Like Roses

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What on Earth am I talking about? Tessa's breath!

Okay, okay. If I'm going to be honest, it's not as if it smells exactly like roses, but here's the thing: It doesn't smell like anything.

This is a wonderfully, fabulously, beautifully unexpected "side effect" of Tessa's new food. And I'm totally digging it. Why? Because Tess wakes me up every morning with a tongue in my face. And I can personally tell you that before the new food, it was not exactly joyful to wake up to the smell of rank dog breath.

(An oldie, but a goodie -- Spring/Summer 2007)

For further laughs, imagine me trying to get a whiff of my dog's breath the last few days. Because believe me, I've tried. I didn't believe that the food could possibly take the smell away, so I kept trying to smell it. Last night, I finally came to the conclusion that the stink is just not there.

I know, I know. You all must think I'm crazy. And this post isn't even a result of my writer's block; I swear. Instead, I just really wanted to share another fantastic benefit to higher quality dog food.

We officially started Tessa on the transition to her new food last Monday (December 1). I touched on the food switch in my Thanksgiving post, but didn't talk about many details. Today, I want to share more specifics to help potentially inform fellow dog owners. Am I an expert? Hell no. But what I've learned in the last month or so were things that I never knew before.

I'll start off by saying that a dog food discussion came up a few months back on one of the message boards I frequent. Someone posted a website that contains unbiased reviews of the different brands and types of dog food. Out of curiosity, I looked up Tessa's Iams and was kind of surprised to learn that it was only rated with 1 star (out of 6). I was surprised because Iams had been what the vet recommended to us when we first got Tessa as a puppy. And why would they recommend something that is not so good for my dog?

A few posters told me that vets actually get kickbacks from certain food and drug companies--if they recommend Iams, the company will pay them, pay for some of their schooling, etc. I'm not sure how true that all is, but since that kind of thing can happen with human doctors and pharmacists, and drug companies (mostly in the form of meals and treats to "woo" them), I wouldn't necessarily doubt it.

At the time of this discussion, we had just purchased a new bag of Iams for Tess, and I figured maybe I'd look into switching her to something better once she was done. Well, I didn't. We ended up buying yet another bag of Iams at the end of October.

And then, as you all know... all hell broke loose with Tessa's health.

During my many hours of research on the internet about canine lymphoma, I came across several sources that talked about how in some studies, diet has been linked as a cause of lymphoma. Basically, most dog foods contain ingredients that dogs aren't physically made to digest (such as wheat and other grains). As a result, their bodies develop various immune dysfunctions, including cancer. (Here is just one of the web pages that discusses this: Sure, it's not really proven (at least not yet), and whether or not this should be believed is totally up to the individual. However, you can imagine my horror and guilt upon reading this after we had been told Tessa likely had lymphoma.

Also, after our initial diagnosis, my mom went to an acquaintance of hers, who is some kind of "Dog Whisperer" type. After hearing that Tess had lymphoma, she made recommendations for a very strict diet that we should put Tessa on. By the time we had a chance to really think about implementing it, we received our great news of the negative biopsy report. Even so, we knew we wanted to change her diet. Given that she still had so much Iams left, we thought we could wait it out until she was done with it. In the meantime, my mom e-mailed her friend again to ask if her diet recommendations were still the same, even after the negative biopsy. She also asked if it would be OK to continue Tess on the Iams until we ran out.

Her answer (directly copied and pasted from his e-mail): "I would never feed my dog Iams because it is made with chicken by-products (of which there are no rules) and corn meal. Meat by-products are any parts of the chicken that is not consumed by people. This could include beaks, feathers, feet. Corn is not digestible for dogs or even humans. It's a filler and causes the dog to eat more and poop more. It's a waste of money. Vets even recommend Science Diet dog food because if they promote the food in vet offices, Science Diet will pay for part of their schooling. Science Diet is another dog food I would suggest my clients to avoid."

