Hack Your Dog's Diet

Hack Your Dog's Diet

With Thanksgiving coming up, I've been thinking about diet and what I eat. I’ve been trying different approaches for a while now—low carb, carb loading, South Beach, Keto, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, you name it—all while watching how my body responded to each approach. Did I slump after lunch? How’s my cholesterol? My weight? Am I getting up in the morning ready to go? Do my joints hurt after a run? I read all the health articles and get a yearly physical, but I also “hack” myself and pay attention to the results.

Then it occurred to me, why aren't I giving the same level of attention to health to my dog, Hobo? I think paying attention to Hobo’s diet is a vital part of our relationship. Finding the right diet for him that makes him healthy, energetic, happy, and hopefully live longer is a great way to show him I care.


What to Watch For

Before recommending a few diet options, let’s talk about what I watch for to see if the chosen diet is working:

  • Appetite: How is he eating? Is he gobbling up the food or moving it to the floor? Is he only eating a little bit and leaving the rest behind?
  • Coat: Is his coat dull, shiny, dry, or stiff?
  • Poop: This is a big one for me (though my girlfriend isn’t nearly as fascinated). Is his poop watery or dry? Big or small? Are there undigested bits in there?
  • Breath: Is it sour? Does it smell like poop, or is it fresh?
  • Teeth? I keep my eyes on tartar buildup and yellowness, especially if his diet includes moist foods. It’s also good to check for any signs of bits of food or snacks that are stuck in there.
  • Energy Level: Is he sluggish, or does he spring up from a nap at walk time?
  • Allergic Symptoms: Is he licking his feet? Eating grass? Scratching one spot on his body? These actions can often be a reaction to something he ate.

I observe, take a few notes, and adjust Hobo’s food regiment, then stick with what works, at least for a little while. If that stops working, I try a new combination.


Before You Buy

Before you buy, here are a few recommendations:

  • Don’t buy on impulse: Don’t wait until you are out of food to rush to buy whatever is on sale. Make an intentional plan for what to buy next.
  • Read the label: Look for high-quality ingredients that you know work for your dog. If your dog is a meat-eater, meat should be the first 2 or 3 ingredients on the ingredient list on the side of the bag or can. Note: Ingredients are listed by weight, and some dry dog foods are created wet and then baked. When dry, the percent of many proteins like meat is considerably lower than you might expect. Make sure filler such as wheat, corn, and soy, are lower on the ingredient list. Additionally, make sure chemical preservatives with names you can’t pronounce are even lower on the list. Watch out for terms like “Dinner” or “Formula.” By law, those terms mean the main ingredient (say, chicken in a “Chicken Dinner”) makes up only around 25% of the total ingredients.


What’s Working for Us

Below are a few of the foods that currently work for my dog Hobo (though I’m always trying something new and assessing the results):

  • Premium Kibbles: Dry dog foods like Rachael Ray Nutrish Dish Super Premium Dry Dog Food and Diamond Naturals Grain Free Real Meat Recipe Premium Dry Dog Food give him energy and seem to keep him from growing a big belly. They include a good amount of meat, vegetables, and fatty acids. I can see the results in his coat, teeth, stride, and poop.
  • Raw: I’m experimenting with Instinct Frozen Raw Patties and Simply Nourish Fresh Market frozen kibbles, and so far, so good. I take one of the frozen hockey pucks or a scoop of kibbles out of the freezer every night, put them in the fridge, then serve it to him for lunch the next day. I’ve noticed that after these meals, Hobo doesn’t seem to beg for treats as much, his poops have gotten smaller, and he’s lost a little weight.
  • Low Carb: Though a few carbs are not harmful to your dog, I don’t want them to be the main type of nutrition Hobo eats. I once made the mistake of buying a big pack of carb-heavy kibbles from Costco, and I saw the results in his growing belly, low energy, and huge poops. Where I can, I watch the percentage of carbs on the ingredient list (often called “Crude Fiber”) and try to keep it below 10% of the total nutrients in the bag.
  • Plant-Based: This is more for my conscience than for Hobo’s, but I try to make an effort to cut back on carbon emissions as much as possible and reduce my meat intake (and cow farts) wherever I can. So, every once in a while, I slip in some plant-based food like Halo Vegan or V-Dog Vegan dog food into his diet. So far, Hobo hasn’t noticed the changeup and seems to enjoy it. Over time, I expect to increase the amount of plant-based food in his diet.



Ultimately, I think it’s a good idea to experiment with your dog’s diet, even if you land on a winner. I try a new approach or formula every 2-6 months. The process keeps me focused on my dog’s health and happiness. As Hobo’s age, activity level, joint stiffness, and protein needs change, I’ll be ready with a few new diet experiments to make sure his food fits his new lifestyle.

By putting a little effort, research, and creativity into your dog’s diet, you too can build a better connection with your dog while making sure they are happy, healthy, and secure in your home.