en Prescription Dog Food – When is it a Good Idea?  
But when disease strikes, over the counter foods may no longer be a dog’s best option. Pet food manufacturers produce a wide range of what are often called prescription diets. These foods are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of sick or injured pets.
Here’s a sampling of some of the most commonly recommended prescription diets for dogs.
Foods for Kidney Failure
Dogs suffering from kidney failure need to eat a food that contains moderate amounts of protein that is of the highest possible quality to reduce the formation of toxic metabolites and support muscle maintenance. Reduced phosphorous and sodium levels are also important.
Foods for Food Allergy/Intolerance
Dogs with an allergy or intolerance to certain ingredients commonly used in pet food will experience relief from their symptoms when they eat an appropriate prescription food. Options include novel protein formulations (e.g., venison and green pea) or hydrolyzed diets.
Foods for Gastrointestinal Conditions
Some gastrointestinal disorders can be managed with a highly digestible diet. These are often low in fiber and fat. Other conditions improve when dogs eat high fiber foods. Picking the right gastrointestinal diet depends on what specific disease a dog has been diagnosed with and sometimes a bit of trial and error.
Foods for Joint Disease
Foods that are enriched with omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and antioxidants can promote joint health. These foods should also not be so calorie rich as to encourage weight gain.
Foods for Weight Loss/Maintenance
Some dogs lose weight quickly when fed a high fiber diet. The fiber adds bulk to the food, making dogs feel full without adding calories. However, other dogs do better when they eat a high protein/low carbohydrate diet. The only way to know which will work best for you and your dog is to try each and monitor the results.
Foods for Brain Changes Associated with Aging
Foods with high levels of omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants can help protect the brain against the damage caused by free radicals and optimize an older dog’s mental functions.
Foods for Lower Urinary Tract Disease
Dogs who have a history of urinary crystals and stones are at high risk for recurrence. Feeding them a food that promotes the formation of dilute urine (canned is best) and an optimal urinary pH and contains reduced amounts of the substances that form crystals and stones can help with prevention.
Foods are also available that can help dogs with diabetes mellitus, heart disease, cancer, liver disease, skin problems, chronic dental disease, and recovery from an accident, illness or surgery. Talk to your veterinarian about whether a prescription diet might be in your pet’s best interests.
]]> NutritionNuggets Fri, 22 Apr 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33980 at
How to Feed Dogs with Lymphangiectasia  
Chyle n. a milky fluid formed in the intestines. Chyle transports fats and other materials from the gastrointestinal tract to the rest of the body - chylous adj.
Lymph n. the fluid that carries lymphocytes, chyle and other substances as it circulates through special ducts and in the bloodstream, surrounds tissues, is filtered by lymph nodes.
Lymphangiectasia n. a disease in which the ducts carrying lymph leak protein and other substances into the intestinal tract. Affected individuals can develop diarrhea, abnormal fluid accumulations and lose weight.
Protein losing enteropathy n. any intestinal disease that results in a leakage of protein into the intestinal tract (e.g. lymphangiectasia, paratuberculosis and inflammatory bowel disease).
Lymphangiectasia can be a primary, idiopathic disease, which means that it develops on its own and we don’t know why. Sometimes, however, lymphangiectasia is a secondary disease, meaning it is caused by another condition, such as cancer or inflammatory disorders that obstruct the flow of lymph within the wall of the intestinal tract. In either case, dietary modification is an important part of treatment.
When fat is eaten, it is transformed into lymph, which must be carried through the intestinal lymphatic ducts that are not working properly when a dog has lymphangiectasia. By limiting a dog’s fat intake, we can reduce the amount of intestinal lymph that is formed, which reduces pressure within these faulty ducts. Less pressure means less lymph leakage and a reduction, or even an elimination, of symptoms. Diets for dogs with lymphangiectasia should not have more than 20% of their calories coming from fat.
The lymph that leaks into a dog’s intestines with lymphangiectasia contains a lot of protein. Therefore, protein is another nutrient of concern with this condition. The amount of protein contained in lymphangiectasia diets doesn’t necessarily have to be any higher than would normally be recommended for a similar, healthy dog, but it should be of the highest quality to maximize the dog’s ability to make use of it. A protein percentage of around 25% should be sufficient.
When dogs have un- or poorly-controlled lymphangiectasia for a long period of time, they may become deficient in cobalamin (vitamin B-12) and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Supplementation may be needed, at least until the dog’s intestinal function has improved to the point where these nutrients can be absorbed more normally from food.
Dogs who can’t be managed with diet alone will usually be given prednisone to reduce the intestinal inflammation associated with lymphangiectasia. Some dogs can eventually be weaned off prednisone, while others cannot. Additional treatments (e.g., immunosuppressive drugs) may also be needed in severe or secondary cases of lymphangiectasia.
Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian. Coates J. Alpine Publications. 2007.
Lymph Node Inflammation, Intestinal Tract (Lymphangieasia) in Dogs
]]> NutritionNuggets Fri, 08 Apr 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33883 at
Should Your Dog be on a Probiotic?  
Nutritional supplements containing live microorganisms (bacteria and/or yeast) that aim to improve health can be considered probiotics. They are typically used to improve the workings of the gastrointestinal tract, and they certainly do play an important role in this regard.
Consider a dog with diarrhea, for example. Whatever the cause—stress, dietary indiscretion, infection, antibiotic therapy—the diarrhea will sometimes persist even after the initial problem has resolved. The blame often lies with an imbalance between two categories of gut microorganisms:

those that promote normal, healthy gastrointestinal function
those that secrete toxins or are otherwise disruptive when they are present in larger than normal numbers

Probiotics are essentially a way of boosting the number of “good” microorganisms present in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby helping them to out-compete the “bad” ones.
It also appears that probiotics can improve canine health in other ways: They seem to be able to beneficially modify an animal’s immune function.
Studies have shown that probiotic supplementation can help treat infections outside of the gastrointestinal tract as well as some allergic and inflammatory diseases. This isn’t too surprising given that a large proportion of the body’s immune system is associated with the gut. Anything that influences the immune system there could have a wide-spread benefit.
One of the downsides of probiotic supplementation is the fact that the microorganisms aren’t able to effectively stay and reproduce within the gastrointestinal tract for a long period of time. The noticeable benefits of probiotics tend to wane once supplementation is stopped. This isn’t a big problem if you are giving a probiotic to deal with a short-lived problem—say diarrhea associated with antibiotic use—but for chronic disorders, probiotic supplements often need to be given more or less continually. This can be done safely, but the expense and inconvenience may eventually become an issue.
Three strategies are helpful if you find yourself in this situation.

