Reasonable Expectations IX: Discussion With Your Vet About What Your Dog or Cat Should Be Eating

This is the ninth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through eight can be found at


I’ll be straight with you- I’ve been procrastinating writing this blog for a long time. Every time I think about it, I get a queasy feeling in my stomach.  It’s not because I don’t think it’s reasonable for you to discuss your pet’s nutrition with your veterinarian.  It’s super easy for your vet to advise you when to transition from puppy/kitten formulas to adult foods, and if your pet is too fat or too thin and what to do about it. It’s the question of what to feed your beloved four-legged family member that has prevented me from getting excited about sinking my teeth into this blog (pun intended).  For many veterinarians, myself included, this has become a complicated issue and, in some cases, a no-win situation. Consider the following factors and you’ll understand my “dis-ease” with this topic.  When it comes to pet nutrition many people, veterinarians included, hold tenaciously to one or more of the following convictions:

• Processed pet foods (kibble and canned foods) are the best way to ensure balanced nutrition.
• Processed pet foods are the devil incarnate.
• Home-cooked diets are the best way to feed a pet.
• Home-cooked diets are not nutritionally balanced.
• Raw diets promote the best health.
• Raw diets have the potential to transmit serious infectious diseases not only to the pet, but also to the human handling the food and the feces.
• Dogs and cats should eat the same foods every day.
• Dogs and cats should eat a variety of foods.

Now here’s the icing on the cake.  Most veterinarians, myself included, are not nutritionists.  Yes, we understand the benefits of altering diet content to treat disease (a low protein diet is best for kidney failure, novel protein diets may benefit animals with food allergies, avoid salty foods for patients with heart failure), but show us the label from a can of Aunt Hattie’s Healthy Hound Hash (I hope and pray there really is no such product!) that has miraculously enhanced your dog’s vim and vigor, and we won’t be able to tell you with 100% certainty that Aunt Hattie is making a good product. An AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) seal of approval on the label is reassuring, but not all manufacturers of well balanced diets have gone through the AAFCO approval process.  And there are those who believe that AAFCO labeling is meaningless in terms of assuring good quality. We can enlist help from a board certified veterinary nutritionist to review the label, but this can be an expensive and cumbersome process. To make matters more complicated there is a constant and steady stream of new pet food manufacturers all vying for your pet’s grocery money.

Now can you understand why even thinking about this blog gives me a headache?  Truth be told, I believe I’ve seen examples of the good and the bad that can accompany every genre of pet food.  Dogs and cats have been eating processed foods for decades, yet we all recall the 2007 melamine pet food recall. Do you remember how shocked we were to learn that so many different brands of processed foods were manufactured in the same location?  I’ve seen damage caused by raw diets- infectious diseases and gastrointestinal bone foreign bodies.  I’ve also observed profound improvement in patients’ symptoms in response to the introduction of raw food (when I certainly couldn’t figure out how to make the symptoms disappear by other means).  I’ve seen pathologic bone fractures because of unbalanced homemade diets.  Likewise, I’ve met animals who appeared overtly healthy in spite of eating nothing but an unbalanced homemade diet for years.

So, what’s the answer here? What is a veterinarian supposed to say when their clients ask, “What should I be feeding my dog?” and “What should I be feeding my cat?” As tends to be my style, this blog has gone on a bit too long (you supposedly lose your ability to concentrate after 400-500 words).  So let’s do this- let me know how you think a veterinarian should answer the question of what to feed your pet and I will post a follow-up blog letting you know how I work with this complicated question.  I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Best wishes, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook  

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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50 Comments on “Reasonable Expectations IX: Discussion With Your Vet About What Your Dog or Cat Should Be Eating

  1. Yeah, this is a tough one, isn’t it? Particularly with all the conflicting beliefs out there.

    I think it depends on how much the vet really knows about nutrition. This is not time to pretend you know something you don’t, this is time to admit that you’re not an expert if you’re not. And if you’re not, recommending one is the best policy.

    The reason I say it depends on the vet is this. Our TCVM vet (and it comes from the TCVM specialization because the focus on nutrition is high with this modality) is perfectly qualified to make diet recommendation. He is even qualified to formulate custom recipes (as he has the same software package nutritionists use) and he can combine benefits of complete and balanced nutrition with TCVM principles of healing with food.

    Many holistic vets can do this also.

    But it is a complex topic, we (humans) as still not even clear on what WE should be eating!

    I think that main key points with diet are these:
    1) complete and balanced (as we presently understand it)
    2) as natural and whole as possible
    3) ingredients and ratios formulated to meet specific needs of a particular dog
    (e.g. a dog with arthritis will benefit from different combo than a healthy dog …)

    When our vet was faced with this question–and I wanted to feed home made diet–he solved it simply – he turned to a nutritionist. He made recommendations as to what he felt would be beneficial and why (Jasmine’s medical conditions and challenges) and he let me made notes about what Jasmine might like and what I feel should be avoided.

    It is ok to say “I don’t know” and recommend someone who does.

    As to processed, I don’t believe it can possibly be better than home cooked or raw. Processed foods are not good for us, why would they be good for our dogs?

    Cooked versus raw is another story, each has their pros and cons and I think it depends on the dog. We are feeding cooked and compensating by supplementing enzymes. With Jasmine it is better to be safe than sorry. Do I keep mulling the idea of raw in my mind and wondering whether it would be better for her? Yes. But all her three vets feel that for her the risk would be too high. So we are sticking witch cooked.

  2. Dr. Kay,
    This might well be your most important blog! The subject of animal nutrition seems little researched and highly emotional. One thing is for sure, we are what we eat. And in order to stave off chronic disease, it is essential to make good nutrition a priority. Your blog helps to push this priority to the forefront.
    Some vets are honest and will say, \I am not a nutritionist.\ In my own experience, I have found that by making a relationship with the owner of a reputable pet food store, I have found the food the best suits my dogs. It is not a one size fits all deal. Just like we humans, our canine companions have very individual GI and nutritional needs. How interesting that \The Whole Dog Journal\ just devoted it’s main article to this subject. It is a worthy read.

