Kitchener-Waterloo

Confused about what to feed your dog? Guelph animal nutritionist offers some tips

Kate Shoveller is a companion animal nutritionist and researcher at the University of Guelph, who has heard from people confused about what to do after a report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about certain brands of dog food. She offers some tips on what dog owners can consider.

Dogs like diversity in their diets—so try feeding them more than one brand, suggests Kate Shoveller

A report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about certain brands of dog food that could cause a potentially deadly heart condition may have some pet owners concerned about what they're feeding their furry friends. Kate Shoveller, a companion animal nutritionist and researcher at the University of Guelph, offers some suggestions. (The Associated Press)

Dog owners may be questioning what they should feed their pets in light of a report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about certain brands of dog food.

Late last month, the FDA reported 16 brands of dog foods, many labelled as grain-free, may cause canine dilated cardiomyopathy, a potentially deadly heart condition for dogs.

Kate Shoveller, a companion animal nutritionist and researcher at the University of Guelph, says she's heard from people who are confused about that report and what it means for their pets.

She says it can be complicated to figure out what to feed your dog, and offered some tips to pet owners.

Look at the nutrients, not ingredients

When looking at a bag of dog food, remember that dogs need certain nutrients.

"Don't get swayed by the ingredient deck. What you really want to be looking for is indications on the package that it's appropriate for your particular dog," she said.

For example, German shepherds need a certain fibre component to avoid having loose stools. 

You want your food to be breed and size-specific, she said. So look for bags that say "puppy" or "adult," and even "medium-sized adult" or "senior" and pick the right one.

If you're unsure, a call to your veterinarian's office will often help provide a few ideas, she says.

To switch or not to switch

Shoveller says the FDA report is not a recall, but it is a warning. That said, people don't need to switch their dogs immediately to a new food. Instead, you can transition your dog to another kind of dog food.

But, she says she doesn't like feeding dogs the same brand or type of food all the time.

Just like people, dogs like diversity in their food, too, she says. Switching brands and types also offers your pet a diversity of the nutrients in those foods and the dog won't get used to a single flavour.

Shoveller also noted the dog foods on the FDA's list can cause issues in large breed dogs more so than smaller ones.

Watch the weight

In general, dog owners need to make sure they're providing the right amount of the right food for their pets, Shoveller says.

If a dog is very active, going to the dog park and running around for an hour, there's less of a concern about how much the dog eats. But if dogs only go for leisurely walks or aren't that active, then she suggests curbing the number of treats or switching to something like carrots or apple slices.

Adult dogs probably only need to be fed once a day, while puppies will eat several times a day, she said.

'You know your dog best'

One thing Shoveller says she tries to teach her undergraduate students is that the best recommendations are done on an individual basis.

"You know your dog best," she said. "You're the best gauge of what's normal for your dog."

If your dog has been eating the brands listed by the FDA and you notice a change in their behaviour, that's a good time to go see a vet and talk about your concerns.

She said dogs become lethargic when they have canine dilated cardiomyopathy. If your dog is normally active and loves walks but then suddenly that changes and you're pulling them along — and it's not because of the heat — that's when it's time to talk to your vet.

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