She went on to say: "Your daughter can donate the food to any shelter and begin feeding a more digestible, healthier food such as Premium Edge, Natural Planet Organics, Canidae, Innova, Wellness, Merrick, California Natural. She should read labels: avoid corn, wheat, soy, BHA/BHT, meat by-products. She should also avoid these ingredients in any treats given to the dog. She should mix the Iams and the new food for about a week."

This is just one expert's opinion, but we took it to heart. We decided to switch Tessa's food even though we were nowhere near done with the bag of Iams we had purchased. Upon doing a bit more research (including prices in our area), we ultimately decided to start feeding Tessa the California Natural Lamb Meal & Rice Adult Small Bites. So last week, we started her off with mixing the new food with the Iams. By Saturday, she was eating 100% California Natural.

OK, so wow. This post is a lot longer than I thought it would be. And I'm not even done. But again, I'm just putting this information out there in case any of you care. As I said before, I didn't know about any of this stuff, and if I had, we likely would have been feeding Tess better food from the time we got her. She was only 10 weeks old.

I just want to encourage you all to do a little more research about what you are feeding your dogs (and other pets, too!). What are you currently feeding? Go ahead and look it up on Dog Food Analysis, and see how it's rated. In case you're curious, the California Natural is a 4-star food. So not the absolute best there is, but a good start. We may switch her yet again down the road, but we wanted to at least get her started on something good.

After reading the ingredients list for Iams (we were feeding her the Mini Chunks), and comparing it to the ingredients in California Natural, I feel much better about what we're giving her.

The cost of the food is obviously a bit more. I think we were paying around $17-18 for a 20-25 lb. bag of Iams (always bought it at BJ's Wholesale), and now we're paying $30 for a 20 lb. bag. For us, the benefits outweigh the cost. Also, depending on the food and the dog, most of the time the better foods require that you feed less food, so it evens out a little. I've also read better food = less poop, but we haven't necessarily found that to be true yet.

Tessa is our baby. We don't want to be feeding her crap. With the new food, we're hoping for a healthier dog overall.

The good breath is just a bonus. :)


Jen December 10, 2008 at 2:28 PM  

Hmm - I better do some research to see about Iams and cats - I would assume that it's probably not too much different than the dog food. Thanks for the info. Do you get the new stuff at like a Petsmart or have to get it from somewhere special?

Lesley Rae December 10, 2008 at 2:29 PM  

yay! I'm ALL for feeding premium foods to our dogs - hell, they eat better and we do! Before I moved in and became a dog freak, Steve was feeding regular dog food, as do most people. After I've done research (and I've done a LOT) I put both dogs on Canidae. Then Hudson had some allergies so I switched him to a single protein source food. Then it seemed the allergies went away, so they are both on Innova. We switch their food every few months (they love the California Natural herring and sweet potato) and we don't slowly introduce it anymore, we just switch (depends on the belly of each dog). So good for you! And Tess! You really WILL see good results. Her coat should be shiney and healthy, like you say in your post, bad breath goes away, she will probably fart less etc.

Lesley Rae December 10, 2008 at 2:35 PM  

Oh and for the above poster - chain stores don't usually carry these types of premium foods, so check your local Agway or Country Max, or a Pets Plus (where I buy ours and I'm sure Heather does too, since it's right near where we live).

Blablover5 December 10, 2008 at 2:47 PM  

Iams is total crap food. I worked at a vet clinic and I loathe that food so much. Luckily just about no one bought it leaning towards Science diet or to some extent Purina.

Really for those that can't afford really fancy pet food but want something better than Iams try those two.

I hate the Iams commercials too as the only vets that do recommend it get kick backs.

Heather December 10, 2008 at 2:49 PM  

Lesley, you made me laugh with the fart reference. Lucky for us, Tessa has never been a gassy dog.

And Jen, Lesley is right. I looked all over for the premium dog foods to try to get price comparisons, but couldn't find them in any of the usual stores. Not Petsmart, Target, BJ's, etc. "Pets Plus" that Lesley mentioned is actually Pet Supplies Plus. I think they are located throughout the Eastern half of the U.S. You may have one in your area, check that out.

