Corn dog
July 26, 2014 11:16 AM   Subscribe

We switched our dogs from a "corn filler" dry food to a high-quality, oft-recommended grain-free food about 8 months ago. I've come to the conclusion that it's not a good choice for Number One Dog. My question is, should we continue to search for a premium dog food that agrees with her, or just go back to the supposedly "bad" food on which she always seemed to be healthy and happy?

Over the last 8 months we've tried 2 different formulas of the oft-recommended Taste of the Wild: first High Prairie and then Wetlands. During that time Number One Dog--a dalmatian mix--has had a pretty-much non-stop problem with larger, looser stools: not diarrhea per se but softer, stickier, and difficult to pick up. She also rapidly gained weight--about 12 lbs total over 6 months, which is a 20% increase over her previous 60 lb weight. We started off giving her the bag-recommended 3 cups a day (for a 60-lb dog), then this spring cut that back to 2.5 cups and now 2 cups. At 2 cups the weight gain has slowed, perhaps even stopped, but she is also not losing. And her poops are still gross. We're getting ready to board her in a week, and I finally told my husband that I was embarrassed to leave a dog for boarding whose poops can never be picked up without leaving a nasty smear, and that we should switch her back to her old food at least for now, since we know she tolerates it digestive-wise.

She's been back on her old food for 2 days now and already her poops are getting smaller and firmer. My question is, should we just leave her on the old food or in the long run should we try to look for a premium food that we don't have to measure out with a teaspoon and that doesn't give her loose poops? Home-prepared is not an option.

Additional details: Number One Dog is medium active, a bit of a weekend warrior I suppose. She gets walked for about an hour a day and taken out for a vigorous hike or run once or twice a week. She tires and overheats noticeably quicker carrying the extra weight, but there's not been a change in her energy level--which has always been good. No other health changes of note. She's always had good skin, coat, teeth, etc.

Beneful Fiesta has 25% protein and 10% fat. Both formulas of Taste of the Wild have 28% protein and 18% fat. They all have about 4% fiber.
posted by drlith to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Stick with the old stuff. You gave it a try. But better outcomes are better outcomes, regardless what the label on the fancy bag says.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:20 AM on July 26, 2014

My dogs have never done well on Taste of the Wild.

That doesn't mean all premium foods won't agree with your dog. Read the ingredients of the ToTW and of the old food. Find a better quality food with the same protein as the original food and not the ToTW.

Diet is one of the only variables related to health that you have any control over. It is worth finding a decent food that works. You can normally return better quality foods if they don't work for your dog.

I feed Acana to my dogs, but there are MANY high quality diets to choose from.
posted by biscotti at 11:24 AM on July 26, 2014

The portion sizes on the bag usually way overestimate, in my experience. Have you talked to your vet at all about this? Our vet is great about recommending dietary changes based on various issues (loose stool, weight gain/loss, dry coat, etc).

FWIW, we feed our dogs Natural Balance Sweet Potato and Venison.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:43 AM on July 26, 2014

I'm definitely a fan of giving your dog higher-quality food, but not everything works for everyone. I think you're right to trust your instincts about how your dog reacts tot his food.

I would definitely give the vet a call. You don't have to make an appointment, they can definitely chat with you over the phone. They can recommend the next course of action (whether that's a different, better food, or sticking with the old food).

When we switched my dog's food for health reasons, the vet had a calculator about how many kcal the dog needed and how much food that translated to, maybe yours does too? I'm not surprised the bag recommends too much - it makes you buy it more often!
posted by radioamy at 12:01 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need to read the ingredients and see what they have in common, what's different.

My [special snowflake] dog gets sick on so many different foods. Chicken = ear infection. Dairy = skin infection. Sweet potatoes = huge loose stools. The most expensive foods we've bought (Orijen and its companion brand) gave her pancreatitis & bladder infection.

I keep trying different brands bc I want to make sure she gets a variety of nutrients. But that means reading A LOT of dog food labels. It also means I have to buy smaller bags of food sometimes bc it's still more cost efficient to give it away if it doesn't work out instead of paying less per lbs for the big bags.

Brands that have worked for us are Wellness Core Grain free fish, Back to Basics, and Merrick. They're all 30+% protein.

Good luck finding what works for your dog!
posted by Neekee at 12:30 PM on July 26, 2014

One more thing: vet's office was giving away plastic measuring cups made by dog food manufacturer. The cup size is SIGNIFICANTLY smaller than the measuring cup I use in the kitchen.
posted by Neekee at 12:35 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

We've had mixed results with Taste of the Wild with our dogs, too, but excellent results with Lotus (specifically the oven-baked dry line).
posted by scody at 12:40 PM on July 26, 2014

Dog food is a confusing world, and full of fads. Bear in mind that much of the info and emotional marketing is all just that- marketing. There is no evidence that corn is bad for dogs, other than those that have corn allergies. If your dog did well on the cheaper food, put her back on it. She's your dog, you can judge her condition, and if it disagrees with the current trend for higher protein and no grain, never mind.
posted by mymbleth at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

My wife and I have tried most of the expensive dog food brands, and none of them have had as consistent results with weight gain, stools, etc than Iams. We talked with our vet about it, and she had no concerns. She said if it worked for our dogs (one had parvo as a puppy, so weak stomach, and the other is on thyroid medication) with their conditions, then we shouldn't change. All has been fine for over a year and it is much better on our wallet. Premium dog food is freaking expensive!
posted by Benway at 1:18 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Weight gain is a function of how much you feed the dog, that's not really a food-brand problem. You should expect to feed them significantly less on a high quality feed, precisely because there's less filler.

