(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)
My dogs have Garbage Gut. And I couldn't be happier.
Sounds awful, doesn't it? But it's just an informal phrase that describes a dog who can eat nearly anything and not get digestive upset.
We've all been through it. The dog gets in the trash or snatches something from the counter, or we give them what we think is a "special treat," only to spend the next three days dealing with vomiting, diarrhea, or both. As disgusting and frustrating as that is, that's the mild end of the "dietary indiscretion" spectrum. Some dogs wind up with pancreatitis from the rich, fatty content of what they've eaten, and that can be life-threatening. (And not to mention expensive!)
How does a dog develop Garbage Gut? It's not an overnight process, by any means. Taking a dog who has been fed the same variety of processed kibble for years and suddenly giving them a lot of new foods is asking for the very digestive upset you're trying to avoid. Go slowly, introducing only one new thing at a time.
The key to having a dog with a hardy dietary constitution is variety. (Let me say that again: Variety!) We used to be told that it was best to find one brand of food, in a single variety such as chicken or lamb, that seemed to agree with our dogs' digestion... and stick with it.
There are several problems with that. First of all... boring. Even if you love Eggplant Parmesan more than any other food on the planet, do you want to eat it every single day for the rest of your life? Second, there is no one food that any of us, canine or human, can eat that will provide perfect, lifelong nutrition. Third, even if your dog never has a problem as the result of the processed kibble you've chosen (unlikely), sooner or later he is going to eat something he shouldn't. Chicken thawing on the counter. Steak bones in the trash. The semi-decomposed mole he finds behind the shed. He's a dog. He'll find it.
And then you have problems.
At Whole Health Veterinary, we strongly advocate a raw food diet. If convenience or expense are an issue (though feeding raw is no more expensive or difficult than feeding a premium grain-free kibble if you put some thought and planning into it), we recommend at least 50% raw food. But unless your dog has serious allergies to multiple grains or proteins, the other part of the equation is variety.
Let's take a look at what I feed my dogs. Ozark is a 10-year-old Great Pyrenees/Labrador mix, Darwin is a 5-year-old Golden Retriever, and Brody is a 4-year-old Great Pyrenees. That's nearly 300 pounds of dog. They are fed about 75% raw food and 25% premium grain-free dry food. They have healthy skin and soft, abundant coats. They have small, solid stool, and they don't have chronic ear or anal gland problems. Their teeth are beautiful.
For the grain-free dry, they get either Wellness Core (Ocean or Original), Fromm's Surf & Turf, Merrick Before Grain (chicken or buffalo), or Nature's Variety Instinct (chicken, rabbit, or duck).
Their raw food, when I "make my own," might include a mixture of whatever I find at the grocery store. Raw chicken parts (including necks, backs, wings, etc.), liver, ground turkey, ground beef or bison, gizzards, cottage cheese, yogurt, dark leafy greens, sweet potato, cranberry, carrot, whole egg... use your imagination!
But I don't cook for myself, so I don't make my own raw food that often. I prefer to rely on the prepared frozen or dehydrated raw diets. We use Nature's Variety (chicken, lamb, beef, rabbit, buffalo), Primal (duck, pheasant), or Bravo (chicken, turkey, or lamb) as far as raw frozen foods are concerned. The dehydrated raw by Honest Kitchen or Sojos are also big hits. Honest Kitchen Force, Embark, and Keen are often used, or the Sojos Complete.
These raw foods usually get a sprinkling of one of the kibbles, and any supplements the dogs might be taking, such as joint support.
I never offer the same raw or dry food/variety two bags or packages in a row. Today it might be Honest Kitchen Embark with a sprinkle of Fromm's Surf & Turf. When that's gone, it might be Sojos Complete with a bit of Wellness Core Ocean.
I don't give a lot of treats. I like the Stella & Chewy's Carnivore Crunch (beef, duck, or chicken), or the Stella & Chewy's freeze dried "steaks" in different varieties. Treats from your own table are okay, as long as they're not too fatty or heavily seasoned (yes, salt is a seasoning), and are not too frequent. Since I know I'm feeding my dogs very, very well, I find it easier to make my food "mine," and off limits other than an occasional special treat. It doesn't stop them from breathing hot doggy breath on my knee while I'm eating, but with three big, drooly dogs, I'd never get to eat any of my own meals if I start sharing.
If your dog still has digestive problems, we can look at adding a probiotic or other enteric support to the diet. But the truth is that a dog who is transitioned to a varied diet (especially raw) has a much stronger digestive constitution. He won't be as likely to become ill if (when!) he finds an entire, delicious, vulnerable, unguarded pizza in the kitchen. He is also getting a broad range of nutrients, adding to his overall wellness.
And - honestly! - it makes feeding them a lot more fun... for both of you!