I have had many people email and phone me in regards to safe and healthy nutrition for their Miniature Schnauzers, so I thought it was time to add some nutrition info to the site. I have done extensive research into healthy nutrition for my dogs over the years, but even so, the info you find here is only a guide and is not meant to be the end all and be all of nutritional information. I will tell you what I look for and what I consider to be a good quality food, what I like and do not like and why, and what I have personally tried and what I find works best for my dogs. While I am a strong supporter of the *idea* of raw and/or home cooked feeding, the reason I do not use it myself or recommend it to most people is that I worry about any given person being able to prepare and serve a truly balanced diet for the long term. Some people may vey well say they are feeding raw and their dog may be wonderfully improved and heathy for the last 9 months, but that diet still may be unbalanced and not only be not nutritionally complete but in actuality may even cause long term health issues due to some deficiency. But safe and healthy raw and home cooked feeding can and is being done all over the world, the necessity is to have support from knowledgable people that have extensive experience in such feeding practices. There are online support groups as well as many books and recipes for healthy canine diets, so if time and due care are taken to ensure that you are dealing with reliable info then I do feel that it is probably the healthiest way to feed your dogs by far.
Having said that, I choose not to feed raw for various reasons. One, for convenience like most people. Secondly, I fear the unknown and of *screwing up* and hurting my dogs. Thirdly, having a number of dogs and not just one or two, the dynamics of preparing and storing home cooked or raw meals is thrown into a whole new perspective that would take not only extensive time and much careful thought and preparation, but indeed I do not have the space to store so much fresh and frozen foods to continuously feed a pack of dogs. I also worry about the competition factor, as well as the mess. To feed all my guys, who are all housepets, using raw chicken necks for instance would ensure not only some really messy floors, furniture and even beds, and require extra careful cleaning to avoid salmonella etc, but I am sure that the potential for fighting over food could be taken to a whole new level, were my dogs to all run off around the house with a chicken neck each, everyone looking for a safe and private corner to eat. I suppose crating during meal time would fix that problem but then I would have to be scrubbing crates after every meal due to the raw meat issues. Also, the need to eat quickly so that some other dog does not steal it would also enhance the chance of a dog choking on food in my opinion, most especially if I were to feed raw meat including bones.
One thing I wish to make note of, is that I detest most foods sold by Veterinarians, their inferior quality is shameful as can be seen simply by reading and understanding the ingredients lists. However, I do realize that some owners have dogs who have severe and sometimes life threatening health issues, that *may* require that their dog be fed a specific prescription food for a specific health issue such as kidney or liver issues or diabetes or whatever. Unfortunately there is not much that can be done in these cases but feed what you have to. But for the normal healthy puppy or dog, you simply do not need to feed inferior foods sold by vets.
So now I will discuss what I primarily feed, in fact what most folks feed, and that is bags of dry (kibbled) dog food. First of all, no one individual food is going to work well for all dogs, and contrary to what some dog food companies would have you believe, no one food is 100% perfect balanced nutrition for the lifetime of the dog. For that reason, I choose to rotate every couple of months or so among various of my favorite formulas from several top quality brands, so that I know I am giving the very best in variety as well as overall complete balanced nutrition, over the longterm. I also buy various varieties of quality canned food, using basically the same requirements that I expect in my dry food, and I mix a couple of tablespoons of canned food in about a half cup of warm water and add a few tablespoons or so of this mixture to each dish of dry food before serving it to my guys. I feed my puppies exclusively Now! Grain Free Turkey & Duck Formula for puppies. I have tried many many puppy foods over the years and this is by far the best puppy food I have ever used. The puppies love it and thrive on it. They stay in excellent condition, do not have to eat huge amounts of bulk to look chubby and stay healthy, and never have I had such glowing shiny coats, healthy skin with no flakiness whatsoever, and great stools. I cannot say enough about how I love this puppy food and how excellent my results have been using it for my nursing moms and their litters! Despite its seemingly high cost at first glance, pound for pound it outperforms any other puppy food that I have ever tried. And no I do not have anything to do with the Petcurean company that makes it, I have no friends or family that work there or own stock in the company...lmbo, I simply am an everyday responsible breeder trying to do the very best I can for the puppies I so lovingly raise, a breeder who has tried so many puppy foods over the years, and found this to be, hands down, the very best I have ever used in my 30+ years in dogs! I also really like the Now! Grain Free adult formulas but if it were me I would feed the Now! senior/weight management formula, not their regular adult formula, so that the fat content is kept reasonable for our minis. (More later on other really great tried and true foods, or excellent foods that are on my *wish* list.)