My dogs now eat Blue Buffalo "Basics" which is their grain-free premium stuff with most of the filler removed. My lab's coat and skin, which were dry and wiry on every other food I fed him, even other premium foods, have improved dramatically. Of course he only needs 3-4 cups a day instead of 5-6 on the regular stuff even though he is a lean 75lbs; and he retrieves until he's exhausted every day.

There are a lot of different brands out there with different sources for their ingredients, and they all use different formulations. You're just going to have to shop around if you don't want to feed them crap; in my opinion it's worth it.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can likely fix the poops problem with canned plain pumpkin (not pie filling, just plain pumpkin). It is a magical poop fixer. You can get it from amazon in cases. Put 2-3 Tbsp on their food every day.

The weight gain was definitely from feeding too much, idk why the side-of-the-bag estimates are always so terrible but the always, always are.
posted by elizardbits at 2:07 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing talking to your vet and trying different kibbles/formulas.

I have found this website helpful: For foods with real analysis information available, it provides calorie counts by cup of kibble, and a "cup" is defined by weight (so you can measure and see what that really means).

My dogs also do very well with a bit of canned pumpkin added to each meal. Pumpkin is a great source of fiber, and it helps both with regularity and with firming up soft stool.
posted by Boogiechild at 9:32 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I tried just about every premium brand for my big guy but he did better on large breed regular Science Diet, Purina One and Iams. For a large breed dog where premium brands cost $50+ per bag, the cheaper stuff agreed with my dog much better. The premium stuff made him have soft, loose, soft-serve stools that were a pain to clean up. Trying to be a responsible person cleaning up after a dog that has just shit a giant pile of soft-serve poo is ten kinds of gross.

Pumpkin is a great source of fiber, and it helps both with regularity and with firming up soft stool.

Pumpkin turned my dog's ass into a spewing fountain of shit, absolutely the worst case of the shits I've ever seen.
posted by shoesietart at 10:40 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

IMHO it's not so much that corn is some "bad guy" that must be avoided at all costs, but more that the foods that use it in their formulas are generally filled with poor ingredients overall.

Since ingredients are listed in order of weight, I think if the ingredient list read: chicken, rice, corn, potatoes, ect., (ie: whole, identifiable foods) no one would really care about corn being in there (though I admit there are crazies out there who are rabidly anti-corn). But instead, as it often the case, corn is both the 1st and 3rd with wheat as the 4th ingredient, you've got a food that's more grain than meat. That's a problem because the canine digestive tract thrives on meat...not grain. Dogs simply aren't designed to get their nutrition from it. Their digestive tracts are shorter, like all carnivores; they also don't produce amylase (the digestive enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates) in their saliva and very little overall. But dogs are omnivorous and highly adaptable...this is why they can and do still have long lives regardless.

I worked in the pet food industry a number of years ago, so I'm a bit bias when I say I'd give a better food another try. If you're especially set on Taste of the Wild, perhaps going with a more limited formula to start would be best - the Pacific Stream (fish-based) and Sierra Mountain (lamb-based) would be good for that.

If that fails, then perhaps a grain-free diet is too rich for her and a better option may be a mid-grade food-- one that probably contain some grains (typically rice), but has better ingredients overall (ie: no byproducts, wheat, ect.). Nutro, Blue Buffalo, Natural Balance and Wellness all have some mid-shelf lines that may be worth looking into.

Also, plain canned pumpkin is (usually) your friend. A little goes a long way.
posted by stubbehtail at 1:20 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also had a problem with my dog having digestive problems on premium food. It turns out that he doesn't digest fat well, and so the higher fat in many premium foods didn't agree with him. We switched to a lower fat fancy food (First Mate) and that has worked well. You may have to try some different types to see what works.

When you switch foods, you should give your dog the same number of calories as you were feeding before and not go by what's written on the bag. Good dog foods will have calorie information either on their bags or websites.
posted by medusa at 7:45 AM on July 27, 2014

I've tried to be all scientific with dog food calorie calculations for my dogs' weights with Taste of the Wild, but for what it's worth, my 55 and 65 lbs retriever mixes do best on just under and just over 1.5 cups/day, respectively, which is around half of what Dog Food Advisor's calculator says they need. We've never had the GI issues, but at two heaping cups a day larger dog had almost no waist, at two scant cups a day he slimmed up around the middle but my friend the former vet tech kept calling him a badonkadonk-butt, and it's only now at 1.5ish that he looks trim and healthy. I'm sure some of that is just that he gets the occasional table scrap or treat, which adds up, but I also think the calculations or back of the bag recommendations just can't compare to cutting your dog's food back slowly until they have a waist and you can feel but not see their ribs. You may need to calibrate to your dog repeatedly if you switch foods again, so it's good to be aware of.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:44 AM on July 27, 2014

What's the main protein in your cheap food? Chicken?

She may be tolerating the main protein source of the grain-free food less-well, if it's a different protein. We just got a second dog, and any time her food features beef we get massive soft stools and diarrhea - she handles chicken just fine and ate well on a buffalo-based one.

We feed Pure Balance wheat/corn/soy-free - it still has brewer's rice, but that's typically okay for a dog. We tried our two on their completely grain-free line and they didn't like it as much.

Also, check into pet probiotics - with a food change, maybe she just doesn't have the gut bacteria to digest non-corn-filled products. Our new dog fared a lot better after a couple days with it sprinkled on her food.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:36 PM on July 27, 2014

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