Nutrition is important.
As devoted pet owners, we are always trying to find the healthiest foods and supplements for our pets. Some owners will add vitamin and mineral mixes to their pet’s food in order to boost the nutritional value. However, this can lead to unintentional overdosing of specific nutrients.
The safest and most effective way to supplement your pet’s diet is with real food. Food is easily digested and absorbed, and as an added bonus, tastes delicious.
The majority of pet owners (in my experience) add foods like cooked chicken, rice and vegetables into the diet. There are certain scenarios where I recommend supplementing these types of foods in the diet, primarily to help with weight loss, to identify food allergens, or to help dilute the cost of expensive dog food. However, (muscle) meats, carbs and vegetables are relatively mineral deficient sources of nutrition for a carnivore.
Dogs are carnivores, leaning slightly towards the omnivore side. They are not true omnivores like us or other primates. The majority of their anatomy and physiology is geared towards eating and digesting animal protein. While they can survive on plants and grains, like omnivores, this should not constitute their entire diet (more on this topic in later posts).
Muscle meat – such as chicken, turkey or beef, do have nutritional value for dogs. However, when you think of carnivores in the wild, such as wolves or lions eating the carcass of a prey animal, the majority of what they consume are the organs. Organ meats, such as liver, heart, kidney, etc., are concentrated sources nutrients for carnivores. It is ok to feed primarily muscle meat to your pets, however, I recommend supplementing with small amounts of organ meats when you can.
Over the years as a veterinarian, there are certain foods that I have consistently seen improve the overall health of my dog patients.
Owners have reported a better coat, less shedding, more energy and less arthritic pain in pets that eat some or all of these foods. They are highly dense nutritional sources of vitamins, minerals and good fats for dogs.
That being said, these foods are also high in fat and fairly rich. Introduce them slowly, especially for sensitive pets. Start with small amounts and watch for any reactions (vomiting, soft stool, etc.). Every pet is an individual and may not tolerate certain foods.
The best way to feed these foods is to mix them in small amounts with the food your pet is currently eating. Do not feed them separately.
Sardines are one of my favorite superfoods for dogs.
They are a great source of good fats (omega-3s) for dogs. These fats are often deficient in commercial dog food because they are very difficult to store in dry dog food without becoming rancid.
As a veterinarian, I see many health problems that result from not enough good fats in the diet, or the wrong ratio of fats. These manifest as skin disease, arthritis, ligament tears or low energy. Many of these problems improve in pets that are regularly fed sardines.
Sardines are high in vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E and trace minerals. Many of these vitamins are often deficient in home-cooked diets.
Dogs primarily obtain vitamin D from food. Despite the requirements for vitamin D in commercial diets, we are finding that many dogs are deficient in this key vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency may be a player in diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Sardines also contain much lower amounts of mercury than other types of seafood.
You can rotate between feeding your dog sardines based in water or in oil. Be cautious when feeding sardines in oil – feed small amounts and watch for weight gain or digestive upset if fed in large quantities. Feed less dog food on days when your pets get fed sardines.
For pets with heart disease, look for sardines with low sodium.
Amounts to feed: This is a general recommendation just to give you a starting baseline. Feel free to feed a little more or less depending on your particular situation.
Small dog (less then 20 lbs): 1-2 cans per month
Medium sized dog (20-45lbs): 2-3 cans per month
Large dog over 45 lbs – 4-5 cans per month.
(A can of sardines is 3.75 oz)
Eggs are a great source of nutrition for dogs. They are the perfect protein, and provide vitamins and minerals such as choline, lutein, vitamin D, vitamin E, riboflavin, magnesium and zinc.
It is best to serve eggs poached, soft boiled or raw. It is important that the yolk of the egg be raw or runny. When it is cooked, the cholesterol oxidizes and you lose some of the nutritional value, including the lutein content in the yolk.
You can either break a raw egg into your dog’s food, or lightly cook it in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Amounts to feed:
Small dog (less than 20 lbs): 1-2 eggs per week
Medium dog (20 – 45 lbs): 1-3 eggs per week
Large dog (over 45 lbs): 2-3 eggs per week
3) Canned Tripe/ Green Tripe
Tripe is the stomach of cows. It is a common menu item for people in countries such as Mexico or parts of Europe (such as Poland, where I am from).
There are two varieties of tripe: green and white. The difference is that the white tripe has been cleaned and bleached. While this helps with the smell and likely some of the bacteria that people may be more sensitive to, it actually takes out many of the beneficial nutrients that are healthy for carnivores. For this reason, it is best to feed your pets the green tripe variety. It is high in the good fats and very nutrient and mineral dense.
While the strong smell of green tripe may be a little off putting, I find that the cans of tripe (made by the company Tripett) offer a good alternative. They do not smell quite as strong, and dogs looove this food item.
It is also easy to hide supplements and medications in canned tripe because the smell masks any other smells well.
Amounts to feed:
Small dogs (less than 20 lbs): 1-2 cans a month
Medium dogs (20 – 45 lbs): 2-3 cans per month
Large dogs (over 45 lbs): 3-5 cans per month
4) Liver and Organ Meats
As mentioned above in the introduction, organ meats are highly nutritious food sources for dogs and carnivores. They are full of trace minerals (which may be deficient in dog food) and vitamins.
Liver is the most common organ meat fed to dogs. Organic beef liver is easy to find. Lightly cook the outside and leave the inside raw. Liver should constitute no more than 5% of the diet. It can be too rich for some pets. A good alternative to finding and cooking liver is to buy dehydrated liver treats, such as these: link, link, link.
Beef heart is another common organ meat that is beneficial for our pets. It is similar to muscle meat (regular beef), but with an added dose of taurine and carnitine. These amino acids are very nutritrious for the heart, and may help prevent heart disease in pets. Beef heart is also available in dehydrated treat form: link, link, link.
If organ meats aren’t really your thing, but you still want your pets to reap the benefits of them, then look for dog foods that already have organ meats included as ingredients (and processed in the food so you don’t have to look at them).
One of my favorite dog foods, Ziwipeak, is primarily muscle protein and organ meats. Even if you can’t afford to feed this as the primary diet, you can use this food as a treat for your pet or sprinkle some on the dog food.
5) Bone Broth
Bone broth has resurfaced in the past few years as a popular health item for people. It is high in glutamine, which helps to feed and repair the digestive tract, and is high in collagen which helps keep joints strong.
Bone broth can also be beneficial for our pets, and a great way to entice them to drink more.
Avoid store bought bone broths that contain onions, as in some dogs onions can cause toxicity. It is best to make your own or buy one that is pet specific.
Bone broth differs from regular chicken and beef broth in that a) it is cooked for longer, and b) includes an ingredient that extracts minerals from the bones, such as apple cider vinegar.
Hopefully this blog post gave you some ideas of nutritious foods you can add to your pet’s diet!
There is no sponsored content on this website. In order to support my ongoing effort to the public, I use affiliate links, which allow me to receive financial compensation for web traffic through the site. All proceeds go towards maintaining the site and blog. To find out more information about my affiliate links, see my disclosures here.