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How to feed a Golden Retriever

Or, what I've accidently learned about preventing hot spots, lick sores, "allergies", dry coats, intermittent multi-coloured loose stools, fleas and much more by a Golden owner (but not a vet) Kathy Partridge

Golden Retrievers are getting a Bad Rap

Golden Retrievers have become famous for their "hereditary skin allergies" and some vets are now referring to them as "tumor factories" as well. They are riddled with genetic defects - so the experts tell us. I disagree. While there is no doubt that hereditary problems do exist in Golden Retrievers, it is my contention that many, (many!) of the chronic problems besetting our dogs have their true roots in the commercial diets we feed.

Do I have scientific proof of this? Nope. But I am currently owned by 14 Golden Retrievers, and I have seen with my own eyes the amazing transformation that took place once I began feeding them like the carnivores they are. That's all the proof I need. The biggest genetic problem Goldens have is that they are dogs. Goldens are not bovine or equine, they are Canis lupus familiaris - first cousins (maybe closer) to wolves, or Canis lupus. The sooner we start acknowledging this, the sooner our breed will begin to regain its health.

What should you Feed your Golden Retriever?

Many people want the definitive (and easy) answer to the question: "What's the best food to feed my Golden Retriever?" Sorry to disappoint you, but there is no "best food". Do not be fooled by claims of nutrient precision. Every dog is an individual.

I also believe that different breeds have different needs - but here, we'll just consider the needs of Goldens. While I can name a few good brands (and there are very few), what I'd really like to do is encourage people to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own dogs' health.

Don't do it because I said so. Pick lots of folks' brains. Read everything you can get your hands on. Do not close your mind to any information - you do not necessarily have to act on it, but keep it in mind. Pay attention to the science, but realize that science is not perfect, science does not have all the answers, and very often, science and profits go hand in hand. Science has something to offer, but so do laypeople.

Experienced dog people can be excellent sources of real-life practical information and they have nothing to gain (no money, no fame, no glory) when they share it with you. Among dog folks a Great Dane breeder and a Samoyed breeder were gold-mines of information for me. You don't have to listen to just Golden people.

Think for yourself! Make up your own mind - what are you comfortable with? What can you handle? What makes sense? If you do not empower yourself in this way, you are at the mercy of the dog food companies and their pitchmen. They will tell you what they want you to know, no more. They will regularly try to entice you to buy their latest fad formula - no, it's not necessarily what your dog needs, but they're hoping to increase their market share with it.

Every dog has to be fed as an individual. One size does not fit all. Laypeople can and do figure this stuff out - it is not brain surgery or rocket science. The dog food companies have brainwashed us all (including our vets) into thinking that the subject of canine nutrition is just too complicated for our feeble little brains.

Kissing Cousins

Why has it gotten so complicated? Because we've moved so far from the fundamentals. If you're so stupid, how have you managed to feed yourself and your family? And how the heck do wild canines do it? What food chemists and PhD nutritionist balances their diets?

Wolves kill and eat whatever's available. It's never cooked and processed. Their diets include a variety of foods but by far, the majority of what they eat are animal tissues. They do not graze fields of soy, eat corn by the bushel and wait anxiously for the wheat harvest to come in. Their prey may eat some of this stuff (only seasonally), but by the time the wolves get to it (in the intestines), it's been thoroughly chewed and partially digested.

Wolves and wild dogs eat the entire carcass of all but the largest prey animals (like moose). They eat the organs, the intestinal contents, and the muscle meat. Later they finish off the entire skeletal remains as well as the hide, and hooves. They occasionally eat some grasses and vegetation on their own (often covered with blood from the recent kill), but they are carnivores.

Consider the following: "Robert Wayne, now of UCLA, studied the molecular evolution of the dog family. He found the earliest fossil remains of the domestic dog to be 10-15 thousand years old. [And let me point out here that we've only been feeding commercial kibble for the last 50 years or so.]

