane breeder and a Samoyed breeder were gold-mines of
information for me. You don't have to listen to just Golden people.
Think for yourself! Make up your
own mind - what are you comfortable with? What can you handle?
What makes sense? If you do not empower yourself in this way,
you are at the mercy of the dog food companies and their pitchmen.
They will tell you what they want you to know, no more. They will
regularly try to entice you to buy their latest fad formula -
no, it's not necessarily what your dog needs, but they're hoping
to increase their market share with it.
Every dog has to be fed as an
individual. One size does not fit all. Laypeople can and do figure
this stuff out - it is not brain surgery or rocket science. The
dog food companies have brainwashed us all (including our vets)
into thinking that the subject of canine nutrition is just too
complicated for our feeble little brains.
Why has it gotten so complicated? Because we've moved so far from
the fundamentals. If you're so stupid, how have you managed to
feed yourself and your family? And how the heck do wild canines
do it? What food chemists and PhD nutritionist balances their
diets? Wolves kill and eat whatever's available. It's never cooked
and processed. Their diets include a variety of foods but by far,
the majority of what they eat are animal tissues. They do not
graze fields of soy, eat corn by the bushel and wait anxiously
for the wheat harvest to come in. Their prey may eat some of this
stuff (only seasonally), but by the time the wolves get to it
(in the intestines), it's been thoroughly chewed and partially
digested. Wolves and wild dogs eat the entire carcass of all but
the largest prey animals (like moose). They eat the organs, the
intestinal contents, and the muscle meat. Later they finish off
the entire skeletal remains as well as the hide, and hooves. They
occasionally eat some grasses and vegetation on their own (often
covered with blood from the recent kill), but they are carnivores.
Consider the following: "Robert
Wayne, now of UCLA, studied the molecular evolution of the dog
family. He found the earliest fossil remains of the domestic dog
to be 10-15 thousand years old. [And let me point out here that
we've only been feeding commercial kibble for the last 50 years
or so] Mitochondrial DNA studies of 7 breeds of domestic dogs
vs 23 wolf populations showed a difference of only .2% (that's
2/10 of 1%). So, measured against natural selection, we don't
seem to have done an awful lot of irredeemable damage..."
If this is true, then our domestic
dogs and wolves still are very close kissing cousins, and very
likely still have similar nutritional needs. Perhaps we can take
a few dietary lessons from the wolves, yes?
With literally hundreds of products on the market, how do you
choose the few that might suit your Golden? These are my personal
guidelines for a top of the line, high protein (25 - 30%) food.
Of course, in each line there will also be lower protein foods
with a higher % of cereal/grains, which is okay (within reason)
as these do serve an important function for some dogs. Not all
dogs need (or should be) to be on a 30% protein food. However,
I have found that if the base kibble I feed fits these criteria,
my Goldens will likely do well on it. I apply the following to
all foods in a manufacturer's line:
1. First ingredient on the list
is a meat or poultry meal (not fresh which generally gets to be
first on the list because of its 70% water weight).
2. At least two meat or poultry
meals in the first four ingredients. For a 20 - 24% protein food,
this will be 2 within the first 5 or 6 ingredients.
3. At least three different animal
proteins in the food, not counting the eggs (for example lamb,
chicken and fish).
4. No by-products (exception:
Bil-Jac as they only use "good" by-products that they
render themselves, like livers and kidneys, no hooves, horns,
5. No soy
6. Minimal duplication of cereals,
ie. brewer's rice, rice gluten, rice flour. Many, many premium
foods use this little deception. When you see it, it's a sure
sign that it's a cereal based food with a little animal protein
added. Add up all those rice variations (or corn, or wheat, etc.)
and you have a rice-based food.
7. No peanut hulls or cellulose.
8. Food must include probiotics
9. Preferably preserved with C
and E, although this is very difficult with the high protein/fat
foods. The issue of preservatives is the most likely area you'll
have to compromise in, in order to get the other good qualities
of a food. It always amazes me how many people pass up an excellent
but synthetically preserved food in favor of grain-based junk
simply because it uses C and E. They then spend a fortune at the
vet's trying to figure out their dogs' "allergies" with
little success. (By the way, allergies are not due to a lack of
prednisone in the body.)
10. No added ethoxyquin
11. Vitamins and minerals that
are sequestered or chelated for better absorption.
12. A list of actual food ingredients
that is as long as possible. This is a sign that the company is
formulating their products so that the bulk of nutrients come
from real food, not just synthetic and crude vitamins and minerals.