In order to choose a quality food, you simply have to learn to look at and understand the dog food labels; the list of ingredients, the guaranteed analysis, and any stamps of approval such as PFAC (Pet Food Association of Canada ) or AAFCO (Association Of American Feed Control Officials).
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Things To Avoid:
First of all, I will not even consider feeding any foods that contain any of the following: meat by-products, poultry by-products, any food with the actual words "meat meal" in the ingredient list (meat meal could potentially contain anything such as diseased or dead/dying animals, including the possibility of euthenised pets from shelters (yes with the euthenasia drugs still in their systems and sometimes even with collars still on), as well as a legal allowed % of plastic, chemicals and other unmentionables), soy, corn or any fragments thereof, wheat or any fragments thereof, any kind of gluten or gluten meals, sugar, artificial flavours, artificial colors, BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin
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Things To Look For:
Ingredients: High quality specific proteins are my first priority, with some kind of specific meat or "specific meat meal" (listed as salmon meal or lamb meal etc) being the first on the list, and not a by-product. In other words, I like to see lamb or lamb meal, salmon or salmon meal, chicken or chicken meal, duck or duck meal, etc. first, and there should preferably be at least two or more specific animal proteins in the first handful of ingredients on the list, the more the better! As stated above, seeing the words "meat meal" is a big red flag, it is way too generic and can include things that you just do not want to know, much less wish serve to your pets to eat! Also remember that whole meat (beef, chicken, duck, lamb etc) contains a lot of actual water by weight, so if the first ingredient is whole lamb or duck, and not lamb meal or duck meal, then you need to look for at least one or two other animal proteins high in the list, hopefully within the next half dozen ingredients, with at least one also preferably being a meal such as chicken meal or salmon meal or whatever.
While grain free foods are all the rage, as long as your dog does well on grains and has no food allergy symptoms (sloppy stools, upset stomach, itching, frequent ear issues etc) , foods containing whole grains and not grain fragments (brewers rice or oat hulls for instance) are the healthier choice. I look for oats, barley, or brown rice for instance. You do not want to see too many grains, or else they will far outweigh the protein and lower the quality of the food. I personally love the inclusion of foods that contain natural antioxidants and enzymes such as herbs, fresh fruits and vegetables, and also prebiotics and probiotics for enhanced digestibility and absorbtion (preferably added after cooking to be able to be utilized at their full potential). If the label says organic and or human grade ingredients, they are the very best, and though the word can be manipulated, if the food label says it is holistic that is a good place to start your search. For fat sources I prefer combos of salmon oil, flaxseed, flaxseed meal or flaxseed oil, coconut or canola oils, with vegetable oil and chicken fat being acceptable. I believe that I read somewhere a while back that sunflower oil has been shown to cause cancer in dogs. These days all foods should be naturally preserved, such as with rosemary, vitamin e or c , or listed as mixed trocopherols or citric/ascorbic acid. Never buy a food preserved with BHA, BHT or ethoxyquin as they can cause cancer in dogs.
Guaranteed analysis: What I look for in an everyday adult food is a moderate amount of quality animal protein, anywhere from 20-30% has worked for me, preferring it to be in the 22-26% range. I look for the fat content to be between 8% and 14%, preferring it to stay in the 10-12 % range for most of my food choices. I like the calorie content to be at least 340-360 calories per cup or more for normal active minis. If it gets to be much less than that I find I have to feed so much bulk food to keep a decent weight on my guys, that I get a lot more cleanup required in my yard. With 7 or 8 dogs around I sure do not need that! If being overweight is a problem then you can look for lower calorie foods , such as senior or weight management foods if necessary. Of course if your dog has specific health issues you will have to also take into consideration what your vet recommends.
