FINDING A DOG DIET THAT WORKS

Note:  The author has had no veterinary or medical training. She has merely documented her experience with her dog's health problems. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before acting on any information you see here.

COMMERCIAL DOG FOOD
EXPERIMENTS WITH HOMEMADE RECIPES
ELIMINATION DIET
DIET CONSIDERATIONS - CALCIUM OXALATE KIDNEY STONES
AMIE'S CUSTOM RECIPE FOR KIDNEY AND SKIN PROBLEMS

From the time Amie was four months old, she had skin problems. When she was two years old we found crystals in her urine. At age 7 Amie had lithotripsy to eliminate her calcium oxalate kidney stones.Throughout her life we have experimented with finding a good diet that doesn't aggravate her allergies and does not promote stone formation.
 

COMMERCIAL DOG FOOD

Note:  The author has had no veterinary or medical training. She has merely documented her experience with her dog's health problems. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before acting on any information you see here.

Find out what type of stones your dog has before you attempt to treat it with a prescription dog food. Some types of Hill's dog foods designed for stone management can stimulate calcium oxalate stone formation.

Life would be a breeze if Amie could eat Hill's u/d diet prescription dog food which prevents calcium oxalate, urate and cystine stones from forming. It contains potassium citrate, which is what Urocit is, and will maintain urinary pH at 7.1 - 7.7. Compared to average multipurpose dog food. According to a Hill's u/d flyer, it has ~

Greatly reduced protein
Increased non-protein calories
Reduced dietary acid load
Reduced nucleic acids
Reduced calcium, phosphorus and magnesium
Reduced sodium
Reduced copper
Added taurine
Amie's problem was that she would itch constantly from eating any commercial dog food, including Hill's u/d diet. Hill's u/d diet contains "egg product" (what is that?) and rice, both of which she is allergic to.

If Amie had not demonstrated digestive upset and other discomforts we might have kept feeding her commercial dog food. I have always been suspicious of the quality of ingredients in canned or dried prepared foods. She was started on Purina Puppy Chow. Why do they add artificial colors? - the dog doesn't care. I didn't like the ingredients, but Amie was my mother's dog and I could only make suggestions. At 6 months old, she was put on a variety of dog foods including all the major brands, fancy brands, dry and wet, food in a foil bag. She had Milk Bone Dog Biscuits for treats. She scratched non-stop.

When Amie was a year old Mom died and I took over the feeding program. I am dedicated to natural foods. My husband and I have been eating an extremely clean diet of natural, whole, and often organically grown foods since 1975. I was appalled at the junk in commercial foods. Although I easily experiment with my own diet, I was not arrogant enough to believe I could create a good diet for a pet based on human needs. So I tried many "complete, balanced, and natural" dog foods with no improvement in Amie. I tried dozens of brands - Iams, Science Diet, Cornucopia, Health Valley - including specialty dog foods from the natural food store. I would go to the mega pet food store and get a case of canned or bag of each variety, trying to find one that would stop her itching.

In a New York Times article dated December 16, 1990 Dr Bruce Little, executive vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association said about pet food, " 'Natural' is a figment of the advertising industry's imagination." In the same article Richard Sellers, chairman of Association of American Feed Control Official's (AAFCO) pet food committee said, "Labeling is a marketing tool. You can list everything that's in a can of food and that still won't tell the consumer anything about what the animal will actually ingest." He gave as an example rawhide, an indigestible byproduct of leather, which is frequently found in inexpensive pet food and listed as protein.

I read over 20 books on pet nutrition and found contradictory information at every turn. For example, one book said to never feed a dog potatoes or onions. So why is there a commercial potato/fish dog food? A PetSage mail order house catalog says soy is indigestible to dogs so why do so many dog foods have soymeal - just for fiber? Soy is often allergy-producing.

All the books recommended gradually introducing diet changes by mixing previous and new diets together for several days, gradually increasing the percentage of the new food. Amie was easy - she eats almost anything. The good advice I saw was to watch for gagging, vomiting or signs of intestinal pain or enlargement, which may indicate a bloating dog. Also I would have followed the advice to never exercise your puppy immediately after eating, but that's when Amie loves to chase the ball. I figured she would not want to initiate play if she didn't feel up to it.

Because I was allergic to living in Mom's house I worked to sanitize the environment. (See Environmental Rule-Outs.) It took about a year to find and root out all the mold, to remove all carpeting, to clean the ducts, to install a new furnace and air filter, to get a hepa filter for the bedroom, among other things. When I got better, so did Amie, but she still didn't feel good. Her coat was full of dandruff and her itching was producing open sores.