13. No sugar in any form (sucrose,
Of course feeding any commercial
food is an exercise in compromise. I don't think there are any
that meet all 13 of my requirements, so I do the best I can. By
the way, the more animal proteins there are in the food, the more
likely I am to "forgive" a fresh ingredient being first
on the list. Example: Bil-Jac
dry has 5 animal proteins in the first 7 ingredients,
and 4 of them are fresh. Since B-J dry only has one grain - corn
- it's a pretty safe bet that this is still a meat-based food.
However it also uses 2 preservatives - sodium propionate and BHA
- and no probiotics. See? Compromise, compromise! (Bil-Jac frozen
has no preservatives.)
Here's an example of two 30/20
foods. One fits my definition of a good food, the other I wouldn't
| Eagle Power Pack (30/20)
|| Sensible Choice
|1. Chicken Meal
||1. Lamb Meal
|2. Ground Yellow Corn
|| 2. Brewer's Rice
| 3. Rice Flour
|| 3. Poultry Fat
| 4. Meat meal
|| 4. Rice Gluten
| 5. Corn Germ Meal
|| 5. Lamb Digest
| 6. Dried Beet Pulp
|| 6. Brewer's Dried yeast
| 7. Animal Fat
|| 7. Powdered Cellulose
| 8. Fish Meal
|| 8. Potassium Chloride
| 9. Brewer's Dried Yeast
|| 9. Salt
| 10. Dried Whole Egg
|| 10. L-lysine
| 11. Salt
|| 11. Calcium carbonate
| 12. Lamb
|| 12. Choline chloride
| 13. DL-Methionine
|| 13. Zinc proteinate
| 14. Vitamin A acetate
|| 14. Vitamin suppl. (A, D3, E, B12)
| 15. D-Activated animal sterol (D3)
|| 15. Ascorbic acid (vit. C)
| 16. Vitamin E
|| 16. Niacin supplement
| 17. Riboflavin supplement
|| 17. Copper proteinate
| 18. Vit. B-12 supplement
|| 18. Extract of rosemary
| 19. Calcium pantothenate
|| 19. Calcium pantothenate
|20. Niacin supplement
|| 20. Zinc oxide
| 21. Choline Chloride
|| 21. Copper sulfate
| 22. Pyridoxine hydrochloride
|| 22. Riboflavin supplement
|23. Thiamine mononitrate
|| 23. Thiamine minonitrate
| 24. Folic acid
||24. Manganous oxide
| 25. Ascorbic acid (vit. C)
|| 25. Pyridoxine hydrochloridride
| 26. Biotin
|| 26. Calcium iodate
| 28. Dehydrated kelp
|| 28. Folic acid
|29. Polysaccharide compl. of zinc, iron,
manganese, copper & cobalt
||29. Sodium selenite
| 30. Calcium iodate
|31. Sodium selenite
| 32. Yucca schidigera extract
| 33. Aspergillus oryzae fer. sol. (probiotic)
| 34. Bacillus subtillus fer. sol. (probiotic)
| 35. Streptococcus faecium (probiotic)
| 36. Lactobacillus acidophilus (probiotic)
I do believe all commercial foods
should be judiciously supplemented (preferably with real, raw
food), as they are completely dead and processed. After years
of searching and investigating dog foods, I've found that the
above guidelines are most likely to lead you to a food your dogs
will do best on.
When in optimum health, dogs do
not have "allergies", hot spots, lick sores, g-i problems,
auto-immune problems, etc. They also are virtually flea-proof.
The majority of dogs with "allergies" do not have allergies
at all, they are exhibiting the effects of trying to meet their
amino acid needs from a food that relies primarily on grains and
one animal protein as a protein source. My feeling is that only
10-20% of dogs have true food allergies.
In my opinion, no matter what
you're feeding, if your dogs do not have allergies, hot spots,
lick sores, g-i problems or fleas, there is no reason to switch.
That's the bottom line. However, if your animals do suffer with
some or all of the above, then you could be doing better.
GOLDENS AND ALLERGIES
The following recommendations are based on my own experiences
with my own dogs, and I can't promise they'll work for you. If
you have any concerns, you probably should talk to a veterinarian,
preferably a holistic or complementary one.