  3. I do believe that veterinarians should have a basic understanding of nutrition as some health issues can be caused by an inadequate diet and can often be corrected with a more appropriate diet. I have come across several owners and dogs where the veterinary lack of addressing the dogs’ diets has caused unneccessary expenses to the owners and suffering in their pets. Most of them were cases of itching/allergies and diet was never addressed with the owners, the dogs were put on prednisone and that was it, in each case the itching/allergies and coat problems resolved with a change in diet, I usually send people to our local feed stores who carry what I consider the better foods and the store owners are happy to direct people to some foods to try for their dogs’ problems. In another case I met a lady I knew with her 5 month old pup that happened to be the same breed I have, just a longer coat, I thought the dog looked chubby but didn’t want to tell her first time I am meeting the pup. So she told me the dog has been ongoing loose BMs which have been getting worse but he continues to have a good appetite. I happened to overhear the vet talking to her about the dog’s problems while they were still in the waiting room, he was giving her a really hard time about the one cup of goat milk the dog gets here and there telling her how bad that is for the dog because it was so high in fat. They then lectured her and gave her wrong info on vaccinations for the pup. that evening I called her and asked her how the rest of the visit went. She said they couldn’t find anything wrong with the fecals but gave her an antibiotic to try. She told me the dog weighed 105lbs. I gently explained to her that at his age and height he shouldn’t weigh more than 60 to 70 lbs and that I believe his loose BMs are caused by eating too much. I told her he really needs to eat less otherwise that extra weight may cause problems with his joints. She was very thankful for this information and said she was so afraid he wouldn’t get enough food that she had let him eat as much as he would eat. Lucky for this dog, his owner was receptive to the idea that he is too chubby and she reduced his rations which solved the loose BM problem. So in this case, not only did the vet not properly assess the diet issues this dog had, but he also never addressed that this 5 month old pup was grossly overweight and needed his rations reduced. The worst part about vets lecturing people on diet and making owners feel guilty for what they are feeding is that people simply won’t tell the truth anymore. Which in turn can make it difficult to get to the source of a health issue because the owner may say they are feeding dry dog food when in fact their dog may have the dog food sitting there in a bowl but the dog eats only hot dogs and ham.

  4. Thank you! It is good for pet owners to know there is a choice. It is good to admit most vets do not have training in nutrition.

    It is not about the best pet food ever. It is about the best food for your paticular pet.

    Tricia Fagan
    Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed
    DogS Gone Good
    (713) 557-1949

  5. I’m a little concerned reading some of the diets that people have reported feeding in these comments. I can only hope they are not complete. You all know, for instance, that a basically human diet (meats, vegetables, grains, dairy) will not have sufficient calcium for a dog. I sincerely hope that folks have simply neglected to report the calcium supplementation they are routinely providing.

    A dog’s dietary requirements are different than that of a human; you can’t simply feed a healthy human diet to a dog and expect to have a healthy dog.

  6. As a tech, I think that there is a huge hole in the market for someone to fill with a nutritional certificate.. Ideally as an add-on to an RAHT/CVT, but possibly as a standalone thing too. I think this would make the education and services far more accessible.
    In the interest of transparency, I am a raw feeder and do believe that most dogs can compensate exceptionally well for the odd error. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think people should do research and feed a balanced diet, but I don’t think PERFECT balance is necessary 100% of the time.

  7. Nancy, do you see canine, feline or general pet nutrition becoming a specialty, much as we have accredited dieticians and nutritionists for people? Would such a training program be an adjunct to veterinary medicine like, say rehabilitation, or a very specialized area of medicine? Seems like fertile ground for development, and a needed resource for those of us devoted to our pets. Ah, we’ve come so far since the days of Chuck Wagon and Gaines Burgers (and Sturdy kibble before that). And yet, we still have far to go. For fun, go to Youtube and search “classic dog food commercials.” See what marketers told people in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Texture seemed to be the only topic of discussion, and crunchiness, so enjoyed by our dogs, was quite optional!

  8. I commend your effort to help open the enormous gap that pet owners have with their Veterinarians. As trainers, we are in the same boat. We do not hold degrees in Veterinarian medicine and having input on this topic and to be taken serious can be a struggle.

    One of my trainers (I am an owner of a kennel/training/grooming and small supply shop) has responded and I believe she approaches this topic in classes quite well. On another note, in our small supply shop that has raw as well as a few premium kibbles, we are over run with the same questions..what is the best food? We are not there to promote any food.

    I admit that each staff member will generally respond with the statement, raw food. But before that, we are always asking if there are behavioral or physical concerns that should be address before proceding. Next, we make it very clear that changing to raw is a personal decision. They must be ready to educate themselves on the subject, and how to handle it at home. We will mention the consumption of space in the refrigerator that shares human food, the counters that also prepare human foods and the members of the household that will be exposed to it. To us, it is a no brainer, you will always wipe clean a preperation area after your personal food, what makews anyone think you would not do the same after preparing your pets?

    However, the subject is tough to present to the vets..especially the ones that do not know much about raw feeding or see the real results from pets that are fed a raw, supplemented meal. Lets face it, their also really busy trying to save pets lives and the nutritional issues are not high on the list unless there is a specific reason to point to that.

    The average pet owner wants to provide a good food and many are feeling guilty that their budget and /or time does not permit them to further explore the raw food area. They want to be told the right thing to do, how much, what to add and so on. Hearing the words 2 scoops of kibble is always easier then the sometimes technical explanations of making a well-balanced and supplemented raw meal.