Many people have found that when taking probiotics themselves, they can eventually move to an every-other-day or even less frequent dosing schedule. The same is probably true for dogs.
I recommend following the instructions on your dog’s probiotic supplement for at least a month or two to determine what the maximal benefits might be. Then play around a bit to see if you can get away with giving it every other day or just a couple of times a week.

Consider adding a prebiotic supplement to your dog’s diet. Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients that support the growth of probiotic microorganisms. Think of prebiotics as a way to preferentially feed the “good” microorganisms in the gut, giving them a potential advantage in their competition with the “bad” microorganisms.
Fructo-oligosaccharides, beet pulp, chicory, arabinogalactan, and inulin are all commonly used prebiotics for dogs.

If you can identify and address the underlying cause of your dog’s symptoms (e.g., poor diet, gastrointestinal or immune disorders, chronic stress, etc.) you may find that probiotic supplementation is no longer necessary.

]]> NutritionNuggets Fri, 25 Mar 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33735 at
Are Treats Good for Dogs? This Vet Says ‘No!’  
But then something changed. My cat Victoria died. She had always been the chief demander of treats. She would stalk me around the kitchen, meowing and getting increasingly underfoot as evening (treat time) approached. Apollo, our dog, would soon notice her behavior and start lurking (and drooling) nearby. Eventually, someone in the house would relent and hand out the treats, in no small part just to get the beasties to leave us alone. Victoria and Apollo had trained us well.
With Victoria gone, it became much easier to ignore Apollo’s treat begging. Because of his severe inflammatory bowel disease, he can only eat one type of treat, which is essentially his regular dog food in biscuit rather than kibble form. It’s not too surprising that he’s not really all that enthused by these “treats.” I think he was begging for them mostly because he was following Victoria’s lead. As time passed, Apollo’s begging lessened, and we stopped handing out treats. I haven’t had any dog treats in the house for months now.
Then we got a new cat, Minerva. She was a stray and therefore didn’t bring any treat begging behavior with her when she moved in. At this point I made a conscious decision to remain a treat free household. I figure Minerva doesn’t know what she’s missing and Apollo doesn’t seem to care. The difference in the house is nearly miraculous.
The only times Apollo and Minerva anticipate getting food is just before we normally feed them their meals. At those times, they’ll lurk around their food bowls or come find us elsewhere in the house and give us a “haven’t you forgotten something” look. Other than that, we’re never pestered by begging behavior. It’s blissful.
Think about it, do your dogs and cats really need treats (other than in their undeniably useful role as a training aid)? We set up the scenario of them “wanting” treats because we give them in the first place. If you are using treats as a token of love, wouldn’t your pets truly appreciate a little more of your time and attention instead (once the treat habit is broken)? And dog and cat treats have a mostly negative effect on nutrition. Look at these two dog treat ingredient lists that I pulled off of the internet.
Ingredients: Rice, Glycerin, Wheat Flour, Water, Wheat Gluten, Sugar, Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Germ Meal, Gelatin, Brewer's Dried Yeast, Hydrogenated Corn Syrup, Parsley Flakes, Animal Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Sodium Caseinate, Calcium Phosphate, Added Color, Salt, Natural and Artificial Peanut Butter Flavor, Phosphoric Acid, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Maltodextrins, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Yellow #5, Yellow #6, Blue #1, BHA (Preservative), BHT (Preservative), Calcium Carbonate and Citric Acid
Ingredients: Wheat Flour, Palm Oil, Corn Syrup, Honey, Peanut Butter, Vanilla and Baker's Sprinkles (Sugar, Corn Starch, Confectioner's Glaze, Blue 2, Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 5, Carnauba Wax
You’ve got to admit that your dog would probably be better off not eating things like this.
]]> NutritionNuggets Fri, 11 Mar 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33709 at
Is Your Dog’s Food Making Him Fart?  
When I have good control over Apollo’s diet and inflammatory bowel disease, his gas subsides to normal levels, but when he eats something he shouldn’t, watch out!
Which brings me to my first point in this post dedicated to foods that reduce farting in dogs: If your pet has other symptoms of gastrointestinal problems, like weight loss, changes in appetite (decreased or increased), vomiting, or the production of abnormal stools, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
Abnormal farting can be a symptom of several, potentially serious diseases including:

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
Gastrointestinal infections
Intestinal parasitism
Food allergy or intolerance
Inflammatory bowel disease