Following my GRNews club column
in the March-April '96 issue, I received countless phone calls
and letters from readers interested in knowing the specifics of
how they might solve the problems their dogs are having. Regardless
of the age of the dog, or the area of the country, the symptoms
are consistent: hot spots, lick sores, generalized itching, obsessive
licking of feet or knees, recurrent staph infections, chronic
ear infections, poor quality coats, and they react terribly to
fleas. The people I hear from are dedicated Golden owners who
would do anything for their animals and in most cases they have:
repeated allergy testing and shots, innumerable other tests, trips
to veterinary teaching hospitals, etc. Over and over, the answer
is the same: it's "allergies". These animals are typically
being maintained on prednisone, antibiotics and antihistamines,
but nothing helps. The problems never go away; at best they're
In each of these scenarios, if
diet is mentioned, it's because some one of these veterinarians
advised putting the animal on a lamb and rice diet. So to the
vets' credit, they do have some inkling that diet is involved,
but their advice is next to useless, since there is nothing magical
about lamb and rice diets. I know that lamb and rice diets are
espoused as being 'hypoallergenic'. They may have been at one
time, but they aren't any more.
Still, I don't believe that the
majority of Goldens are allergic to their foods at all. Some few
dogs really do have true allergies - their immune systems see
a threat in corn, or wheat or whatever and overreact. The problem
is that the symptoms of true allergies are similar to those that
result when a dog is deficient in animal protein.
In my experience, the source of
most Goldens' "allergies" are the commercial foods we
feed. Dogs are dogs. They are not cows, sheep or horses. Their
wild ancestors ate a diet that consisted almost entirely of high
quality animal tissue. Muscle meat, organs, bones, and even skin
and hooves. Strictly speaking canines aren't 'true' carnivores
because they do consume the partially digested plant matter in
the intestinal tracts of their herbivorous prey. But this is a
relatively small percentage of their overall intake. However,
stop and think for a minute what a moose or caribou or buffalo
- the wolves' prey - eat. They roam and graze. They eat grasses,
leaves and lichens. They do not, to my knowledge, eat a lot of
grains in their mature form the seed heads of wheat, rice or ears
of mature corn. If they do so, it would only be seasonally, in
the late summer or fall.
However, the dog food companies
take the fact that wild canines consume a small amount of predigested
plant matter on a regular basis and use it to justify the huge
amounts of grains upon which their foods are based. Wild canines
eat a lot of animal matter with a little plant matter. The dog
food companies turn this upside down and manufacture plant-based
foods with a little animal protein thrown in. Why do they do this?
Because it makes for greater profits - cereal grains are cheaper
to buy than animal protein. So their foods are based on cereals
to maximize profits. In 1990, it cost approximately $10 to manufacture
a bag of Eukanuba. How much do you think it would cost if it were
truly a meat-based food? (And believe it or not, Eukanuba does
use more animal protein than many of the other foods out there.)
LAMB & RICE
FOODS - THE MYTH OF THE HYPOALLERGENIC DIET
Here's the truth about
lamb and rice foods. Once upon a time, all readily available
commercial dog foods were based on beef, chicken, corn
and wheat. You couldn't buy a lamb and rice food "over
the counter". Since it's constant and repeated
exposure to foods or food ingredients that are the triggering
mechanism of allergies, many dogs eventually became
allergic to beef, chicken, corn and wheat. The solution
was to put the dog on a lamb and rice food, which at
the time, was only available from your vet. The lamb
and rice food helped manage these allergic dogs because
they hadn't been exposed to it before. Wow! Lamb and
rice soon became known as 'hypoallergenic'. The dog
food companies jumped on this and started manufacturing
their own lamb and rice formulas. Well intentioned puppy
owners decided the smart thing to do was to start their
animals on this 'hypoallergenic' formula from the beginning,
in the mistaken belief their dogs could never become
allergic to it. Not true. Through constant, repeated
exposure to lamb and rice, your dog can become just
as allergic to these ingredients as any other. Because
the lamb and rice foods have been so overused in this
regard, the vets now have new, more exotic hypoallergenic
formulas to dispense to dogs who are allergic to lamb
and rice. Most of these are some combination of duck,
fish and potato.
So when you feed your Golden a
diet based on plant-proteins, he has to struggle for the nutrition
he needs. His system was designed to break-down animal protein.
He doesn't have the complex digestive tract that cows or horses
have for breaking down plant material. The dog food companies'
will tell you that cooking makes up for this, but does it really?
And we know that cooking destroys and alters nutrients, making
it even more difficult for a dog to do well. The fact is, even
dogs that don't show clinical signs of animal protein deficiency
aren't exactly thriving. You will never get the major dog food
companies to admit to this - they hide behind their science which
supposedly "proves" their foods are good for your dog.
