Sunday, May 26, 2013

Going to the dog's (food)

Sometimes I think when we feed our dogs, we are feeding ourselves. It can be so difficult to control our relationship with animals. Food is the one thing we do have control over, versus sitting, staying, jumping, barking, and pooping. We feed our need for control.  And maybe over our own diets, too. It's hard to resist a craving for food, but with a dog or cat you can actually try to craft the 'perfect diet.' for the animal. Of course, some people go the opposite way and overfeed, desperately trying to prove that eating junk food isn't terrible because "my dog eats it all the time and she is fine."

I recently decided to change my dog's food.  She's been eating the Wegmans generic version of Beneful (same ingredients, just the store label) for many years, but then I noticed that Wegmans recently added high-fructose corn syrup to their formula.  Since I consider high-fructose corn syrup to be THE NUTRITIONAL EMBODIMENT OF EVIL (i.e., my Moriarty/ Lord Voldemort/ Lex Luther) I knew I had to find her some new food. She obviously had no say in the matter.

I once read an article by a woman who tried various kinds of dog food, just out of curiosity. I love my dog, but I'm not willing to go that far for blogging.

There is quite a bit of evidence out there (most of it contradictory) about what to feed your dog. I think part of the problem is that dogs are omnivores--like us--and there are some parallels between how and what humans eat and what dogs eat. There has been a recent explosion of gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, corn-free, and soy-free dog food and a corresponding explosion of interest in human diets that meet all of these conditions. There is even vegan dog food. You know all of the micro-managed dogs are drinking from puddles and toilet water and lusting after road kill when their owners aren't looking.  And it bugs me when people call their dogs vegan or gluten-free.  You may feed it vegan or gluten-free food, but if there is a squashed Big Mac on the road, it's not going to call PETA  or eat the burger and not the bun to avoid the wheat, it's going to try to eat the whole damned thing.  Dogs don't make their diets part of their internalized 'identities' like humans. 

I haven't found the secret to the optimal diet for all dogs.  My first dog was a stray and very, very picky.  She would eat a bite of Mighty Dog, cover her nose, retreat to the back of the room, then take another bite. Despite not being a 'dog person' my mother insisted on feeding her people food because she felt guilty, kind of like how she would nag me about eating sweets and my weight and then give in when I begged for those waxy chocolate-covered doughnuts in the supermarket or sugary McDonald's.  When I was in college, my mom cooked more for Lucky than she did for herself.

My current dog eats dog food. My mother passed away when Asta was two, and I am sure Asta thinks of those years as the Golden Age when my mother fed her steak, Swiss cheese, and peanut butter when I was at work during the day.  However, she weighs about three pounds less than she did when mom was still with us.

Still, I haven't been using a 'healthy' dog food. So I have felt a little bit guilty all these years, buying my broccoli and Greek yogurt while getting her the dog food equivalent of, if not sugary cereal, than one of those kinda fake 'good for you but not good for you cereals' like Raisin Bran. As a puppy, I tried to get her to eat numerous high-end foods but she seemed very unenthusiastic about eating the brown, lumpy homogenous grain versus the brightly-colored kibble.  Also, the high-end food made her very, er, constipated, because it was so high in protein and low in fiber.

I couldn't blame her for hating the healthy dog food. It looked exactly like the terrible dehydrated rice meals I used to buy in graduate school when I felt guilty about getting takeout every night.  I'd try cooking that stuff, watch it adhere to the bottom of a pot, and then spoon the muck into the garbage.

Since she has been healthy and flourished on the food I was giving her, I never really looked into brands until now. I nearly had a meltdown in PetSmart. It seemed terribly ironic after dealing with so many people who avoid gluten in my yoga classes that I was now faced with an entire aisle of such products.   But then again, I'm really neurotic about carbohydrates and all of the formulas promising giving a dog an 'ancestral' diet cut a bit close to home. Perhaps I should just buy an organic, grass-fed cow for both of us and call it a day?

I looked into home-cooked meals and raw food, but was terrified to read about dogs getting broken bones from not enough calcium from homemade dog food and pancreatitis and intestinal parasites from 'going raw.' Besides, even the homemade formulas had added supplements to make them 'balanced,' which seemed to kind of defeat the point of going 'all natural.' And I kinda resented any recipe that was called 'easy cooked dog food' that began with 10 pounds of ground beef. There is nothing easy about cooking with 10 pounds of ground beef.

I found a new, healthier food she seems to like, but I still feel guilt. She cannot choose what she eats and also that whatever bag I buy makes up the bulk of her  nutrition, versus the varied diet that I eat. And I feel if I can find her the 'perfect' food, she will live longer, be happier, and I will be a 'good owner,' whatever that means.


  1. Asta! Now I'm going to imagine that you wear an impeccable suit and hat or an evening gown every time you take her for a walk.

    My cat ate a combination of canned Friskies, which she never tired of, and dry food, which I had to change at various times. She ate Purina Pro Plan for years and seemed to like it well enough, but she became more finicky as she grew older, and one day just refused to eat it again. They do seem to like the cheaper foods better -- I suppose similar to the way human kids would rather eat a Happy Meal than a plate of halibut and steamed green beans -- but eventually, we settled on Purina One, which was not as good nutritionally as the Pro Plan, but better than, say, Meow Mix (which she liked a lot). She turned up her nose at every other premium brand I put in front of her, as well as a couple of prescription foods that her vet recommended.

    In general, I didn't worry too much about what she was eating. I knew that giving her bits of chicken and tuna off my plate was not the best thing for her, but I wanted her to be happy and since I didn't let her go outside or have kittens or kill birds, I figured the least I could do is let her eat the occasional ground chicken meatball. And she lived to be 17, so I think it turned out fine.

  2. @Flurrious! I know, my 'real life' Asta has a considerably more downscale life than her cinematic "Thin Man" counterpart. Thank goodness she can't turn on the television and watch it on TNT, otherwise she would realize how much she is missing.

    Your story about your cat's eating habits makes me feel so much better! And I guess it is universal that pets like the cheap food (and I can't blame them, given that the 'good for your food' usually doesn't even have a smell). I think cats are even more sensitive and individualistic in terms of what they thrive on--perhaps because they are carnivores and the big pet food companies understand their more complicated nutritional needs less well.

  3. My question is, if they can make a complete food for cats and dogs, why can't they do that for humans? Since they don't, I find myself doubting that any pet food is truly complete. So I feed my pets Science Diet, plus some of what I eat. Betsy Beagle will eat almost anything, while Finn is more, well, finicky. I do bake biscuits for Betsy, though I'm not sure why that seems so important to me. Maybe it meets my urge to bake without filling my house with cookies. Time for supper - steak for all!

  4. @bittenbyknittin--interesting question! I do still give my dogs some bits of human food (mostly meat, cooked vegetables, the occasional nut or bit of yogurt) but it is not a 'staple.' I have had the urge to bake dog biscuits as well for a similar reason. Science Diet is one of the foods I tried early on, but she just wasn't that enthusiastic about it.

  5. I think it's actually much harder to figure out what to feed dogs than it is humans! Our dog has a sensitive stomach so she has to eat special food and we sometimes give her a bit of bread and sweet potato or pumpkin. but who knows what is REALLY ideal.

  6. I don't give my dog sweet potato or pumpkin, although most dog owners swear by it--she is just 'not into it.'