Once you are convinced that your dog is healthy and just farts a lot, it’s time to look at his diet.
The first thing to do is simplify, simplify, simplify. Table scraps, including what your kids drop (or throw) on the floor, and dietary indiscretion (e.g., getting into the garbage, horse poop in the pasture) can cause sensitive dogs to produce large amounts of foul-smelling gas. For about two weeks, make sure your dog eats absolutely nothing but his regular dog food. If his gas subsides during this time, you know it’s these extras and not his dog food that is to blame.
If your dog’s farting continues unabated after simplifying his diet, it’s time to change his food. A variety of dietary components can play a role in producing gas: Indigestible carbohydrates, especially soluble fiber sources like chicory, inulin, fructooligosacharides, pectins, psyllium, plant gums, oats, barley, beet pulp, and some types of fruits and legumes are likely causes because they are food for the many types of gas-producing bacteria that live in a dog’s large intestine.
Another culprit, particularly if your dog’s farts are especially foul-smelling, is meat. When a dog eats a diet consisting of a large amount of meat or meat that is not very digestible, bacteria within the large intestine break it down, releasing gasses that truly reek.
Individual dogs respond differently to particular foods, so picking the right diet does involve some trial and error. I recommend starting with an over-the-counter diet that is labeled as being highly-digestible or for dogs with a sensitive stomach. Look for products made from high quality meats (things that sound like something you’d eat) but that aren’t too high in protein; around 25% on a dry matter basis will meet all your dog’s needs without overdoing it. Also, avoid high-fiber foods, particularly those that contain several of the ingredients mentioned above.
Because food allergies/intolerances are a common cause of increased farting in dogs, another route to consider is a novel ingredient diet. Diets made from ingredients like duck and potato and venison and pea are available over the counter and worth a try. Probiotic supplements containing beneficial gut bacteria that can out-compete gas producing bacteria may also be helpful.
If two or three diet changes don’t make a difference, talk to your veterinarian. He or she can recommend prescription dog foods that do an even better job at reducing dog farts.
Does your dog fart a lot? What have you done to get it under control? 
]]> NutritionNuggets Fri, 26 Feb 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33604 at
Dog Food Delivered to Your Door is More Than Convenient  
Another perk that I enjoy is being able to order most of what I need to take care of my animals from my veterinary supply company, shipping everything directly to my house. This is especially beneficial when it comes to Apollo’s food. He can only eat a prescription diet designed to control his severe inflammatory bowel disease.
Apollo is a big dog, weighing in at a lean 82 pounds the last time I checked. He eats about four cups of this food every day. Since it is pricey, the food comes in relatively small bags (25 pounds is the largest). Therefore, we go through bags VERY quickly. I would not be happy if I had to run to the store every time he was running low. Instead, it simply arrives on my doorstep whenever I need it.
While most owners can’t deal with their dog’s emergency veterinary care on their own, everyone can have dog food shipped directly to their home. Online ordering is available from most major pet supply companies these days. Shipping charges are generally waved as long as the cost of the order reaches a certain limit (e.g., $49).
An especially convenient option is to have your dog’s food shipped automatically every month or so. You probably have a pretty good idea of how quickly your dog goes through a bag (or case) of food. Many online retailers will allow you to set up a regular shipment schedule—say a 25 pound bag of your dog’s food sent every three weeks. Enrolling in auto ship is often also associated with a discount on the food. The retailer wants your repeat business, after all!
There isn’t much risk associated with trying auto ship. Reputable companies allow you to modify or even cancel your standing order at any time. So, if you find your dog is not going through food as quickly as you thought, or he has to eat a special diet for a period of time, you can easily adjust your auto ship.
Convenience, cost savings, and no more late night runs to the pet supply store because you just realized you are out of dog food. What’s not to like?

Dr. Jennifer Coates
]]> nutrition NutritionNuggets Fri, 12 Feb 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33515 at
Helping Dogs Lose Weight - There is a Better Way
17.6% of US dogs (13.9 million individuals) are obese (a body condition score of 5 out of 5)
35.1 % of US dogs (29.9 million individuals) are overweight (a body condition score of 4 out of 5)

In other words, over half of the dogs in the United States are overweight or obese.
Owners of overweight dogs often wonder about the best way to help them lose weight and regain their health. A new study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reveals that combining a “dietary weight loss program” with a “controlled exercise plan” helps dogs lose weight while preventing a loss of lean body mass. In and of itself, these results aren’t that surprising, but the details are quite interesting.
Overweight, sedentary dogs were recruited by advertisement in local newspapers, by distribution of pamphlets at the University Hospital for Companion Animals at the University of Copenhagen, and by referral from local veterinary clinics. Dogs eligible for inclusion were medium- to large-breed dogs (body weight, 15 to 55 kg [33 to 121 lb]) and 2 to 13 years of age with a BCS ≥ 6 on a 9-point scale.
Following enrollment in the 12-week weight loss program, dogs were assigned to the FD [fitness and diet] group or the DO [diet only] group solely on the basis of owner preference. Dogs in the FD group were exercised 3 times/wk at the university hospital [The general exercise protocol consisted of 30 minutes on the underwater treadmill and 30 minutes on the land-based treadmill], and owners were encouraged to increase each dog's daily activity level at home. Owners of dogs in the DO group were instructed not to change their dog's daily exercise routines during the study period, but that any spontaneous increase in the dog's activity should not be restricted.
During the study period, all dogs were fed a commercial low-fat, high-protein, dry diet…. The aim was to achieve a weight loss rate of approximately 1.5%/wk. The dogs were weighed every other week, at which time compliance with the feeding plan was discussed with the owner, and if weight loss was < 1% or > 2%, the dog's daily feeding allowance was adjusted (increased or decreased) by 10%.
Here are the results:

Mean weight loss was 13.9% in the fitness and diet group.
Mean weight loss was 12.9% in the diet only group.

Not a big difference, right? But the fitness and diet group maintained their lean body mass while it declined in the diet only group. The take home message here is that diet is the key to weight loss in dogs, but exercise combined with diet will help them lose fat rather than muscle, and isn’t that our real goal?

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Integration of a physical training program in a weight loss plan for overweight pet dogs. Vitger AD, Stallknecht BM, Nielsen DH, Bjornvad CR. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2016 Jan 15;248(2):174-82.
]]> NutritionNuggets Fri, 29 Jan 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33468 at
What’s the Difference Between Adult Dog Food and Puppy Food?  
Reputable manufacturers produce foods that follow the guidelines put forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The following table compares the AAFCO minimum requirements for a variety of vital nutrients:

Puppies need to eat more in the way of protein (including higher concentrations of specific amino acids), fat, and certain minerals than do adult dogs. Additionally, many manufacturers provide higher amounts of nutrients that are not regulated by AAFCO in their puppy foods. Good examples are the omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to promote healthy brain and eye development in young animals.
The caloric density of foods designed for adults and puppies can also be very different. Growth and development take a lot of energy, so puppies need to take in more calories than do adult dogs of a similar size.
Large breed puppies have an extra consideration. They are at higher than average risk for developmental orthopedic diseases (e.g., hip and elbow dysplasia). Overly rapid growth appears to be an important factor in determining which individuals develop these conditions and which do not. Large breed puppy foods are slightly lower in fat, contain a little less calcium and phosphorus, and have a carefully balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio to help these dogs grow at a healthier rate.
When puppies have reached approximately 80% of their expected adult size, they can usually be switched to an adult dog food. This happens at different times for different individuals. Extremely small dogs (e.g., Chihuahuas, Miniature Pinschers, and Toy Poodles) reach this point first, usually at around 9 or 10 months of age. Medium sized dogs should eat puppy food until they are about 12 months old, and large and giant breeds should continue until they are 12-16 months old.
Puppies are at risk for nutritional deficiencies if they eat a diet designed for adults. Some adults (particularly athletic individuals or females who are pregnant or lactating) can thrive on the higher concentrations of protein, fat, and other nutrients found in puppy food, but most should be switched to an adult food when the time is right. Not doing so can increase the chances that your dog will become overweight or obese.
Talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions about which food is right for your dog.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
]]> NutritionNuggets Fri, 15 Jan 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33390 at
How to Compare Pet Food Nutrient Profiles: Part 2  
No matter what type of food you offer, your goal is to provide the number of calories necessary to maintain a healthy body weight. So, let’s say you are switching your 60 pound, neutered dog from a dry to a canned food with the primary purpose of increasing his protein intake. He is currently taking in 1400 calories a day and he is still going to need 1400 calories worth of his new food to maintain his weight despite the fact that the volume and weight of his meals are going to change dramatically.
Dr. Justin Shmalberg, Diplomate ACVM, describes how we can compare foods on a per-calorie basis:
Step 1 – Add 1.5% to the protein percentage and 1% to the fat percentage from the pet food label
Step 2 – Divide kcal/kg by 10,000 (also on the label)
Step 3 – Divide estimated protein % and fat % by number obtained in Step 2 to get the result in grams/1000 kcal
Here’s an example of how it works. Let’s compare the protein percentages of Dry Dog Food A and Canned Dog Food B.
Dry Dog Food A
3589 kcal/kg

Crude Protein, minimum


Crude Fat, minimum


Crude Fiber, maximum


Moisture, maximum


Canned Dog Food B
960 kcal/kg

Crude Protein, minimum


Crude Fat, minimum


Crude Fiber, maximum


Moisture, maximum


Using the steps outlined above…
Dry Dog Food A
Step 1 – 24% + 1.5% = 25.5%
Step 2 – 3589 / 10,000 = 0.3589
Step 3 – 25.5 / 0.3589 = 71 g protein/1000 kcal
Canned Dog Food B
Step 1 – 8% + 1.5% = 9.5% protein
Step 2 – 950/10,000=0.095
Step 3 – 9.5 / .095 = 100 g protein/1000 kcal
Therefore, the canned food in this comparison is significantly higher in protein than is the dry.
You’ll still have to calculate the estimated carbohydrate percentage of any pet foods you are interested in since this number does not have to be reported on the label. See last week’s post to learn how to do this. Once you have that information in hand, you can use steps 2 and 3 to compare the carbohydrate percentages of different foods.
Handy, eh?

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Shmalberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVN. Beyond the Guaranteed Analysis, Comparing Pet Foods. Today’s Veterinary Practice. January/February 2013.
]]> nutrition NutritionNuggets Fri, 08 Jan 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33383 at
How to Compare Pet Food Nutrient Profiles: Part 1  
First of all, you want to make sure that any foods you are considering are appropriate for your pet’s life stage and health status. Protein may be your primary interest, but you need to make sure that what you are feeding is nutritionally complete and balanced.
Once you have a group of potentially appropriate foods, look at their guaranteed analyses. They should list the minimum crude protein percentage, minimum crude fat percentage, maximum crude fiber percentage, and maximum moisture percentage. Moisture may be omitted if the guaranteed analysis is presented on a dry matter basis (more on this later).
A guaranteed analysis will also sometimes include a maximum value for ash. If it is not present, you can estimate that canned food is around 3% while kibble is around 6% ash. Carbohydrate levels do not have to be provided but are easily calculated since once you add up protein, fat, fiber, moisture, and ash, the only thing left is carbohydrate.
Here’s an example taken from the label of a canned dog food.
Crude Protein (min): 8%
Crude Fat (min): 6%
Crude Fiber (max): 1.5%
Moisture (max): 78%
Ash (estimated): 3%
Therefore, this food’s carb content is 100 – (8 + 6 + 1.5 + 78 + 3) = 3.5%. These calculations aren’t going to be exact since we are dealing with minimums and maximums and sometimes an estimate for ash, but it’ll get you into the ballpark.
But now we run into a problem. Some pet food manufacturers report their guaranteed analyses on an “as fed” basis. This means just as the product comes out of the bag, can, etc. Other companies use a “dry matter” basis, meaning after water has been removed. You can’t directly compare guaranteed analyses that are reported on an “as fed” and “dry matter” basis.
You also can’t directly compare “as fed” guaranteed analyses for foods with very different moisture percentages (e.g., dry versus canned food). To get these products on an equal footing, you’ll need to convert all the guaranteed analyses you are looking at to “dry matter.” Here’s how.

Find the percent moisture and subtract that number from 100. This is the percent dry matter for the food.

Divide each nutrient percentage by the percent dry matter for the food and multiply by 100.

The resulting number is the nutrient percentage on a dry matter basis.

