Updated: Jan 30
Dog nutrition is a growing area of interest for dog owners. But it can be confusing for humans. What is a dog nutritionist? When should humans seek the advice of a dog nutritionist? How can a dog nutritionist help us doggies with our diet?
Many TollerTails.com readers have been asking these and a lot more questions. Because you asked, I went sniffing about and (with the help of my humans) looking for a dog nutritionist to learn more.
Ms. Ford is dedicated to helping us doggies! Prior to studying with CASI, Christine Ford met her future mentor
In addition to advising humans on dog nutrition issues, she began her canine focused career as the owner-operator of oh my dog!, one of Toronto’s well known and respected dog walking services.
When she’s not busy helping dogs and dog owners, Ms. Ford is an administrative volunteer at Lost and Found Pets Toronto,a group of volunteers who use social media and human feet on the ground to help reunite countless pet owners with their missing pets.
During my interview with Christine Ford, we chatted about dog nutrition as well as discussing some of the TollerTails.com readers’ questions about both dog and Toller specific nutrition needs.
Henry Toller Tails (HTT): Woof! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on dog nutrition. What got you interested in becoming a dog nutritionist?
Christine Ford (CF): It started in 2003, when I got Joey, my first dog, a Westie (who passed recently). Joey didn’t want to eat either the kibble that I was told to feed him by the breeder or the vet. His stomach made noises and he threw up bile daily, so after a couple of months, I began researching home cooked food. At the time, there wasn’t much information out there on dog nutrition. I had to really research and learn about dog nutrition to help Joey. I began changing his diet based on what I learned and eventually Joey got better.
My experience with Joey prompted me to learn more as friends and dog walking clients, who saw Joey’s improvement, began asking me questions. All this naturally led me to study canine nutrition and become certified in Advanced Canine Nutrition.
HTT: When should a dog owner contact a dog nutritionist?
CF: If you’re making your dog’s food at home, get it checked by a nutritionist. If you’re feeding basic commercial raw of just meat/bone/organ, a nutritionist (or even some extra research) can help balance the diet. If your dog has been put on veterinary food, or a medication like Prednisone for life, it might be a good idea to talk to someone who can help with more natural solutions.
HTT: Why should humans, who make their dog’s food at home get it checked by a nutritionist?
CF: Research on canine nutrition shows that good gut health is crucial. A dog owner, who is making their own dog food at home should ensure that the food they’re making has enough variety and the right balance of proteins, vegetables and carbs to ensure their dog is getting proper nutrition.
If you feed your dog a limited menu, of say the same four things, then you aren’t necessarily going to get the needed ratio of amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Having the right dietary balance, variety and supplements can promote good gut health in your dog. So, it’s good to check that the dog food you are making meets your dog’s needs.
HTT: TollerTails.com readers are interested in the issue of allergies. What are the common dog allergies you see?
CF: Seasonal allergies are the most common. As for food allergies, we see a lot of chicken intolerances as well as beef.
HTT: Some of our TollerTails.com readers have a few questions. For privacy reasons we are only using their initials. So here we go…
TollerTails reader M.F. asks: What is a dog nutritionist and what kind of training do they go through?
CF: Sadly, there isn’t an official regulatory body. That only exists for Veterinary Nutritionists, who specialize in nutrition in veterinary school, much like how a Veterinary Cardiologist specializes their studies in cardiovascular health.
For the rest of us, it’s true, anyone can call themselves whatever they like. I chose to get a certificate in Advanced Canine Nutrition from CASI because I wanted to learn from the same textbook that Veterinary Nutritionists do, and I wanted to take electives that were specific to certain canine diseases and illnesses.
TollerTails reader P.P.B. asks: What are the trendy diets for dogs that you see? What changes are impactful for dog owners based on evidence-based medicine for nutrition?
CF: There are a number of folks feeding their dogs a vegan diet for ethical reasons, usually in kibble form. From my experience, most vegan kibble contains a large amount of soy and corn and feeding a diet like this long-term will have negative health consequences. If you choose to feed your dog a vegan diet, make it using fresh food and use the assistance of a nutritionist (though vegan for dogs is not my first choice).
If you’re interested in a ketogenic diet for your dog, consult with a holistic vet in order to ensure the correct fat content and the safest way to increase it. Keto has been great for many dogs with cancer but jumping into this diet unguided can lead to further complications for dogs such as GI upset or worse, pancreatitis.
The second part of P.P.B.’s question is a bit unclear. However, if P.P.B. is asking, what meaningful dietary changes can a dog owner make that’s rooted in research, then the most impactful would be to add, or increase the amount of green vegetables in their dog’s diet.
Studies, which dog owners can access, have found: “Dogs that ate any green leafy vegetables, like broccoli, had reduced the risk of developing bladder cancer by 90% and the dogs that consumed any yellow – orange vegetables like carrots reduced the risk by 70%!”
Also, additional studies show that poor gut health has an impact not only on your dog’s overall health, but also their behaviour. Making sure your dog gets probiotics and you are providing them with a diet that promotes good gut health will make a positive impact.
HTT: Supplements for dogs, especially vitamin supplements to help a dog’s coat and relieving seasonal itchiness, are becoming more popular. What should dog owners look for when choosing a vitamin supplement to help their dog’s coat?
CF: To help with allergies, you need a quality probiotic. The immune system has deep connections to the gut, and a strong immune system will help prevent allergy symptoms.
A high-quality omega 3 oil (I like Krill) is not only good for the joints, brain and eyes, but it’s also important for skin and coat and can help allergy sufferers because of its anti-inflammatory properties. A catch-all supplement for this purpose should contain items like quercetin, zinc, and a variety of herbs such as stinging nettle.
