Veterinary Nutritionist Dr. Cailin Heinze’s Recipe for Dog Feeding & Treating Success


A Recipe for Successful Dog Feeding & Treating

Having a conversation about the best choices for dog food and treats is an invitation to open up Paw-ndora’s Box. So before I begin, let me first make it clear that I am not a vet, vet nutritionist or dog nutrition expert. However, I am a certified dog trainer and dog-mom who happens to be passionate about what she feeds her dog and what she uses for training.

Dog Feeding and Treating Done Right

For our new dog, Ringo, hubby and I wanted to start out on the right paw with his dietary needs. Poncho, the original inquisitive canine, had many dietary issues during the last few years of his life. Because of this, we admittedly had some emotional baggage when it came to choosing Ringo’s new diet. But instead of making decisions based on our own learning experience, friends’ opinions and what Professor Google says, we went to the experts.

First we checked with our local veterinarian, whom we adore and respect. She provided us with her recommendations and rationale behind her choices. Because she knew our history with Poncho, she was fully supportive when I asked for a referral to a board-certified veterinary nutritionist with whom we’d worked in the past, Dr. Cailin Heinze. Dr. Heinze is a specialist who teaches at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

In addition to our formal consultation, I approached Dr. Heinze about being interviewed about dog feeding and treating for this post. The following are highlights from our conversation and include some fantastic tips to help you make informed food and treat choices for your inquisitive canine.

Inquisitive Canine (IC): Mealtime is a convenient time to train, but what about other times during the day when someone wants to work with his or her dog? How important is it for healthy dogs to be on a specific feeding schedule?

Dr. Cailin Heinze (CH): Once a dog is house-trained, then it doesn’t matter all that much when meals are given. The biggest exception would be for dogs with a medical condition, such as diabetes, and for those pets that require medication that must be given either with food or on an empty stomach. While a routine can be nice for the household, most dogs will adjust just fine to variable meal times/training. If a dog’s regular food is used for training, I would suggest measuring it out every morning to avoid over or under feeding if the training schedule changes. Anything left at the end of the day can then be fed as a meal.

IC: When it comes to food labels, there seems to be a lot of confusing verbiage out there — everything from valid statements to marketing garbage. What should dog parents be aware of when they read a label on a can of food or on the side of a bag of treats?

CH: There is actually very little information on labels that tell you about the quality or usefulness of the food. We have a lot of stuff on the Tufts Vet Nutrition website about labels and terms. “Natural” is an absolutely useless term that is commonly used for marketing purposes only. It has a legal definition – not synthetic – but that doesn’t mean anything because there are lots of very dangerous natural things, including arsenic, lead, yew and mycotoxins, to name a few. There are also plenty of safe synthetic ones, including some vitamins and amino acid supplements.

IC: When choosing foods or treats for training, is it best to just use the dog’s own food as the first choice? What if that doesn’t motivate him or her? What other options work without having too much of a negative impact on the dog’s overall nutrition?

CH: If a dog will work for his regular food, that’s great. For otherwise healthy dogs, lean meats normally work well because they are lower in calories and of course dogs usually love the taste. There are also perfectly fine options for “tiny” training treats that are only a calorie or two.

Human foods, such as egg, meat, cheese or peanut butter, may also be good options. Just be careful about the salt, fat and total calories! Human baby food can also work, but keep an eye if there is any onion or garlic in the food or too much fat or too many calories.

IC: Are there ways to enhance or “dress up” a dog’s usual foods? Can you add or change anything or will this throw off the quality of nutrition?

CH: If you keep within a treat allowance of about 10% of the dog’s daily caloric intake, then you should be fine. For a healthy pet, you can add meats, fat and definitely fruits and vegetables to the main diet without much risk of causing big issues. This is assuming you are feeding an appropriate amount and type of regular food that is within the range of the feeding orders for your dog’s ideal body weight.

IC: You mention adding “fat” to the diet. Are you talking about fish oils or nut butters?

CHPretty much anything, as long as your dog does well with fat (some dogs can get upset stomachs or even pancreatitis if they eat too much fat) – chicken fat, lard, olive oil, flaxseed oil, tallow and even coconut oil. Keep in mind that a little bit goes a long way – about 135 kcal per tablespoon. There really aren’t healthy vs. unhealthy fats in dogs because they don’t get heart disease related to saturated fat like people do. As for fish oils, I generally give specific amounts.

IC: If a person needs to change up the treats in order to keep their dog motivated, what is the best approach? Keep within the same protein? Or is it better to stick with the 10% rule and watching for signs of tummy upset?

CH: The latter is fine. It’s probably good to use something for as long as it works before switching, just to avoid exposure to too many protein sources. That could be an issue later if any allergies develop. There is no real evidence that rotating or not rotating food choices makes a difference health or nutrition-wise.

IC: Are there any treat recipes that you would recommend? Or is it best to just go with simple commercial items that are easily accessible?

CH: Most treat recipes that avoid things like onions, garlic, raisins and undercooked animal products are probably fine, so long as you keep within the treat allowance.

IC: What top tips do you want owners to know when it comes to treats/foods for their dogs?

CH: Don’t overdo it. Outside of training, treats are often more important to the owner than the pet. Smaller is better! As an example, the first few bites of that cheesecake you eat usually tastes the best. If you stopped there you’d be thinner and healthier.


Well, inquisitive pet parents, as we’ve discovered, dog feeding, treating and training can create a recipe for success, not a disaster. And thanks to Dr. Heinze’s sage advice, we’ve also learned that less is more, keep treats to 10% of the daily caloric intake, and use your dog’s meals to your advantage. And finally, it’s okay to ration out portions and use them throughout the day for training.

When choosing the types of foods, it’s important to read between the lines of the labels and consult with your vet. If you feel like you need additional guidance, connecting with a vet nutritionist like Dr. Heinze is a great option to consider. For additional information, check out their website and Petfoodology blog where you can find a lot of information and resources for making informed decisions about your dog’s dietary needs.

Here’s a question for you, my inquisitive dog friends. How do you use your dog’s food for training? Do you turn dog feeding into training time? Take it on the road with you? We invite you to join the conversation below.

Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine? We invite you to post on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and we’ll Tweet ya back!

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.