    I am aware of many dog food manufacturers out there sending reps to the vets to help explain their foods and how great they are. The raw food industry just doesn’t have that sort of power yet. The support and desire to improve feeding seems to be so much stronger in the dog loving communities of trainers, behaviorists and the dog sports enthusiasts.

    As an owner of many dogs, pure breeds and mixes, I have seen the pros and cons of raw feeding and stand firm with my vet on this area. I gently mention how important it is to us, as trainers, breeders (and I as a professional dog handler) that we have a vet that cares for our dogs that is educated in this area and will know the differences on the blood test and other issues for a raw feed dog versus a kibble feed dog etc. A vet who is willing to stick with my prepared raw if any of my dogs are ever going to be at the vets for any stay (including gastrointestinal issues) and not be put on “low residue or gastrointestinal friendly diet” (trust me, for 2-3 days it is not friendly at home and who knows if there is any long term damaged!)

    I think many vets have started opening to this area, but with reservations and until more documented evidence of overall health and blood stats etc can be put into the forum of education, it will continue to be a battle. The owner must believe in their choices and although they must trust thier vet to guide them in raising a healthy happy dog, they must also choose a vet that will support this choice and help them on their journey. If they feel they can’t, then they need to find another vet. A real tough decision.

  9. What about behavior issues being the cause of scratching not food? I have a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon .maybe, at least he looks like one, acts like one but his tail was not docked and his coat is thin. He is just about 14-15 mos old. He was abandoned and former owners said he was a WPG. He scratches a lot but mostly when Im on the phone, waiting for me to do something for him or tell him he can’t do something. Then I make him stop by touching him. Its been becoming more obvious. My vet wanted him on a restricted diet for 6 weeks then do more tests. When I couldn’t fine wild game I gave up and did nothting but ignore most of his scratching and its subsiding. Funny I just ran into a woman today at a class who has spent over $2000 treating her PWD for alergies. Same simptums, no eruptions or redness and oddly scratches more when she is on the phone. We both have home offices so with the dogs all day.

    Seems if you spend $0 or $2000 you may get the same result. DOG FOOD ALERGIES are becoming like HYPERACTIVITY in kids.

  10. Hi Nancy… I run a small business of training with an emphasis on difficult canine behavior ( and consultations for dealing with). Many of my clients ask me nutritional questions that I am not knowledgeable enough to answer. Thus I encourage them to look at or subscribe to the “Whole Dog Journal” for some answers on this subject. Every year this journal prints articles that discuss how to read labels, decide the best diet for a particular dog, and make good decisions where nutrition is concerned. It looks at kibble, canned food, raw diets, home made diets, treats, etc. and evaluates many many different companies. Although I don’t always agree with what it says, it is an excellent way for a client to educate themselves.

  11. Nancy,

    I have been involved and interested on pet nutrition since 1979 when I opened a pet feed supply store.
    At that time the only stores you could find that carried quality food was the mom and pop shops. Big box stores had not yet hit.
    The top foods to stock where Iams, Eukenuba. The first fresh or raw type food was Abady . Mr. Abady would give you a freezer if you stocked and push his food. He also was one of the first to educate his retailers. There where a couple of other brands that I don’ t even think exist anymore and somewhere around the early 80’s we met Dr. Pitcairn.
    I have to say that Dr. Pitcairn’s cooked diets did work wonders for many of my earlier pets, canine and feline.
    Mid to late 90’s came Dr. Billinghurst. I did attend many of his US lectures and was converted. To this day I still feed a raw diet but one that I prepare that is balanced and complete according to Dr. Billinghurst’s recommendation.
    From what I see of the labeled raw diets, there are very few that are really complete.
    Over the years with the growth of the pet food industry and the large number of different brands of kibble from Kibbles and Bits to Avoderm I think it is overwhelming for a pet person.
    Unfortunately they tend to go to the big box store or grocery store because it is convenient. They purchase a brand that seems to fit into their budget and that they have seen advertisements for so they recognize the name. There is no one there in these stores to guide them like the mom and pop store of years ago (which are so few).
    As the head pet instructor for a local training center I feel it is important for people to “think” about what they feed their dogs so what we have done is put together a hand out on getting to know what is in a bag of dog food. How to look for the expiration date, how to read and understand the ingredients. We also put together hand outs on the raw diet. We are trying to make them an educated consumer and I think ( after all this blabbing)that is the best you can do.
    Fortunately for me my veterinarians are on board with the raw diet. I know many that still question it and I have had just about all the local vets and families or their techs/assistants in my classes.
    Often people will ask what I feed and I am very honest but I will push them to become educated and make a decision they are comfortable with. Again I think that is the best you can do.
    On another note. I don’t know how you got my e-mail address, but I really enjoy Spot Speaks.

    Very truly,

    Laurey Weiner

    Laurey C. Weiner, CPDT-KA
    Willoughby Training
    Canine Sports Center
    AKC-CGC Evaluator
    AKC-Rally Obedience Judge
    Willobees Kai of Meri-Mor ASCA/AKC CDX, RN, CGC, MX, MXJ, retired Delta Society Pet Partner \Kai, now at the Rainbow bridge with my heart.
    Ch. Willobees Quickening ASCA/AKC CD,CGC, AX, OAJ, \Buzz\ at the rainbow bridge
    Ch. Willowbrooks All Decked Out \Dex\ WD ex. CGC, RE,CD,NA, Delta Society Pet Partner,retired
    Shorelands Ruby Slipper, CGC
    Miss Tess CDX, at the rainbow bridge

  12. Hi Heather,

    You are certainly not alone in the way you feel. The most recent study that evaluated what clients most want from their veterinarians identified that they want to be respected for the decisions they’ve made even if their vet may have made a different decision. More and more, as clients become better informed (thanks to the worldwide web) vets will be finding it necessary to learn the art of “relationship centered care” in which there is collaboration and mutual decision-making rather than “telling the client what to do.” For some veterinarians who slam records on tables and lecture their clients, this will be a tough lesson to learn!

