Importance of a Balanced and Varied Diet for Dogs

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We have all heard the expression, “you are what you eat” (paraphrased from the original quote by Frenchman Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who said “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”) This simple idea holds true for both humans and dogs. Eating a lot of junk foods will result in poor nutrition, increased disease risk, and an overall reduction of energy levels.


Another great although perhaps not as well-known food related quote is “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This quote by Hippocrates, the so called father of western medicine, is over 2,000 years old and is as relevant (or more so) now as it was way back then. Food can and should be the first line of defense when it comes to the prevention or the treatment of disease – for humans and our dogs.



Is it somewhat ironic that the father of western medicine, an individual in some ways who is responsible for helping to launch the concept of the modern doctor as a specialized discipline, would consider food to be medicine? After all, it sure seems that a many of today’s doctors are very quick to pull out the prescription pad to prescribe a drug to treat whatever ails us. Same with many veterinarians, who, at least in my experience, are quick to suggest a drug treatment without considering diet as a cause or a solution to a health problem. In fact, Hippocrates might be rolling over in his grave at the rapidity and frequency at which prescription and over the counter drugs are used to treat common health problems of humans and our dogs.


Why Diet Matters

No matter how you look at it, the truth is that food and proper exercise are the two biggest things we can do to influence our health and the health of our dogs. Striving for a balanced and varied diet of natural ingredients can do wonders to not only help eliminate various health ailments, but can reduce the odds that they occur in the first place. Furthermore, proper diet (and exercise) can extend our lives. The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity reports that 1/3 of premature deaths in the US are due to poor diet and inactivity!


So before you reach for that bottle of NSAIDs or other medications(for yourself or your dog), consider that proper diet and some exercise might be the only thing you and your dog really need.


What’s Important in a Dog’s Diet

To really achieve a balanced and varied diet, we need to look at two primary issues: 1) how much our dog’s eat and 2) what our dog eats. The same holds true for humans as well.


How Much to Feed Your Dog.  Feeding an appropriate amount of calories each day is essential to ensure that our dogs maintain a healthy weight and don’t succumb to the devastating weight related ailments that plague our pets. The landmark Purina study showed that lean dogs will live almost 2 years longer than fatter dogs. So don’t underestimate the importance of proper servings. Figuring out how much to feed our dog is not that hard – we wrote a fairly detailed post on this which you can read here. The amount of food your pet requires to maintain a healthy weight is mostly dependent on their desired weight and activity level. Smaller, less active dogs need less than larger more active dogs.


you are what you eat

What to Feed Your Dog.  The second important aspect of proper diet is the “what” you feed. Most healthy dogs need a species appropriate diet that is high in protein, moderate in fat, and moderate to low in carbs (together, the macronutrient profile.) A balanced and varied diet is also a key to long term heath. Just because your dog’s food is “complete and balanced” (according to the AAFCO standards) does not mean that it is perfect for them. Small nutritional “misses”, that can occur when serving a single food to a specific pet over a long period of time, can result in nutritional imbalances that can lead to disease. Consider changing your pet’s food every 3 months or so, which will minimize the chances of the pet developing adverse food reactions and also minimizing the chances for long term nutritional deficiencies. Make sure to review your dog’s food ingredients and macronutrient profile and when possible, avoid foods that contain unnatural ingredients, unspecified protein sources, and high carb foods.


Putting it All Together

Feeding your pet (or yourself) the right amount of the right types of foods will have a very positive impact on your pet’s overall health and well-being. I think it is appropriate for all pet owners to start to think of their pet food choices as a crucial part of their pet’s overall health care. Using food to prevent disease, by serving proper portions of high quality and varied foods, is a far superior way to keep disease at bay when compared to relying on drugs.


In upcoming posts, we will explore some of the ways that foods can “be thy medicine” and help to prevent disease or treat symptoms of common ailments.


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  1. This was a informative great post, I enjoyed it, loved the first graphic. I had to laugh reading this as I just wrote my FitDog friday post talking about Nellie’s pulled tendon and I said in it I started her on NSAIDS. Yup I am a culprit at grabbing the drugs, but just to get her through her injury and then back to exercising and not using drugs.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Senior Wellness ~ Nellie’s Health Series Part 2: VaginitisMy Profile

  2. Thanks for great ideas, I like to learn more about food and I’m sure we will find the perfect “medecine” for me :o)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog MISCHIEF MOANDAYMy Profile

  3. Great topic! A while back, Mom watched some dumb show on cable about a guy that only at pizza for years and he got really sick. It got her to thinking about dogs and eating the same food all the time. Now we eat the same brand, but we alternate between chicken, beef, and lamb every three weeks. Our treats are always varied, and as you know, we get lots of exercise…all in the hope of staying healthy.
    Emma recently posted…Fashionable Dog Collars And LeashesMy Profile

  4. I think doctors and vets are quick to write prescriptions mainly because their patients demand a “quick fix”. Most people don’t want to be bothered with correcting diet deficiencies and upping their exercise. “Just give me a pill to fix it”….That’s why big pharma is working so hard to find a pill for obesity. Well, that and all the billions they would earn 😉
    Taryn recently posted…Monday Mischief: His PacifierMy Profile

  5. I have a dog with allergies, I have been changing his food every month. My question is, do we stick with the same brand of dog food just change the flavor, in other words I feed my dogs Orijen, so maybe feed beef, then the next bag buy chicken, then the fish. Because I know if we switch dogs on their food, they get sick. They can get diaherra for a few day. Thanks

    • Have you identified the allergen?