Mitochondrial DNA studies of 7 breeds of domestic dogs vs 23 wolf populations showed a difference of only .2% (that's 2/10 of 1%). So, measured against natural selection, we don't seem to have done an awful lot of irredeemable damage..." If this is true, then our domestic dogs and wolves still are very close kissing cousins, and very likely still have similar nutritional needs. Perhaps we can take a few dietary lessons from the wolves, yes?

Kibble Guidelines

With literally hundreds of products on the market, how do you choose the few that might suit your Golden? These are my personal guidelines for a top of the line, high protein (25 - 30%) food. Of course, in each line there will also be lower protein foods with a higher % of cereal/grains, which is okay (within reason) as these do serve an important function for some dogs.

Not all dogs need (or should have) 30% protein food. However, I have found that if the base kibble I feed fits these criteria, my Goldens will likely do well on it. I apply the following to all foods in a manufacturer's line:

1. First ingredient on the list is a meat or poultry meal (not fresh, which generally gets to be first on the list because of its 70% water weight).

2. At least two meat or poultry meals in the first four ingredients. For a 20 - 24% protein food, this will be 2 within the first 5 or 6 ingredients.

3. At least three different animal proteins in the food, not counting the eggs (for example lamb, chicken and fish).

4. No by-products (exception: Bil-Jac as they only use "good" by-products that they render themselves, like livers and kidneys, no hooves, horns, heads, etc.)

5. No soy.

6. Minimal duplication of cereals, ie. brewer's rice, rice gluten, rice flour. Many, many premium foods use this little deception. When you see it, it's a sure sign that it's a cereal based food with a little animal protein added. Add up all those rice variations (or corn, or wheat, etc.) and you have a rice-based food.

7. No peanut hulls or cellulose.

8. Food must include probiotics.

9. Preferably preserved with C and E, although this is very difficult with the high protein/fat foods. The issue of preservatives is the most likely area you'll have to compromise in, in order to get the other good qualities of a food. It always amazes me how many people pass up an excellent but synthetically preserved food in favor of grain-based junk simply because it uses C and E. They then spend a fortune at the vet's trying to figure out their dogs' "allergies" with little success. (By the way, allergies are not due to a lack of prednisone in the body.)

10. No added ethoxyquin.

11. Vitamins and minerals that are sequestered or chelated for better absorption.

12. A list of actual food ingredients that is as long as possible. This is a sign that the company is formulating their products so that the bulk of nutrients come from real food, not just synthentic and crude vitamins and minerals.

13. No sugar in any form (sucrose, fructose, etc.)

Of course feeding any commercial food is an exercise in compromise. I don't think there are any that meet all 13 of my requirements, so I do the best I can. By the way, the more animal proteins there are in the food, the more likely I am to "forgive" a fresh ingredient being first on the list. I do believe all commercial foods should be judiciously supplemented (preferably with real, raw food), as they are completely dead and processed.

After years of searching and investigating dog foods, I've found that the above guidelines are most likely to lead you to a food your dogs will do best on. When in optimum health, dogs do not have "allergies", hot spots, lick sores, g-i problems, auto-immune problems, etc. They also are virtually flea-proof.

The majority of dogs with "allergies" do not have allergies at all. They are exhibiting the effects of trying to meet their amino acid needs from a food that relies primarily on grains and one animal protein as a protein source. My feeling is that only 10-20% of dogs have true food allergies.

In my opinion, no matter what you're feeding, if your dogs do not have allergies, hot spots, lick sores, g-i problems or fleas, there is no reason to switch. That's the bottom line. However, if your animals do suffer with some or all of the above, then you could be doing better.

Goldens and Allergies

The following recommendations are based on my own experiences with my own dogs, and I can't promise they'll work for you. If you have any concerns, you probably should talk to a veterinarian, preferably a holistic or complementary one.

Following my GRNews club column in the March-April '96 issue, I received countless phone calls and letters from readers interested in knowing the specifics of how they might solve the problems their dogs are having. Regardless of the age of the dog, or the area of the country, the symptoms are consistent: hot spots, lick sores, generalized itching, obsessive licking of feet or knees, recurrent staph infections, chronic ear infections, poor quality coats, and they react terribly to fleas.