HTT: Are joint supplements helpful in protecting active dogs from joint damage?
CF: Yes, preventative supplements are a great idea, rather than waiting until there's an obvious issue. But the best way to prevent joint problems is keeping your dog at their ideal weight. Even a little extra weight causes faster degeneration and creates a greater chance of injury.
Feeding an appropriate diet that’s anti-inflammatory, and contains whole, fresh proteins, and omega 3 is essential. Avoiding repeated strenuous exercise (like fetch) will also go a long way to protect joints. Instead, choose enrichment games and long, slow sniff walks.
HTT: As interest in pet nutrition grows, it faces the same challenges of many industries. Such as individuals promoting themselves as dog nutritionists, but they lack certification in dog nutrition, animal behavior, veterinary medicine or veterinary technician services.
How important is it for a dog owner to seek advice from a certified dog nutritionist and how do dog owners locate a reputable dog nutritionist?
CF: I think it depends on the issues you’re trying to address. There are many knowledgeable people who can help you with things like transitioning to a better diet, boosting your dog’s current diet, and adding supplementation. However, if you’ve got a dog with a chronic disease that you’re trying to manage or slow down, then it’s important to find someone who has studied nutrition in some official capacity.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to ensure you’re dealing with a reputable nutritionist. Dog owners should…
Ask where they studied.
Do a bit of research on their credentials.
Be skeptical about “evangelists” for one type of food or therapy.
Also, listen to your gut. If someone is telling you something that doesn’t feel right, then trust your instincts.
HTT: What question do you think dog owners should ask a dog nutritionist, but often don’t?
CF: I don’t know, I get asked everything! But again, if you’re looking for help with a specific condition, then ask if they know a lot about it and if they’ve had experience with it.
HTT: Is it okay to ask a dog nutritionist for references from current clients?
CF: Yes. Don’t be afraid to talk to a dog nutritionist about your concerns and ask them for references.
HTT: Some of our TollerTails.com readers had dog nutrition questions specific to us Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. So, here are a few Talking Toller nutrition questions…
TollerTails reader A.H. asks: What food suggestions would you recommend for Tollers post pancreatitis?
CF: A low fat diet, of course, and probiotics are critical since the digestive system is compromised. I usually recommend Adored Beast Healthy Gut because it also contains pancreatin and digestive enzymes.
TollerTails reader R.L. asks: Our Toller eats a lot of grass. Sometimes she throws up but mostly urgently wants to go outside and eat grass. What is this from?
CF: I would need more information to give an informed opinion on R.L.’s question.
Generally speaking, grass eating is normal, but the urgency and vomiting is not. Make sure the grass is not treated with pesticides. If your dog is eating kibble, I’d try a fresh food diet for a while and see if that helps. Have a stool sample tested to rule out parasites and start probiotics.
HTT: Some Tollers have sensitive stomachs. What general advice would you give owners of Tollers and Toller Mixes in dealing with stomach sensitivity?
CF: Feed a fresh, varied diet, including probiotics. Limit the amount of items that offend the gut, like repeated use of antibiotics, oral flea/ticks meds, stress, and processed food (kibble).
Always have slippery elm bark on hand. This can help soothe the stomach when problems arise. When you consider the gut/brain connection, it’s important to keep stress to a minimum. This can be done by limiting fetch and by providing activities that release endorphins, such as enrichment games, chewing and sniffing.
TollerTails reader S.H. is looking for advice: “My 9-year-old male Toller has been vomiting up bile and or phlegm once or twice a day for about 4 months. Blood work and X-rays all came back great. Tried smaller meals several x’s a day, Dr. Prescribed Pepcid AC, changed to raw diet and finally Dr. Prescribed Sulcrate. Nothing has stopped it but will occasionally go 36 to 48 hours without it happening. Amount brought up is often small and never brings up food. Have order Marshmallow root which should arrive tomorrow. This is supposed to be good for the gut as it coats the stomach. Everything else about him is normal. Appreciate any suggestions. Should also mention that over the years he has often thrown up but never as frequent as he is doing now.”
CF: Without more information it’s hard to answer. S.H., I have a few questions, in particular:
Was your boy given anything, such as oral tick meds in the weeks/days leading up to the start of this?
What do you currently feed him?
Generally, by the sounds of it, there was an existing problem that may have been exacerbated by something. This can be the cause of something that offended the gut, or an underlying issue that is flaring up.
My recommendation would be to start using slippery elm, feed a gentle, cooked diet with a probiotic that contains digestive enzymes. Often those two are enough to get back on track, but if not, you may need to consult with a holistic vet.
HTT: Online dog nutrition consultation is one of the services you offer. Can anyone contact you?
CF: Online nutritional consultations are an option I provide. Working with a dog owner, we discuss options and look at their dog’s needs to see what can be helped with diet. For example, areas such as allergies can be helped simply by looking at their dog’s diet. And I am always open to connecting with people not just in Canada, but also internationally.
HTT: Christine, thank you for talking about dog nutrition and answering our reader’s questions. Woofy! Woof!
A reminder to TollerTails.com readers, if you are reading this article and have any concerns about your dog’s health, then make sure to take your dog to a licenced veterinarian or holistic veterinarian. The content of this interview on dog nutrition should not be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment of your dog’s health needs. Always check with your veterinarian or holistic veterinarian first.
Please note: Neither Henry nor his humans have received any remuneration, sponsorship or services in relation to this article. As always, our Toller Tails will identify on its posts, including Straight from the Snout™ posts, if a product or service being recommended and/or discussed is a sponsored product/service, or if there has been remuneration of any type.