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Canine Nutrition Series: Own Life Experiences Leading to Integrative Approach to Veterinary Practice

August 30, 2010

Welcome to the fifth installment of our featured experts on the Canine Nutrition blog series. For the final week in our thread, we are joined by So Cal’s local Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, owner and founder of California Pet Animal and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Dr. Mahaney enjoys spending time treating animals with both complementary and traditional veterinary medicine, helping people and writing. He says, “As there are so many unusual experiences in my profession, I have plenty of material about which to write!

You can find many of his articles on his blog: Patrick Mahaney Blog as well as the column he writes for the Los Angeles Pet Examiner. Incidentally, like me, Dr. Mahaney has a blogging dog named Cardiff. “Cardiff is my muse, my companion, and the true motivating force for my veterinary practice.Cardiff’s Blog can also be found on Dr. Mahaney’s website.

Having an appreciation for animals and science since childhood, Dr. Mahaney was drawn to the field of Veterinary medicine. However, it was his own personal experiences of multiple back injuries that prompted him to expand his own knowledge and services for helping his clients. “I discovered that the integrative approach greatly augments the wellness of my animal patients.

To read more about Dr. Patrick Mahaney and the veterinary consulting services he offers, please check out his personal website as well as his veterinary practice website. We appreciate all the wonderful information he has contributed to our Canine Nutrition blog series, and are pleased to be able to share his expertise with our inquisitive canine audience.


The following is the canine nutrition Q&A session between Dr. Mahaney and myself:

Q. Roughly how many Kcal’s may a dog have per day?

A. There is a calculation for Resting Energy Requirement (RER, in kCal)= [BW^0.75]x70 BW= body weight in KG

Q. What factors into the amount allowed: Age, size, breed, activity level etc…

A. In general, younger and more active dogs need higher calories.  Older and less active (including those that are debilitated) dogs need fewer calories.

Q. Is there a formula that dog guardians can use to help figure this out? Or should they speak with their vet?

A. It is really best that owners speak to their veterinarian to establish a guideline for weight maintenance or weight loss.

Q. Should owners follow the guidelines on the bag/container of food, or is that unreliable?

A. Yes, owners should follow the guidelines, but consider that extra calories are frequently consumed through people foods, dog treats, or consuming other pet foods (occasionally unbeknownst to the owner).  Therefore, always feed on the lower end of the food bag’s recommendation.

Q. Do you think that “free feeding” is an acceptable way to feed dogs?

A. I prefer feeding specific feedings on a 2-3 times basis.  Some dogs are able to control their food consumption and maintain their own weight.  Others overeat their food and put on weight unnecessarily, which leads to a myriad of health conditions.

Q. Should dogs be on a specific feeding schedule? If so, all throughout his or her life? Or during certain periods only? (puppy/senior/lactating)

A. It is best for a dog’s digestive health and body condition to be fed in multiple, calorie and food substance appropriate meals per day throughout their lives.

Q. For dogs that do not have food allergies, is it okay for s/he to have a variety of kibble/wet food brands and not just the same one all the time? Is it okay to vary the protein base?

A. Consistency with food that enters a dog’s mouth typically leads to regularity in digestion and bowel movement production. I do not recommend varying a dog’s food on a day to day basis. Every couple of months, gradually changing the protein source may reduce the likelihood of developing dietary sensitivity to a protein source (as compared to long term feeding of a single protein source).

Q. Raw vs traditional vs home-cooked? Is one better? Why?

A. There is not a really “better” formula.  Feeding has to be done in a means that is appropriate for a particular patient based on their current state of health.

From a standpoint of food safety and potential for illness secondary to bacterial contamination, cooked foods are safer than raw.  Raw food is not exclusive to feeding raw meat, we have to consider raw vegetables and grains too.  Appropriately cooked meats, grains, and vegetables tend to be easier to digest than raw foods.

Q. Are “table scraps” acceptable? If not, why? If so, what are the parameters? High quality, healthy such as low fat/lean meats, raw/steamed veggies and whole grains?