The people I hear from are dedicated Golden owners who would do anything for their animals and in most cases they have: repeated allergy testing and shots, innumerable other tests, trips to veterinary teaching hospitals, etc. Over and over, the answer is the same: it's "allergies". These animals are typically being maintained on prednisone, antibiotics and antihistamines, but nothing helps. The problems never go away; at best they're "managed".

In each of these scenarios, if diet is mentioned, it's because some of these veterinarians advised putting the animal on a lamb and rice diet. So to the vets' credit, they do have some inkling that diet is involved, but their advice is next to useless, since there is nothing magical about lamb and rice diets. I know that lamb and rice diets are espoused as being 'hypoallergenic'. They may have been at one time, but they aren't any more.

Still, I don't believe that the majority of Goldens are allergic to their foods at all. A few dogs really do have true allergies - their immune systems see a threat in corn, or wheat or whatever and overreact. The problem is that the symptoms of true allergies are similar to those that result when a dog is deficient in animal protein.

In my experience, the source of most Goldens' "allergies" are the commercial foods we feed. Dogs are dogs. They are not cows, sheep or horses. Their wild ancestors ate a diet that consisted almost entirely of high quality animal tissue. Muscle meat, organs, bones, and even skin and hooves. Strictly speaking canines aren't 'true' carnivores because they do consume the partially digested plant matter in the intestinal tracts of their herbivorous prey. But this is a relatively small percentage of their overall intake.

However, stop and think for a minute what a moose or caribou or buffalo - the wolves' prey - eat. They roam and graze. They eat grasses, leaves and lichens. They do not, to my knowledge, eat a lot of grains in their mature form, the seed heads of wheat, rice or ears of mature corn. If they do so, it would only be seasonally, in the late summer or fall. However, the dog food companies take the fact that wild canines consume a small amount of predigested plant matter on a regular basis and use it to justify the huge amounts of grains upon which their foods are based.

Wild canines eat a lot of animal matter with a little plant matter. The dog food companies turn this upsidedown and manufacture plant-based foods with a little animal protein thrown in. Why do they do this? Because it makes for greater profits - cereal grains are cheaper to buy than animal protein. So their foods are based on cereals to maximize profits.

In 1990, it cost approximately $10 to manufacture a bag of Eukanuba. How much do you think it would cost if it were truly a meat-based food? (And believe it or not, Eukanuba does use more animal protein than many of the other foods out there.)

Lamb & Rice Foods - The Myth of Hypoallergenic Diet

Here's the truth about lamb and rice foods. Once upon a time, all readily available commercial dog foods were based on beef, chicken, corn and wheat. You couldn't buy a lamb and rice food "over the counter". Since it's constant and repeated exposure to foods or food ingredients that are the triggering mechanism of allergies, many dogs eventually became allergic to beef, chicken, corn and wheat. The solution was to put the dog on a lamb and rice food, which at the time, was only available from your vet. The lamb and rice food helped manage these allergic dogs because they hadn't been exposed to it before.

Wow! Lamb and rice soon became known as 'hypoallergenic'. The dog food companies jumped on this and started manufacturing their own lamb and rice formulas. Well intentioned puppy owners decided the smart thing to do was to start their animals on this 'hypoallergenic' formula from the beginning, in the mistaken belief their dogs could never become allergic to it. Not true. Through constant, repeated exposure to lamb and rice, your dog can become just as allergic to these ingredients as any other.

Because the lamb and rice foods have been so overused in this regard, the vets now have new, more exotic hypoallergenic formulas to dispense to dogs who are allergic to lamb and rice. Most of these are some combination of duck, fish and potato.

So when you feed your Golden a diet based on plant proteins, he has to struggle for the nutrition he needs. His system was designed to break-down animal protein. He doesn't have the complex digestive tract that cows or horses have for breaking down plant material. The dog food companies' will tell you that cooking makes up for this, but does it really? And we know that cooking destroys and alters nutrients, making it even more difficult for a dog to do well.