Problem is, the science is, in many cases, up to 60 years old,
and it's one sided. Since nearly all canine and feline nutritional
studies are funded by the pet food companies themselves, it's
not in their best interests to look at the alternatives to their
formulas - if they did they just might find out that their foods
aren't as good as we've been brainwashed to believe.
Another problem with grain-based
foods is that many of them are too alkaline for many breeds, especially
those of European origin like our Goldens. When the diet is too
alkaline, the animal is much more susceptible to bacterial infections
- hence recurrent yeast (ear), staph and bladder infections that
many Goldens have to live with on an on-going basis.
So the solution to many "allergy"
problems that Goldens are plagued with is to put these dogs on
a meat-based diet that is more acidic. There are several approaches
"COOKING" FOR YOUR
An all natural home-cooked diet is the approach I would use if
I had a dog with chronic, long-term problems. If your dog is really
a mess, forget the commercial foods completely and put him on
one of the home-made diets. There are several, and one of the
best is the natural diet that Wendy
Volhard originated many years ago. The diet is thoroughly
explained in her book, The
Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog. Her diet is one of the
more complicated ones, but I would encourage you to buy the book
and consider it, since I believe it's one of the best.
Dr. Pitcairn gives many recipes
in his book, Dr.
Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.
However, many of them rely too heavily on starches - potatoes,
grains and beans so be careful. You're trying to move toward a
meat-based diet for your dog. Toward that end, you could feed
some of his cat recipes which are higher in animal protein (the
author states that it's okay to do so.) In fact there is a Scottish
Deerhound breeder in California that feeds the Fatty Feline Fare
as a sole diet and she is thrilled with her dogs' condition. Apparently
this combo is well suited to her breed - they're doing better
on this than they have on any of the other home-cooked diets.
Another diet that's growing in
popularity is Dr. Ian Billinghurst's "meaty bone" diet,
as explained in his book Give
Your Dog a Bone. Dr. Billinghurst is a veterinarian in
Australia, and his diet is extremely popular there and in England.
TRICKS OF THE
There's no shortage
of protein in commercial dog foods, problem is, most
of it is from cereal grains and that's what gives our
dogs such grief. The labeling laws don't mandate that
we be told what percent of protein is from plants, and
how much is from animals. That information would help
us a lot. We are at the mercy of the manufacturers.
To some degree, we just have to trust what they tell
us - we read the label and have to believe that what
they say is what's in there.
But you all know what
an animal is. (See? It's not brain surgery!)
Go get your dog food bag and look for things like Meat
Meal, Chicken Meal, Poultry Meal, Fish Meal and/or Lamb
Meal. These are animal proteins. You should see three
of these in the first 4 or 5 ingredients listed AND
one of them should be the very first ingredient on the
list. Any kind of By-Product Meal is less desirable
because it contains lots of feet, beaks, heads, etc.
Not as good as the plain Meals listed above. (By the
way, Meat Meal is very often pork, but a lot of manufacturers
don't want to say so because of cultural and religious
"biases" against pork.)
NOW, here's where the
companies get tricky. If your bag of kibble says Lamb,
Chicken, Beef, or Fish (not followed by the word "Meal")
then they're cheating you. That means they mixed in
fresh (well, how fresh is actually debatable, I've heard
stories about chickens sitting out in the hot sun for
days until they turn green - before they're finally
mixed into the food) raw meat of some kind. That's good,
right? Nope. Not for our purposes. Because fresh meat
is around 70% water. And the manufacturers count the
weight of the water when listing fresh meats, so they
are listed first as a result of the water weight. The
water is removed during processing, what's left is the
actual animal protein, and taken by dry weight, it's
way down on the list. These foods are really cereals
in disguise, there's very little animal protein in them.
Also, count up the number
of plant ingredients. You also know what these are:
Soy, Corn, Wheat, Rice, etc. How many times is the same
ingredient duplicated? Like Ground Yellow Corn, Corn
Gluten Meal, Corn Germ Meal. Add up all that corn. Chances
are you have a corn-based food, even if you have a Meal
at the top of the list. Added up, the total forms of
corn will outweigh the Meal. Sneaky, aren't they? Nutro
does this with rice.
See this is the deal.
Animal protein costs more than plant protein. They want
to make cheap food, and sell it for what the traffic
will bear ($35 - $40 per bag) to maximize profits. So
they employ these tricks to make you think you're feeding
animal protein when in fact, you may as well be feeding
Wheaties. The companies will tell you that the dog's
body doesn't care if his amino acids come from plants
or animals. Well, my Goldens do care. Their coats, energy
levels and overall condition tell me what I need to
know. It does make a difference. Do I have scientific
proof of this? Nope. Do I care? Nope. My dogs are far
more trustworthy than any dog food rep.