Confused? Don’t worry, next week we’ll be discussing a whole different way to approach pet food comparison over on Nutrition Nuggets for Cats. Hope to see you there.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
]]> nutrition NutritionNuggets Fri, 01 Jan 2016 11:00:00 +0000 33377 at
Canned Dog Food – Expensive But Worth It?  
Convenience — Dry food can be left out in a bowl for long periods of time without becoming rancid or contaminated with bacteria. Owners can even load up an automatic feeder and more or less forget about it for days at a time. Canned food should be discarded if it hasn’t been eaten in a couple of hours and opened cans need to be covered and refrigerated before being used in the next meal.
Cost — Canned dog food is more expensive than dry… and I mean WAY more expensive. Take a look at this comparison. I used a major pet food manufacturer’s high quality, chicken-based dry and canned products available through a large pet supplier and pretended I was feeding a 60# dog the average of the amount range recommended on the label.
This dog should eat 3.8 cans per day. The food is being offered at $23.90 per case (12 cans). The cost of feeding this dog canned food is ($23.90/12) x 3.8 = $7.57/day.
In comparison, the manufacturer recommends that a 60 pound dog eat approximately 3 ½ cups or 358 grams of dry food per day. A 30 pound (13607.8 gram) bag of this food is available for $39.99. The cost of feeding this dog dry food is $39.99/(13607.8 g/358g) = $1.05/day.
In this case, you would end up spending more than seven times as much feeding your dog canned versus dry food.
Don’t get me wrong. Canned food is a superior choice is certain cases:

Canned diets do not have to contain preservatives since the canning process makes them unnecessary. If your dog has a dietary sensitivity to the preservatives commonly used to make dry dog food, canned diets are an excellent way to avoid them. Canned dog foods also do not typically contain artificial flavors or colors, so the same reasoning could apply, although manufacturers are now making more dry diets with only natural flavors and colors.

Dry foods must contain relatively high carbohydrate levels, otherwise the kibble will not hold together. If you are looking for a very low carbohydrate (and therefore high protein and/or high fat) diet for your dog, canned is the way to go.

The biggest difference between canned and dry foods is their water content. In general, dry foods are made up of around 10% water while canned diets are typically in the range of 68-78% water. This high water content can be helpful when managing certain health conditions, like obesity (it helps dogs feel full on fewer calories), kidney disease, bladder stones, and dental/oral diseases.

Many dogs simply prefer the taste of canned food. If keeping your dog’s weight up at a healthy level is difficult on a dry diet, the solution may be as simple as switching to canned.

But let’s say your dog seems to be doing well on a dry food. Is it worth the expense of switching to canned as some people recommend? Unfortunately there simply isn’t any definitive evidence either way. If the added expense and inconvenience is simply not a concern for you, why not give it a try and see if you notice any changes in your dog’s wellbeing… and please report back to us here!

Dr. Jennifer Coates
]]> NutritionNuggets Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:00:00 +0000 33367 at
Large Breed Dogs — Diet Can Help With Loose Stools  
The first dog was a female, spayed Great Dane—around three years old if I remember correctly—and her name was Zoe. Her owner had brought her in for routine preventative care but happened to mention that for as long as he could remember, her stools had been on the loose side despite multiple diet changes. I pulled out my handy dandy fecal scoring chart, and we determined Zoe’s stools were generally in the range of 3.5 to 4 out of 5.
I did my exam and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She was eating a well-regarded food that was appropriate for her. I examined a few fecal samples under the microscope over the next couple of weeks and didn’t find any evidence of parasites or unusual bacteria. Still, I prescribed a broad-spectrum dewormer since some parasites can be hard to find on fecal exams… all to no avail. At this point, the owner stopped the diagnostic process saying he really wasn’t all that worried about Zoe and would follow up if anything changed for the worse.
I probably wouldn’t remember Zoe if it weren’t for the fact that I had a nearly identical case just a week or so later. This time, the owner let me go a little further in the diagnostic process, but I could still find nothing wrong. I put this second dog, a Mastiff, on a highly digestible diet and his stools firmed up, but as soon as he went back to a “normal” dog food, his loose stools returned.
Turns out that this problem is not all that unusual for large breed dogs. According to the ACVIM paper:
It seems that the production of soft stools in LB [large breed]-dogs might be explained by both anatomic and physiologic differences, influencing the water absorption process and/or colonic fermentation. LB-dogs present a highly developed large intestine. These characteristics, associated with a longer LITT [large intestinal transit time], suggest a greater fermentative activity in LB-dogs. This hypothesis is confirmed by the more important production of lactic acid and SCFA [short-chain fatty acids] in the feces of LB-dogs. All together, these elements could be a possible cause of their poor fecal quality observed. This effect would be reinforced by the fact that strong intestinal permeability and reduced sodium absorption have been clearly shown in LB-dogs.
The author states that when it comes to picking a diet to improve fecal consistency in large breed dogs, the goal “is to avoid any ingredient that could increase the level of fermentable undigested residues and… exacerbate colonic fermentation.” In general, this means picking a food that has the following characteristics:

It is not too high in protein but is made from quality protein sources.
It contains a limited amount of wheat. Corn and rice are better carbohydrates in these cases.
It contains non-fermentable fiber (e.g., cellulose). Fermentable fiber (e.g., beet pulp and fructo-oligosaccharides) should be avoided.


Dr. Jennifer Coates
Dog Digestive Sensitivity According to Size: A summary of 16-year research. ACVIM 2015. Mickaël P. Weber, PhD. Aimargues, France.
]]> NutritionNuggets Fri, 04 Dec 2015 11:00:00 +0000 33336 at
A Guide for Using Diet to Treat Vomiting in Dogs Owners do not need to rush to the veterinarian every time a dog vomits. Many cases can be successfully treated at home with dietary therapy. Knowing what and when to feed is the key to success.
When a dog has just started vomiting, you need to get a feel for just how sick he or she might be. If any of the following apply to your dog, call your veterinarian immediately:

Your dog is very young, very old, or has another health condition that could compromise his or her ability to withstand even a mild episode of vomiting
Your dog is in pain or is quite depressed/lethargic
Fresh (red) or partially digested (coffee ground-like) blood is visible in the vomit

Your dog is trying to vomit but nothing is coming up
Profuse diarrhea is also present
Your dog has projectile vomiting
The vomit is bright green in color (some types of rodent poisons are dyed green to help with their identification)

But if your dog is a healthy adult who doesn’t seem too disturbed by the fact that he or she has vomited a few times, attempting home treatment with this five step plan is a reasonable option.