The fact is, even dogs that don't show clinical signs of animal protein deficiency aren't exactly thriving. You will never get the major dog food companies to admit to this - they hide behind their science which supposedly "proves" their foods are good for your dog.

Problem is, the science is, in many cases, up to 60 years old, and it's one sided. Since nearly all canine and feline nutritional studies are funded by the pet food companies themselves, it's not in their best interests to look at the alternatives to their formulas - if they did they just might find out that their foods aren't as good as we've been brainwashed to believe.

Another problem with grain-based foods is that many of them are too alkaline for many breeds, especially those of European origin like our Goldens. When the diet is too alkaline, the animal is much more susceptible to bacterial infections - hence recurrent yeast (ear), staph and bladder infections that many Goldens have to live with on an on-going basis. So the solution to many "allergy" problems that Goldens are plagued with is to put these dogs on a meat-based diet that is more acidic. There are several approaches to this.

Cooking For your Dog

An all natural home-cooked diet is the approach I would use if I had a dog with chronic, long-term problems. If your dog is really a mess, forget the commercial foods completely and put him on one of the home-made diets. There are several, and one of the best is the natural diet that Wendy Volhard originated many years ago. The diet is thoroughly explained in her book, The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog. Her diet is one of the more complicated ones, but I would encourage you to buy the book and consider it, since I believe it's one of the best.

Dr. Pitcairn gives many recipes in his book, Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. However, many of them rely too heavily on starches - potatoes, grains and beans so be careful. You're trying to move toward a meat-based diet for your dog. Toward that end, you could feed some of his cat recipes which are higher in animal protein (the author states that it's okay to do so.) In fact there is a Scottish Deerhound breeder in California that feeds the Fatty Feline Fare as a sole diet and she is thrilled with her dogs' condition. Apparently this combo is well suited to her breed - they're doing better on this than they have on any of the other home-cooked diets.

Another diet that's growing in popularity is Dr. Ian Billinghurst's "meaty bone" diet, as explained in his book Give Your Dog a Bone. Dr. Billinghurst is a veterinarian in Australia, and his diet is extremely popular there and in England.

Tricks of the Trade

There's no shortage of protein in commercial dog foods, problem is, most of it is from cereal grains and that's what gives our dogs such grief. The labeling laws don't mandate that we be told what percent of protein is from plants, and how much is from animals. That information would help us a lot. We are at the mercy of the manufacturers. To some degree, we just have to trust what they tell us - we read the label and have to believe that what they say is what's in there. But you all know what an animal is. (See? It's not brain surgery!)

Go get your dog food bag and look for things like Meat Meal, Chicken Meal, Poultry Meal, Fish Meal and/or Lamb Meal. These are animal proteins. You should see three of these in the first 4 or 5 ingredients listed AND one of them should be the very first ingredient on the list. Any kind of By-Product Meal is less desireble because it contains lots of feet, beaks, heads, etc. Not as good as the plain Meals listed above. (By the way, Meat Meal is very often pork, but a lot of manufacturers don't want to say so because of cultural and religious "biases" against pork.)

NOW, here's where the companies get tricky. If your bag of kibble says Lamb, Chicken, Beef, or Fish (not followed by the word "Meal") then they're cheating you. That means they mixed in fresh (well, how fresh is actually debatable, I've heard stories about chickens sitting out in the hot sun for days until they turn green - before they're finally mixed into the food) raw meat of some kind. That's good, right? Nope. Not for our purposes. Because fresh meat is around 70% water. And the manufacturers count the weight of the water when listing fresh meats, so they are listed first as a result of the water weight. The water is removed during processing, what's left is the actual animal protein, and taken by dry weight, it's way down on the list. These foods are really cereals in disguise, there's very little animal protein in them.

Also, count up the number of plant ingredients. You also know what these are: Soy, Corn, Wheat, Rice, etc. How many times is the same ingredient duplicated? Like Ground Yellow Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Corn Germ Meal. Add up all that corn. Chances are you have a corn-based food, even if you have a Meal at the top of the list. Added up, the total forms of corn will outweigh the Meal. Sneaky, aren't they? Nutro does this with rice.