Even many foods that
are more animal-protein based, like most of the Iams
and Euk are still too one-dimensional. All the dog gets
is chicken. No lamb, no beef (and I think beef is very
important for Goldens), no fish. Again, feeding a variety
of nutrient sources is better insurance against problems.
All the home-made diets rely on
raw meat - don't be afraid of feeding it this way. However, Wendy
Volhard does have some good advice in this regard for those whose
animals are in poor condition or ill when the diet is started.
Feeding raw foods is critical - they contain enzymes, bacteria
(good ones) and other 'life forces' - trying not to sound too
New Agey here, but I don't know what else to call it - that are
essential to good health. If you doubt that vegetables are 'alive',
consider this - if you plant a raw potato, it will grow and reproduce.
If you plant a cooked one, it will rot in the ground. Raw foods
are 'alive' in some way that cooked foods are not.
Because of the lengthy explanations
involved, I'm not going to attempt to outline any of the exact
recipes or diet plans. My best advice is to buy the books and
read them cover to cover. Besides you shouldn't be doing this
because I said to - you need to understand for yourself what you're
attempting to do.
FRESH (OR "PEOPLE")
FOODS YOU SHOULDN'T FEED
Large amounts of egg whites: The
feeding of large amounts of egg whites will cause a
deficiency of biotin, a B-vitamin due to the presence
of a destructive substance called avidin. However, this
is of no concern if the yolks are also being fed, since
the effect of the avidin is offset by the high biotin
content of egg yolk. Whole eggs are among the best
sources of protein available. I feed them raw, with
Chocolate: Contains theobromine
which is toxic to dogs and cats. Unsweetened chocolate
is the most dangerous, containing 16 mg. of theobromine
per gram. Milk chocolate contains about 1.5 mg. per
gram. The LD50 (the level at which 50% of test subjects
die) for theobromine in dogs is between 240 and 500
mg/kg of body weight, but deaths have been reported
after ingestion of as little as 114 mg/kg. Bottom line:
Onions: Consumption of a sufficient
amount (equalt to more than 0.5% of body weight, which
isn't much) of onions results in hemolytic anemia, fever,
darkened urine, and death. The toxic principle is n-propyldisulphide,
Spinach, Swiss Chard, and Rhubarb:
While these are not toxic, they are high in oxalic acid,
a compound that interferes with calcium absorption,
so don't feed these very often.
THE COMBINATION APPROACH
A second approach is to feed a
combination of commercial and fresh foods. This is what I do.
However, I have gradually moved to a diet that really emphasizes
variety so that my dogs have whatever nutrients they need whenever
they need them. They don't have to wait for me to wake up, notice
a problem and switch foods. Our dogs have the capacity to keep
themselves perfectly healthy if we provide them with the raw materials
to do so. Every dog is an individual - who are we to say that
this dog should do well on chicken every day, that dog needs lamb?
What if your dog really needs a little bit of the nutrition from
What if it's not in the food?
What I've found is that if I give them a little bit of everything,
but not too much of anything, my dogs are very good at using that
as they see fit. Saves me from trying anticipate and guess their
needs as much. Just make sure you pay attention to animal protein
- that's critical. Without it, your dog has to struggle to stay
The basis for this "combination
approach" is a good animal-protein based kibble. There are
very few of them out there and all of them are formulated by small
The following are the only brands
I can recommend. I haven't fed all of them, however they all have
ingredient lists that meet my criteria for a good, meat-based
food. I can't promise your dog will do well on these - every dog
is an individual - but my feeling is that more dogs will do better
on them than not.
Pack: 1-800-255-5959. This is one of the foods I feed.
As a starting point, I always recommend Eagle Natural Pack. It's
a 23% protein and 12% fat lamb-based food. It also contains chicken
and fish and minimal duplications of grains. It is preserved with
vitamins C and E. If your dog is in poorer shape, try starting
on the Kennel Pack. This one is 25% protein, 15% fat, and is based
on pork. It also contains chicken, fish and some lamb. It is an
Eagle uses probiotics - friendly
bacteria in their foods. This helps with digestion and food utilization,
and there is some evidence that it helps to boost the immune system.
1-800-842-5098. Bil-Jac makes two foods, a fresh-frozen mostly
raw food and a dry kibble. The fresh frozen food is only officially
available in limited areas around the Bil-Jac plants: Oklahoma,
Georgia, and Ohio. If you live in one of those states, or surrounding
ones, you should be able to get it. It's almost totally meat-based,
and many of the ingredients are raw. It's an excellent food, but
can really pack the weight on a Golden if you feed it straight.