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The myth that you should not feed your dog any people food is finally getting squashed as it should. The problem occurs, like with anything, if it is overdone or unbalanced. I personally feel strongly that as long as you do not do it to excess, regularly feeding small portions of a large variety of healthy people foods, in addition to/ as a supplement to dry and/or canned food, is the very best thing you can do for your dog for optimum nutrition. I do not have the time nor space to explain why certain foods are so beneficial, you can feel free to look things up individually on the internet if you wish to know how or why they can work so well in canine health.
At the very top of my list is low fat or non fat yogurt, preferably plain (no flavour), tiny bites of various cheeses, and whole eggs, and meat and fish. I have used both raw and cooked eggs myself, for my dogs. As long as not overfed, raw eggs are tolerated very well by most dogs, but too much raw egg white can hinder biotin usage by the body. But if worried go ahead and lightly scramble or boil them first. My guys enjoy about a tablespoon each of yogurt several times a week. I try and give everyone eggs (1 small or medium egg each per adult) at least a couple of times weekly, and a little bite of cheese as a treat once or twice a week also. Lean meat and boneless fish can be fed raw but I prefer to feed it all cooked to be safe. I feed a little of whatever we are eating, chicken, turkey, salmon, beef or pork, or liver in very small treat size quantities. We happen not to be lamb eaters ourselves, but that would be fine too. When we BBQ, I always make a spice free and onion free hamburger patty or two that I then cut up and serve to the dogs. They know what it means when we fire up the BBQ :-)
Vegetables, raw or cooked, are thoroughly enjoyed and very healthy, such as small amounts of yellow or green beans, carrots, peas, brocolli, lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, sweet potatoes. I am sure there are other good ones that I either am forgetting or simply have not tried. If feeding veggies raw, they are best cut up small for easier digestion, with the exception sometimes of carrots, I find that larger hunks of raw carrots can be a very good teething aid for puppies! So if we are having veggies with a meal, I divy up the leftovers for the dogs, or when I am preparing meals they sometimes get some raw veggies as a treat. Fresh fruits that my guys love are strawberies, blueberries, bananas, apples, watermelon and a slice of orange now and again. I always share when I am enjoying fresh fruit! Cooked pumpkin in small amounts is also very good for dogs. There are lots of things that I do not use as I am just not sure, such as turnip and cauliflower (they may be too gassy so I don't bother). and red and green peppers (may upset them, don't know, never tried).
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People Food No No's!
Onions, raw potatoes, any kind of alcohol and caffeine, chocolate, and raisins and grapes are all no-nos, some more toxic than others but all are bad for your dog! If you wish to try any new food, first look it up on the internet to see if it is safe to feed or not, and if in doubt at all, simply do not feed it! My motto, better safe than sorry. :-)
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There are lots of commercial supplements out there, some beneficial and some not so. Always read carefully, do your research before using anything, and always start off slowly when introducing anything new to your pet. I have only tried a few over the years, and one that I love and find very beneficial is Solid Gold Seameal powder which also has Prozyme (digestive enzymes) added. I use it for my dogs at every meal according to the package directions. It is just full of great stuff, does help in the digestibility of even the very best dry commercial foods, making for healthier dogs and less *waste*! The coat and skin on my guys is second to none. The only other supplement that I use daily is a salmon oil based Omega3 fatty acid supplement, again to aid in the very best healthy skin and coat, it also helps if your dog happens to have any inner or outer body inflamation as well as allergies.
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What I Currently Feed:
At time of original writing, I was feeding Eagle Pack Holistic Select Anchovy, Sardine & Salmon Meal Formula with Oatmeal. I also alternate with Eagle Pack Holistic Select Duck Meal & Oatmeal Formula, and Eagle Pack Holistic Select Senior Care Formula. I find that the normal adult formula of many premium brands are too high in fat for minis that may be prone to pancreatitis (influenced by too high a fat content in the diet), so you can feed the senior or weight management formulas of many premium brands to normal adults as long as they suit the rest of your required criteria. I am also using Eagle Pack Holistic Select canned foods: I rotate between their Lamb, Chicken, Beef, Tuna Salmon & Shrimp, Duck & Oatmeal, Duyck and Chicken, and Liver and Chicken formulas. I use it as stated above, mixing some with warm water and adding a bit of that diluted mixture to each dog's dry food meal, and one can lasts about 3 days or so, so every few days they get a new canned flavour to add to their dry food, and this never causes any problems.
