Feeding Woman’s Best Friend: What About Dog Nutrition?

I put considerable effort into my own nutrition. I research, discuss, learn by my own mistakes and continually adapt my shopping, cooking and eating habits–all to create a healthier me. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s worth all the effort; I feel better than ever and I’m healthier than ever. The connection between food and health is clear to me.

I recently realized a disconnect between this set of values around about caring for myself and my values around caring for my dogs.

My two dogs expect me to tend to every aspect of their health and wellbeing, and I believe I do that. They’re generally healthy, so I haven’t given much thought to their food, which is an “all natural” kibble that I buy at the local farm store. For what it’s worth, it’s a brand that their vets have, over time, approved.

But Charlie, the lab, is almost eight years old, and has developed an itchy skin problem that just won’t seem to quit. Most recently, he’s been scratching so much that he has a little lesion on his cheek. I realized that if this were me, I’d be looking to my own nutrition for answers. Why would I not do the same for my dogs?

Dogs are carnivores, and have almost no nutritional need for carbohydrates in their diets. And yet, most brands of dry dog food contain a few different grains, both as cheap fillers and to bind meat products together in order to shape the food into kibble. I checked the nutrition panel of Charlie’s food: after chicken meal, four grains were listed. Corn gluten meal, one of them, I now understand to be a hallmark of a cheap dog food.

Research tells me that a primarily raw meat diet would be ideal for my dogs. Although they’re carnivores, I’m not, and I’m not interested in preparing homemade food for them. I simply don’t want to handle so much meat, so often. I do recognize that their nutritional needs are quite different from mine; they need animal protein, and a lot of it. And, not much more than that.

I sought advice from Barbara at Jamil Kennels in Loudon, New Hampshire. Her love and devotion for her own animals (several dogs and cats) and the dogs that board with her impressed me from the start when I met her a year or so ago. She’s been using a little-known brand of dog food called Abady since 1980, since meeting Dr. Robert Abady, the company’s founder at Westminster. Her stories of chronic health problems disappearing in her dogs and those of other breeders compelled me to give it a try.

Dr. Abady, now deceased, was a biochemist. His research in canine nutrition led to the creation of this small, decidedly un-commercial dog and cat food company in the late 1970s. The Robert Abady Dog Food Company website is peppered with his articles and “genius-level thinking” that give a glimpse of the eccentric that he apparently was. The fact that Barbara was able to pick up the phone while I was there, call the company and get specific questions answered impressed me. Abady Feeds has a veterinarian on staff, and the phone is always answered by a human being.

Charlie was excited–the new food clearly smelled great to him. (Ginnie, the Westie, was excited too, but she’s camera-phobic, so there’s no evidence of her excitement.)

Photo of Charlie with Abady Dog Food

Photo of Charlie with Abady Dog Food

The new food is a meal, not a kibble. It’s higher protein than the kibble formula (which they do offer) and does not require heat during processing (as kibble does for the extrusion process), which destroys vitamins.

Photo of Scoop of Abady Dog Food

It’s likely to be a few months before I know for sure if changing my dogs’ food was a good idea or, specifically, if it helps Charlie’s itchiness problem. Because this food is so much higher in protein (30 percent) and fat (20 percent) than their old food, they’ll be transitioning into it slowly for a couple of weeks to give their digestive systems time to adjust.

It’s clear from the start that they both love it. Charlie approaches it the same way he approaches a special delicacy like a bowl of chicken skins or leftover eggs: carefully, with his lips sort of peeled back, like he’s trying to take tiny bites. To my nose, it has a strong, but not unpleasant, meaty smell. It’s heavy, moist and dense–much heavier than the equivalent measure of kibble.

I guess we come to realize things when we’re ready to, and it was time for me to realize that my dogs needed something better than what was coming from that convenient blue bag. At the same time that these thoughts were percolating, a friend randomly mentioned that one day in his dog’s life must really be like a week (since one year of a dog’s life is the equivalent of seven in a human’s). So, waiting one more day to take care of something that could really make a difference to my dogs is like asking them to wait a week.

We’ll give this a try, and be ready to try something new if this isn’t right. After all, wouldn’t I do the same for my other best friends?

5 responses

    • It’s about twice as expensive as the food I was buying previously. It cost $70.50 for 40 pounds, which should last about 20 percent longer than the previous food since they require less (it’s more nutrient-rich). Other options would be to supplement a good, basic kibble (without dyes, additives and as low in filler grains as you can find, with high-quality proteins like eggs, cottage cheese as well as extra fats. Of course, once you’ve done all that, you’ve increase your cost as well. Good luck, and let me know what you end up trying. I’ll do a follow-up post at some point, when it’s clear how it’s working out.

  1. Charlie (the lab) is doing great. His coat is beautiful (thick!) and the lesion on his cheek is gone. Whether that’s the food or the bee propolis salve I was using on it (or both) is hard to say. Ginnie (the westie) was thrown off course by a Lyme disease diagnosis and she was pretty sick for a while. She lost her appetite on and off, and is just getting it back. Even so, both dogs gained weight on this food, so I’ve cut back even more on serving size. Charlie gets about 1/2 cup twice a day and Ginnie gets about a little more than half of 1/3 cup twice a day. No regrets!

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