See, this is the deal. Animal protein costs more than plant protein. They want to make cheap food, and sell it for what the traffic will bear ($35 - $40 per bag) to maximize profits. So they employ these tricks to make you think you're feeding animal protein when in fact, you may as well be feeding Wheaties. The companies will tell you that the dog's body doesn't care if his amino acids come from plants or animals. Well, my Goldens do care. Their coats, energy levels and overall condition tell me what I need to know. It does make a difference. Do I have scientific proof of this? Nope. Do I care? Nope.

My dogs are far more trustworthy than any dog food rep. Even many foods that are more animal-protein based, like most of the Iams and Euk are still too one-dimensional. All the dog gets is chicken. No lamb, no beef (and I think beef is very important for Goldens), no fish. Again, feeding a variety of nutrient sources is better insurance against problems. All the home-made diets rely on raw meat - don't be afraid of feeding it this way.

However, Wendy Volhard does have some good advice in this regard for those whose animals are in poor condition or ill when the diet is started. Feeding raw foods is critical - they contain enzymes, bacteria (good ones) and other 'life forces' - trying not to sound too New Agey here, but I don't know what else to call it - that are essential to good health.

If you doubt that vegetables are 'alive', consider this - if you plant a raw potato, it will grow and reproduce. If you plant a cooked one, it will rot in the ground. Raw foods are 'alive' in some way that cooked foods are not. Because of the lengthy explanations involved, I'm not going to attempt to outline any of the exact recipes or diet plans. My best advice is to buy the books and read them cover to cover. Besides you shouldn't be doing this because I said to - you need to understand for yourself what you're attempting to do.

Fresh (or 'people') Foods you Should Not Feed

Large Amounts of Egg Whites

The feeding of large amounts of egg whites will cause a deficiency of biotin, a B-vitamin due to the presence of a destructive substance called avidin. However, this is of no concern if the yolks are also being fed, since the effect of the avidin is offset by the high biotin content of egg yolk. Whole eggs are among the best sources of protein available. I feed them raw, with the shell.

Chocolate

Contains theobromine which is toxic to dogs and cats. Unsweetened chocolate is the most dangerous, containing 16 mg. of theobromine per gram. Milk chocolate contains about 1.5 mg. per gram. The LD50 (the level at which 50% of test subjects die) for theobromine in dogs is between 240 and 500 mg/kg of body weight, but deaths have been reported after ingestion of as little as 114 mg/kg. Bottom line: No chocolate!

Onions

Consumption of a sufficient amount (equal to more than 0.5% of body weight, which isn't much) of onions results in hemolytic anemia, fever, darkened urine, and death. The toxic principle is n-propyldisulphide, an alkaloid.

Spinach, Swiss Chard, and Rhubarb

While these are not toxic, they are high in oxalic acid, a compound that interferes with calcium absorption, so don't feed these very often.

The Combination Approach

A second approach is to feed a combination of commercial and fresh foods. This is what I do. However, I have gradually moved to a diet that really emphasizes variety so that my dogs have whatever nutrients they need whenever they need them. They don't have to wait for me to wake up, notice a problem and switch foods.

Our dogs have the capacity to keep themselves perfectly healthy if we provide them with the raw materials to do so. Every dog is an individual - who are we to say that this dog should do well on chicken every day, that dog needs lamb? What if your dog really needs a little bit of the nutrition from fish? What if it's not in the food?

What I've found is that if I give them a little bit of everything, but not too much of anything, my dogs are very good at using that as they see fit. Saves me from trying anticipate and guess their needs as much. Just make sure you pay attention to animal protein - that's critical. Without it, your dog has to struggle to stay healthy.

The basis for this "combination approach" is a good animal-protein based kibble. There are very few of them out there and all of them are formulated by small companies. No Science Diet - even though all the vets sell it! (In my experience, Science Diet is one of the most troublesome foods for Goldens. Read the ingredient list. What's first and second? Corn and soy. Or Soy and corn. Does your Golden look like a cow? Then why feed cow fodder? What kind of animal protein do they use? By-products. Yuk. I'll tell you, Science Diet was the all time worst food I fed. My dogs were a mess of skin and G.I. problems.)