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Tried And True:
Other Foods I have tried and really like and use occasionally in rotation: Petcurean products - Go Natural Chicken Fruit and Vegetable Formula dry and canned, Go Natural Salmon and Oatmeal Formula dry and canned, Go Natural Duck dry and canned, Now Grain Free Senior; Nature's Variety Prairie: New Zealand Venison Meal & Millet Medley; Wellness Core Adult and Senior formulas (dry); various Wellness canned formulas; Merrick Senior Medley (dry) and various Merrick canned formulas; Innova: various formulas, I especially like Innova Adult Dry Large or Small Bites, Innova Senior Plus Dry, Innova Adult Dry Red Meat Large or Small Bites (have not tried puppy); Holistic Blend - Chicken and Lamb Formulas; Evo Weight management. The Holistic Blend chicken formula and Evo Weight management is the only food I have used above 14 % fat to feed normal adults, they are 15% fat, so I use them only occasionally as a rotational food source: but they are excellent foods if fat content is not a problem for your dog.
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Foods I have not tried but may at some point, dry and canned if available: Nature's Variety Prairie formulas- Chicken, Beef, Lamb and Salmon Formulas; various Wellness Formulas (dry, whatever fits my critria particularly fat content since I know all their food is good quality); ; Fromm Four Star Whitefish and Potato formula; Fromm Puppy Gold and Fromm Reduced Activity/Senior Gold Holistic foods, never see either of them here but they both look great, so if I could I would like to try them.
Go Natural has rabbit formula available now. I have not used the rabbit formula so that I have an alternate protein source to access in case I ever have a potential case of food allergies.
Two other brands that I did not know much about personally other than hearing about them are Acana and Orijen brands made by Champion Foods based in Western Canada. After having our local pet supply store look into getting it, I found out recently that as of April 2009 we will be able to get Acana and Orijen, which I intend to try. I have researched these extensively on the internet and they look to have some very nice formulas indeed.
Update: Jan 2011: I tried Orijen Puppy a year or so ago on one pup I bought (not on a litter) and did not like it for that pup, it made the stools loose and the pup gassy. On paper it looks good, so you can still give it a try. If it suits your pup great, if like me it does not suit your pup, find something else. I have not tried Orijen Senior formula yet. I also like the look of Acana Puppy Small Breed (was told by another breeder that it causes gas and soft stools so never tried it myself), Acana Lamb and Apple, and Acana Light formulas. I have just recently (fall 2010) tried the Acana Senior and I am pretty happy with it, though one or two dogs seem to be a bit gassy occasionally, but nothing major. Of course there are other good foods out there, but I myself am only interested in feeding foods that have a moderate fat content. The really top brands that I myself would feed to my dogs are limited to a reasonable number of what I consider to be the very best that I can get my hands on, that can be used and rotated so that variety is abundant but quality is never compromised!
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My guys get a dog cookie or two every night at beditme after they come inside from their last potty time before bed, as well as for occasional treats for training or just for being cute. :-) . I have used quite a few different kinds, and these are by far my (and their) favorites!
Northern Biscuit - I have used all their flavours but do prefer to stick with the wheat free ones most of the time.
Oven Baked Tradition - all flavours
NuHemp 2 Chomp Munchies mini size - I have used several flavours
Castore & Pollux Organix - all flavours
Actrium Holistic - all flavours
Darford - various holistic/all natural formulas (no corn, wheat etc)
Zukes Mini Bakes - various flavours
Mother Hubbard (occasionally, they do have wheat)
Medi Treats - our dear old Shi Tzu girl had recurring tummy issues before she went to Rainbvow Bridge, so while I did occasionally give her tiny bites of the rest of the mentioned treats, I usually gave her these as they are more vegetable based and pretty near unlikely to cause allergies or tummy upset and they were perfect for her. The minis of course love them as well, so since they do not contain anything from my offlimits list then I do use them for all the dogs as well!