Happy National Pet Day! When it comes to our beloved pets, we want to treat them with the same care they give us, but we don’t always know how. To find out what kind of diet makes for a healthy dog, we interviewed two doggy professionals for their opinions.

Christine Johnson is a Dog Wellness Coach/Trainer, owner of Dogs 4 Life and A Naturally Balanced Dog. Her businesses are geared towards a whole-dog approach in training and balancing the mental, physical, and emotional aspects of dogs.

Dr. Odette Suter, DVM, CVA, CVSMT, COT, MA is a holistic veterinarian, lecturer and author. She owns Peak Animal Health Center. Her passion for true healing and educating people on animal health has led her to write her book “What Your Vet Never Told You – Secrets to Supporting Peak Health for Your Animal” and create her in-depth video training course called “Animal Longevity Secrets Revealed”. Her focus is prevention of disease and true healing through uncovering the underlying cause and supporting the body’s innate ability to restore itself.

Tell us a little bit about your dogs, Christine…

Christine: I currently have two Egyptian pharaoh hounds, and am fostering one Podenco. I love dogs and everything about dogs. Not only do they add joy into my life and fill my heart, but they also assist in my training programs. My dogs work side by side with other dogs to teach obedience, socialization, confidence building, and show them how to be dogs. 

As dietary-focused professionals, what’s the main issue you see in commercial dog food?

Christine: When a dog is unhealthy, it plays out into physical and emotional behaviors. That’s why we need to make sure the diet is appropriate for each dog. Dogs that suffer from allergies, joint issues, poor immunity, or other health issues can effect behaviors such as hyperactivity, inability to focus, lethargy, depression, and even aggression issues. Poor diet can bring these issues to the surface; the owner thinks the dog has a behavior problem, but fixing the diet along with obedience often balances out the dog’s mental, emotional and physical aspects.

Christine and her pup

Odette: The main issue is that dry and canned foods promote inflammation due to high carbohydrate content and processing. (Not all commercial foods do, because raw foods are good and they’re also commercially available.) In the wild, a dog would eat about 3-5% carbohydrates. Kibble contains 30-50% or more, which creates an imbalance and feeds disease just like in us humans. They also contain unhealthy ingredients in addition to the creation of toxic compounds during the heating process.

Everything a dog eats either helps or hurts the body. There is nothing in between. Therefore, no matter how “grain free” and “natural” it says on the bag, there is no such thing as a “healthy” kibble for dogs. Anytime we put dogs on a diet that veers off of what they’d eat in the wild, there is a high likelihood that they will develop health issues. This results in needless suffering, poor quality and shorter life, as well as increased veterinary cost and emotional pain to you.

What would you consider a healthy diet for dogs?

Christine: I believe in a species-appropriate, raw diet.  When we go to our doctors, they tell us to eat fresh food and exercise, so why should that be any different for our animals? Our pets should not be eating processed food, but rather fresh, raw, meat, bones, organ meat, veggies and fruits. I once read something that always sticks in my mind. It said there’s 180,000 different species on this planet and only one cooks their food.

Odette: A raw diet is healthy for most animals, but there are a few exceptions to every “rule”. I tend to recommend commercially prepared raw food over making it yourself, because a raw diet needs to be balanced. Puppies in particular are very susceptible to an imbalanced diet. For all dogs, a deficient home-made diet can be more detrimental than the lowest quality dry food! Making your dog’s food yourself is certainly doable, but it is important to know what nutrients your dog needs.

Might you adapt the diet for different breeds?

Christine: My belief is that diet is not breed-specific. Healthy, nutritious food is universal for all, and a dog is a dog. They are classified as carnivores. Their digestive systems are similar to their wild counter parts. I tend to match the diet based upon what I see in the dog’s behavior. For example, if the dog is overly active, constantly panting, and uncontrollable, we match the dog to foods that help balance these behaviors. However, in certain instances I might help the owner create a diet based on a specific breed that harbors health issues. For example, Golden Retrievers have a high rate of cancer, so I might suggest a Keto diet.

Odette: Some dogs tend to gain weight more than others. Thus, we have to adjust amounts based on activity level, age and hormone status (intact animals have a higher energy requirement). A good starting guideline is: 1 lb of raw food / 50 lb dog, divided into 2 meals. If you’re just switching to a species-appropriate diet, I recommend weighing your dog weekly to figure out how much they actually need. If a dog has food sensitivities, the diet will also need to be adjusted to what the individual can tolerate.

Dr. Odette Suter with her patient

What’s the goal of a raw protein, balanced diet?

Christine: Well one is a healthier life, and hopefully longevity. Generation upon generation of dogs have eaten processed food. They have immunity issues, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and so many other health issues that dogs never used to have. We need to turn this around. Eating a fresh, raw diet can positively affect behavior and lifespan, and is a great preventative to your dogs over all well-being.

Odette: Inflammation damages the body and makes an animal more prone to developing allergies, autoimmune conditions, cancer, etc. Since a well-balanced, species-appropriate diet is “anti-inflammatory”, I usually see a reduction or even resolution of disease. Gastro-intestinal issues, skin conditions, behavior, energy level, ability to move, etc. all benefit from a reduction of carbohydrates and addition of fresh foods. More importantly, a healthy diet prevents health issues from arising in the first place.

What you can expect is more energy, healthier weight (loss or gain depending on what the dog needs), cleansing of the body, reduced allergies, clearer eyes, easier movement, a shinier coat, and much more. Inflammation effects the entire body. Any symptom you can think of can benefit from a better diet.

Any closing thoughts for our readers?

Christine: People are embarrassed to say that they put table scraps and their dog’s bowl, but I say don’t worry! I get it, food in a bag is easy, but it’s not ideal for feeding carnivores. Add some eggs, meat, broccoli, and cauliflower to your kibble, because something is better than nothing.

Odette: People often come to see me once they’ve exhausted all of what traditional medicine has to offer, and didn’t get the answers and outcome they desired. Traditional medicine doesn’t ask about the cause of a disease, and how to resolve it; it’s more orientated around managing symptoms and emergency situations. With holistic care, we ask “why”. This allows us to discover the underlying cause, and assist the body to restore itself. We need both realms of medicine, as both have their limits, but when we look at chronic illness, traditional medicine has very little to offer in regards to restoring the body to better function and health. That’s where holistic medicine shines.

The very best thing you can do for your dog is to be proactive and invest in their health from the very beginning, starting with a species-appropriate diet.