Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You are what you eat. Or not.

Author's notes:

Following on last week's post about the appointment we had with Dr. Dodman of Tufts University's Behavior Clinic, the next 5 installments on Bringing up Bella are going to be a little drier than usual as I lay out what we were told, what we did and how we feel it worked.

Since we implemented a bunch of changes all at once, I want to speak first to what each of those changes was and why it was recommended. Once I get through the "spokes of the wheel", I'll get back to talking about how Bella felt about the whole thing.

On a totally unrelated note, we missed our blog-iversary last week. So, yea us! :)

Last week, when I wrote about the 5 points of focus we would take to help Bella live more comfortably with us, I knew nutrition was going to be a tough subject to write about.

First, because I'm not a nutritionist and I really haven't done the research in this area that perhaps I should have to speak authoritatively about it. I also thought it would be difficult because I had the impression we were failures in this area. Turns out, after having written the post, we didn't fail too badly after all.

Dr. Dodman, while also not a nutrionist, has seen a correlation between high protein diets and aggression so his recommendation to us was to lower Bella's protein intake. But what to make of all the focus right now on no-grain and raw food diets, as my friend Cindy pointed out in the comments last week?

To be honest, I have no idea what to say about that except that, just as for this entire series, I hope people find the information helpful but I am only relaying what we learned for our dog in dealing with a very specific, and hopefully, relatively uncommon situation.

Confession time.

This is the one spoke in the wheel in which we have, let's not say failed, let's say 'less than succeeded'. We've actually done better than we thought we were doing, now that I've done my research but we still use high protein freeze-dried raw treats during training. (Just ask Deccy and his marvelous Mums. Long story.)

The truth is Bella is a very fussy eater. Yes, the same dog that will eat slugs and goat manure compost (along with even more unmentionably unmentionables) dares to turn her nose up at perfectly good treats like Milk Bone dog biscuits or even high quality vegetarian offerings like Sam's Yams Dehydrated Sweet Potato treats.

So how do you get a dog who loves meat onto a low protein diet?

Oh but wait, it gets worse.

When Bella was first put on the medication (which we'll get to in a future post), we learned just how quick a study she was when she began rejecting all food once she figured out that's where the puppy Prosac was hiding. Bella had spit out Pill Pockets, cheese, peanut butter and any number of other treats we had come up with. Baby food worked. Once.

So, we have a really fussy puppy who won't eat, a doctor who says she needs a low protein diet and a very, very, very vocal opponent to the whole change in dinner plans.

Gratuitous picture of said vocal opponent.

Social media to the rescue - again.

I ended up putting a plea out to my Facebook friends for recommendations over what to do about a dog who refuses to take her medicine.

Some of the recommendations we recieved were:
  • "Take it away if she doesn't eat it" which is all fine and dandy except she HAD to eat to take her medicine.
  • To be fair, the friend who recommended we "just open her mouth and shove the pill down her throat" didn't know we were addressing owner-directed aggression but still, not really a suggestion we were ready to roll with.
  • And then there was "Tripe".
The life-saver award once again goes to our first trainer, Sheila, who recommended canned tripe.

We picked up a can of the stinkiest, dog-awfulest smelling slimy stuff I have ever had the (dis)pleasure of touching and what do you know! She liked it, she really liked it! And at only 22% protein, score one for Sheila. At least now we could get Bella's medicine down by burying it in teaspoons full of canned tripe. This, of course, means we actually have to touch the foul-smelling stuff. Twice a day. Not sure who won that round after all. Hrumph.

And we learn to make compromises.

Dr. Dodman's recommendation was to actually lower the protein in the treats we were using for Bella but we knew we would never get her attention during stressful events without the highest valued treats she prizes above all else. So we decided instead to change her kibble.

We used to feed Bella Nature's Variety Instinct dry dog food at a whopping 35% protein. Now the kibble portion of her dinner consists of Eukaneuba's "Small Breed Weight Control" formula at 22% protein. This specific product isn't listed on Dog Food Advisor but the Eukaneuba line gets an average rating in general from them. And we're okay with that. We're choosing our battles.

So what are the take-aways?

We didn't 'fail' as much as we thought we did.

Most of Bella's diet is low-protein now but we still use high-value, high-protein treats to get her attention during training and at the most crucial times.

It's much more important to us to have her succeed in her reactive dog training and to gain the confidence that comes from conquering a once-scary agility obstacle. It's a balance but it's one that seems to be working for us.


  1. Haz you heard of Sojos? They have a strictly fruit and strictly veggie food option with no meats in it. I eatz this...excepts moms gives me meats withs it. 

    ~Stinky Kisses, Mason

  2. It is my understanding that simply adding tryptophan to the diet should do the same trick as a low protein diet ...?

  3. That's very interesting. When I had Flynn (over 10yrs ago) the racing kennels gave me a bag of food. He was very hyper which was natural enough but he didn't settle as quickly as I hoped. Someone suggested his food was the issue, which I'd never considered - seems stupid now. What I'd actually got was a racing formula at 30% protein. I changed him onto a 21% food and he calmed down almost overnight. When I had Dec - bearing in mind things have moved on, the rescue org. couldn't stress enough that he must be fed on a 18-22% protein kibble. He has other stuff as well, but I've found a 21% kibble that suits his slightly dodgy tummy so I'll probably always include that. You've probably tried this (and maybe you don't need it anyway now,) but I've found that the nastiest cheapest canned hotdogs you can buy are great for pill concealment. Bad, but not as bad as tripe!  Deccy & Mum x PS. Yes we know Bella isn't going to run out of freeze dried treats anytime soon..... ;-) 

  4. Cindy (Gus' mom)August 14, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    My nose feels your pain -- we were recommended freeze dried tripe as the Super Treat to get Gus to "DROP IT!" if he had something important that he shouldn't have in his mouth.  It's bad, but can't be as bad as canned tripe.  Yecch!  I won't let Gus read your post -- do you think he and Bella have a secret pact about this?

