Dishing up variety
By Wendy Wilson
“Broiled chicken, brown rice and steamed broccoli — again?”
When you sit down to dinner, you probably prefer a little variety, right? Day after day of the same mix of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and veggies can hamper just about any appetite, whether human or canine. A diet packed with different food types can make the eating experience an enjoyable one.
Do you feed your dog the same kibble every day? Chances are good that he may benefit from a varied diet, too. Before you start concocting your own dog food blends, read on to learn more about what a varied diet is, where to find one, and how to successfully introduce your dog to food that’s different than his typical fodder.
So what is a varied diet, anyway?
In today’s popular vernacular, a “varied diet” can be defined as a nutrient-dense diet that changes regularly. Sean Delaney, DVM, a board certified veterinary nutritionist in Davis, California, says a varied diet for dogs resembles a cornucopia filled with healthy meats, whole grains, legumes, dairy, fruits and vegetables.
“For optimum health, it’s better to have the food in a natural, unprocessed state,” Dr. Delaney explains. “We know what the true ‘essential’ nutrients are, like certain amino acids and vitamins. But other nutrients, like antioxidants, come in the different fruits and vegetables that prevent oxidative, free radical damage and long term chronic health problems. You wouldn’t want to limit the plethora of natural antioxidants by restricting them.”
Varied diets differ from the “same food” routine encouraged by dog food experts of the past. Antiquated wisdom once claimed that dogs would become picky eaters or endure stomach upset on a varied diet, but that knowledge has since been questioned, said Tracy Lord, DVM, a holistic veterinarian and licensed veterinary acupuncturist and chiropractor based at the Animal Clinic and Wellness Center in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Variety brings excitement and interest to the table — or the bowl, Dr. Lord says.
“For instance, if you feed your child a dinner of chicken, broccoli, brown rice, and cantaloupe, you should pat yourself on the back for providing a well-balanced nutritious meal,” she said. “But if you feed this same meal to your child three times a day throughout his life, you would start to see nutritional deficiencies — and no one would be surprised to hear that the child is tiring of the meal!”
The same holds true for dogs, Dr. Lord said. Their bodies appreciate the different sources of nutrition, while their taste buds appreciate delicious changes on their palate.
“Variety is key to any healthy diet,” she says. “More commercial diets available today advocate feeding a single food, and this may be needed for a diet trial or for a very sensitive animal who cannot tolerate a variety of foods, but I don’t see this as the norm.”
Shopping for choices
One type of varied diet centers on taking commercially prepared top-quality frozen, canned or dry diets and simply rotating them, as long as you provide the same number of calories. This approach will ensure your dog gets the right balance of nutrients, says board-certified veterinary nutritionist Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, founder of Veterinary Nutritional Consultations, Inc. of Holliston, Massachusetts.
“Federally regulated, commercially prepared foods have processing methods and quality assurance programs that limit the potential of food-borne illnesses in pets and offer guarantees, a nutritional profile and bioavailability of nutrients,” she explained.
Varied diets may also be prepared at home. That’s where dog owners can get creative with different types of meats, grains, and vegetables — but they should follow guidelines prepared by a trained nutritionist, Dr. Remillard cautioned.
“Unless properly formulated by a nutritionist, diets made at home are not likely to be complete and balanced,” she said. “The nutritional profile of any diet — including homemade diets — depends on how the recipe was formulated, the nutrient content of the ingredients and how the owner prepares the diet. Homemade diets may also contain contaminants and food-borne microbes if the owner isn’t careful.”
What’s on the menu?
- Choose different main ingredients: If you’re feeding your dog a chicken and rice diet, switch her to something completely different, like a duck and sweet potato or bison and barley diet, advises Dr. Delaney.
- It’s OK to change brands: Though some food makers have developed foods designed to rotate, you can try different brands and formulas. Stick to the high-quality mixes for optimal nutrition, Dr. Lord says.
- Change the menu regularly: If you plan to rotate your dog’s commercially prepared diet, consider buying a new blend each time you go shopping, Dr. Remillard says.
- Switch slowly: For a smooth transition between foods, slowly increase the amount of new food while decreasing the old, Dr. Lord says. The process should take about a week.
- Take note of portion and calories: To ensure your pup stays slim and trim, make sure you calculate the appropriate calorie amount and portion for the new food, advised Dr. Delaney.
If you think you’d like to incorporate a varied diet into your dog’s eating routine, here are five expert tips to do so safely and successfully:
Sometimes, just adding a little something special to a dog’s bowl will give him the variety he’s craving.
“If we’re making something Lucy loves, like grilled salmon or ahi, we’ll cook a little piece for her and give her a little less kibble in her dish,” says Alyce Edmondton, who lives in Redmond, Washington, with her 6-year-old greyhound. “And we always share our dog-safe leftovers with her.”
Do you cook for your dog? What do you make? Tells us all about it in the comments.