dog food

In other news, I’ve finally decided to try going back to raw. I don’t have the time or money to go back 100%, but 50/50 seems pretty doable at this point so that’s what I’m aiming for. 

I’ve only worked out the correct balance for the larger dogs at this point, so Vega and Orion are just going to get RMBs as a snack until I can finish working everything out for them. Whole prey was so much easier, haha… I wasn’t even lucky enough to score any whole fish while out picking all of this up! 

I love this. Each container has 3 days worth of food for a 50lb dog based on bag recommendations. So while it may seem like you are spending less on the cheaper brands like Kibbles n Bits and Beneful, you may actually be spending more depending on how much you feed!

(Left to right: Kibbles n Bits, Beneful, Purina One, Rachael Ray Grain Free, Natural Balance, Taste of the Wild, Zignature and Merrick Back Country.)

Raw Diets and Bloodwork Results: Should you be concerned?

For almost two decades, the veterinary community has debated the effects of raw diets on laboratory blood and urine results. Unfortunately, the debate has not been definitively resolved and is now sending confusing mixed messages to companion animal parents. I want to give my conclusive opinion, based upon published results and personal experience.

Blood is my thing.

I am by training a veterinary hematologist and immunologist. After graduation from veterinary school, I was a Research Scientist with the New York State Health Department and began comparative studies of animals with inherited and acquired bleeding diseases. Eventually, my position culminated as Chief, Laboratory of Hematology, Wadsworth Center. In 1980, I also became Executive Director, New York State Council on Human Blood and Transfusion Services before moving to Southern California to start Hemopet, a non-profit, closed colony blood bank for dogs, greyhound rescue and veterinary specialty diagnostic program.

So, when you hear me go on about antibodies (produced in the blood) and the NutriScan test, adverse reactions to vaccines such as IMHA (anemia), or the importance of thyroid reference ranges (measured through blood), you can rest assure it is backed with my over 50 years of clinical research.

Bloodwork Analysis

The beauty of initial bloodwork results (known as CBC and Chemistries) is that it reveals and detects the potential presence of many conditions including the effects of vitamin and mineral deficiencies or excesses, or diseases such as infections, diabetes, bowel, liver, kidney and adrenal conditions, and even leukemia. Different, additional bloodwork or other tests probe further to confirm, to deny or to point the medical professional in another direction. However, a comparative baseline or reference range for the species and each patient needs to be applied for accurate diagnosis. Human bloodwork results are sorted on numerous variables like sex, age, weight, medications, menstrual cycle, etc. Based on years of research, this is how epidemiologists can extrapolate and determine which lifestyle choices lead to ill or optimal health. Similar features should be applied to animal diagnostics.

Depending on the laboratory running the test, a companion animal’s initial bloodwork analysis generally includes the variables above and breed. (Mind you, most laboratories do not use reference ranges that are specific for the breed type and age when screening for the presence of thyroid disease in companion animals. Hemopet’s Hemolife Diagnostics does apply these specific thyroid reference ranges for dogs, cats and horses. But, that’s a different article altogether.)

Wynn/Dodds Study on Raw-Fed Dogs

Approximately 10 years ago, Susan Wynn, DVM and I conducted a two-part study:

1. Blood reference range differences in raw-fed dogs vs. kibble-fed dogs

2. The potential presence of increased protein in urine based on Part 1 of the study

Study Part 1: Bloodwork reference ranges

1. Sample Size
87 Dogs – Fed a classically biologically appropriate raw food (BARF) diet
46 Dogs – Fed a popular raw diet 
94 Dogs – Fed other custom raw diets

2. Control Group
75 Healthy Adult Dogs – Fed a commercial kibble diet

3. Length
9 Months

4. Findings
Comparisons of bloodwork results were essentially the same for the raw and kibble diets with a few exceptions.
Hematocrit – Higher in all raw diet fed groups.
Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) – Higher in all raw diet fed groups.
Creatinine level – Only higher in one raw diet group.

5. Conclusion
Dr. Wynn and I concluded that the normal blood reference ranges for raw-fed dogs need to be revised and differentiated from kibble-based diets.

