Chester was my first and only Dachshund until I adopted Gretel. I knew a little about the breed but we basically lived in a vacuum. We didn’t know any other Dachshunds, or dogs for that matter, so I didn’t have anything to compare him too.
Originally, he was my roommate’s dog. I just took care of him when she was out of town for work… which was often. I had wanted a dog desperately in college but didn’t think it was the responsible thing to do. I still wasn’t ready to commit after I graduated while I was still searching for my “career” job. Watching Chester was a good “trial dog” in the meantime.
Chester ate what his real dog Mom bought for him and I tried my best to learn from her past experience with Dachshunds. He became my best travel and hiking buddy but he still belonged to her so she was in charge of making the big decisions.
Five years later, Chester became mine. I started making the decisions about his care. I just went with what I knew at the time though. I was a pretty clueless dog Mom and I am pretty sure I made every mistake you could.
I thought I was taking good care of him. Chester seemed pretty healthy and happy except he had itchy skin that got really, really itchy after a bath.
Five years ago I adopted Gretel. She was a beautiful, timid little waif. She was super skinny. Too skinny.
She also had mild allergies. Her reverse sneezing was so bad it was scary. She also had weepy eyes.
Less than a week after I brought her home, I found myself sitting in the vet’s office for a checkup and looking at the body conditioning chart while I waited. It looked similar to this one.
Gretel was definitely a #2. Since number 3 is ideal, she was going to need some nutritious food to help her fill out. Horrified, I realized Chester was closer to a 5! Not only was a new little whippersnapper in the house but it’s because of her he was going on a diet.
Because of the weight and allergy issues, I started looking at what I was feeding them. I wouldn’t say the kibble they ate was the worst of the worst but it wasn’t very healthy either. The first ingredients were corn and grain.
Grain and corn (rumor) are some of the biggest allergens. Corn has one of the higest glycempic index scores of dog food ingredients. The glycemic index is a way of measuring the tendency of a specific food to raise the blood sugar level of an animal. The higher the index, the greater the risk of an unhealthy rise in blood sugar. Keeping blood sugar balances is key to maintaining the proper weight and it helps keep diseases at bay.
As far as the corn being an allergen, several studies show that corn itself may not be a common food allergen. However, it cannot be completely excused as a potential cause because of the notable difficulty in confirming the precise incidence of food allergies in dogs. While searching the Internet for these studies, I found a lot of legitimate reports by dog owners and veterinary sites reporting corn and other cereal grains as a likely cause of their dog’s allergies.
In many cases, problems aren’t so much a matter of allergies to the corn itself but rather to undetected contaminants within that grain. In addition to the high likelihood that the corn was genetically modified and grown using pesticides, it’s not unusual to find storage mice, their droppings and expired carcasses in bulk lots of feed grains. All of these are known to be notable canine allergens.
Check out this explanation by Dog Food Advisor for more info.
So anyway, I wanted to find a quality dog food whose first ingredient was not corn or wheat and was high in protein. I wanted something with omega oils to help Chester’s itchy skin and a food with vegetables, fruits and vitamins. Although I new what I was looking for would be more expensive because it contained less filler and more good food, I also wanted something that wasn’t going to break the bank.
Nature’s Variety Instinct Grain-Free fit the bill. The quality and price were a little more than the entry level grain free foods but significantly less expensive than some others and the quality was something I was happy with. The food:
- Is grain-free and gluten-free
- Has a freeze dried raw coating for pure nutrition and great taste
- Contains probiotics to support healthy digestion (which is great for Chester’s gurgly belly)
- Provides Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids for skin and coat health
- Incorporates antioxidants to help maintain a healthy immune system
I like to rotate Chester and Gretel’s protein sources so I like that is food comes in chicken, beef, duck, rabbit, and salmon. It even comes in a limited ingredient version which is made with one animal protein source in case you need to closely monitor the types of protein your dog eats (in case, say, they have a chicken allergy).
In addition to switching to a better food, I reduced the amount of food I was giving Chester. It only took a few months but he got down to his ideal weight and is happier and healthier for it. His itchy skin all but disappeared and Gretel’s allergies improved.
Switching to a grain-free was a simple, incremental switch to improve Chester and Gretel’s diet and health. I was already feeding kibble so doing this didn’t take any more effort.
I did have to go through a process where I slowly transitioned to grain-free food though. I didn’t want the richer food to cause stomach upset. I started out feeding them a mix of 3/4 their normal kibble with 1/4 grain free for a couple of weeks. I then moved to half and half, 3/4 grain free with 1/4 regular kibble, and then to 100% grain free. The whole process took about a month and a half.
I know I am fortunate that I can afford do pay more for better food for my dogs. In my case, they are small and I only have two mouths to feed. I know that several of you have multiple dogs and/or larger dogs so you may feel like it’s more expensive than you can afford.
The thing is though, you can make a healthy change in their diet one tiny step, and a few pennies, at a time. Consider that you could transition to a 50-50 mix of regular kibble and grain free and feed that on an ongoing basis to save money while still making a nutritional improvement. If your dog needs to lose weight, you could switch to grain free but replace a portion of the recommend serving with frozen green beans (thawed – no canned because they contain sodium). You can also save money by replacing your expensive dog treats with the grain free kibble instead.
So, in my first post of this series, when I told you that my dogs eat better than I do, I compared the quality of food I put in Chester and Gretel’s body to what I put in mine. It wasn’t pretty. At one point, I was eating 100% gluten free – similar to the grain free concept in dog food.
I ate that way long enough to determine that it was in fact gluten that was causing my fatigue and headaches… then I fell off the wagon. I told myself I could cheat and eat a little gluten once or twice a week since that amount didn’t have a huge impact on me and it’s yummy. That once a week cheat has turned into almost a daily cheat though and I am back to where I started – feeling crappy a lot.
This “no gluten” thing is something I think that the whole family should be on board with – myself as well as Chester and Gretel. My “little diet change” for myself is going to be going gluten-free again at least 5 days a week.
Switching to grain free kibble wasn’t the end of the food journey for Chester and Gretel but it was a step in the right direction. I will be posting about the next step in our journey soon.
Have you thought about what incremental change you could make in your dog’s diet to improve it?