At age two when crystals were found in her urine I knew we had serious problems. STOP - if your dog shows crystals in the urine, find out what type they are. The vet presumed Amie had struvite stones, which are the most common. For years we worked to acidify her urine, which actually causes her type of stones, calcium oxalate, to form. Different stones have different nutritional considerations.

I saw somewhere that dry food can create urinary problems because the dog eats to get full and then doesn't have the capacity to drink enough water to digest it. So I switched to only canned food, which is 75% water, compared to only 10% in dry food. I used dry kibbles as treats. The veterinarian recommended putting Amie on the Hill's k/d diet, then the c/d diet. She was definitely allergic to the c/d diet. When we found out her stones are calcium oxalate she tried the Hill's u/d diet, but she scratched like crazy. I wanted to find a recipe for homemade food that would control her urinary and skin problems. I would put her on the c/d diet until her allergies were unbearable, then I'd experiment with other commercial diets. Her skin would improve slightly but she would get a urinary infection or become very barky, a symptom of her urinary problem.

When I'm sick I need different food. Seems to me that a dog with a health problem is likely to have sensitivities and special needs. So why do all the vets say the one-size-fits-all dog foods are sufficient? I tried "hypo-allergenic" dog foods such as Lang's, Regal, Iams, Eukanaba - which didn't help.

I hoped I could find a vet who would take an interest in her problems and work with me to fix her. I'm astounded at how vets dealt with her - just like an MD with little or no listening or curiosity about alternative treatments. None knew much about nutrition. I guess that's why they said that Hill's and Iams are the only real choices in pet food.
 

EXPERIMENTS WITH HOMEMADE RECIPES

Note:  The author has had no veterinary or medical training. She has merely documented her experience with her dog's health problems. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before acting on any information you see here.

Seems to me fresh food beats dead food.

Seems logical that additives and preservatives can affect pets, too. As an allergic person I know that I am more sensitive to ingredients that other people are not allergic to, especially additives and preservatives. BHT and BHA are known to cause liver and kidney dysfunction. Another suspicious ingredient is ethoxyquin. Ethoxyquin is used as an antioxidant in animal food. It is used as an antidegradant in making rubber. It is regulated as a pesticide and is not permitted in human food because it causes muscle spasms and pain. It can be found in Hill's d/d diet for food allergy, Iams "Nutritionally Complete and Balanced" chunks (green bag), Iams Response Formula fp for inflammation of skin, and others. See how easy it is to be misled while trying to do the right thing?

It makes sense that different breeds would have different nutritional requirements. Why should a toy poodle eat the same pet food that is fed to a doberman? Different coat, different bone structure, different temperment. One-size-fits-all dog food says all breeds are the same. I don't believe it. I recently found a source that discusses nutritional requirements for different breeds.

I began studying pet nutrition. Jeff Griffen, who wrote The Poodle Book, suggests a homemade diet of 2 parts meat, 1 part vegetables and 1 part grains. The Hill's homemade Elimination Diet recipe calls for about 3/4 cup meat to 1 cup grain. Dr. Winter suggests 1 part animal protein to 3 parts grain and vegetables. Kidney experts warn about excessive protein intake. My research says to err on the low protein side if your dog has kidney problems.

Vets gave me tons of misinformation. For example, when I asked why most "hypo-allergenic" dog foods were based on venison, rabbit or lamb, more than one vet told me that these protein sources had a better amino-acid balance. Using the USDA's Food Composition Tables, I analyzed the amino acids only to find that the amino acids were in the same proportions as other meat. I believe the reason those meats are recommended is because they haven't been as shot full of antibiotics, growth hormones or other stuff as beef and other more common meat - just a guess.

Different vets would authoritatively define what dogs are allergic to and what they are not. As I looked through my books I could hardly find a food item which wasn't on someone's list as allergy-producing. It confounded me that Hill's pamphlet "Allergic Dermatitis" lists lamb and egg as common food allergies but their d/d diet has no other choice.

I found countless "natural" and "balanced" homemade dog food recipes. Some had even been analyzed for protein, carbohydrates, fat, and ash. So what? Even Hill's Science Diet flyer says that ingredients and chemical analysis on labels are not guarantees of nutritional quality. I didn't get a strong feeling that the authors actually knew what they were doing in devising their homemade recipes.