This is significant. Let’s step back and compare to human diets. We all know we need iron to prevent anemia. High iron foods include beef, dark leafy greens (spinach), nuts and dark chocolate. While iron is better absorbed from meat sources, plant iron is better regulated and causes less damage to the body. We also know that we should not have a diet with too much beef. Once or twice per month, you may eat beef in the form of steak or hamburger, and indulge in a little dark chocolate. You may have a handful of nuts as a snack occasionally. The rest of the month, you may have a dark leafy green salad, but sometimes opt for steamed spinach or kale. If your stove broke, you may microwave some canned spinach but you know that fresh, steamed spinach is better for you because of processing. Hence, you are fulfilling your body’s need for iron through raw or cooked sources and different processing methods. In essence, human reference ranges include food variety. On top of that, research is deeply funded and robust for human health to steer us to the right food choices.

So, if fresh, whole foods for humans are preferred over highly processed foods, why not apply the same logic to our companion animals? When dogs and people started co-habiting thousands of years ago, the dogs ate what we ate. At the turn of the 20th Century, kibble diets were brought to the market as a convenience for companion caregivers. So, the majority of caregivers started feeding only kibble diets with little variety in the ingredients. Then veterinary research really took off. Hence, decades of reference ranges were formed by kibble diets, which exclude variety and are not species appropriate diets.  

However, Dr. Wynn and I made special note of the elevated BUN and Creatinine levels in the raw fed groups. Part 2 of the study was then conducted for more information.

Part 2: Potential Presence of Increased Protein in Urine

“Blood urea nitrogen” test sounds more complicated than it is. The phrase refers to a process that goes on inside the body. The liver produces the waste product, urea, when it breaks down protein. Urea leaves the liver through the blood, circulates, ends up in the kidneys, mixes with other waste products and water, and then passes as urine. Nitrogen in the blood comes from urea. If urea nitrogen in the blood is elevated, it could just be an indication that the nutrients from the bowel have not yet been assimilated, or, the kidneys are not removing urea nitrogen from the blood normally or efficiently, and may could even be a sign of early kidney failure – if the creatinine, discussed below, is also high.

Creatinine comes from creatine. Creatine forms when food is metabolized or changed into energy. Creatine breaks down to creatinine, which is passed from the blood to the kidneys and is disposed of through urine. If the kidneys are damaged, the amount of creatinine in urine goes down while its level in the blood rises.

As you are probably imagining, BUN and Creatinine tests are the primary tests used to check how well the kidneys are able to filter waste from the blood. The two are often expressed as a ratio of BUN-to-creatinine.  An increased ratio may be due to a condition called albuminuria or proteinuria, which is the presence of too much protein in the urine. This is a spillage that could be due to high dietary protein intake and/or increased leaking of protein through the glomerular kidney filtration system. Eventually, albuminuria can lead to kidney failure.

1. Sample Size
37 healthy adult dogs of all sizes fed raw diets for one or more years

2. Comparison
Urine was compared to Heska’s historical database for dogs fed standard commercial diets (presumably kibble).

3. Findings
5 out of the 37 dogs tested positive for microalbuminuria. 

4. Conclusion
A diet of raw ingredients does not appear to cause leakage of albumin into the urine in most of the dogs tested. Of the 37 dogs screened, 32 were negative for microalbuminuria, and five were positive (two low and three medium positive). Two of the five positive dogs had medical reasons relevant to the finding of microalbuminuria. Follow up testing of these two dogs were negative, after their low-grade urinary tract infections resolved. The reason for the positive reaction in the other three dogs is unclear as there was no identifiable abnormality in their health history or on recent physical examination; they were lost to follow up.

My thoughts on Raw Diets for Dogs and Cats

Am I an advocate of raw diets? Yes. Dogs and cats shine with health and vigor on raw diets.

Are raw diets always appropriate? No. For the dogs that tested positive for albuminuria, I would suggest a home cooked diet. I would also suggest home cooked meals for dogs with significant liver, kidney and bowel conditions. Raw diets can be a little bit too much for their bodies to handle and they need the food to be slightly broken down through light cooking or steaming.