Most Golden people mix it with a good kibble. I mix it with Eagle
or Innova. The frozen contains no preservatives at all and has
to be kept frozen until you use it.
Bil-Jac's dry foods are also meat-based
and pretty unique. However they do use two chemical preservatives,
but that's the only drawback I can think of. I would say the advantages
of putting your dog on this food far outweigh the disadvantages
of the preservatives.
You should call all these companies
and ask them to send you their literature so you can make up your
own mind. Also ask the names of the distributors in your area.
Then call the distributors and ask for the names of their retailers
nearest you. Once you have this information, you can talk to the
retailer and tell him you know he can get the food from his distributor
and that you want him to order some. That way, they can't give
you a hard time about special-ordering the food.
Unfortunately, these are the only
foods I can recommend as a starting point. No Science Diet - even
though all the vets sell it! (In my experience, Science Diet is
one of the most troublesome foods for Goldens. Read the ingredient
list. What's first and second? Corn and soy. Or Soy and corn.
Does your Golden look like a cow? Then why feed cow fodder? What
kind of animal protein do they use? By-products. Yuck. I'll tell
you, Science Diet was the all time worst food I fed. My dogs were
a mess of skin and GI problems.) No ProPlan, Eukanuba, Iams, NutroMax,
Sensible Choice, etc. They're all very similar; lots and lots
of grains in proportion to the animal protein. As some point or
other, my dogs ate all of the above and never did well on any
Once you have a base kibble, you
need to supplement with fresh foods. Please don't call them 'people
foods' - who ever said they were put here for just us??? You have
a couple of ways to do this; if you have several dogs, you can
use Pitcairn's higher-protein recipes. His meat, egg and cottage
cheese 'kibble boosters' are especially good, but I would add
Or you can share your food with
your dog - but make sure it's the good stuff. No junk food or
table scraps - if you wouldn't eat it, or you know it's not good
for you, don't feed it to your dog. Use lots of variety - raw
ground beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, finely
chopped veggies (my dogs digest chopped frozen vegetables best,
just thaw and run through the food processor), and occasionally,
fruit. In the good weather, I let my dogs graze on grasses; in
the winter, I give them greens powder. There are several of these
available in health food stores. If you let your dogs graze, make
sure the area hasn't been treated or fertilized.
Almost any vegetable is fair game
- broccoli, carrots, kale, mustard greens, cauliflower, etc.
To 'acidify' your dog to help
keep those pesky infections at bay, start adding 1 - 2 oz. of
apple cider vinegar to each gallon of your dog's drinking water.
Some people put it in the food, but I think most dogs find it
more acceptable in the water. I normally use one ounce, but have
cured the beginning stages of a bladder infection by doubling
that amount for a few days. My dogs all drink it willingly. Use
raw, organic ACV. Apples are one of the most heavily sprayed fruits,
plus the raw ACV has a much better flavor than the grocery store
variety which is cooked.
If your dog is currently having
a lot of problems, add 1 or 2 amino acid complex tablets to his
daily diet until he's recovered. You can add them any time the
dog starts to have problems - stress does cause dogs' needs to
change, and sometimes the diet needs an amino acid boost. Increasing
the ACV also helps. Make sure you use a casein-based amino acid
complex, most dogs accept them without problems. I am told the
soy based tablets can cause an allergic reaction. DO NOT try to
guess which amino acid your dog needs - it's impossible to do
and since they work in concert with each other, you could be making
things worse. Use a complex so that your dog will get them all.
Let his body pick and choose what he needs.
I do use some other supplements,
I like whole food supplements best. Kelp, honey, and seaweed are
good. Also B-complex and vitamin E. For coat, you can add chelated
zinc. I do not feed these every day, I rotate so that they get
each one once or twice a week. I do feed vitamin C powder every
day. I feed ascorbic acid with citrus bioflavonoids. Other people
use the buffered forms of C - sodium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate.
A good source for vitamins is Bronson Pharmaceuticals, 1-800-235-3200.
Start slowly and work up to 1000 to 2000 mg. per day. If you start
with too high a dose of C, you dog will probably get diarrhea.
I also have fed an herb based
vitamin-mineral supplement. Odyssey Formulas' makes some excellent
ones, call 1-800-206-1861 for more literature. The Canine Complete,
and Beta-Lac Puppy Formulas are especially good.