The dog food recipe in Laurel's Kitchen includes egg, milk and beans. Amie turned out to be allergic to all three.

I was excited to find Back to Basics: TheNaturalDiet (A Guide to a Balanced Home-Made Dog Food, by Wendy Volhard, 1984). The Natural Diet is based on the recommendations of the National Research Council and on the work done by Adele Davis, Linda Clark and others. The Natural Diet begins with a cleansing diet which includes yogurt and oatmeal. Amie didn't last two days. Aside from the diarrhea, her scratching got worse. The Natural Diet became extraordinarily complicated after that and Amie wanted none of it. By July 1995 I was pretty sure Amie was allergic to corn, wheat and rice. You may want to try it if your dog isn't allergic to those items and can tolerate dairy.

I began experimenting with Dr Pitcairn's diet and dog food recipes I found on the Internet - any dog food recipe that seemed based in some knowledge. I made a results sheet and updated Amie's Log with whatever observations I made about her.

I tested her preferences for various foods. I would put down a plate of food with several items. For example I would offer soft-boiled egg, whole wheat toast, steamed vegetables, dog food, sprouts. She would consistently go for the sprouts first. We would give her steamed fresh green beans and peas as a treat. She seems to crave green things, but so many are oxalate-producing. What to do?

She reacted to beans, soy products including tofu and tamari, organically grown free-range eggs, rice, wheat, corn. She has always avoided oatmeal. Amie loves dairy, but it upsets her stomach (diarrhea, gas, stomach aches). Her stools get coated with mucous. Claudia says dogs can't digest dairy. Why do so many "natural" homemade recipes have so much of it?

As I learned more about skin allergies, I tried almost every remedy recommended: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, lecithin, zinc, alfalfa tablets, cod liver oil, omega fatty acids, brewer's yeast, green algae, homeopathic cell salts, lamb cubes, beef suet, lecithin, digestive enzymes, and more. This doesn't include the topical remedies I tried. I bought nutritional supplements by mail order, primarily because I found some that seemed to be made of real food combinations, rather than synthetic compounds. This trial and error experimentation was costing a fortune and showing no results. I dispaired of ever finding someone with any veterinary knowledge who would work with me.

I was very fortunate to be recommended to my current vet, Claudia Lewis. She often said she didn't know answers to my questions, but she has hung in there with us trying to find out. She recommended trying the Hill's Elimination Diet to figure out what Amie was allergic to.
 


 
ELIMINATION DIET

Note:  The author has had no veterinary or medical training. She has merely documented her experience with her dog's health problems. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before acting on any information you see here.

FIND A NON-ALLERGENIC TEST FOOD
TEST FOR THE BASICS
TEST OTHER FOOD
If you have ruled out everything else, your dog's skin problems may be due to allergies to foods, food additives, water. Try the Elimination Diet. If it doesn't work the allergy may be due to inhalants, contact allergies or bacterial hypersensitivity. The following is my odyssey with Amie's allergies and urinary problems.

The Elimination Diet is a concept a naturopath had recommended for me in determining my food allergies. He told me to go 3 weeks without eating wheat or anything containing wheat. I thought this was pretty stupid because I had been eating breads my whole life and had never had an allergic reaction. After three weeks I had one bite of bread and my face turned red and hot. A quicker and more certain way to test food allergies is to feed a diet for some time that does not cause allergies and then add in food items every week to determine what foods can be eaten.

A better test is to go 6 weeks without eating a certain food. Then on day one add a little, day two add a little more, day three add more. If there is no reaction after day four, you can assume there is no allergy.
 


FIND A NON-ALLERGENIC TEST FOOD
Look for Reactions
When testing Amie for food allergies, it was important to know what the air quality was like so I wouldn't mistake a food allergy for an environmental effect. If you live in an area that has killing frosts, try to do the diet testing then, when pollens and mold won't affect the test.

Maybe because Amie is so small or maybe because she is so sensitive, I would see a reaction in 4 hours to 2 days. Allergic reactions usually show up in the skin, the intestinal tract or the respiratory system. Look for increased itching, itching in new places, sneezing, skin lumps, digestive upset, avoidance of the food.

Make sure you note what was fed and what the reaction was and when. See Amie's Log for a sample worksheet.

Commercial "Hypo-Allergenic" Test Food
The plan was to feed Amie the Hill's Hypoallergenic Prescription d/d Diet for food allergy or intolerance, and distilled water - and absolutely NOTHING else. This will ONLY work if you feed the dog this diet and nothing else. No kidding, no exceptions. Don't ruin your good work or torture the animal. Feed this to your dog for 60days and if there are no reactions, you know your dog is not allergic to the ingredients. If there are reactions, try Homemade Test Food.