  13. Respect is the biggest key I think. I don’t care so much that my veterinarian agree with me, but that they discuss my choices respectfully with me and accept that it is ultimately my decision. That said, I already KNEW I wanted raise my new puppy on raw (after gradually changing my 7 year old dog and seeing nothing but improvement). I called around and point-blank asked every vet office in my area if they had a veterinarian that was supportive of raw feeding. I found one. But she and I have a great, respectful relationship and she is wonderful with my animals. She too sees the good health they enjoy and monitors their weight and growth and gives her approval. It was well worth it to me to seek out a professional that could be supportive and have respectful conversations about my choices, even if I have to drive a bit farther! Conversely, we once had to see another vet due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. We were there only for a blood draw and what I got was a ‘professional’ that slammed my records down on the table and began to lecture me on what ‘nonsense’ my choice of diet and vaccine schedule was. THAT is not the respectful discourse I expect from my veterinarian; how could I ever respect her opinion and advice in return?

  14. Let me know how you think a veterinarian should answer the question of what to feed your pet…My .02 worth is with honesty. If they don’t have a background in animal nutrition and the clients pet does not have an underlying medical issue then don’t advise at all. I want information based on sound evidence – what they know – what their sources of information are, what education they’ve had on the subject -vs. what they think. I’ve had this discussion with a prior vet and like many of us I suspect, ended up tackling the subject on my own.

  15. My vet sells holistic food but doesn’t push it on me. I don’t cook much for myself so I won’t cook for my pets. I have had pets or fosters with serious illnesses where food was an issue (diabetes, kidney failure, heart failure) and as a cocker spaniel lover skin allergies are a big concern because of their ears. My vet advised “something with fish and no grains” which is what I’ve fed cockers in the past. The current ones get grain-free lamb and rice. My feeling on the food fetishes is that if my dogs live a long and happy life that’s a pretty good sign. I don’t agree with the people who insist that there’s more cancer due to processed foods. I think there’s more cancer due to dogs living longer because of spay/neuter, better nutrition, better parasite prevention, vaccination, and improvements in vet care.

    I’m a believer in lamb ever since I found out from a friend with a sheep farm that male lambs grow up to be unmanageable rams, so they almost all get killed to keep the herd happy. I feel that if an animal is going to be killed anyway we should honor that sacrifice and turn it to a good use.

  16. As usual, this topic always creates a lot of discussion. Get any group of dog people together and within 3 minutes someone will ask the question “What do you feed?” I’m going to make one observation and no, I don’t feed raw, I’m lucky if I have time to prepare human food! Most of my dogs like ice cubes, one or two a day really helps keep the tartar off.
    In rescue, we hear lots of stories about dogs who escape, go feral and live in the “wild” for extended periods. Most of these rescue dogs needed extensive dental work but some that SURVIVED and were recaputured after 4 months or more in the wild, had clean teeth and were able to avoid loosing some of the teeth that would have been pulled. JUST an observation, I’m NOT recommending you turn your dog loose to avoid a professional dental cleaning!

  17. Unless a serious illness requires special food- I think people should find a food their pet likes, owner is comfortable with the ingredients & they can afford to purchase the food. My vet doesn’t have to agree with my choice – just verify the health of my pet. I have seen pets live well beyond their expected life span fed what I consider junk and animals die early who have the ‘best’ food.

  18. We are breeders and of course, pet owners of BMDs. Have been feeding raw for ten years now. You are right to say that some folks feeding a home made diet are not doing it properly. As a vet, what I would suggest is that you give out educational information to those clients who ask you the question. Of course, we are proponents of raw, and next in line would be home made cooked. But, it has to be done PROPERLY. There are wonderful books on diets by reputable authors, and a lot of really neat information on the internet.

    The way you have explained the conundrum in your blog is well done. Although some dogs/cats seem to do very well on kibble, it just doesn’t make sense to us that an animal be fed processed food it’s whole life. It’s like humans eating fast food forever. I think the merits of what we feed shows up in future generations of our breeding program. No allergies, increased longevity, etc.. However, food is not the whole thing……..vaccines, exercise…all those things that contribute to a healthy life style have their place.

    And, perhaps animal nutritionists would have their place in a veterinary practice.

  19. As a previous owner of 2 GreatDanes, who both died the same way…Bloat followed by Gastric Torsion and also a Puppy Rescuer, after doing my research, am now a big believer in feeding our dogs a Raw Food Diet. Sadly to say, I have not found one Vet to agree to this diet for dogs and their reason is always the same…diseases from eating and handle raw meat.
    If vets are not going to take the time to do the research on truly what is the best diets for our pets, then they really shouldn’t be answering the questions at all. Dogs were not meant to eat processed foods just like wolfs weren’t. There are now so many kinds of cancers found in dogs and I would like to know why??? Well as far as I’m concerned, I found out why and it is because of all the processed foods we feed them and all the rendering plants where the foods are processed. I truly believe that if you start a puppies life with raw foods, that puppy who grows into a dog, will not have more then 50% of all the illnesses that the vets are treating dogs for. Yes there might be genetic problems, but you will definitely avoid, over weight, skin and allergy, bad teeth, bloat, cancers, and fur(hair) problems that all come from processed foods.
    The Vets all seem to stop their research and will not go any furthur because they can’t get past the point of how a dog can eat raw meat, without getting diseases from that meat. Well a wolf seems to handle it just fine and I don’t find people that are putting processed food out for the wolfs. Sure no one wants to see an animal die to feed another animal, but these animals are killed for meat whether we buy it or not. The animal has already died.
    Vets should be telling people that if they really want to feed their dogs the best thing for them, they will go with a raw food diet!

