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What Should I Feed My Dog?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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How wonderful if you could pose this question just once in your dog’s life and receive a perfect answer that would last a lifetime. Imagine if there were a ‘right’ formula, and once you know it, you could feed your dog forever and ever on the same exquisite diet. Your dog, in return, would be the happiest and healthiest doggie camper there ever was.

Unfortunately, “What should I feed my dog?” is not the question we should be asking. In fact, “What should I feed my dog” is akin to the infomercial that comes on at 3 AM informing you that if you just buy this Mega-Blast Belt (for three low monthly payments of $19.99), six-pack abs will follow. Both fall into a quick-fix category — the “right” product, the “right” answer — that unfortunately doesn’t exist.

Instead, the question that will last you a lifetime is, “How should I feed my dog?”. This is where Linda Case, M.S. comes to the rescue. I don’t mean to be superhero-y about it, but Case’s new book, Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices is a unique work designed to help readers make informed, science-based decisions on what and how to feed our beloved companion dogs. As one veterinarian offers, “Dog Food Logic cuts through the noise and chaos and provides pet owners with a rational, science-based approach to evaluating their pets’ dietary needs and their feeding choices” (The Skeptvet Blog).

Linda Case knows a thing or two about animal nutrition. She earned her B.S. in Animal Science at Cornell University and her M.S. in Canine/Feline Nutrition at the University of Illinois. She maintains the well-received blog, The Science Dog, and has written numerous books on companion animal nutrition, training and behavior. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Cats in Context conference at Canisius College in 2013 (Case spoke on cat nutrition, and I gave a talk on research into whether dogs and cats in the home can be friends — they can).

But back to dog food. If you are expecting a dry read on dog nutrition and diet, you’ve come to the wrong place. Dog Food Logic is a page turner, jam-packed with real-world examples that you can easily relate to. Case unpacks label claims, fad diets and the wonderfully persuasive field of pet food marketing. What does it mean when a food is ‘recommended by veterinarians or breeders?’ Who is Chef Michael, and should you trust him? And who’s keeping our dog food safe?

Throughout the book, Case discusses research into canine nutrition and diet in a way that is easy to digest, if you’ll pardon the pun. For example, studies have investigated:

  • Do large-breed puppies (say Great Danes or Newfoundlands) have different nutritional requirements than say, Chihuahuas? Should the big puppies eat the same type of food as the little ones? Or is it just a matter of quantity? Case provides the research.
  • Can diet influence cancer progression? While a particular dog food brand won’t cure cancer, nutritional science and canine cancer research find that particular dietary compositions can be beneficial to dogs with cancer.
  • What about age-related illnesses? Can they be prevented or delayed through nutrition?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and since I can’t possibly summarize all the topics and findings covered in Case’s book, the above are intentional teasers. To find out more, read the book.

Importantly, Case doesn’t put canine nutrition in a vacuum. Early on, she acknowledges that feeding can have emotional underpinnings, and Dog Food Logic pulls in research from Human Psychology (particularly Social Psychology), Consumer Research and Marketing, and even the growing fields of Human-Animal Interaction and Anthrozoology (as I’ve mentioned before, not the study of ants). My only suggestion, if you were to twist my arm, is that the book could have discussed in more detail studies in the last 15 years exploring the complexity of the human-animal bond, particularly how people perceive their companion dogs. Research regarding whether dogs are ‘child substitutes’ or mediators of social support would complement Case’s look at what it means to have a dog as a family member, particularly in the chapter on pet food marketing. (If you’re unfamiliar with studies into the dog-human relationship, check out programs and abstracts from the International Society of Anthrozoology and the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations conferences. You’ll find short podcast interviews with human-animal science researchers on the Human Animal Science blog).

I think Case would agree that Dog Food Logic and the Dog Spies blog share a motto: “What good is all this research if it remains holed up in academic journals?” Case shares existing research on companion animal nutrition and well-being, in a style that is highly palatable (final pun). By the time you reach the appendices, you’ll gladly pore through the table of essential and nonessential amino acids for dogs (Appendix 2), get out your calculator to determine your dog’s daily energy needs (Appendix 3), and who doesn’t love a good dog food choice flow chart (Appendix 5)?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out how to feed myself.

How do you feed your dog?

~~~

Photo: Dreamin’… by Rob on Flickr creative commons.

References

Case, L. 2014. Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices. Dogwise Publishing.

Case, L. The Science Dog blog.

Hecht, J. 2013. Dogs and Cats in the Home: Happiness for All? Dog Spies and Do You Believe in Dog?

McKenzie, B. The SkeptVet blog.

Julie Hecht About the Author: Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Twitter @DogSpies.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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Comments 5 Comments

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  1. 1. tuned 11:54 am 04/14/2014

    Not chocolate.

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  2. 2. ironjustice 1:47 pm 04/14/2014

    I was feeding mine vegetarian dog food and it became more expensive when they renamed it, ‘hypoallergenic’. Does that mean some dogs are allergic to meat?

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  3. 3. singing flea 7:04 pm 04/14/2014

    With the price of dog food I seem to be constantly wondering whether I should feed the dog or eat the dog.

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  4. 4. larkalt 8:52 am 04/15/2014

    Marion Nestle wrote a book “Feed Your Pet Right” which is science-based but perhaps complementary to the book mentioned above.
    One of her main points was that the “quality” of the dogfood is mostly to please the owner. It’s a marketing tool and doesn’t have much to do with how good the dogfood is for the dog.

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  5. 5. Georgesalton 8:11 pm 04/18/2014

    I’ve been making my dog food for 23 years, adding an easy to obtain mineral supplement I get from http://www.vegepet.com. They live long lives 14-16 years, but more importantly we’re not plagued by the awful cancers and health problems our dogs had prior to changing to this diet. The dogs love the food and the recipes on the website are easy to make and store. And we save about 60% in cost!

    Link to this

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