No ProPlan, Eukanuba, Iams, NutroMax, Sensible Choice, etc. They're all very similar; lots and lots of grains in proportion to the animal protein. At some point or other, my dogs ate all of the above and never did well on any of them.

Once you have a base kibble, you need to supplement with fresh foods. Please don't call them 'people foods' - who ever said they were put here for just us??? You have a couple of ways to do this; if you have several dogs, you can use Pitcairn's higher-protein recipes. His meat, egg and cottage cheese 'kibble boosters' are especially good, but I would add more veggies. Or you can share your food with your dog - but make sure it's the good stuff. No junk food or table scraps - if you wouldn't eat it, or you know it's not good for you, don't feed it to your dog.

The Wysong booklet gives good advice on this. Use lots of variety - raw ground beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, finely chopped veggies (my dogs digest chopped frozen vegetables best, just thaw and run through the food processor), and occasionally, fruit. In the good weather, I let my dogs graze on grasses; in the winter, I give them greens powder. There are several of these available in health food stores. If you let your dogs graze, make sure the area hasn't been treated or fertilized. Almost any vegetable is fair game - broccoli, carrots, kale, mustard greens, cauliflower, etc.

To 'acidify' your dog to help keep those pesky infections at bay, start adding 1 - 2 oz. of apple cider vinegar to each gallon of your dog's drinking water. Some people put it in the food, but I think most dogs find it more acceptable in the water. I normally use one ounce, but have cured the beginning stages of a bladder infection by doubling that amount for a few days. My dogs all drink it willingly. Use raw, organic ACV. Apples are one of the most heavily sprayed fruits, plus the raw ACV has a much better flavor than the grocery store variety which is cooked.

If your dog is currently having a lot of problems, add 1 or 2 amino acid complex tablets to his daily diet until he's recovered. You can add them any time the dog starts to have problems - stress does cause dogs' needs to change, and sometimes the diet needs an amino acid boost. Increasing the ACV also helps. Make sure you use a casein-based amino acid complex, most dogs accept them without problems. I am told the soy based tablets can cause an allergic reaction. DO NOT try to guess which amino acid your dog needs - it's impossible to do and since they work in concert with each other, you could be making things worse. Use a complex so that your dog will get them all. Let his body pick and choose what he needs.

I do use some other supplements, I like whole food supplements best. Kelp, honey, and seaweed are good. Also B-complex and vitamin E. For coat, you can add chelated zinc. I do not feed these every day, I rotate so that they get each one once or twice a week. I do feed vitamin C powder every day. I feed ascorbic acid with citrus bioflavonoids. Other people use the buffered forms of C - sodium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate.

A good source for vitamins is Bronson Pharmaceuticals, 1-800-235-3200. Start slowly and work up to 1000 to 2000 mg. per day. If you start with too high a dose of C, you dog will probably get diarrhea. I also have fed an herb based vitamin-mineral supplement. Odyssey Formulas' makes some excellent ones, call 1-800-206-1861 for more literature. The Canine Complete, and Beta-Lac Puppy Formulas are especially good.

One last note: as you switch from your current feeding program to a higher quality one, your dog may go through detox or a healing crisis. This is when his body takes all this wonderful nutrition and uses it for some much needed internal repairs and housecleaning. In the process, he will dump his coat, and may get small round 'silver dollar' hotspots. These will open up, ooze for a couple of days, then crust and heal over. They won't spread or itch like your typical hotspot. His eyes may have a discharge, and you may notice some mashed potato stools - not runny, but not well formed. His body has a lot of stored toxins and junk that he has to get rid of, and any exit will do. He will probably eat like a pig and lose a lot of weight. Feed him extra, he's making up for lost time. When he starts to gain and his coat starts to come back, the detox is over. You may then have to cut back on the food a bit, or he'll get fat!

