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

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.


Canine Nutrition Series: Holistic Cat Loving Veterinarian Brings Light to Dog Nutrition

Welcome back to our Canine Nutrition blog thread. This week we are joined by holistic veterinarian Jean Hofve, DVM, a Denver Colorado-based veterinarian who lives with her four fabulous felines: Flynn, Puzzle, Sundance, and Spencer.

After receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University in 1994, Dr. Jean settled in Denver, practicing full time for 5 years and then part time, while maintaining an active career as a respected writer, speaker and consultant in all areas of pet health. From 2004 to 2007, she served as the Editor-in-Chief for the  Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. Jean is internationally known for her expertise on pet food and nutrition. She has written hundreds of articles, lectured on pet topics throughout the US, and regularly appears on radio and TV. Her articles have appeared in Animal Wellness, Feline Wellness, The Whole Dog Journal, The Whole Cat Journal, Cats, DogWorld, Journal of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, and many other publications. Her website, www.littlebigcat.com, is a respected source of information on feline health, nutrition and behavior.

A well respected writer, Dr. Jean (along with nutritionist Dr. Celeste Yarnall), has just published her first book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care: An Illustrated Handbook (Quarry Books, 2009). Yes, she loves cats but she knows her stuff about dogs too! Here’s a little of what she said to me regarding nutrition for dogs:

Feeding a dog is just like feeding a child. It’s mostly common sense, with a little bit of education on a few specific canine quirks. MDs and nutritionists keep telling us–eat a variety of foods, mostly fresh meats, fruits and vegetables (as opposed to “food” that comes in bags, boxes, or cans). I say this is also what our canine pals need. It wouldn’t make sense to feed a child the same food at every meal, day in and day out, from infancy to adulthood–and it doesn’t make sense for dogs, either!”

To read more about Dr. Jean Hofve’s veterinary practice, books and resources please check out her Little Big Cat website.


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

Q. Roughly how many Kcal’s may a dog have per day? What factors into the amount allowed: Age, size, breed, activity level etc…

A. Yes, all that, and you can add to the list season, weather, time of day, social factors, health history, personality, spay/neuter status…and of course, what exactly is being fed!

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

A. There is a formula for maintenance energy requirement (MER), and it is: 70 kcal x kgBW0.75, though the range may vary from 48 to 114 kcal. Which of course is a pain in the you-know-what to grind through, especially if numbers like “to the 0.75 power” freak you out like they do me!

It’s easier to use one of the online dog-food-calculators which may also account for variables like age, extreme weather and activity level. This will give you a ballpark number, but since caloric requirements are so individual, consider it a guideline only and not a pat answer.

And…there are a couple of hitches. First, to get best estimate, you have to list your dog’s ideal weight, not what he weighs now. When trying to get a dog to lose weight, you must feed for that ideal size. And it’s not going to look like very much food to either of you!

The other hitch is that most dog foods do not list calorie content; it’s not required. However, for many foods you can find calorie information online. If all else fails, call the manufacturer; they’ll be happy to tell you!

Honestly, most vets know very little about nutrition—at my school (Colorado State) we had a 2-hour lecture on pet nutrition (given by a guy from Hill’s) out of 4 years of vet school, and even that was better than some! And most vets’ continuing education on the subject comes from pet food sales reps. It’s not hard to know more about your dog’s nutritional needs than your vet…and it’s worth the effort!

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

A. It’s unreliable, because there are so many factors that affect caloric needs that are not considered in those recommendations. Moreover, it is in the manufacturer’s financial interest to over-estimate the amount to feed, because that sells more dog food. This was recently proven in a study of “weight control” dog foods—the calorie contents were all over the map, and most were inappropriately high.

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

A. No. Dogs aren’t built to graze. In fact, canids come with a large-capacity stomach and relatively short digestive tract. They’re supposed to hunt, kill, eat as much as they can, then digest and metabolize while they sleep it off. In a couple of days, they do it all again. A wolf can eat up to 30 *pounds* of meat in one sitting!