    Maybe the behaviorists should recommend slugs?  Highly loved at our house too!Also to Deccy above -- our rescue greyhound group has been relentless about the low protein for our grey too.  Maybe the fact that the racing protein percent is so high is why greyhounds have the reputation for (forgive me) loose poops.....

  5. I think you've done a great job with Bella.  Everyone's choices have to suit them and their situation and you do what works for you.  We too have just changed foods and it can be mind boggling.  

  6. YOu're doing so much for Bella!

  7. Because we feed raw we were told they should have tripe in their meal because it aids in digestion.  We buy the freeze-dried kind and that smells AWFUL, like cow manure if you ask me.  We refer to it as 'poop.'

    I've been told the fresh stuff/canned stuff is way worse.  God bless you for using it!!

  8. Oh, the pill battle... Bella used to be a champ at sniffing them out and spitting out the pill. For some reason, with her new food (for her kidneys), she adores it and all I have to do is drop the pill in the bowl. It's very surprising, but makes my mornings much easier!

  9. Congratulations on your blogiversary! Yay!

    Tripe is awesome. It's disgusting but it's awesome. I find the more I am grossed out by something, the more likely Shiva is to want it. It must be some sort of universal dog law.

    I agree with the others that the lengths you have gone to help Bella are wonderful to read about. If only all people were so willing to change their whole lives for the love of a dog.

  10. Yes, I understand that is another route.  The report you have linked to was written, in part, by the doctor Bella is currently working with - N. H. Dodman.  As I understand it, and again, I'm no nutritionist/scientist - I'm just trying my best to understand and communicate what Bella's doctor has told us - the low-protein diet is considered an easy first step.  If it works, which it has, great - no more tinkering needed.  If it doesn't, then he would suggest adding the tryptophan.  

  11. Happy Blogiversary. Did Bella send you flowers?

    Although people tend to be pretty dogmatic about nutrition, there really isn't one solution for every dog (or person). I guess you just work with the information at hand and do your best.

    I rely on the best advice I can get and look at the poops to make sure it's working. I guess you look at the behavior. 

    Had to giggle about all the tripe comments. I come from a family that eats all those weird animal parts, like tripe. And I never thought anything of it. 

  12. That's the great thing about advice, you can take what you want from it, and change it to suit your needs. Low protein is great if you have a dog like my Toby who will eat carrots or celery, but both of my girls agree with Bella. Meat is where it's at. :-)

  13. P.S. - Almost forgot to say Happy Blogiversary!!

  14. Oh my we really feel for you.  This is such a tough call to make as the info out there is incomplete, confusing and contradictory.  We've great faith in that your love will be a powerful force for getting to the right results.  Meow from all of us!

  15. Thanks for the tip, Mason, I had not heard of Sojos before.  I went out and googled it and think we might just have to give them a try.

  16. Thanks Nola.  We're going to check into it.  And I've heard lots of good things about Honest Kitchen as well.  We'll check it out.

  17. LOL - we've always used freeze-dried tripe for training but didn't even know it came in cans.  Good grief - while it works the miracle we need it to, I still kind of wish I'd never heard of it. ;)

  18. I admit, I've never had tripe myself although I grew up near a culture that ate it routinely.  I don't think human tripe is quite the same as what they put in the dog food.  It can't be.  Seriously, by the time we get to the bottom of a can, it smells like a swamp at low tide.  :\  

  19. Oh how I wish Bella would eat her vegetables.  :( 

  20. Thanks - we're working it out.  To be honest, I'm not thrilled with feeding the Eukaneuba - I just don't trust the major brands any more after all the recalls, etc. But it's working for her for now.  I'm going to look into the Sojos and Honest Kitchen recommended here.  If they have low-protein diets available that Bella will eat, I will happily make the switch. :)

  21. LOL - no kidding about it's awesome disgustingness. ;)  And yes, I'm pretty sure Bella just likes stuff so she can gross me out.

  22. Oh the food dilemma is such a nightmare.  Grains/no grains, low-protein/all meat.  Arg!  And then the major brands go and do stuff like buy from China.  It's so frustrating.  

  23. LOL re: slugs.  I don't know, I think slugs would be protein, wouldn't they?  ;)

    Sheila is the one who first turned us on to freeze-dried tripe so I'm not surprised you use it as well.  She was also the one who told us there was such a thing as canned tripe.  I'm not sure I want to thank her for that.  ;)  (Just kidding - it has been a life-saver and we are so lucky to have her in our lives.)

  24. I think we're all learning this stuff as we go.  When I first got Beau, Eukaneuba was the cream of the crop when it came to dog food.  Oh how far we have come. :o

    We tried hotdogs - Bella usually loves them - but she did spit them out.  That said, I don't think we tried the canned ones...  Might have to check that out.