Most of the time detox will begin within the first 3 weeks of the new feeding program, although one of mine waited 6 months to blow coat and lose weight. Generally you would want to give it a good 6 months to determine the true benefits of the new program. When my dogs went through detox, they had been eating Science Diet so the signs were pretty severe. If you have been feeding a better diet, the signs may be more subtle. Don't let the detox scare you, however. Your Golden should remain bright-eyed and active throughout. If he ever acts sick, there's something more going on besides detox and you should probably see the vet.

The Overweight Golden

Many, many Goldens are overweight and their owners are constantly looking for a sure-fire formula for taking that weight off. Very often they're advised to feed one of the "Lite" formulas. Some people combine this with canned pumpkin or green beans, in an effort to fill the dog up, not out. They've all been on diets themselves (hasn't everybody at one time or another?) and they're upset by the fact that while eating such a regimen, their dog is probably hungry. Before attempting to take weight off your dog by any method, you should first have a thyroid test done. Many Goldens do have sluggish thyroids, and if this is the case with your dog, no weight loss program is going to work until you correct the condition.

Hypothyroid Goldens have very slow metabolisms, and can gain huge amounts of weight while eating next to nothing. The best thyroid testing is currently being done by the lab at Michigan State University. You should ask your vet about this. If your dog's thyroid levels are low, you will have to supplement with thyroid hormone. Once you get the dosage adjusted (which will involve further periodic testing), you will probably find that your dog loses weight with no dietary changes on your part (assuming you were feeding adequate, but not excessive calories before). If your dog's thyroid is fine, then you need to address his diet.

In my opinion, "Lite" diets are dangerous. They are extremely low in the animal protein and fat levels that dogs require for health, and they contain extremely high levels of carbohydrates and indigestible filler fiber like cornhusks, cellulose, or peanut hulls. Dogs on Lite foods are starving for good nutrition and feeding an already fat dog more carbohydrates just makes no sense. Most dogs on these diets eventually end up with dull coats, loose stools and are very lethargic. More often than not, they don't lose weight either. I have never fed a Lite diet, and I've never had a fat dog. I simply feed a good quality combination diet - the source of quality nutrients in a form my dogs can assimilate. If I see their weight creeping up a little, I simply adjust the amount of kibble fed by 1/4 cup at one or both meals.

It has been my observation that my dogs' weight does tend to fluctuate seasonally. In the summer, when they are constantly panting (which uses a tremendous number of calories) due to the heat and humidity, they tend to lose weight. In the fall and early winter, they tend to gain. I have found that if I feed a diet that's too high (for my couch potatoes' needs) in animal/overall protein, they will have so much energy that they run off every calorie they eat, and then some. They will be thin - even too thin. The solution to this, of course is to feed just the opposite - somewhat less protein and a bit less from animal sources. Naturally, this will mean you will be feeding more carbohydrates, and your dog will gain weight.

Based on this observation of my own dogs, it makes absolutely no sense to me to feed Lite foods. Again, Lite foods lack the nutrient souces and levels to keep a dog healthy, and what little there is in there is from carbohydrates, which tends to make a dog even fatter!

How many calories? Here's a good rule of thumb, to be used as a starting point for an average dog (geriatric dogs and puppies will be the exceptions to this). You want to feed 290 calories for every 15 lbs. you think your dog should weigh. So if you figure an ideal weight for your dog should be 70 lbs. you will want to feed him around 1,350 calories per day.

To find out how many cups of food that is, divide 1,350 by the number of calories in a cup of your food. If the caloric content of your kibble isn't listed on the bag, call the company and ask. They should have this information readily available. For example, if you're feeding Innova Canine (which contains 556 calories per cup) you would do the following calculation to arrive at the number of cups to feed: 1,350/556 = 2.4 cups per day. You could round this to 2-1/2 cups, but if you find your dog isn't losing on this amount, or is staying a bit over weight, adjust that to 2-1/4 cups per day.