Keep fresh water available at all times but do not try to force your dog to drink or offer any unusual liquids (broth, Pedialyte, Gatorade, etc.).
Do not feed your dog for 12 to 24 hours.
Once your dog has not vomited for at least 6 hours, you can offer a small meal. A bland, easily digestible food such as cooked white rice mixed with boiled white meat chicken (no bones or skin) is ideal, but you can also use a small portion of your dog’s regular diet.
If your dog does not eat, pick up the meal and try again a few hours later.
If your dog’s condition fails to improve over the course of 24 to 48 hours or worsens at any point, call your veterinarian.

Some dogs suffer from chronic, intermittent vomiting. In other words, they vomit a couple of times a week or so but otherwise seem quite normal (no significant weight loss, diarrhea, etc.). In these cases, owners have two options:

If your dog vomits only on an empty stomach (e.g., first thing in the morning before being fed), he or she may have bilious vomiting syndrome. Try offering more frequent, smaller meals.
Some dogs develop an intolerance or allergy to ingredients used in many dog foods. Switching to a hypoallergenic dog food can help. Keep in mind that over-the-counter foods that claim to be hypoallergenic may contain traces of the ingredients that trigger your dog’s symptoms. Veterinarian-prescribed options are typically held to stricter quality control measures. Home-cooked diets made from recipes designed by veterinary nutritionists are another option.

When vomiting fails to respond to at-home treatment, it becomes important to diagnose the underlying cause. Make an appointment with your veterinarian if your dog’s condition does not improve with dietary modification.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
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Dog Foods Aren’t Equal – Even Though They Appear to Be  
In health, the gut is protected from all that passes through by multiple defense mechanisms (mucus barriers, channels that selectively admit only certain substances, etc.). When these defenses malfunction, antigens (things that stimulate the immune system) are absorbed by the lining of the intestines. The body responds with inflammation, which increases the “leakiness” of the intestinal wall, resulting in more inflammation.
Some combination of immune dysfunction, stress, genetics, and antigenic stimulation (e.g., food allergies, bacterial overgrowth, metabolic disease, food intolerance, parasites, etc.) is involved in IBD. Often a pet’s symptoms are mild and/or intermittent to begin with but progress with time.
The first step in treating IBD is to find a diet that does not contain the antigens (or contains as few as possible) that trigger gut inflammation in that individual. If dietary modifications do not adequately control a pet’s symptoms, medications that suppress the immune system will be necessary.
Which brings me back to Apollo. For years, his IBD has been well controlled as long as he only eats a commercially prepared, hydrolyzed diet. Through hydrolyzation, proteins are broken down into such tiny fragments that they evade detection by the immune system. This particular food contains hydrolyzed soy, a simple carbohydrate source, some vegetable oils for fat, and a long list of vitamins and minerals.
The problem is, Apollo really doesn’t like it, and I find the ingredient list a little scary (it reads more like a high school chemistry experiment than a recipe).
But hydrolyzed diets are becoming increasingly popular because they have proven to be effective in managing a variety of diet-responsive diseases. As a result, the number of formulations owners and veterinarians can pick from is increasing.
A few months ago, I switched Apollo to a new hydrolyzed diet made by the same company as the one he’s always eaten, but this food also contains hydrolyzed chicken and hydrolyzed chicken liver. In theory, Apollo shouldn’t react to these new protein sources since they are hydrolyzed, but boy did he ever! Within just a week or so, he was vomiting, had diarrhea, and wasn’t eating. I switched him back to his old food and he quickly returned to normal.
Not to be discouraged, last week I tried Apollo on yet another hydrolyzed food. This one scared me a bit too, but not for the same reasons that made me wary of his original diet. This ingredient list looked too “normal” to be truly hypoallergenic. Hydrolyzed salmon is the first ingredient, and further down the list you’ll find things like potatoes, peas, pumpkin, fish oil, blueberries, and cranberries. This diet couldn’t possibly work, could it?
So far so good.
At first, the food gave Apollo WICKED gas. We’re talking “call the fire department the house is about to explode”-type gas, but that is fading (thankfully). His stools are formed, we’ve seen no vomiting, and Apollo absolutely loves the food’s taste – so much so that he’s starting to annoy us with his requests for extra meals throughout the day.
I can’t yet say that this diet will work for Apollo in the long run, but if nothing else, this experience has reminded me that reading labels only gets you so far. What’s most important is how an individual pet responds to a particular food.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
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Sick Dogs Need to Eat Sooner Rather than Later  
While sickness behaviors are generally beneficial, like most things in life, if taken too far they can be detrimental. This is especially true when it comes to a dog’s unwillingness to eat.
I don’t worry when a sick dog doesn’t feel like eating for a couple of days. If the gastrointestinal tract is involved in the dog’s illness a few days “off” can give it a chance to recuperate. Even if the GI tract isn’t the source of the problem, a few days without food will generally not do much in the way of harm.
But new research presented at the 2015 American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition meeting shows that taken too far, a lack of adequate nutrition is certainly detrimental to a sick dog’s welfare.
Scientists evaluated 490 dogs who were hospitalized for a day or more at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. They looked at many parameters, including body weight, body condition score, muscle condition score, laboratory data, diagnostic tests, reason for hospitalization, length of hospitalization, resting energy requirement, food intake, clinical signs, nutritional intervention, severity of disease, and outcome (discharged, died, or euthanized).
Dogs had a better chance of being discharged alive when they ate (or were fed) enough to meet their resting energy requirements. Other factors that improved outcomes were a higher initial body condition score and nutritional intervention. Worse outcomes were seen in dogs who were not eating on their own when they arrived at the hospital and/or were hospitalized for long period of times. A previous study by the same authors showed that length of hospitalization, age, body condition score, and vomiting at admission were all associated with a reduction in a dog’s body condition score during hospitalization.
For veterinarians, this research brings home the importance of calculating a dog’s resting energy requirement, updating it regularly (it changes with weight gain/loss), monitoring how much food a dog is taking in, and instituting appropriate interventions (e.g., anti-nausea medications and/or a feeding tube) in a timely manner.
For owners, the take home message is even simpler: If your dog is not eating well, don’t wait more than a few days to seek veterinary care (sooner if symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or discomfort are also present). The faster treatment is started the better the chances of a successful outcome for your dog.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Using Behavior to Assess Animal Welfare Module. National Veterinary Accreditation Program. USDA.
Nutrition related risk factors for malnutrition and negative outcome in hospitalized dogs. Molina, J. et al. 15th Annual AAVN Clinical Nutrition and Research Symposium Proceedings. 2015.
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What is Magnesium and Why is It Important?  
Magnesium is classified as an essential macromineral. The word “essential” in nutritional circles simply means that the body cannot manufacture it (or manufacture enough of it) to meet the body’s needs. Therefore, it must be included in the diet in sufficient amounts to avoid deficiencies. Macrominerals—calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur—are minerals (inorganic nutrients) that the body requires in relatively larger amounts than it does microminerals (e.g., iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, and selenium).
According to Medline Plus:
Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heart beat steady, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aid in the production of energy and protein. 
Hypermagnesemia (too much magnesium in the body) is not a common problem for dogs, unless they are suffering from chronic kidney failure. If a dog ingests too much magnesium, healthy kidneys are extremely efficient at excreting the excess.
On the other hand, hypomagnesemia (too little magnesium in the body) is seen quite frequently in sick dogs. One study found that 33.6% of critically ill dogs and cats suffered from hypomagnesemia, which tends to develop when a dog has one of the following conditions:

Chronic diarrhea
Pancreatic disease
Some types of liver disease
Diabetes mellitus
Treatment with insulin
Acute kidney failure
Chronic heart failure
Sepsis (an overwhelming bacterial infection)
Severe trauma
Iatrogenic (the use of some types of IV fluids, diuretics, other drugs, etc.)

Hypomagnesemia is often accompanied by other mineral deficiencies, particularly low calcium and potassium levels. The clinical signs associated with these conditions include:

Poor appetite and digestive function
Muscle twitches/tremors
Abnormally strong reflexes
Abnormal heart rhythms

Keep in mind that a dog without any of these symptoms can still have hypomagnesemia. Blood tests for magnesium levels tend to be quite reliable in dogs, although some individuals with normal blood levels (especially low-normal levels) might be whole body magnesium-deficient.
Treatment is simple and involves some form of supplementation—intravenous infusions when a dog’s condition is critical, oral when it is less so. Commercially available dog foods contain enough magnesium for healthy dogs, but if your dog is sick with one of the conditions listed above, magnesium supplementation might be a good idea to prevent or treat hypomagnesemia. The only time that I would worry about giving a dog a magnesium supplement is when he or she is at risk for chronic kidney failure.
Talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog needs a magnesium supplement.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Hypocalcemia and hypomagnesemia. Dhupa N, Proulx J. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 1998 May;28(3):587-608.
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Another Danger of Homemade Dog Food  
I’ve just run across an article that is making me question this line of thought, however.
Fifty-nine owners and their dogs who were prescribed homemade diets by the Clinical Nutrition Service, Teaching Veterinary Hospital of the College of Agrarian and Veterinarian Sciences, São Paulo State University were included in the study. The dogs were thoroughly evaluated and then...
…a nutritionally complete and balanced homemade diet was prescribed. The ingredients used in the recipes included cooked rice, potato, beef, chicken, bovine or chicken liver, carrots, green beans, fish oil supplements, salt, soyabean oil, dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate and dried yeast, as well as commercially available vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplements to fulfil minor nutrient requirements. Not all ingredients were used in all diets…
All owners received a written recipe that included the daily amounts of each one of the prescribed ingredients. The veterinary nutritionist carefully explained to owners the importance of following the recipe, the reasons for not changing the type or amount of each ingredient, the nutritional importance of each ingredient used, and details on how to prepare and feed the diet.

What could possibly go wrong?
Well… the scientists surveyed the owners about their experiences with the homemade diets. Some did not end up feeding the prescribed diets, but for the 46 who completed the study:

30.4% admitted they had changed the recipe.

40% did not adequately control the amount of provided ingredients.

73.9% did not use the recommended amounts of soyabean oil and salt.

28.3% did not use the vitamin, mineral, or amino acid supplements.

I find this last point the most shocking. Almost 30% of these owners who received in depth explanations as to the importance of following their recipes did not use their vitamin, mineral, or amino acid supplements AT ALL! Given enough time, these dogs could develop serious nutritional deficiencies.
So before you consider feeding your dog a homemade diet, have a heart-to-heart with yourself and honestly answer these two questions:

Are you willing to take on the extra effort and expense needed to prepare your dog’s food from a recipe designed specifically to meet his or her particular needs (age, health status, etc.)?

Will you follow that recipe and not make any changes to it unless you first consult with your dog’s nutritionist?


Dr. Jennifer Coates
Evaluation of the owner's perception in the use of homemade diets for the nutritional management of dogs. Oliveira MC, Brunetto MA, da Silva FL, Jeremias JT, Tortola L, Gomes MO, Carciofi AC. J Nutr Sci. 2014 Sep 25;3:e23.
Image: Thinkstock
Balanced Homemade Meals – I Sound Like a Broken Record
Why Your Homemade Dog Food is Not Good Enough
]]> balanced diet natural nutrients nutrition NutritionNuggets supplements vitamins and minerals Fri, 25 Sep 2015 11:00:00 +0000 33222 at
A New Way to Look at Weight Loss in Dogs  
Weight gain is a sign that something is out of kilter with a dog’s energy balance; too much food, too many treats, the wrong type of food, and/or too little exercise are the culprits.
In a perfect world, I would be able to prescribe a change in the type/amount of food, the elimination of treats, and increased exercise, my recommendations would be followed, and the dog would lose an appropriate amount of weight. But let’s be honest. People have an incredibly hard time doing this even when their own wellbeing is at stake. To ask them to make radical adjustments in their dog’s (and therefore their own) lifestyle is simply too much. But there is an easier way.
First, forget about exercise. Don’t get me wrong, exercise is great and can really help dogs get and stay slim. I just don’t think many owners can maintain significant increases in the amount of exercise they provide their dogs for the long term. I look at any increase in exercise as a bonus. If it happens, great, but don’t plan on it.
Second, keep giving treats. This is a habit that many owners find virtually impossible to break, and if it makes them and their dogs happy, who am I to say that it should be broken at all? My goal is to get the caloric intake from treats to less than 10% of the dog’s total calories for the day. We can usually do this with some simple modifications—breaking dog biscuits in half, switching to a lower calorie treat (mini carrots are great), etc.
Now on to weight loss/maintenance diets. You need to find one that works for both you and your dog. Remember, you may be feeding this diet for many years to come. The three top characteristics to consider are:

Ease of acquisition

Price and ease of acquisition are relatively straightforward. Only consider foods that won’t break your budget and that you can get relatively easily (some can be shipped directly to you). Ask yourself, “Am I going to be able to feed this food for the next five years or longer?”
From a nutritional standpoint, look for foods have the following characteristics:

Somewhere on the label you see a statement along the lines of “Brand A adult dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.” Some weight loss diets are only meant for short term feeding and don’t have statements like these on their labels.

