edible nutrition

COMPANION FARE

Optimizing pet health through nutritious food.

WRITTEN BY KELSEY FITZGERALD
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO

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For humans, the benefits of eating a variety of fresh, nutritious foods are fairly well understood. Why, then, do so many of us feed our pets highly processed food from bags or cans, day after day?

“Dogs are like us; there aren’t many dogs that thrive if you throw down a bowl of kibble and don’t do anything else,” says Marla Musselman, pet nutrition enthusiast and former owner of Healthy Tails pet supply store in Reno.

Musselman sold the store in 2016, but her expertise and passion for pet wellness live on. At home, she prepares cooked meals for her two dogs and feeds her cat various healthy canned products.

“I have one dog that loves watermelon,” she says. “Some dogs love watermelon, blueberries, carrots. By putting those in your dog’s diet, you will see a happier dog, a better coat, and a healthier dog.”

Thinking outside the bag

Although most commercial kibbles are designed to provide a complete and balanced diet, rising cancer rates and obesity are just two of the potential reasons to worry about the long-term effects of some of these products on the health of your pets.

Other risks of feeding them kibble-based diets are that low-quality ingredients can lead to allergies and other health problems, and product recalls occur from time to time, when contaminants such as salmonella, listeria, or foreign objects end up in the food.

“The problem with kibble is that it’s processed,” says Dr. David Lowell, a veterinarian with the Mountain View Animal Hospital in Reno. “It’s heat treated. That’s why a lot of times people are starting to go with rehydrated raw food diets.”

Some of Lowell’s clients choose to feed their dogs home-cooked or raw-food diets, generally with good results. Others prefer the ease of kibble-based diets.

“[Among commercially available kibble options], in general, I like the grain-free, low-carb diets,” Lowell says. “I also like home-cooked diets, simply because I think if we feed diets that aren’t processed, it’s better for an animal, just as it is for a person.”

Different strokes

“Like humans, each pet is unique and has its own needs for food, treats, and supplements for optimal health,” says Jenifer Peck, co-owner of P.A.W.S. (a holistic and natural pet supply store in South Reno). 

Because of her dogs’ different ages, activity levels, and allergy or sensitivity needs, none is eating the same items, and the food preparations differ. She says one of her younger dogs is on an all-raw diet, as that is what her system best tolerates. Another one of her dogs is on a home-prepared cooked diet that supplements his dry kibble. Her puppy is on a large-breed adult kibble mixed with a dehydrated or canned base to keep her calcium and phosphorus ratio tightly controlled to prevent future bone and joint issues. 

“Whereas this might be a lot of work for some, especially those just used to throwing kibble in the bowl and walking away,” Peck says, “for us, the extra steps in seeing to their dietary needs are essential in making sure that our dogs live as long as possible and have the best nutrients possible so that they may have happy and healthy lives.” 

She also advocates giving dogs a good dose of pre/probiotics. 

“As we are learning in humans, good gut health is a major building block for overall health,” she says. “If the gut is compromised, or not working at its peak performance, it can have a lasting impact that affects all areas of the body.”

Know your products

For convenience and affordability, commercial kibbles still rule — and the quality of these products has improved in recent years. If you’re feeding kibble to your pets, Musselman recommends buying from a local shop with knowledgeable staff members. One benefit to doing so is that many such shops will call you if a product that you’ve purchased has been recalled. Also, staff members can help you learn about the ingredients in your pet’s food and where the food comes from.

Gerry Williams, owner of Pet Chef Express in Reno, sells food that is produced for his company by a family-run business in Ohio.

“Their philosophy is that if they can’t go out and take a carrot out of the vat and put it into their mouth and eat it, then it doesn’t go into the dog food,” Williams says. “They make it like they’re making it for their own dogs, which is what we like.”

The spice of life

Variety is important for the health and happiness of your pet, Williams says. He recommends that owners change their pets’ protein sources regularly (from chicken to lamb, for example) and supplement kibble-based diets with canned or fresh food on occasion.

When introducing any change into an animal’s diet, Williams and Musselman agree that it is important to start slowly.

“I tell people, use what’s in your fridge,” Musselman says. “If you have a couple of extra eggs, scramble those up and put those on top. You start as a slow process then gradually introduce more. The more fresh food you put on there, the healthier your animal is probably going to be.”

Kelsey Fitzgerald enjoys spending time exploring the hills around Reno with her dogs, Riley and Chloe, who have developed a taste for broccoli stalks.

RESOURCES

Natural pain relief
Cani Bits is one solution for your ailing dogs.

For dogs with chronic pain, cannabis-based supplements offer new opportunities for relief. Cani Bits, small dog biscuits produced using cannabidiol (CBD) oil from the hemp plant, can be used to ease pain in dogs suffering from arthritis, cancer, or other medical conditions.

“A lot of owners of older dogs are switching to this instead of other types of medication. It puts a new pep in their step,” says Clare Christensen, sales executive for Cani Bits (based in Illinois).

Cani Bits supplements also can be helpful to dogs that suffer from stress or separation anxiety. They contain no THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana), so the treats, reportedly, will not get your pet high. The Cani Bits team currently is developing a similar product for cats.

Disclaimer: The active ingredient, CBD, was reclassified as a schedule 1 substance in mid-December of last year, thus is now illegal at the federal level.

For details, visit www.Canibits.com.

RESOURCES

In a TEDx talk titled Why Don’t Dogs Live Forever? Rodney Habib discusses the benefits of feeding pets fresh, healthy food Youtube.com/watch?v=1sE96vd8W40

For those with interest in making home-prepared meals for their dogs or cats, Dr. Lowell of Mountain View Animal Hospital recommends Dr. Strombeck’s Diet www.Dogcathomeprepareddiet.com 

Canine Journal, a website that bills itself as “Your go-to guide for all things dog,” provides nutritional information about pets and recipes for homemade dog food www.Caninejournal.com 

Where to buy healthy pet food

Reno/Sparks

Discount Pet Food and Supplies
520 E. Prater Way, Sparks • 775-331-5500

Hammer’s Healthy Hounds
4820 Vista Blvd., Ste. 106, Sparks • 775-284-3647 • www.Hhhounds.com 

Healthy Tails
3892-B Mayberry Drive, Reno • 775-787-3647 • www.Healthytails.com 

Natural Paws
18136 Wedge Pkwy., Reno • 775-853-3533 • www.Naturalpawsreno.com 

P.A.W.S.
197 Damonte Ranch Pkwy., Reno • 775-851-7387 • Find P.A.W.S. on Facebook

Pet Chef Express
8545 Double R Blvd., Reno • 775-827-2021 • www.Petchefreno.com 

Pet Station Reno (seven locations in the Reno-Tahoe region)
5065 S. McCarran Blvd., Reno • 775-507-4500 • www.Tahoepetstation.com  

Scraps Dog Co.
7675 S. Virginia St., Ste. A, Reno • 775-853-3647
1654 Robb Drive, Ste. K1, Reno • 775-746-4364
www.Scrapsdogcompany.com 

Tahoe/Truckee

Meg’s Meats

Hormone- and antibiotic-free, humanely raised meats shipped anywhere.

Truckee • 530-550-8380 • www.Megsmeats.com 

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