I tried both the Hill's canned (lamb and rice) and the dry (egg and rice) versions. They are expected to have a low probability of producing allergy in dogs. Amie reacted to both. Is she allergic to rice (as I have expected) or one of the other ingredients in the products? I called Hill's veterinary hotline, but they wouldn't talk to me because I am not a vet. They referred me to Hill's Dietary Management Consultant. I asked what the other ingredients are aside from lamb/rice andegg/rice that are listed on the labels and she said she would send me the information. I also asked why Hill's pamphlet "Allergic Dermatitis" lists lamb and egg as common food allergies, but their d/d diet has no other choice. Her letter, however, did not answer any of my questions.

While Amie was testing these foods I would add in various other foods and discovered sensitivities (not necessarily allergies) which told me "Amie no like". Later, when I tried the Hill's Homemade Test Food Elimination Diet, these reactions confirmed allergies, or at least foods that disagreed with Amie.


 

Homemade Test Food
Before I could identify what Amie was allergic to, I had to find a recipe that she wasn't allergic to. Claudia recommended using the Hill's Canine Hypoallergenic Homemade Diet and test various protein sources first. Using the Hill's diet proportions of 1/4 lb meat, 1 cup cooked grain, 1 tsp oil, I experimented with various sources of protein. Then I varied the type of grains.

Hill's Canine Hypoallergenic Homemade Diet
1/4 lb diced lamb with fat trimmed and discarded
1 cup cooked rice
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp dicalcium phosphate or bonemeal
Balanced vitamin-mineral sufficient to provide the daily requirement for each vitamin and trace mineral. (No guidelines are given.)
Note: I found in Joy ofCooking that 1/4 lb shredded meat is equivalent to 3/4 cup of packed meat. I found that 3/4 cup packed meat was equivalent to 1 loosely filled cup of meat.

Braise or roast the meat thoroughly without seasoning. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Keep covered in refrigerator. Yield: 3/4 lb.

Feed a sufficient amount to maintain normal body weight. For Amie at 7.4 lbs, that means about 3/4 cup two or three times a day. Hill's sheet called, "Recipes for Homemade Diets", provides an analysis of the food and feeding guidelines. Call 1-800-455-5777 for the sheet.
 


 

TEST FOR THE BASICS

The following is my process for determining what Amie can eat. It's value is in the process.Your dog will react differently.
Protein
I had tried lamb earlier and determined that she was allergic. I tested several types of fish, organic free-range eggs, tofu, beans. Her skin reacted adversely to all but fish. Salmon and tuna may be too fatty because she gets diarrhea. Since most hypoallergenic foods are made with venison, lamb or rabbit (less irritating?) I thought I should try them next. I tried lamb again because that is Hill's recommendation and it is readily available. Each of the three times I bought lamb I found three different cuts with big differences in fat. Toxins are stored in fat so I tried to get the leanest cut I could.

Lamb just didn't work. She liked it, but we saw no improvement. Organic lamb isn't available so I don't know if she's allergic to lamb or to the residual chemicals from feed and innoculation. After about 2 weeks she was feverish and listless with not enough energy to scratch. She reluctantly ate and at the end of the second week she refused to eat for a day and a half. She followed us to the kitchen looking for food but wouldn't eat the lamb. I gave her about 1/4 cup plain, steamed carrots, celery, pepper and zucchini and she quckly ate them. I gave her some Iams dry lamb-rice pellets and she ate a few. She had a pellet in her mouth when I put down another portion of vegetables. She dropped the dry pellet to eat the vegetables. In all she ate about a cup of chopped vegetables. A short time later she began playing with her ball, which we hadn't seen her do in about a month. It was pretty dramatic. Whether this indicates an allergy or merely a preference, I don't know, but she never did well on any lamb-based food.

I was beginning to think there was not going to be a solution. Rabbit was even more expensive and rare. I found whole, dressed frozen rabbits, but, as a vegetarian, had a hard time looking at the bunnies. I wanted to try everything else first. If it came down to it, I would hire someone to make the bunny recipe for Amie.