W. Jean Dodds, DVM
Hemopet / NutriScan
11561 Salinaz Avenue
Garden Grove, CA 92843


“Albuminuria.” The National Kidney Foundation, 12 Aug. 2014. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <>.

“Blood Urea Nitrogen.” Lab Tests Online. AACC, n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <>.

“Blood Urea Nitrogen.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <>.

“Creatinine and Creatinine Clearance.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <>.

Dodds, Jean, DVM, and Diana Laverdure, MS. Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. Wenatchee: Dogwise, 2015. Print.

Dodds, W. Jean, DVM. “Understanding Your Pet’s Blood, Tissue & Urine Laboratory Results.” Dr. Jean Dodds’ Pet Health Resource Blog, 18 Apr. 2015. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <>.

Dodds, W. Jean, DVM, and Susan Wynn, DVM. “Updated Second Progress Report: Study of Microalbuminuria in Dogs Fed Raw Food Diets.” Dr. Jean Dodds’ Pet Health Resource Blog, 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <>.

Whitbread, Daisy, MSc. “Top 10 Foods Highest in Iron.” HealthAliciousNess, n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <>.

On Pet Food

(In relation to this thread about pet food, science diet, and what foods vets recommend and why).

What we feed pets and why is always going to be a hot topic issue, and it’s one there’s never going to be consensus on. Some people think science diet and other veterinary brand pet foods are the best they’ve seen, lots of vets do think it’s a good enough food to recommend, and yet there are stories and personal experiences of animals doing horribly on it. So what’s the truth?

The best I can do is teach people to think critically about what they’re feeding their pet. None of this advice is meant to supersede that of your vet’s, and you should always consult your vet if you’re drastically change your pet’s diet, but you should also feel free as a consumer to do your own research, ask for explanations on their opinions, and seek a second opinion. 

When you’re looking at a pet food for , you want to look at a couple different things on the food:

Grains: Are they the first ingredient? Is your dog easily digesting them? Does it have an allergy to any of them? Kibble first became prevalent when pet dogs became a fad post WW2, and people were looking to maximize efficiency (this also brought us the TV-dinner era).  

You don’t want grains to be the major component of your pet’s diet - which is What you see in most cheap, main-brand foods like Hills, Purina, Iams, ect. There are lots of articles out there like this that scoff at grain-free diets, but it’s misleading. For instance, the comment on “just because you want to be gluten-free doesn’t mean your pet has to” - no, dogs and cats don’t seem to have the same reaction to gluten proteins that some humans do. However, if I can point back to geekhyena​‘s fantastic breakdown of the whole cat/vegan argument, here’s some important information about how well pets can digest grains/plant matter:

In the wild, while dogs are more omnivorous than cats, the majority of the canine diet came from meat (fun fact: in dogs, the molars are shaped to allow for crushing and grinding, primarily of not plant material like ours, but of bone/cartilage/viscera.  When a dog chews a bone, it’s the molars it chews with).  Cats? Plant matter comes in the form of whatever their prey had in its belly. Cats and dogs will self-medicate with plants, but that’s mainly to induce vomiting/calm upset stomachs.

In addition to teeth, look at the intestine:body length ratio. The larger that ratio, the more herbivorous the diet is.  (Longer intestine -> larger space for complex carbohydrates to be digested/carbohydrate-digesting bacteria to camp out in).This has been shown across taxa, from mammals to birds to fish (sample reference: )  Cats = 2.5:1, dogs = 3-4:1, depending on breed (source:  Humans? 10:1.  Ruminants and horses have even higher ratios (see ) Cows, for example, have a 30:1 ratio.  Horses are 15:1.

