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Musings on nutrition for dogs

Do you ever wonder if you’re feeding your dog(s) the right foods? I always thought of meat bi-products as bad...they’re not even able to name them? But now we see miscellaneous animal parts on display at local pet shops being sold as dog treats. Using the whole animal is not the worst thing, and apparently many parts are good for our omnivorous canine friends.

For years we’ve been feeding our dogs a high quality kibble, adding a tablespoon of topper consisting of canned meats and vegetables, all from our local healthy pet food store. It’s easy, it’s kept them healthy. It’s not until a recent bout of pancreatitis in our 11-year old dog, Bailey, did I question their current diet. Our vet recommended a diet low in fat consisting of grains, some vegetables and minimal protein. Purina ProPlan. Yes, Purina uses meat by-products in their pet foods. I’m skeptical. This large pet food company is recommended by veterinarians and pet dietitians, but considered unquestionably bad by the small natural pet food stores. What gives?

“Dogs and cats have been eating animal by-products for thousands of years. In the wild, they choose to eat these organs first because they are nutrient-dense and highly palatable. By-products can provide more essential nutrients than regular muscle meat, which can be lacking in calcium and Vitamin A — vitamins provided in by-products from the bones and liver.”

Here’s some of the feedback I received from our local healthy pet food store:

“Purina is bad! Their by-products include feathers, claws, and everything dogs would never eat in the wild. Veterinarians recommend this food because they get kick backs for selling from some of these corporations.”

I tend toward the small local, organic farms when it comes to what I put in my body, so I’m sticking with the smaller company when it comes to my dog’s food as well. My husband is a complete skeptic on this, and has come to the conclusion that organic foods are over priced and unnecessary. We butt heads about this all the time. It’s all about what information you read and believe and which sources you trust.

Apparently, the pancreatitis our dog experienced was the result of chicken fat and skin my husband gave her as an occasional kibble topper, not her regular food. I’m happy to report that a couple weeks of smaller meals, mostly white rice, cooked chicken breast (more rice than meat) and some low-fat kibble, and Bailey has returned to her spunky self.


Safe: Lean Meats

Most dogs are fine eating lean cuts of meat that have been cooked well. Take off all visible fat — including the skin on poultry. Be sure that there are no bones in the meat before you give it to your dog.

Safe: Some Fresh Fruits

Slices of apples, oranges, bananas, and watermelon make tasty treats for your dog. Take out any seeds first. Seeds, stems, and leaves can cause serious problems.

Safe: Some Vegetables

Your dog can have a healthy snack of carrot sticks, green beans, cucumber slices, or zucchini slices. Even a plain baked potato is OK. DO NOT let your dog eat any raw potatoes or any potato plants from your pantry or garden.

Safe: Cooked White Rice and Pasta

Dogs can eat plain white rice or pasta after it’s cooked. And, a serving of plain white rice with some boiled chicken can sometimes make your dog feel better when she's having stomach problems.


I hope you’ll keep the following list and refer to it before you feed your dog. And make sure to leave it with anyone caring for your dogs while you’re away.

Foods you should NEVER feed your dog:


Candy, gum, toothpaste, baked goods, and some diet foods are sweetened with xylitol. It can cause your dog's blood sugar to drop and can also cause liver failure. Early symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, and coordination problems. Eventually, your dog may have seizures. Liver failure can happen within just a few days.


Is a treat from the table OK for your dog? That depends on what it is. Avocados, for example, have something called persin. It’s fine for people who aren't allergic to it. But too much might vomiting or diarrhea in dogs. If you grow avocados at home, keep your dog away from the plants. Persin is in the leaves, seed, and bark, as well as the fruit. Also, the avocado seed can become stuck in the intestines or stomach, and obstruction could be fatal.


Alcohol has the same effect on a dog’s liver and brain that it has on people. But it takes a lot less to hurt your dog. Just a little beer, liquor, wine, or food with alcohol can be bad. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, coordination problems, breathing problems, coma, even death. And the smaller your dog, the worse it can be.

Onions and Garlic

Keep onions and garlic — powdered, raw, cooked, or dehydrated — away from your dog. They can kill his red blood cells, causing anemia. That's even the onion powder in some baby food. A rare small dose is probably OK. But eating a lot just once can cause poisoning. Look for signs like weakness, vomiting, and breathing problems.

Coffee, Tea, and Other Caffeine

Give your dog toys if you want him to be perky. Caffeine can be fatal. Watch out for coffee and tea, even the beans and the grounds. Keep your dog away from cocoa, chocolate, colas, and energy drinks. Caffeine is also in some cold medicines and pain killers. Think your dog had caffeine? Get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Grapes and Raisins

There are better treats to give your dog. Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. And just a small amount can make a dog sick. Vomiting over and over is an early sign. Within a day, your dog will get sluggish and depressed.

Milk and Other Dairy Products

On a hot day, it may be tempting to share your ice cream with your dog. Instead, give her some cold water. Milk and milk-based products can cause diarrhea and other digestive problems for your pup. They can also trigger food allergies, which can cause her to itch.

Macadamia Nuts

Keep your dog away from macadamia nuts and foods that have macadamia nuts in them. Just six raw or roasted macadamia nuts can make a dog sick. Look for symptoms like muscle shakes, vomiting, high temperature, and weakness in his back legs. Eating chocolate with the nuts will make symptoms worse, maybe even leading to death.


Most people know that chocolate is bad for dogs. The problem in chocolate is theobromine. It's in all kinds of chocolate, even white chocolate. The most dangerous types are dar