  20. I don’t understand why it seems all vets sell Science brand dog food. There are so many proven excellent brands out there. Is it really worth their while to stock the stuff.

    I was a breeder from 1958 to sometime in the 70’s but I have never been without at least one of that herding group breed since. Back in 1969 I tried switching to Science Diet. I just moved so now I am seeing severeral new vets beside the ones I had previously. It seems they all sell Science dog food. I can’t speak for their Rx diets, but their “everyday” diet formula…forget it. I don’t know if there was any correlation, but within a few weeks I came home one day to bloody diarrhea thoughout the house and a collaped dog in my dining room. She had developed pantreatic insufficiency, which was a 10 year nightmare to manage. Since then, if I have to leave a dog for any time with a vet, I tell them I will supply the food…just don’t ever give them any Science diet.

  21. Dr. Kay,
    Bless you for tackling this tough subject. How do I think that a veterinarian should answer that question?
    1. The first issue that should be addressed is if the cat or dog has any specific health problems that have been diagnosed through labs, Bx, clinical symptoms, or a combination of all.
    Obviously, as you said, if a pet has renal issues, protein is certainly something that must be addressed.Ditto for IBD and any other diseases that can be managed, or at the very least, kept from exacerbating, by the proper diet.

    2. I do not think that it is in the best interest of veterinarians to sell food. Again, this is just my opinion. To me, it smacks of more concern for their pocketbook than their patients. I would liken it to the involvment with physicians and big pharma. I do not think that a veterinarian who sells a particular food and if profiting in ANY way from those sales, can look one in the eye and say that they are not influenced by that fact.

    3. I think with the 2007 tragedy, we should have all have learned a valuable lesson…..things coming from China are dangerous. Of course, our own food, our vitamin supplements, etc, are all rife with ingredients that come from China. Let’s face it, I don’t have a lot of faith in any govt. agency, even the FDA. However, I have a lot more faith in the fact that the testing that does occur in this country would be held to higher standard than that of China.

    Case in point…melamine is used in fertilizer, but only in Asia . People can scoff all they want about those of us who are passionately suspicious of ingesting, (or feeding to our beloved four legged companions). , anything that originates from China. I make no apologies for the way that I feel as my opinion is fact based….how many died from the tainted heparin, how many children have been poisoned by lead in Chinese toys, how many homes and people’s health were ruined by Chinese drywall, and how many pets died as a result of the 2007 tragedy?

    4. I think that our veterinarians should be spending more time doing research themselves on this subject, rather than leaving it all fall upon the shoulders of their clients. I know that vets are not nutritionists….and neither are physicians, but there is so much information available by picking up the phone and calling a company, or using the internet, that I am genuinely disappointed that more vets do not take the time to do so. Bottom line…I think that it has to be a partnership with the vet and the client to do what is best for their precious charges.

  22. As someone who has studied all sorts of canine nutrition after having a Lab in the early 80s who was always sick, my advice to your clients is to read whatever they can about canine nutrition, read labels, understand what “by products” are, and know where your pets’ food is manufactured and by whom. While I would love to cook for my two Gordons, I am not financially able to give them what they need, so I give them the best kibble and canned food I can afford. I have studied Wendy Volhard’s approach to nutrition, Pitcairn’s, and others who have done more research than I can do. I am mostly concerned with the additives going into the food (and my food too! ), and have fed one Wellness product or another to my one Gordon since he was a baby (he’s almost 9 now), and to the older girl I inherited 2 years ago. They both get a probiotic/omega fatty acid/glucosomine powder, and that’s it. My previous Gordons were fed a natural food also and my one girl lived to almost 16 and her son to almost 14. My Lab, btw, was on Wendy Volhard’s homemade diet (broke my budget!), but her allergies and chronic ear infections disappeared and she lived to 15.

    I work for my vet now and shudder at the ingredients of the foods we sell. I understand why we sell them and how some are really helpful to get a pet through different issues, but it’s all wicked expensive, and the ingredients are really questionable. I, obviously, don’t say that to our clients!

    At any rate, this is a topic I’ve been interested in for about 30 years! Thanks for bringing it up.


  23. “So, what’s the answer here? ”

    Not so much an answer, but, ask questions of the human.

    Suggest choices, instead of medication, to try and medicate the problem away.

    We have five that have food allergies, not vet diagnosed, just read the labels, and find, rice, grains, etc.

    Some do well on grain based diets, others do not.

    When I was a dog food demo person, I had a guest with a dog with corn and grain allergies. The recommended prescription food, had corn gluten in it and yet the dog had an allergy to corn. Got the dog on fish and sweet potato diet and the allergies stopped.

    Vets, need to have their staff read up on current trends and pass on the info to the vet for educational reasons and to medicate less with drugs, that have side effects.

    And it is incumbent on the human to research and to be better educated to make decisions and understand the problem.

  24. My question is what do we say to the veterinary nutritionists who have been vocally against raw and home prepared cooked diets? There has been very little equivocation from that community, and there is no way to say “they are not nutritionists” because they are.

  25. I think honesty is best: “I don’t feel I can advise you on this since it’s not my area of expertise. I’ve seen positive and negative results from different ways of feeding” kind of thing. I think that leaving the subject open and inviting is good. You might even share some opinions as personal rather than professional, depending on the client. At some point you might want to recommend a particular food because of a condition like obesity. My vets are whizes at helping me make decisions for my dog. What treasures! What diamonds! …. Excuse me, I digress! I’m so lucky! may they live forever!