Next I tried venison. Venison is far less chemically engineered than lamb or other meats. Our natural food store had a flyer about venison, but the people who sold it had killed it and they were only selling entire sides. I'm not even sure this is legal. Our area megastore meat manager flat-out said venison isn't sold because it is wild. When I told him that there is USDA venison, he shook his head and said, "No there isn't". He refused to look into it. I found several venison sources on the Internet. Had I not found USDA ground venison in at a nearby SYSCO restaurant supply house at a great price I would have gone back to the megastore manager. The point is, to get USDA venison you need to scout around and make a stink to get what you want.

The venison came in a 10 pound frozen package of bulk ground unprocessed meat with no additives, no preservatives. In 1996 it cost $4.98 per lb one time and $5.81 per lb the next. Ten lbs of venison makes about 4 quarts of cooked. I cooked it in a skillet over a slow heat but found it much quicker and less nauseating to microwave it. I poured out the grease.

Oil
At first I used canola oil because it had been recommended. Canola oil is very low in saturated fat but is not a real clean or nutritious product. A vet on the Internet said that dogs do best with safflower oil, so I switched to a cold-pressed product. At least two other vets sources have recommended safflower oil, too. Amie did well eating both.

Grain
I had already learned that she will not eat oatmeal and she is allergic to corn and probably rice. Hill's suggested chopping up the cooked rice would make it more digestible, but no matter how I prepared the rice, Amie itched more. I always had tested brown rice and it was suggested that she may not be allergic to white. I couldn't see feeding her white rice, knowing it is a product stripped of almost all of it's nutrition and leaches B vitamins from other sources in order to digest it.

I substituted buckwheat groats for the rice, thinking that since buckwheat is not a grain, it mightwork. Spelt flour is similar to wheat, but not allergy-producing - I eat spelt instead of wheat, myself. But the groats are in a form that is easy to prepare, she likes it and isn't allergic to it. Arrowhead Mills sells organic buckwheat groats. Claudia has found that groats sold in bulk form have other grains mixed in.

Results
The venison and buckwheat diet worked. Amie liked it and within a week we saw her allergies calm down and couldn't attribute the lessening of symptoms to anything else. In Amie's log I noted after the first day that there was almost no barking or agitation. She was much more mellow. "Maybe this diet is fixing the barking problem." I was really encouraged. Continued use of distilled water can leach minerals from the body. The next thing we did is introduce bottled spring water. She did OK.


 

TEST OTHER FOOD

After Amie had been doing well for 60 days with venison, buckwheat, safflower oil, and springwater, we added foods one by one. Claudia talked with her contacts at Michigan State University and got a list of recommended non-allergenic foods to try.
Buckwheat family: Buckwheat, rhubarb
Lily family: Asparagus, onion, garlic, leek, chive, aloes
Morning glory family; Sweet potato, yam
Parsley family: Parsley, parsnip, carrot, celery, celeriac, caraway, anise, dill, coriander, fennel
This list doesn't offer much choice for "safe" foods.

I had already ruled out potatoes (organically grown white and sweet) in any form - she throws up whether it's cooked alone, in some other food, or in commercial food. Fresh rhubarb and asparagus aren't available year 'round. When asparagus came into season I froze it and she ate it like it was a treat.

I added organically grown carrots next, because months earlier she had eaten several plates one right after another of plain, steamed carrots. She would pick them out of the venison/buckwheat, though, until I cut it to the size of the groats. I trim off any bad parts, without peeling the entire carrot. Then I grate it and chop it finely. It gets cooked in a small amount of water. She did fine with the carrots. The "Animal Advocate" sent me some food recommendations for a toy poodle, which said they shouldn't have carotene.  He said carrots are okay, and I found the contradiction confusing. I stopped adding carrots to Amie's food.

In this same way I gradually added celery, onion and garlic. One time the onion didn't get cooked thoroughly and she had an upset stomach. These ingredients are cooked until soft all the way through. Recently a veterinary nutritionist recommended not adding onions to Amie's diet because of "Heinz body formation in erythrocytes". It took forever to find out what that meant - onions cause anemia. Eighteen months ago Amie's tests showed mild anemia, but it wasn't associated with onions. This especially happens in small pets, which can be fatal.

When I noticed her trying to eat an asparagus fern I added finely minced parsley. Remembering her affinity for green vegetables and sprouts, I thought she must need some chlorophyll.

Alternative Medicine (by the Burton Goldberg Group, Puyallup WA, 1994) recommends to humans with kidney problems that they do not eat parsley, Swiss chard, spinach, beets, cabbage, rhubarb because these contain or produce oxalic acid. Other canine nutritionists have advised against oxalate-producing foods.
 

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