One last note: as you switch from
your current feeding program to a higher quality one, your dog
may go through detox or a healing crisis. This is when his body
takes all this wonderful nutrition and uses it for some much needed
internal repairs and housecleaning. In the process, he will dump
his coat, and may get small round 'silver dollar' hotspots. These
will open up, ooze for a couple of days, then crust and heal over.
They won't spread or itch like your typical hotspot. His eyes
may have a discharge, and you may notice some mashed potato stools
- not runny, but not well formed. His body has a lot of stored
toxins and junk that he has to get rid of, and any exit will do.
He will probably eat like a pig and lose a lot of weight. Feed
him extra, he's making up for lost time. When he starts to gain
and his coat starts to come back, the detox is over. You may then
have to cut back on the food a bit, or he'll get fat!
Most of the time detox will begin
within the first 3 weeks of the new feeding program, although
one of mine waited 6 months to blow coat and lose weight. Generally
you would want to give it a good 6 months to determine the true
benefits of the new program.
When my dogs went through detox,
they had been eating Science Diet so the signs were pretty severe.
If you have been feeding a better diet, the signs may be more
subtle. Don't let the detox scare you, however. Your Golden should
remain bright-eyed and active throughout. If he ever acts sick,
there's something more going on besides detox and you should probably
see the vet.
THE OVERWEIGHT GOLDEN
Many, many Goldens are overweight and their owners are constantly
looking for a sure-fire formula for taking that weight off. Very
often they're advised to feed one of the "Lite" formulas.
Some people combine this with canned pumpkin or green beans, in
an effort to fill the dog up, not out. They've all been on diets
themselves (hasn't everybody at one time or another?) and they're
upset by the fact that while eating such a regimen, their dog
is probably hungry.
Before attempting to take weight
off your dog by any method, you should first have a thyroid test
done. Many Goldens do have sluggish thyroids, and if this is the
case with your dog, no weight loss program is going to work until
you correct the condition. Hypothyroid Goldens have very slow
metabolisms, and can gain huge amounts of weight while eating
next to nothing. The best thyroid testing is currently being done
by the lab at Michigan State University. You should ask your vet
If your dog's thyroid levels are
low, you will have to supplement with thyroid hormone. Once you
get the dosage adjusted (which will involve further periodic testing),
you will probably find that your dog loses weight with no dietary
changes on your part (assuming you were feeding adequate, but
not excessive calories before).
If your dog's thyroid is fine,
then you need to address his diet. In my opinion,"Lite"
diets are dangerous. They are extremely low in the animal protein
and fat levels that dogs require for health, and they contain
extremely high levels of carbohydrates and indigestible filler
fiber like cornhusks, cellulose, or peanut hulls. Dogs on Lite
foods are starving for good nutrition and feeding an already fat
dog more carbohydrates just makes no sense. Most dogs of these
diets eventually end up with dull coats, loose stools and are
very lethargic. More often than not, they don't lose weight either.
I have never fed a Lite diet,
and I've never had a fat dog. I simply feed a good quality combination
diet - the source of quality nutrients in a form my dogs can assimilate.
If I see their weight creeping up a little, I simply adjust the
amount of kibble fed by 1/4 cup at one or both meals. It has been
my observation that my dogs' weight does tend to fluctuate seasonally.
In the summer, when they are constantly panting (which uses a
tremendous number of calories) due to the heat and humidity, they
tend to lose weight. In the fall and early winter, they tend to
I have found that if I feed a
diet that's too high (for my couch potatoes' needs) in animal/overall
protein , they will have so much energy that they run off every
calorie they eat, and then some. They will be thin - even too
thin. The solution to this, of course is to feed just the opposite
- somewhat less protein and a bit less from animal sources. Naturally,
this will mean you will be feeding more carbohydrates, and your
dog will gain weight. Based on this observation of my own dogs,
it makes absolutely no sense to me to feed Lite foods.
Again, Lite foods lack the nutrient
sources and levels to keep a dog healthy, and what little there
is in there is from carbohydrates, which tends to make a dog even
HOW MANY CALORIES?
Here's a good rule of thumb, to be used as a starting point for
an average dog (geriatric dogs and puppies will be the exceptions
to this). You want to feed 290 calories for every 15 lbs. you
think your dog should weigh. So if you figure an ideal weight
for your dog should be 70 lbs. you will want to feed him around
1,350 calories per day. To find out how many cups of food that
is, divide 1,350 by the number of calories in a cup of your food.