  26. As the owner of a vegan dog food company, I obviously come at this question from a definite bias. However, I do not think there is only one way to feed a dog. Our approach is to define our objectives: The first consideration is the health of the dog, and we have a second very important consideration which is the ethical issue of killing animals to feed animals. To address the first consideration it is critical that the formula is a well balanced one that includes all of the essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals and sufficient protein for a dog to thrive. This is best achieved by enlisting the services of a board certified pet food nutritionist, which is what we have done. Although AAFCO is an industry controlled organization, their pet food profiles serve as a beginning basis for what constitutes a balanced formula. We exceed their profiles for a variety of reasons. The second consideration, the ethical one, is only relevant to people who believe in a plant-based life style. We do not advocate this for cats, since they are true carnivores, but dogs can thrive on a well-balanced plant-based formula as evidenced by the 30 years the V-dog formula has been in existence, starting in England in 1980. Unfortunately, there is scarce scientific data on the efficacy of either a plant-based formula or a meat-based formula. One study conducted in New Zealand last year demonstrated that working dogs fed a plant-based diet performed as well as the dogs fed a meat-based diet. My hope is that people read labels and understand the difference between whole foods, meal and rendered animal parts.

  27. I own a small pet supply store that specializes in quality food for dogs & cats and I can’t answer that question in any definitive way, either. “It depends” is all I can say and then ask follow up questions to figure out where the owner is as far as food education and where the dog is in his/her life. We start with no corn, wheat, soy or byproducts but even then there are so many options that range from “good” to “premium”. Grain-free? Allergies? Raw? High/low protein? Vitamins added or fresh fruits & veggies? Cost? Good luck in finding one answer that fits all!

  28. First, I want to thank you for publishing this wonderful blog. Everyone I know LOVES it.
    Second, I think the proper answer to the question of what clients should feed their animals should be along the lines of telling them that you are not trained as a nutritionist. Inform them that you can give your opinion, but direct them to sites where they can get true info and do their own research. Some that I personally recommend frequently are:
    What’s Really in Pet Food:
    This site doesn’t make recommendtions, but is a wealth of crucial info.

    I personally give my dogs “Feed This” local pre-made raw diet. Their site is a wealth of info about dog and cat nutrition:

    In light of the fact that currently about 45% of dogs die of cancer, I think we need to re-examine what we are giving them to eat.

    Blessings, Jane and ~^..^~ Denali’s Legacy Pack ~^..^~
    Northern California Sled Dog Rescue
    EVERY DOG IS A GUIDE DOG – Susan Conant

    “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr

  29. I’m sure what you really, really want to hear is to do more work, but I feel you should research and then give clients the very best web sites for doing their own research. There are excellent sources for us to learn how to read labels and my vet’s help comes in with letting me know what I should be looking for. For example, I have a dog with history of pancreatitis, so I needed guidance of the amount of “fat” that is safe — then I found the food that has worked best, passing my choice by her, of course. The same is true for leading them to sound arguments regarding raw vs. cooked and for recommending the best books that guide one to ensuring all necessary nutritional needs are met with home-prepared foods. Guardians must take responsibility for gaining knowledge and they should certainly be informed that just because a vet sells a certain brand that it is not ensured not to be a corn-based bag of crap and that rather profit and marketing play a large role in what they place on their shelves.

  30. Good Blog.
    How have you answered the question in the past?
    I think if Vets are not trained in nutrution maybe they should not answer the question. There should be someone trained on their staff, someone who has not been trained by the pet food compainies. Interesting topic.

  31. Dear Dr. Kay, We have fed our dog a home made diet since she was a small puppy. The recipe? In her younger years, beef, rice, and carrots. As she has aged, she prefers chicken, rice, and carrots. She also likes tomatoes a lot. To, (hopefully), ensure that she has a balanced diet, we also feed her a quality kibble. As you might imagine, she doesn’t like it, no matter how much we spend on it. Sometimes though, (surprise), she eats the whole bowl of kibble – after she finishes her home cooked meal. Hmmm. We also feed her leftovers from our table: turkey, steak, chicken, and pork — no bones or fat. She has never been fat and she has never been sick. She is now 13 1/2. Now, this could all be in the genes, she might have been slim and healthy if we had fed her the cheapest grocery store brand. Who knows? Our cats all eat the same diet, commercially available kibble and canned food. We have two slim ones and one embarrassingly fat one. Go figure. My recommendation? For what it is worth: feed a commercial food that has been around a LONG time with a good track record. Read the ingredients and be aware of what you are feeding. Remember that ingredients are listed in order of how much of that ingredient is in the food. So if chicken is the first ingredient, the food contains more chicken than any other ingredient. If the first ingredient is corn or meat by-products, well, you get the picture. Feed them a food they like, but not so much that they overeat. Save the food they LOVE for a special treat or for when they are sick and off their feed. Hope for the best. We all try to do the best we can for our pets. The decisions we make affect their lives and ours. Make the best choices you can every day and give the pets lots of love. That’s the best diet of all.

  32. i have to believe in raw. all my (many) cats live to be at least 19, 20, 21 years old and were never sick one day in their lives, not one URI, UTI, etc., eating raw since 1990, how could i not? there has to be some reason, just dumb luck doesn’t cut it.

  33. I can explain the basic nutritional needs of your dog. Your chosen method we can explore together.

  34. I would like everyone, for the moment, to consider this.

    Have you gone to a nutritionist to figure out what you should eat and if so, how often? At every turn of your life milestones (i.e. infancy, toddler, teenager, adult, senior)?

    Just a little food for thought for now…..

    I LOVE this post Dr. Kay because you really will probably get as many answers as there are vets and caretakers!

    On the basic level, what I love to see is a vet who is open to real discussion and a pet caretaker who, if they want to explore off their vets recommendation, do a little research AND have that open discussion with their vet. A real discussion, not just skimming a general suface. Also, if the vet and/or caretaker really doesn’t have a whole lot of knowledge in the area, find someone who does. And of course for the caretaker, that does not mean \some random sites on the web that are not fairly known as a topic leader and respected \thinker\. It’s as easy to be misguided on the web as it is to be well guided, probably easier.

