Food Issues

When it comes to health, your dog's diet affects everything.


Recently, an acquaintance posted some pictures of her dog on Facebook. The dog is super cute, but I couldn’t help but notice that something was wrong: the little dog’s hair was completely absent from his chest, neck, top of his head, and paws. “Hey, what’s up with Charlie?” I asked her in a private message. “What happened to his coat?” She responded that it happens to him periodically – and did I think it could have anything to do with the food she had recently switched him to?

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

Well, yes, I know for a fact that Charlie’s hair loss (and, no doubt, a torment of itching and scratching) absolutely could have been caused by his diet. And since its onset was so close to the time that she switched his food, I’m certain that it can be cured by another change in diet (only, it’s going to take a bit of detective work to identify the problematic factor in the food).

My previous dog, a Border Collie named Rupert, was horribly allergic to flea bites. Whenever he would start itching and scratching (and chewing and rubbing himself on anything handy), I would go into a fit of cleaning and searching for fleas, which, half the time, I couldn’t find any sign of. It turned out (after many years of fighting phantom flea infestations and misguided trips to the vet for steroids), that he was also horribly allergic to chicken, as well.

Diet affects more than the skin and coat, however. Over time, it can affect everything having to do with your dog’s health, especially his digestion. (Digestion is a huge category. Is he always hungry? Never hungry? Often gassy? Frequently constipated? Have loose stools? Go too frequently? The possibilities for problems are endless.)

We talked for a while, and I made some suggestions for keeping track of what Charlie was eating, and for some foods that my friend might want to switch him to as soon as possible (such as something with a novel protein and a carbohydrate that he hasn’t encountered in his diet so far – the start of an allergy elimination trial).

All of that said, a trip to a veterinarian is in order for Charlie, too. While a change in diet certainly could have been the trigger for the skin and coat problems he currently suffers from, it could also be that he has another serious health problem brewing; perhaps the dietary change was the final insult, and his already stressed and overburdened body just couldn’t cope with it.

As for what specific food my friend should feed her dog? What do I recommend? That’s easy: I suggested she check out this issue, which contains our annual dry dog food review.

Correction: In an article entitled, “Toss Those Cookies” in the January 2014 issue, we reported an incorrect dosage of hydrogen peroxide to administer to a dog if and when you were trying to make him vomit (in case of an accidental poisoning). The correct dose is 1 teaspoon per 5 lbs of the dog’s body weight, with a maximum of 3 tablespoons. There are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, so the maximum dose for dogs who weigh more than 45 lbs is 3 tablespoons per dose. Our veterinary emergency care expert assures us that even at the incorrect dosage stated, if the maximum amount that we correctly reported (3 tablespoons per dose) were abided by, no harm should come to a dog of any size; the dosage we originally reported is just more than needed for very small dogs. We regret the error.