It contains enough protein. A minimum of 30% on a dry matter basis is good. (Check the guaranteed analysis). Adequate protein levels will help dogs maintain muscle mass while they are losing weight in the form of fat.

It is designed for weight loss/maintenance. Studies have shown that dramatically reducing the amount of “regular” dog food you offer will result in weight loss… but also in nutritional deficiencies. The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has guidelines that a food has to adhere to if the manufacturer wants to use words like “Light,” “Low Calorie,” “Reduced Calories,” “Low Fat,” etc.

The bonus from looking at weight loss and maintenance in this new way? When your dog reaches its target weight, you should be able to start giving him or her a little more food. What a great reward after a successful diet!

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Thinkstock
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More Evidence That Dogs Can Be Vegetarians… And Cats Can’t  
I recently came across some new research that reinforces the idea that vegetarian diets can be a reasonable option for dogs but not for cats. The study looked at the overall amount of protein present and the concentrations of specific amino acids (the building blocks that the body uses to build its own proteins) in 24 over-the-counter and veterinary therapeutic vegetarian/vegan diets for dogs and cats.
The scientists used accepted techniques to determine the foods’ crude protein levels and amino acid concentrations and compared these numbers to the minimum requirements put forth in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for growth and adult maintenance. To paraphrase their most pertinent results, 23 of the 24 foods met or exceeded the AAFCO minimum for crude (total) protein, and 18 diets contained all amino acids in concentrations that met or exceeded the minimum AAFCO values. BUT:

Five diets (all for cats; 3 dry and 2 canned) provided 1 or more amino acids at concentrations below the AAFCO minimum value. Of these 5 diets, 1 was below the AAFCO minimum requirements in 4 amino acids (leucine, methionine, methionine-cystine, and taurine), 1 was below in 3 amino acids (methionine, methionine-cystine, and taurine), 2 were below in 2 amino acids (lysine and tryptophan), and 1 was below in 1 amino acid (tryptophan). An additional canned diet intended for both dogs and cats exceeded the amino acid minimum values for dogs but was below the minimum values for cats for 3 amino acids (methionine, methionine-cystine, and taurine).

All of the canned diets formulated for cats (2 for cats and 1 for both dogs and cats) were below the AAFCO minimum value for taurine.

Overall, of the diets that contained 1 or more amino acids at concentrations below AAFCO minimum values, the amino acid concentrations ranged from 34% to 98% (median, 82%) of the minimum requirement stated in the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profile.

In short, the dog foods had all the amino acids that this species needs, while six of the diets labeled for cats were deficient.
So if you are in the market for a vegetarian/vegan dog food, it looks like you can be fairly confident that what is available on the shelves will give dogs the specific amino acids they need to be healthy. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for cats.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Assessment of protein and amino acid concentrations and labeling adequacy of commercial vegetarian diets formulated for dogs and cats. Kanakubo K, Fascetti AJ, Larsen JA. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2015 Aug 15;247(4):385-92. 
Image: Tibanna79 / Shutterstock
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How to Get Dogs to Eat Slower  
Determining why a dog is eating so fast is the first step in solving the problem.

Is your dog ravenously hungry? If you are only offering one meal a day, try feeding your dog 2-4 smaller meals spaced throughout the day.

Are your feeding an exceptionally calorie/nutrient dense food, which limits the volume your dog can eat? Some dogs will slow down when their meals consist of a greater amount of a lower calorie/higher fiber diet.

Does your dog feel like it is in competition with other housemates for food? Try feeding your pets in separate rooms.

If none of these simple fixes do the trick, consider making an appointment with your veterinarian. A physical exam and some simple lab work (fecal examination, blood tests, urinalysis, and perhaps some abdominal imaging) will rule out most of the diseases that can make dogs perpetually hungry.
Once you are convinced that your dog’s fast eating is simply a behavioral quirk, it’s time to change how you manage your dog’s meals. The simplest method of getting your dog to eat more slowly is to scatter his kibble on the kitchen floor, patio, or even in the grass of your yard. Your dog will scamper about picking up and eating a few pieces at a time.
If you are worried about the aesthetics (slobber all over the place) or potential health risks (toxic pesticides or cleaning solutions) of making your dog eat off the ground, buy one of the many slow-feeder bowls that are now available. Some just have a few pillars sticking out of the bottom that a dog has to work around, while others are essentially mazes that make dogs use their tongues to pick out only a few kibbles at a time. Or, you can try making your own slow feeder by placing a few large, clean rocks (too large to swallow) or a brick in your dog’s regular food bowl.
Some dogs still continue to eat fast even when faced with a slow-feeder bowl (I’ve known a few who figured out they could just tip them over). Food-dispensing toys are another option. Some are like puzzles, making dogs rotate a slotted top or slide doors around to reveal small portions of food. Others roll or wobble, and when they are in the right position a few kibbles will fall out. Others simply make it hard for dogs to reach their meal without a lot of chewing or licking (e.g., a hollow rubber toy stuffed with canned food and frozen).
Whichever method you pick, make sure your dog is still able to eat the amount of food necessary to maintain his body weight. You don’t want to frustrate him to the point where he stops eating, just slow him down a bit to keep him safe.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock
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