    I like to stay away from any who preach one way and only one way, their way or you seriously harm your pet type of site or person. It’s okay to believe strongly or completely in one way but to say that anything else is outright wrong without discussing it’s details and components – and to really be knowledgeable to do that – is a red flag to me, in almost any topic.

    Lastly, because I can’t help slipping in some opinion of my own on the topic, I cannot fathom eating the same processed food day in and day out from a can or bag and expect to be of optimal healthy personally. I don’t do so for my dog either. Although I did, before I knew more on the topic. I think we do the best we can with what we know when we know it but we can always be open to learning more.

  35. I can appreciate why you hesitated to post this particular article! Petfood and what to feed our pets seems to be one of the most controversial issues in the pet health field these days. But okay, I’ll jump into the discussion!

    I don’t think it’s possible for any one food to be complete and balanced. I don’t think pet nutrition is that different from human nutrition when it comes to the basic premise that a healthy diet should come from a variety of whole, natural, unprocessed foods. It seems counterintuitive to me that the large petfood companies (and sadly, so many veterinarians) would have us believe that the only good food for our pets is something that comes out of a bag. If your child’s pediatrician would tell you that your child should eat only one kind of cereal for the rest of his life, you’d report him to the state medical board. How is recommending only one particular kind of kibble for the rest of a pet’s life any different?

    As a former veterinary hospital manager, I’m well aware of the business connection between petfood companies and veterinarians. Not only is most, if not all, nutritional education at vet schools sponsored by major petfood companies, they also sponsor many of the continuing education meetings veterinarians attend. (But contrary to some popularly held beliefs, pet food companies do not buy cars and trips for vets so they will sell their food!) Nutrition is a small part of the veterinary school curriculum, and I don’t blame vets who simply don’t have the time or energy to go beyond what they were taught in school by representatives of these companies. However, it seems that more and more vets take the time to educate themselve on nutrition on their own and don’t just blindly follow what the few large players in the field offer.

    There is no easy answer, and unfortunately, until there is more research into some of the more natural diets, and into the benefits of raw feeding, there won’t be enough hard, scientific evidence to sway most veterinarians to be comfortable recommending anything other than foods from the big companies.

    I feed my cat raw and grain-free canned from a small number of brands that I (at least as of this writing) trust. She’s the first cat I’ve done this with, and she’s been thriving. Prior to her, I’ve been feeding the major commercial brands most vets recommend. I’m aware of the risks involved with raw feeding, but I think they’re minimal compared to the longterm risk I’d be taking with her health if I fed her a diet with inferior ingredients. Just look at the recent recalls of a major dry food manufacturer due to salmonella contamination.

    I don’t think raw food is the end all and be all. I think there are many other healthy options, whether it’s some of the brands with better quality ingredients, or homecooked meals prepared under a veterinary nutritionist’s guidance. What I expect from my vet is that he or she is open to my questions and choices and doesn’t condemn me for the nutritional choices I make for my pets. Ultimately, we both have the same goal: to keep pets as healthy as we possibly can.

    I applaud you for opening this hot topic up for discussion.

  36. I wanted to say A semi-truck load of Science Diet arrived along with tons of other food.” if that was not clear.

  37. My veterinarian – Dr. Key suggests a good quality (I use Iam’s) dry food brand as long as our pups are healthy; years ago when our Ashley Katherine VI had problems – he told me that another patient’s mom had fixed ground turkey, pak of broccoli & cooked rice. (helped Ashley).

    It used to be you could only buy Iams & Ecanuba at quality pet stores or vets. Now – it seems the local grocery also carries it all.

    I think a good quality brand such as Iams SHOULD insure me that it is manufactured under more strict guidelines than the cheaper Sam’s club brand. However, I was disappointed when Iams had to take food off market because of Chinese (?) problems.

    So – who knows?!

  38. I have three dogs at different life stages, from puppy through senior ages, all involved in different degrees of activities, from couch lounging through strenuous canine sports. I know it’s unrealistic to expect that one food would fit all, but I would love advice on just which formula I should be feeding, depending upon each pet’s activity and age.

  39. Pingback: Tweets that mention Reasonable Expectations IX: Discussion With Your Vet About What Your Dog or Cat Should Be Eating « --

  40. BRAVO, Nancy for taking this subject on. You have given us all food for thought in a very honest and humble way.

    The subject of nutrition is a challenge and controversy not only in the pet industry, it is equally a topic of controversy for us humans. Thank you Nancy for opening a door to the law of choice. All we can do is to follow our heart, get educated and make choices for our pets that feel right to us, then not be righteous about our choices.

    I too, have not put a page on my website about nutrition for the very same reasons.

    I subscribe to nature’s way in my own diet, eating what’s in season, what’s grown locally, nutrient dense foods, stay away from processed foods and this choice feels good for me. With my animals I feed what they would eat naturally and that’s a raw diet and have been doing so for almost 20 yrs. My oldest dog just passed on at 18 yrs old. This feels right for me and mine but who am I to say what’s right for you and yours.

    In a world where information is a “click’ away, we can only do what feels right and know there’s always more to learn.

    I thank you for this post, Nancy.

  41. What a fire storm erupted when our local shelter was hit with a 154 starved dog seizure and they asked for Science Diet. Normally housing 65 dogs this situation was like a natural disaster. Instead of just purchasing a bag for the shelter people argued the value of SD. In the end a semi-truck load of SD arrived with tons of other food. The other brands could always be handed out to people in need keeping their dogs at home so a Win/Win.
    I don’t think you can win as a vet with a pat answer. What can the owner do? How much work and funds are they willing to spend? What will their pet eat? What do their pets look like? I doubt if people follow the 4 basic food groups altered for pets they can go too far wrong. Mushers in Alaska have a lot of resources for diet construction based on the activity level of their dogs. Many mix homemade(fish & wild game meat) with commercial food taylored for highly active dogs. I’ve met 14,15,even 18 year old sled dogs who look like 10-12 year olds. The bottom line is to watch the condition of the dog and to monitor their performance altering food when necessary.