      It is perfectly fine to stay with the same brand, as long as the recipes are different enough that you aren’t essentially feeding the same thing. We are fans of single protein foods- those with one type of protein only- but they are pretty rare. Perhaps try a fish based food and then move to a poultry based food, then a beef/game based food, etc. Also- watch the carb sources and see if you can mix those up as well.
      steve recently posted…Importance of a Balanced and Varied Diet for DogsMy Profile

      • It is very hard to find a dog food with one protein. My Vet recommend venison and I have only found one dog food, Natural Balance that has just venison. Why do they do that? Thanks for getting back to me.

  6. We’ve had the same experience with vets who were mainly interested in pushing some pills on us. When they didn’t work after almost 2 weeks of taking them, I took matters into my own hands & took a closer look at dog nutrition. Since then, we’ve been rotating our pups’ food every 3-4 months (grain-free only) as well, and they’ve been doing great! Last year we fed Wellness Core, Annamaet, & Sammy Snacks Ancestry. We just switched over from Sammy Snacks Ancestry to Earthborn, and thanks to your article about turmeric, we’ve now also incorporated a few sprinkles of the spice on the pups’ meals.

    I look at proper dog & human nutrition this way: If I don’t eat fast food, why would I feed my pups the equivalent of fast food in kibble form? Not going to happen!
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Boxing Puppies ~ Monday Mischief!My Profile

    • Absolutely the right thought process…garbage in, garbage out.
      mkob recently posted…Importance of a Balanced and Varied Diet for DogsMy Profile

    • Barbara, could I talk to you in more detail, please. My dog has been on steroids, twice, Calavamox which is an antibiotic a few times. Now we are on a pill that has to be compounded, or made at the Pharmacy. It’s called CD/ITRACONAZOLE 25 mg. It’s an anti fungal, I think. Not doing much good for Bailey. I have used Natural Balance, Nature’s Variety, Fresh Pet, Artisan and Stella & Cheweys. I’ll post my email, I would love to talk more about what help your dog. If that is ok with you. Thank you, Sherrie email address is:

      • Sherrie, while the brand of food is important – look at the ingredients – what is a common denominator in the food, that might be the root of your problem. We took Jack completely off chicken and beef – from everything, dry food, wet food, treats, etc. It was only then that we got his food allergies under control. We’ve slowly introduced other proteins back in, but never chicken – as soon as he eats it, I can tell. You can use our food database to check ingredients.
        mkob recently posted…Importance of a Balanced and Varied Diet for DogsMy Profile

        • Thank you very much

          • Hi Sherrie, we’ve actually also completely stopped feeding chicken ~ while Buzz was on his medication, he was also on the typical bland diet of chicken & rice the vets like to prescribe. As soon as we stopped feeding him the chicken & added pumpkin puree to an air-dried raw food from New Zealand (Ziwipeak), his gastrointestinal issues were history!!
            We found out that lamb is particularly gentle on sensitive stomachs, and have been rotating different proteins ever since ~ lamb, fish, venison, and sometimes duck.
            Barbara Rivers recently posted…Boxing Puppies ~ Monday Mischief!My Profile

  7. P.S. Part of my comment was lost, so here it is:

    Regarding the expression “You are what you eat” ~ We have the same expression in German, and it’s actually a pun because are & eat sound the same: “Man ist (are), was man isst (eat)”.

  8. I am trying to get Delilah’s liver levels under control with diet. The biggest problem is she looks like the picture of the first dog, minus my nightstand lamp cord of course. And I don’t think she’s actually eaten a bottle cap, but I can’t say that with certainty. The hardest part is keeping her from eating anything she finds. Which outside can really be just about anything.
    Jodi recently posted…Level With MeMy Profile

  9. Love the first graphic – it speaks volumes at first glance. Your information is on point. Diet is essential to good health. You rock Slim!
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…NATIONAL SOUP MONTH | TASTY TUESDAYMy Profile

  10. I feel Bentley does his best on a grain-free food. He loves the fish based flavor. We are having success watching calories.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Snapshots of Life #JoyfulMy Profile

  11. Yes! Food is the beginning! We cant wait to read more of the series!
    MyDogLikes recently posted…Paws Barkery Bow Wow SnickerdoodlesMy Profile

  12. Like Sherrie has mentioned, it’s really tough when your dog has allergies. We’re still trying to figure out what Haley could be allergic to and whether or not it might be airborne allergies instead of food allergies.
    Elaine recently posted…Do Dogs Barter? – Trading Toys for TreatsMy Profile

  13. I have fed my dog ZiwiPeak Venison it really didn’t help. I didn’t like the freeze dried foods, it just didn’t look appealing. I have heard that Pumpkin is good for dogs. I contacted Mulligan’s Stew today, they were very friendly and had some good ideas for my dog with allergies. They are sending me a case of their dog food to try with Bailey (my dog with issues) and gave me some ideas on how to feed him. They were really nice and seemed to care. I’m giving this a try. The case of food should be here by Monday. Has anyone else tried Mulligan’s Stew?

  14. This is definitely an interesting and intriguing way of looking at food, like medicine. I certainly learned through dealing with migraines how important the food you eat can be.
    Do you think treats should be switched around too? Even though they don’t get a lot, we have some certain lo calorie ones that we feed on a regular basis. We do have some variety, but there are certain ones they might get every day.
    I’m glad you gave us an idea on how often we should switch their food, I wasn’t sure about that.
    Jan K recently posted…#52Snapshots – Impossible “Dream”My Profile

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