Keep adjusting until you find the amount that keeps your dog at the desired weight. There should be no need to resort to canned pumpkin or Lite dog foods. Of course, puppies need more calories than this, and geriatrics will probably need less. But the above formula can be used as a starting point.

The lesson here is that too high a level of protein (for your dog, remember) will give him lots of energy - to the point of making him hyper and hard to live with - and keep him thin. Too little - particularly from animal sources - and your dog will become obese and encounter real health problems that will probably be labeled as allergies, or auto-immune problems or such. The trick is to find the right levels for your dog. It is my hope that this article will help you do this, and lead your dog to truly optimum health.

Diet and Immune Problems

We're constantly hearing these days about the number of immune problems that are affecting our Goldens. Allergies, cancer, lupus, and thyroid problems, to list just a few, all have a common link - a malfunctioning immune system. Basically, there are two kinds of immune malfunctions. One is where the immune system gets trigger-happy. Everything it encounters, including the body itself, is preceived as a threat. So everything is attacked - including major organs. This is referred to as an "auto-immune" problem. The immune system has lost the ability to "recognize self" and conditions like arthritis, hypothyroidism, and lupus are a result.

On the other hand, the immune system could be depressed - not attacking much of anything, in which case the body can't protect itself against foreign invaders or faulty cells within the body. If a dog's immune system is not functioning well, it can't defend itself against cancer cells, or invaders like viruses and bacteria. Much time and energy is spent on hand-wringing over the current number of health problems in the breed.

Cancer is especially worrisome, and there's no doubt that it is killing an inordinate number of middle-aged and young Goldens. Many people feel powerless to do anything about it, figuring our only choice is to wait for science to come up with the cure for all these "genetic" problems that beset our dogs. I disagree. It is my belief that we can do a great deal to prevent or at least delay the onset of cancer and other immune-related problems in our dogs. We can feed for optimum health. A dog in optimum health has an immune system in optimum health. It's functioning at peak efficiency. It is neither trigger-happy, nor sluggish. It recognizes foreign invaders (and internally, faulty cells that are the early stages of cancer) and reacts quickly to attack them. At the same time, it stays "sane" and realizes that skin, thyroid, and other organs/systems are part of the body and not a threat.

A dog in optimum health does not have fleas, rashes, lick sores, infected ears, etc. These all relate to the skin, the largest and most easily observed organ in the body. Logically, I think we can assume that if the right diet can do all this for the skin, it also must be benefitting the rest of the body - the internal parts we can't see. Admittedly, this does involve a bit of faith, but in my opinion, it's a much better option than sitting around, waiting for a cure, and keeping our fingers crossed while our dogs die prematurely.

Diet and Orthopedic Problems

It has been shown that diet is strongly linked to the development of orthopedic problems in dogs as well as other species. Overfeeding and rapid growth-rate predispose animals to all kinds of problems like OCD, HOD, panosteitis and hip dysplasia. But I think there's more to it than that. I believe that feeding for optimum health and growth rate (and by that I mean the growth rate that Nature intended, not that promoted by the purveyors of puppy foods or breeders who want their puppies in the ring and winning by six months of age) are further protection.

My feeling is that for bone and muscle to develop normally, the nutrients have to be there in a form that the puppy can assimilate. Again, that means animal proteins from varied sources, preferably in a raw form, as well as fresh vegetable matter, etc. We shouldn't overfeed (particularly in terms of calories), but denying puppies proper, fresh, natural nutrients could also be playing a role in the proliferation of many so-called "genetic" diseases. At the same time, we can't deny the fact there may be and probably are, genetic bases for many conditions.

The smart approach, I think, is to breed as if genetics are everything. But after conception and the die is cast, there is a great deal we can do to optimize the genetic potential of our puppies we produce. We must then raise them as if husbandry is everything. If we can do both, we will give our Goldens the best chance for a long healthy life. Only then should we consider ourselves as true fanciers of the breed.

Note: all of the books mentioned in this article can be obtained from: Direct Book Service PO Box 2778 Wenatchee, WA 98807 1-800-776-2665 E-mail: dgctbook@cascade.net


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