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

A. In general, I do recommend raw-meat-based diets for dogs (and cats). That said, there is no one diet that is right for all dogs. Some dogs can’t tolerate raw meat, others need a certain amount of grain in the diet. Hate to say it, but you just have to try different things and pay attention to the results in terms of energy, skin and coat, stool quality, appetite, and all that sort of stuff. The dog’s needs will change, too, with season, weather, age, activity, etc. Some days they seem to be “hungrier” than others. Don’t you have days like that? I do!

Q. Speaking of “table scraps”, are they acceptable? If not, why? If so, what are the parameters?

A. Here’s my simple rule: If you would eat it, you may share it. Don’t treat your dog like a portable garbage disposal. Be aware that certain foods that are fine for people, like onions, chocolate, macadamia nuts (I wouldn’t share those anyway!), grapes/raisins/currants, can be toxic to dogs. Also, go easy on meat trimmings, chicken skin, and other high-fat items; they can cause pancreatitis, which is life-threatening.

Darn near every pet food out there claims to be “high quality,” so that’s kind of meaningless. Ya know, you wouldn’t market a pet food and say “Hey, we’re okay!” Clearly there is a huge variation in quality, and not everyone can be at the top. In most cases, the disparity is detectable by the difference in price. However, some foods, such as those from a company that also makes a line of veterinary “prescription” diets, cost far more than is justified by the quality of ingredients. They have to support that bloated advertising budget somehow!

The term “human grade” also has no legal definition; some companies are sincere about it, but others are not. However, the terms “natural” and “organic” do have legal definitions, so sticking to foods that make those claims may be better. However, beware of foods that use “Nature” or “Natural” or similar terms in the brand name—that use is not well enforced. The USDA has, however, cracked down on brands that featured “Organic” in the brand name but did not comply with the strict federal regulations on the term.

Q. High quality, healthy such as low fat/lean meats, raw/steamed veggies and whole grains?

A. Sure. Veggies must be pureed or cooked (steaming works well), and grains must be cooked. A dog’s carnivore digestive tract doesn’t have the means to break down those tough plant cell walls to get at the nutrition. In the wild, the prey animal has already begun the digestive process. But digestive contents are not a significant part of the predator’s nutritional intake; an adult dog’s physiologic requirement for carbohydrates is zero.

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

A. It’s easier to list the things you want to avoid: by-products, meat-and-bone meal, corn products, multiple grain products, artificial preservatives….here’s an article on foods for dogs you’d want to avoid that explains all that.

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

A. Homemade diets (raw or cooked) need supplementation. Follow a tested, balanced recipe and don’t skip any of the recommended supplements. Serious nutritional deficiencies can occur, with serious health consequences.

A “complete” commercial diet will state whether it is for adult maintenance or growth/all life stages. I recommend an “all life stages” food as it will meet the higher standard. Manufacturers typically over-supplement to make sure that the food still meets requirements after processing and packaging. You can add water-soluble vitamins and Vitamin E without worries, but fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, and K) and minerals are not necessary and can be harmful.

However there are four supplements that I recommend for all pets, regardless of diet. These are:

  1. Digestive Enzymes
  2. Probiotics
  3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  4. Antioxidants

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

A. Most joint supplements are very safe, but a few contain minerals like manganese or zinc that may accumulate over time, and could reach toxic levels. Some also contain herbs that could be problematic in certain animals; alfalfa, for instance, is a diuretic and would not be appropriate for a dog with kidney issues.

There have been a few reports that glucosamine raises blood sugar in diabetic dogs, but it does not do so in normal dogs, and the jury is out on this one.



To follow our blog series on Canine Nutrition and the do’s and don’ts of what to feed your dog, check our our introductory post on canine nutrition and first installment with nutrition-and-exercise-for-dogs expert Dr. Audrey Harvey. To continue following the blog series make sure you’ve signed up to receive them. You can do this directly on our inquisitive canine blog website.