Cats and dogs also have much more concentrated acids in their stomach, and a higher amount of proteases (enzymes designed to cleave proteins apart so that they can be absorbed) and a lot less of the amylases needed to break down carbohydrates.  Because of the short intestines relative to body length, cats and dogs have a higher passage rate (ie, food stays in the gut a lot shorter) - this means that their diets favor highly digestible foodstuffs like proteins, as opposed to complex carbohydrates, which take longer to digest and absorb.  Many plant proteins are also bound up in complexes that require specific enzymes that cats and dogs don’t have. (Look up phytate/phytase sometimes and why that’s a big problem for high-soy diets).  So  high-carbohydrate diets pass through the intestines too quickly for the carbohydrates to be properly broken down and absorbed, and basically result in a lot of poop, but not much nutrition.  

So what we’re seeing here is that while dogs and cats may not need the gluten-free “fad” diets, eating very starchy/grain-based foods isn’t great for them. They can’t digest it easily (they’re also missing salivary amylase, which is what a lot of omnivores and ruminants produce to start breaking down carbs when they hit the tongue). So the highest quality dog food won’t have grains at the front of the list, or they’ll go to non-grain starches like potato and pea, which are supposed to be easier to digest. Corn and soy are the worst, and wheat is pretty high up there in terms of what’s indigestible. Which brings us to:

Protein: What is it, and how much is there? 

Since canine and feline digestive systems are primarily designed, as noted above, to process protein, you want a good quality protein to be the staple nutrient of your pet’s diet. You have three options: meat, meat meal, and meat by-product meal, listed in decreasing quality of protein. Meat is just meat as you’d imagine - meat meal is ground up more highly processed. Meat by-product meal is anything left of the end of a processing run - it can be feet, bones, feathers/fur, eggshells, ect. It isn’t necessarily bad - after all extra nutrients from organs or bone can be good for your dog - but it’s lower quality protein and is less well regulated. 

You want a good quality protein or two to be the first or second ingredient of a good diet. Meat is ideal, but meat-meal is okay - if your food’s only source of protein is by-product meal, change foods. 

Additives: What is that crap?

There’s a lot of stuff thrown into commercialized pet food that you might honestly not know what it is, but there’s some stuff to pay attention to. There’s no need for articifial colors - those just look good to the humans buying the food. Fat and mixed Tocopherols pretty much means the kibble is structured with animal fat that’s then filled with preservatives so it doesn’t go rancid and has a longer shelf life. Some people get huffy about food not needing to be all ‘natural’, and if you’re okay with your pet eating that stuff that’s fine, but it’s good to be aware that it’s in the food.

What else?

There’s a whole hell of a lot else you have to take into consideration when you’re looking at pet nutrition, which is why it is advisable to have a vet or certified nutritionist help you figure it out. Things like puppy growth, support for big-breed dogs or arthritic dogs, dogs who need to be on low protein diets due to medial issues, animals with urinary issues - all of these things have to be taken into consideration separately. 

So why is everyone hating on Science Diet?

The main criticisms that I’ve encountered of Hills pet food is that it’s too high in grains and low in protein, full of filler that many animals don’t do well on. It’s done well in tests and has a low recall rate, but many other companies can’t afford to do the amount of research that the company who produces Hills products can, so there’s not a ton of food out there to compare it to. There’s an odd disconnect between all the vets and vet students (quite a number of whom commented on the earlier post with a sincere interest in nutrition and desire to help the animals they see do well on their food) who care deeply about nutrition and the number of animals who are still kept on Hills food when they’re obviously doing badly - and who do very well when switched to a different diet, even if it’s not grain free or raw. I don’t think it’s a discussion we’re going to continue with on this blog, because there’s no consensus that can be gained and it just gets nasty. 

So, in closure, if you don’t think your animal is doing well on it’s food - if it’s pooping a ton and not seeming to get enough nutrients, if it has dark eye goop or skin issues or hot spots or shedding or can’t lose weight - see about changing it. Talk to a nutritionist at a pet food store and then take the information they gave you to your vet. Look into grain-free or raw if it’s something you’re interested in putting your pet on. (Don’t assume you can ‘just go raw’ without a ton of work and research - it’s a good diet if you can do it well, but that requires a lot of effort, dedication and accuracy). Higher quality food is often more expensive than the easily available grocery-store brands, but as geekhyena points out, your dog will actually digest more of it and poop less for the amount they eat.