a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: What to Feed a Performance Dog?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What to Feed a Performance Dog?

SUMMARY: I know next to nothing about nutrition, but it's always a hot topic when it comes up.

Backfill: Added one more section of links, Nov 30 noonish

I feed my dogs Nutro Natural Choice Chicken and Rice. I got here down a long path.

Grocery-store kibble

My first two dogs thrived on whatever name-brand kibble we could buy on sale at the grocery store. Amber, a Shepherd/Golden mix, lived to 13 1/2 with very few health problems, mostly apalling flea-related skin problems (this was before Advantage and that ilk). Sheba, a siberian husky, lived to 17 and I don't think had a sick day in her life, even when blood tests in her dotage said that she should've been at death's door.

Move to Science Diet for digestive reasons

Remington, my third dog, threw up or had diarrhea constantly. It wasn't just the kibble-- Pigs ears made him sick, where my first two dogs had ingested them with no problems. So did rawhide, sometimes. A very occasional can of dogfood gave him diarrhea. And so on. My vet suggested two or three varieties of kibble, and we tried them all, and then settled happily on Science Diet when it seemed to cure his intestinal ailments.

Move to Nutro for weight and performance reasons

When we added Jake to the family, we discovered that his love of fruit combined with our highly productive fig, plum, and apple trees meant that he was battling weight gain constantly. Not good for an agility dog, and I didn't want to cut out his kibble entirely--an all-fruit diet, I suspected, wasn't the healthiest nutrionally for any dog, let alone an active agility beastie. My agility instructor suggested Nutro Max as being a high-performance food that also helped keep the weight off. We switched both dogs, and Remington tolerated that as well, and it seemed to help. Eventually I switched to Natural Choice when weight-maintenance became less of an issue.

More high-powered kibble

These days, the same instructors have been feeding their dogs a couple of different products. One, Caribou Creek, is developed and used by sled-dog racers--they refer to it fondly as "rocket fuel." It's expensive and they buy it by the pallet-load for discounts and allow students to also buy it at cost. Lately, they say, "We are feeding Solid Gold's "Barking At The Moon" kibble. It is a high protein/fat, low carb food with salmon as the main ingredient. The dogs love it."

The Raw (BARF) diet

Meanwhile, it appears that large portions of the agility community have gone to the BARF diet (stands for various things), basically raw food, that is, largely uncooked meat and bones. I have several problems with this:
  • Time. I'm stressed in my life without taking the time to shop for, preserve, and prepare this food. It's so much easier to buy a bag on my way past the neighborhood pet store, and to scoop a bowl of kibble.
  • Expense: Nutro isn't cheap, but for a limited budget, it's much less expensive than a BARF diet.
  • Quality. I don't trust the safety of raw meats in my grocery stores for *me*; why would I feed it to my dogs? Other people do. That's fine for them. Otherwise, you buy it from people who prepare the food for you from trusted sources. That's THEIR trusted sources.
  • Storage: I have one large bin for 50 lbs of kibble. That lasts me a month. I don't know that I could fit even a week's worth of raw diet into my fridge or freezer--they're already full.
  • Safety: Bones. I've had it drilled into me for so long that splintery and raw bones are dangerous for dogs that I can't buy into it. I think that most of the prepared foods are ground up, but I dunno. An agility acquaintance's dog died last year from a perforated something caused by eating a raw bone. OK, sure, sometimes dogs choke to death on kibble, too. Somehow that seems like less of a risk to me.
  • Nutrition: Huh, OK, this is where my lack of expertise and knowledge comes in. I just don't know and have no good way of finding out. Read this excellent post by a veterinarian on the lack of data about this. I believe that, based on my dogs' general health, that any name brand dog food is probably nutritionally complete.
  • Taste: I don't think my dogs care. You should see Tika leap into the air and salivate just before she gets her kibble. Not willing to put time, money, storage, etc. etc. into something that doesn't matter to them.

Links to more info

  • Rawfed.com, pro-raw, has a "Myths" page and other info.
  • BARFworld.com, a seller of packaged raw food, has a lot of info on their site promoting the raw diet and theirs in particular, just for comparison.
  • Dogaware.com has tons of info related to dog food, recalls, nutrition, and so on. The site owner is a proponent of raw diet but it looks to me as if she has taken care to be sure that most of the info provided is generally useful and unbiased.
  • Second Chance Ranch is anti-raw-food and has a second page with links to tons of vets and others who are also anti.
  • Azmira.com, a holistic animal care site, also anti-raw.
(Thanks to Elayne for the anti- links for balance here, although she's pro-raw.)


  1. Here's a link to someone who doesn't like the raw diets: http://www.secondchanceranch.com/training/raw_meat/index.html

    and another link to a rebuttal: http://rawfed.com/myths/rebuttal.html

    I had a similar problem finding negative info. about raw diets when I researched it many years ago.

    Cody was on a raw diet from age 1 1/2 to age 7 1/2 and Lola from 8 weeks to age 5. We stopped when we got Strummer because it became to much to handle but I keep wishing I could phase it back in. The dogs are currently on Timberwolf Organics which is o.k. but I think they did so much better on the raw. Cody's mouth is awful and it went downhill remarkably quickly after starting on the kibble. The vet couldn't believe how nice their mouths were when we had them on the raw. For me the benefits outweighed risks, now if only I had the time & energy to go back.

    As an aside I'm always fascinated by the way many dog people will spend countless hours researching & preparing their dog's food while they laugh about how horrible their own diet is.

  2. Thanks for the links; I've added them to the post.

    When you say "their mouths," are you talking about teeth? Maybe I've been just lucky, but I've never had problems with any of my dogs' teeth. Never had them cleaned. Remington's were the worst--at age 9, he had a bit of tartar build-up and the vet had me watching his gums for signs of irritation and I figured that I'd have to have his teeth cleaned eventually, but instead he died of cancer. Not that I'm recommending that as a good solution.

  3. Their teeth and gums. Cody has terrible dog breath these days and when I try to brush his teeth his gums bleed very easily. He's got tartar building up as well. His mouth at age 7 1/2 was totally clean on the raw. Lola is doing o.k. but was better on the raw and Strummer could be better, could be worse. It's a really individual thing. I had 2 cats, littermates, both on the same exact kibble diet and one never had a problem while the other needed multiple teeth cleanings and extractions throughout the years.