If the caloric content of your kibble isn't listed on the bag,
call the company and ask. They should have this information readily
For example, if you're feeding
Innova Canine (which contains 556 calories per cup) you would
do the following calculation to arrive at the number of cups to
feed: 1,350/556 = 2.4 cups per day. You could round this to 2-1/2
cups, but if you find your dog isn't losing on this amount, or
is staying a bit over weight, adjust that to 2-1/4 cups per day.
Keep adjusting until you find the amount that keeps your dog at
the desired weight. There should be no need to resort to canned
pumpkin or Lite dog foods. Of course, puppies need more calories
than this, and geriatrics will probably need less. But the above
formula can be used as a starting point.
The lesson here is that too high
a level of protein (for your dog, remember) will give him lots
of energy - to the point of making him hyper and hard to live
with - and keep him thin. Too little - particularly from animal
sources - and your dog will become obese and encounter real health
problems that will probably be labeled as allergies, or auto-immune
problems or such. The trick is to find the right levels for your
dog. It is my hope that this article will help you do this, and
lead your dog to truly optimum health.
DIET AND IMMUNE PROBLEMS
We're constantly hearing these days about the number of immune
problems that are affecting our Goldens. Allergies, cancer, lupus,
and thyroid problems, to list just a few, all have a common link
- a malfunctioning immune system.
Basically, there are two kinds
of immune malfunctions. One is where the immune system gets trigger-happy.
Everything it encounters, including the body itself, is perceived
as a threat. So everything is attacked - including major organs.
This is referred to as an "auto-immune" problem. The
immune system has lost the ability to "recognize self"
and conditions like arthritis, hypothyroidism, and lupus are a
On the other hand, the immune
system could be depressed - not attacking much of anything, in
which case the body can't protect itself against foreign invaders
or faulty cells within the body. If a dog's immune system is not
functioning well, it can't defend itself against cancer cells,
or invaders like viruses and bacteria.
Much time and energy is spent
on hand-wringing over the current number of health problems in
the breed. Cancer is especially worrisome, and there's no doubt
that it is killing an inordinate number of middle-aged and young
Goldens. Many people feel powerless to do anything about it, figuring
our only choice is to wait for science to come up with the cure
for all these "genetic" problems that beset our dogs.
I disagree. It is my belief that
we can do a great deal to prevent or at least delay the onset
of cancer and other immune-related problems in our dogs. We can
feed for optimum health. A dog in optimum health has an immune
system in optimum health. It's functioning at peak efficiency.
It is neither trigger-happy, nor sluggish. It recognizes foreign
invaders (and internally, faulty cells that are the early stages
of cancer) and reacts quickly to attack them. At the same time,
it stays "sane" and realizes that skin, thyroid, and
other organs/systems are part of the body and not a threat.
A dog in optimum health does not
have fleas, rashes, lick sores, infected ears, etc. These all
relate to the skin, the largest and most easily observed organ
in the body. Logically, I think we can assume that if the right
diet can do all this for the skin, it also must be benefiting
the rest of the body - the internal parts we can't see. Admittedly,
this does involve a bit of faith, but in my opinion, it's a much
better option than sitting around, waiting for a cure, and keeping
our fingers crossed while our dogs die prematurely.
DIET AND ORTHOPEDIC PROBLEMS
It has been shown that diet is strongly linked to the development
of orthopedic problems in dogs as well as other species. Overfeeding
and rapid growth-rate predispose animals to all kinds of problems
like OCD, HOD, panosteitis and hip dysplasia. But I think there's
more to it than that. I believe that feeding for optimum health
and growth rate (and by that I mean the growth rate that Nature
intended, not that promoted by the purveyors of puppy foods or
breeders who want their puppies in the ring and winning by six
months of age) are further protection. My feeling is that for
bone and muscle to develop normally, the nutrients have to be
there in a form that the puppy can assimilate. Again, that means
animal proteins from varied sources, preferably in a raw form,
as well as fresh vegetable matter, etc. We shouldn't overfeed
(particularly in terms of calories), but denying puppies proper,
fresh, natural nutrients could also be playing a role in the proliferation
of many so-called "genetic" diseases.
At the same time, we can't deny
the fact there may be and probably are, genetic bases for many
conditions. The smart approach, I think, is to breed as if genetics
is everything. But after conception and the die is cast, there
is a great deal we can do to optimize the genetic potential of
our puppies we produce. We must then raise them as if husbandry
is everything. If we can do both, we will give our Goldens the
best chance for a long healthy life. Only then should we consider
ourselves as true fanciers of the breed.