A. I am fine with the addition of table foods to commercially available pet foods, as long as they are low in fat and high in fiber, moisture, and beneficial nutrients.  For example, vegetables such as carrots are great additions as “table scraps” to almost any feeding regimen.

Q. Dog foods: are some better than others? If so, what should dog guardians look for in finding good quality foods?

A. Look at the pet food label. If the food contains “meals”, “by-products”, sugar, artificial colors, artificial or “natural flavors”, or preservatives (such as sodium nitrite) then it should be avoided. Additionally, whole meats, vegetables, and grains should be at the top of the list of food ingredients.

Q. Supplements: Daily vitamins, minerals? Is this necessary if dog eats a healthy diet? When would they be required?

A. I recommend feeding a whole food diet which is rich in natural vitamins and minerals so that there is less of a need to provide supplements. Activity, illness, surgery, and age related changes can induce nutritional deficiencies that may benefit from supplementation under the guidance of a veterinary professional.

Q. “Joint supplements” are becoming very popular and people are giving them to their dogs without consulting – is this a good choice?

A. It is always best for a pet owner to consult with a veterinarian before administering dietary supplements, such as Glucosamine/Chondroitin joint supplements, which typically require long term administration. Always choose an oral joint supplement that has been manufactured to meet your dog’s needs (as compared to a human joint supplement that may not be absorbed as well from the canine gastrointestinal tract).

Q. Holistic medicine vs traditional? Both good? One better than another? Complementary?

A. Really, all medicine should be holistic. Holistic means that you are focusing on the entire organism, not just an individual part or organ system.  Western (conventional) and complementary (Eastern, etc) can work quite well together when done by an experienced veterinary medical practitioner.

Q. Interactive food toys: Good? Bad?

A. Interactive food toys, such as treat filled Kong toys, pressed beef hide, or others can be used with success by a responsible pet owner with a dog that does not have body weight or digestive issues.

Q. Are there some foods/supplements that can help prolong a dogs life?

A. Addition of whole food, nutrient rich, whole foods, such as steamed vegetables, can provide beneficial moisture, fiber, and antioxidants that can prolong a dog’s life.

Omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish or flax seed oil, also safely provide benefits to multiple body systems with low likelihood of side effects.

Q. Allergies: seems that “food allergies” are commonly diagnosed but without actual testing. How is it best to determine a dog really has a food allergy? Actual testing? Or is a subjective diagnosis acceptable?

A. It is best to determine if a protein or carbohydrate is tolerated by a dog by doing a food elimination trial for a minimum of 6-8 weeks.  The food elimination trial does not permit feeding of protein or carbohydrate sources that your dog has previously consumed.  It is vital to be vigilant and strict in the process to potentially see a positive result.

Q. Treats for training: Are there some that are better than others? Healthy vs “empty calories”?

A. Training treats should be very interesting to your dogs nose and taste buds to motivate performance of your requested command. Additionally, treat size should be as small as possible, as the number given is typically in the double digits. Training treats should be free of sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors.

Q. How can dog owners provide valuable nutrition without adding extra calories if using foods to train their dogs? (Besides using the dogs kibble)

A. Dog owners can feed small portions of low sodium deli turkey, cheese, dried liver, or other real foods as training treats.

Q. When is it time for a dog owner to seek assistance from their vet?

A. Dog owners should seek assistance from their veterinarian anytime their dog is not following their normal patterns of eating, drinking, sleeping, or playing. Additionally, a dog should have a physical exam performed by a veterinarian at least every 12 months.


If you are just joining us and would like to start from the beginning of this series, please click on this introductory post on Canine Nutrition link to find out the reasons behind why I wanted to delve into the area of nutrition for dogs. You will also be directed to additional links in this series for Q&A with experts in canine nutrition. If you haven’t signed up to receive our dog behavior blog post, you can via RSS feed or direct email on our inquisitive canine blog website.



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