I know Countrymax is limited to Western NY, but Agway is more widely available (Northeast and Southeast), too. Hopefully you have something like that in your area!

Heather December 10, 2008 at 2:52 PM  

Jen, I just checked out your profile and see you're in Texas. I'm not sure where Irving is, but apparently there are Pet Supplies Plus locations in Dallas, Plano, and Austin. Hope that helps. Good luck!

Jen December 10, 2008 at 3:06 PM  

Thanks for everyone's responses!! I'll definately check it out!! Here's to happy healthy pets!! :)

Jen December 10, 2008 at 3:07 PM  

Irving is right by the DFW airport and Plano is about 20 minutes away so Dallas or Plano would be great! Thanks! :)

Chelsey December 10, 2008 at 3:35 PM  

Holy crap, I had not idea! We feed Nelly Science Diet because the vet said, and I quote, "it doesn't get any better than that!" And I love our vet! How can this be? I'm definitely looking into switching her food, immediately. If I had known there was better stuff out there than Science Diet I would have been using it for sure! Thanks for the info Heather!

Lesley Rae December 10, 2008 at 3:45 PM  

misconception that vets are nutritionists...they know how to make our dogs feel better if they are sick, but don't know much about nutrition. I know, stupid huh?

I hate to say this, but Purina and Science Diet also have a lot of by products in them and use corn, wheat, etc. that are not digested well by animals... The premium foods use human grade meats, same stuff that we eat...and like Heather said, since premium food is so much better and have much higher quality ingredients, you can feed less, so if you compare the prices of not so great food versus premium food, to how much it is per cup, it's not that much different. Shelby used to eat 2 cups per meal on Purina and now eats 1 cup per meal on Innova or California Natural.

tab890 December 10, 2008 at 3:48 PM  

Heather, I'm so glad that you brought this topic up - I don't think many people realize what a change in dog food can do) we had to switch dog food for our lab because he started shedding badly, losing fur on his underbelly and around his eyes.

We were told by our trainer that it was a food allergy, we switched him to natural choice (you can find it in regular pet stores) and we still had the problem, we ended up switching to Premium Edge (lamb and rice) (I checked the website and it was a 4 star too) and ever since then people comment on how shiny his coat is. We've switched his treats to all organic too and no gas either - which is a huge plus :)

MichelleO December 10, 2008 at 4:19 PM  

Hi Heather, First off- I am so glad Tessa is doing better.
thanks for posting this. as part of some pet seminar thing a few years ago I caught a speech on "translating pet food labels" and it was, as you say, shocking to say the least. since then we've been feeding Chloe only natural pet foods and try to mix it up- mainly among the brands you mention. We find many of the brands locally at Natural Pet Foods (used to be TLC pets) on Alexander Street near Monroe, and also CountryMax.

Melissa December 10, 2008 at 5:02 PM  

Thanks for posting all this info. We have 3 dogs, a toy breed, and two larger breed dogs. We feed them IAMs as well, recommended by our vet. And about a month and a half ago, the toy breed got really sick. Throwing up and diahrrea, and really legtharic. It was scary. Than the other two dogs started to get the same way. After taking them in to get checked up on, they basically couldnt tell me anything..except their white blood cell count was low. We have been researching the California Natural to switch to.

Renee December 10, 2008 at 5:18 PM  

Good for you for switching up Tessa's food! I was thinking of doing a similar post, but I may just link to this one instead if you don't mind =)

jenn December 10, 2008 at 5:37 PM  

Izzy is on Wellness. It sucks because you can't find the good food at any of the common pet stores. She is worth a drive :) While I have not heard that better quality-less filler food makes dogs poop less, I know that it breaks down faster. This doesn't apply to us because we live in an apt and need to pick up asap...

The adoption counselor at the Humane Society said that the first main ingredients should be real meat and other natural products. Stay away from fillers, etc. Glad to hear that she is doing well!

Anonymous,  December 10, 2008 at 6:04 PM  

Thanks for this post! My husband and I are getting 2 puppies after all the holidy madness dies down (one of them being a dachshund - my favorite!), and we don't have any idea what we're doing. At least we have a good start on some food info.

