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Subscriber Q&A with Veterinarian Dr Lindsay Cassibry

Andrew Dickens

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Andrew Dickens
Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens

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Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster with 20 years in journalism. He’s created compelling content on film and television, travel, food and drink, physical and mental health, business, sport, technology and politics. And, of course, dog food.

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Updated: June 7, 2024

A few weeks ago, we asked our email subscribers to submit food- and diet-related questions to Lindsay Cassibry, MPH, DVM, the in-house vet at five-star rated Ollie dog food and an expert on dog nutrition.

We had a huge response but narrowed it down to a few questions that we hope will be useful to many dog parents.

These Q&As happen occasionally so if you want to know about them and get involved, remember to sign up to our life-saving dog food recall alerts. You’ll not only get an alert every time there’s a dog food recall in the U.S.A. or Canada, but you’ll also get tips on dog nutrition and health, plus notice of dog food deals and discounts.

Here are your questions for Dr. Cassibry and her answers.

Why do so many fresh food diets contain pulses (for example, peas, pea protein, lentils, chickpeas, etc), if it might put some dogs at risk for heart problems? Could they not use different vegetables? — Douglas

The heart problem you are referring to is Dilated Cardiomyopathy. Most research has failed to find a link that is conclusive on this topic thus far. While diet may be a contributing factor, pulses are not bad as they are a good source of plant-based protein, natural carbohydrates for energy, and fiber for digestion.

At Ollie, we are proud of our ingredients and do not use pulses in large amounts or as protein substitutes. It is important to research which food you are planning on feeding your dog and ask their veterinary support teams if their diets have ever been linked to issues or have any reports of these health issues.

Should older dogs be eating less protein and more fat? Will too much protein cause inflammation? — Karis

This is difficult to say since older dogs typically have different nutritional needs based on comorbidities and breed. Not all dogs will do well on a higher fat diet, as that can cause pancreatitis. If they have had this issue in the past, then I would not recommend a high-fat diet.

If you have a healthy senior dog, the most important aspect is energy requirements. Some may start to lose weight as they age and need more calories. They also tend to have muscle atrophy and need a higher level of protein. The protein itself should not cause inflammation. It is good for senior dogs to take an omega-3 and omega-6 supplement to combat inflammation of any type.

I would love a list of healthier alternatives to prescription food (especially kidney/urinary diets). Can you help? — Christy

You can pair with a veterinary nutritionist, and they can create an at-home diet for you. There are certain nutritional aspects to kidney and urinary diets that need to be followed very specifically. That said,  it would be very difficult to attempt on your own, and I would recommend against it. Just Food For Dogs has a prescription kidney diet that is good as well.

Regarding coprophagia (eating poop) and diet. Can it be deterred with supplements; and if so, what ingredients should be present? — Judy

There are supplements that claim to help with coprophagia. They work for some dogs, but can be a behavioral issue in others. I have noticed with fresh dog food, I tend to see less coprophagia. It would be interesting to see research on this one day, but my theory is that the satiety aspect helps quite a bit.

What are the best ways to give dogs probiotics? Please provide examples and estimates for amounts. — Leo 

Chewables or powders are the best way. Consider if your dog has any food allergies, as these may have flavoring added in. I would recommend a probiotic labeled for dogs since these will have the correct amounts to give on the label. One key thing to look for is different strains of bacteria. The more strains, the better the probiotic will work to help with the gut microbiome diversity.

Do dogs need to have their food changed from time to time? In other words, do they get bored with eating the same thing day after day? My two dogs will eat a given food for a few months, then refuse to eat it. Are they just spoiled? — Stephany 

I definitely see this in older pets very commonly, as they are usually on the same food most of their adult life. If your dogs do not have a sensitive stomach and can tolerate multiple protein sources, it is not bad to alternate between those. I would recommend sticking with the same brand of food. Multiple protein sources can also help to diversify the gut microbiome as well, which leads to healthier stool. 

How do you know your dog is allergic to a specific protein as opposed to when they have simply developed an intolerance for that particular protein? — Jim

Food allergies involve the immune system and can cause severe reactions such as anaphylaxis. Food intolerances cause symptoms such as ear infections, anal gland issues, and licking or itching. We typically use the term food allergies for both even though that is technically incorrect at times.

If you suspect your dog has an allergy or intolerance, the gold standard is a food trial which can take 8 to 12 weeks. During this time, you feed a different food that is usually considered a novel protein. Be sure to also eliminate any treats, preventatives with flavoring (switch to topical), and flavored toothpaste. Many do not realize even that small amount can cause issues in some dogs.

See our list of the Best Dog Foods for Allergies

Are any pet foods other than prescription diets good for seizures? — Melissa & Stryker

Prescription diets labeled for seizures mainly add in MCT oil. When considering diets for seizures, I would recommend looking for high-quality protein sources, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and antioxidant-rich foods like fruits and vegetables. I would then add MCT oil to the diet. I preface this with the fact that none of the foods will stop the seizures altogether, but these nutrient profiles can help to improve seizure control. 

Are joint supplements necessary for all dogs? If so, at what age should I begin giving them to my pups? — Rachel

If your dog is a breed predisposed to joint issues, such as hip dysplasia, then I would start them as early as a year old. If your dog is overweight, I would start supplementation while they are losing weight, as well as after they lose weight, so that they can be as active as possible. Joint supplements are generally safe, so starting them at any point will only help to make them more comfortable as they age.

Why does my healthy, active dog skip meals on occasion? — Mako

Some dogs can get upset stomachs even if they are on the same food. There are many different factors that could be causing this. If they eat one meal a day and the bile sits in their stomach for a long period of time without food, it can be irritating. This could cause them to skip a meal. Also, if your dog likes to eat things while outside, this could either be a cause of the upset stomach or an attempt to settle their already upset stomach.

Some dogs just aren’t as food-motivated as others. They may not be hungry if they are satiated or are more interested in playing than eating! So many factors can play a role in skipping meals. Be sure to tell your veterinarian this is a common occurrence at their annual check-up so that it can be noted and monitored!

See our list of the Best Dog Foods for Picky Eaters

How can I add more fiber to my dog’s food? — Susie

Pumpkin is a great source of fiber. Depending on the size of your dog you can look up how much they should be getting and add that into their meals. If you are feeding a fully balanced meal, you shouldn’t need to add in much fiber. At Ollie, our Health Screenings will monitor your dog’s stool, and my team and I will let you know if we feel more fiber may be necessary based on your dog’s digestive system. 

Do foods like Ollie assist constipation? Do you still supplement pre/probiotics if eating a food like Ollie? — James

Yes, Ollie has fiber that will help with constipation. Depending on how your dog’s stool is appearing while on Ollie, we may recommend adding in probiotics. Ollie has Health Screenings where my team and I monitor your dog’s stool. Any time that we feel the stool could use a probiotic, we will help you with adding that in!

All dogs’ digestive systems are different depending on how long they were on their previous food, it may take them a bit longer to have normal stool as the gut is adjusting to a more diverse and healthier microbiome.

My senior dog will only eat chicken and hamburger for meals. Are there any pills I can give her for nutrients she needs? I’m giving her a senior multivitamin now. — Donna

There are companies that have nutrient packets that you can add to a homemade meal to make sure they are receiving all of the correct nutrients. Balanceit.com is a website run by a veterinary nutritionist where you input the food your dog is currently eating and they create vitamin and mineral packets that will help supply the other nutrients your dog needs.

Seniors can be difficult when it comes to picky eating. I recommend trying a fresh food that is chicken- or beef-based before creating a nutrient packet. That way, they can get all of their needs from fresh whole foods.

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