  42. Dr. Kay – brave you! Thank you for taking this on and I hope your blog opens a dialogue for vets who are following you as well. Since I believe in fresh wholesome foods and nutritional therapy for my dogs, I would hope that those vets with less knowledge in nutrition (essentially what little they get in vet school) don’t just sell out to what they are told by those pet food companies that teach them classes, send them literature and give them discounts on food. A little more education on real nutrition and some natural remedies (like the good old days) from our “primary care” vets would be very welcome and then they might be able to give a better – not one size fits all – answer. I am passing on your blog so hopefully more people will give you feedback too.

  43. Roxie, our 1 year old Golden rescue started her life with us at 7 months eating Costco’s Kirkland Lamb and Rice. Our trainer suggested a food with no grain would be better so we switched to Orijen’s chicken/turkey/fish/egg kibble. She really likes to eat anything we put in front of her, but we were told that the food with no grain is better for her. Is that so?

  44. My little dog did poorly on the two name brand kibbles that were available in Belize 9 years ago. I did my research and she has been on a home-prepared diet ever since — I’ve followed Dr. Pitcairn’s diets and been careful to supplement as directed. As a diabetic, my husband is on a low carb, high protein diet — so it is not too difficult to cook for both dog and husband since many of the ingredients are interchangeable!

    I’ve also been a subscriber to the Whole Dog Journal for some years. They accept no advertising and do complete food reviews every year. They have also covered raw diets, home-cooked diets, purchased raw diets, canned and frozen foods etc. They are currently reviewing cookbooks for dogs … and telling readers which books have poor or incorrect information. I trust Whole Dog Journal because they are not beholden to advertisers. Ultimately, they recommend the diet that works the best for YOUR dog.

    So implicit in that idea, is educating yourself on basic dog nutrition and products available, how to read and understand an ingredients label. Take into account your lifestyle, budget, and cooking inclinations. And don’t be afraid to try something else if your dog is not absolutely thriving.

    Realistically, some pet owners won’t have time for all of that.

    It’s not a simple answer nor an easy answer, but I think it is a worthwhile, realistic discussion for a vet to have with a client.

  45. This is the best site I have found for canine nutrition:

    I feed my dogs almost exclusively hearts, gizzards, a bit of liver, and supplements such as yogurt, vitamin e (human tablet).

    My vet is very cooperative, and I do not think feeding unprocessed food is unusual any longer. She is so agreeable it is sometimes disarming, but she does tell me whehn she disagrees, which is reassuring.

    Thank you for taking on hard topics.

  46. I researched different brands of puppy food online regarding nutritional content as rated by nutritionists and certain brands had 4 and 5 * ratings based on the amount of protein (real chicken and turkey) vs. fillers and overload of grains. I selected Innova which was one of the highly rated brands and the list of ingredients was very impressive. I have to buy it from a specialty pet shop here in NC but my dog loves it and is growing like a weed…she seems to be thriving so I’m happy with my selection and am glad I did not just grab any old bag off the supermarket shelf.

  47. I would be more concerned about telling a pet’s owner what not to eat, such as chocolate, raisins, grapes, etc., processed “people food” and most table leftovers. I am surprised by the how many educated pet owners I have known who don’t know about any of the forbidden foods. My late father and mother in law used to feed their dog, who was the fattest dog I have seen in my life – she even has fat rolls on her tail, liverwurst. Their reasoning? The dog wouldn’t eat the dry food without the liverwurst! This was an everyday occurrence. Well, hello! Even Coco the dog had figured out that if she held out she would get liverwurst instead of plain dry food!

  48. Your post really resonates with me, Dr. Kay. Recently my young dog was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitus through a blood test from Texas A&M. I found out about the blood test from a friend and asked my vet to send in the blood. And I was very relieved to have an answer to “Why won’t my dog eat?” after over three years of asking seven vets the question.

    I get that vets aren’t nutritionists. I get that there may be picky eaters in the dog family. I get that there may be over-protective owners who find something wrong with their dog when there is nothing wrong with the dog.

    And I think that the quandry that vets find themselves in about nutrition can also contribute to minimizing a dog who doesn’t eat because there is no easy answer. Vets also can minimize the owner’s concerns as there is no easy answer.

    Thanks for your post. I admire your talking candidly but unapologetically about the problem. Maybe if more vets understood what you expressed, that nutrition is a hard question for all of us, they would be more open to exploring causes for a dog that doesn’t eat.

  49. I am a big believer that optimum nutrition plays an important role in the quality of life that our companion animals enjoy. I am also aware that there are strong opinions among pet owners and animal care professionals about what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ diets. I would wish that when a new diet comes into popularity, enough that veterinarians are getting questions about it from their clients, that veterinarians would take the time to educate themselves about the diet, rather than automatically embrace or dismiss it. Once the veterinarian has the latest information, they can then offer their clients an educated opinion regarding the diet. When it comes to my own dogs, I have changed health care providers when I felt that a veterinarian’s objection to my chosen style of feeding has the potential to affect the quality of care my animals would receive. Luckily for we pet owners, there are many talented animal healthcare providers in our area to choose from.

  50. Thanks for this thoughtful post.
    I would be most interested by what reputable professional breeders have to say about pet food. They see the daily effects of dietary choices. They have a vested interest in providing the best possible food at every stage of life.

    I feed my old dog a prescription kibble that was recommended by our vet.
    I supplement with small amounts of home-cooked foods. This kibble made a positive difference in my dog’s health and comfort, and I’m happy to pay the vet’s commission on every expensive bag.