I think this could be another thing you could blog about to cure the writer's block - different pet owner topics that would help someone like me who is just starting out with one.

Thanks again!


Heather December 10, 2008 at 6:06 PM  

Renee, sure, go ahead and link to this post. I'm all about passing on the info!

MrsH120807 December 10, 2008 at 6:28 PM  

I started feeding my dog Wellness a few months ago and I've noticed a huge improvement. He has gotten fewer ear infections. The less poop thing is true too. It took a few months but he's down to once or twice a day instead of four or five. The other thing that's great about Wellness is that Petco carries it now.

Lesley Rae December 11, 2008 at 8:21 AM  

I just HAVE to say this to the poster who is getting TWO dogs at one time...that's not the smartest thing to do. If you talk to any trainer, or anyone who works at an SPCA, they will tell you the same thing. You want the ONE dog to bond to YOU, the owner, and not to the other dog. I can see this post becoming rather long, as I'm a freak enthusiast when it comes to dogs...start with one dog, let it bond to the human owners, then get another dog. The last thing you want is to have two dogs that pay you no mind because they would rather be together...looks like there's a lot of research that needs to go into this...the poster even says "we don't know what we're doing" so I suggest learning more, doing more research and starting off with ONE dog.

Anonymous,  December 11, 2008 at 9:04 AM  

Also, to add to the above comment a good, reputable breeder would never sell two puppies at the same time to the same owner...

Jen December 11, 2008 at 9:24 AM  

Doesn't better food make all the difference in the world? Before we got our second dog, we learned a lot about food (we had been feeding our first dog Purina), and realized how wrong we were. We switched to Wellness Core for our 1.5 year old and our puppy eats Wellness Puppy. Sure, it's more expensive, but you feed less of it, so it evens out. Both of our dogs looks super healthy, feel good all the time and don't stink as much! It's great :) Thanks for posting this!

ktmac32 December 11, 2008 at 10:29 AM  

UGH! THANK YOU! I am such a freak when it comes to proper dog food.
I got Murphy in June 2007 and before he came (he's a rare breed and was shipped from Thailand) I wanted to do as much research as possible about doggy diets. Did you know that when a vet goes through nutritional training in school they are taught from representatives of big dog food companies? Not only do they get kick backs, but these are the people who teach them!
I feed Murphy Innova EVO. It's fantastic, but, again, cannot be found in chain stores. One of the trainers we bring him to also feeds her dog EVO.
When I told one of the vets at our animal hospital that's what I was feeding him she actually told me not to bother with it and just feed him Science Diet. Oh, and I could pick up a bag out front. I was so disappointed. Another vet told me dogs are omnivores, therefore corn and wheat are OK. I've never actually witnessed a wolf chowing down an ear of corn. 100-200 years of domestication does not replace 5000 years of natural diet. Sorry.
If you really want advice - good advice - about dog food, research for yourself and ask a breeder or trainer. They tend to be better informed.

Anonymous,  December 11, 2008 at 1:50 PM  

I am vegan, so buying quality dog food was really a no brainer from the start. Most commercial dog food even contains the remnants of euthanized dogs from disgusting! Please do your research and learn about what ingredient labels really mean. The chemicals and fillers are really appalling. We move around between different organic and vegetarian dog foods. Our dogs are very happy and healthy, shiny coats, etc. I would not feed them something that I wouldn't feed another human.

Elizabeth, haphazardly purchasing (I am assuming from your post) two puppies at the same time is a recipe for disaster, especially if you have no experience with just a single dog. Also, before buying, please consider the plight of so so many shelter dogs out there, and also the fact that many pure and designer breeds will be dumped off at shelters in the months following the terrible impulse gift buying season.

Amanda,  December 17, 2008 at 12:31 PM  

What a great post... I read your blog every now and again, and felt terrible about Tessa's condition and the uncertainty you both were dealing with. We have a 5 month old dachsund, and I have been looking for a better dog food for him. The links you posted should help me decide.


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