We know there is a ton of information out there about feeding your pets and everyone has a different philosophy. At Velvet Acres Animal Rescue, we strive to provide the highest quality food possible to our animals. Our foster parents are tasked with feeding their own foster pets so the details vary a bit depending on each foster. We, as a rescue, provide food as often as possible to our foster homes. In general, we prefer high meat content diets for dogs and for cats. We encourage rotational feeding, which means the protein (“flavor”) of the food is changed every so often, maybe every two weeks, maybe each month. We also liked to vary the type of food that the animals receive and aim for them to experience dry food, canned food, and freeze dried and/or raw food during their time with us. Humans don’t eat the same thing day in and day out so why should our furry family members? Rotation and variety help keep our pets interested in meal time and provide different nutrient profiles ensuring a well-rounded diet.
There are a few ingredients that we actively avoid when choosing food (and treats) for our dogs and cats. Corn, wheat, and soy are cheap filler ingredients with little to no nutritional value so those are not in anything we feed. We also look for menadione sodium bisulfite complex, or synthetic vitamin K3. This is a known carcinogen and is not allowed to be used in products for human consumption but is allowed in pet food. We are not comfortable with feeding our animals something that is known to be so dangerous for us. Anything with that ingredient is not given to our animals.
Raw Food Diets
At Velvet Acres Animal Rescue, we believe that a raw food diet provides the best nutrition our pets can get. There are many arguments for and against raw feeding but we have seen first hand the benefits and the power of raw food to improve the lives of cats and dogs. We provide a variety of commercially prepared raw diets to all our animals in some capacity during their stay with us. There are many considerations to raw feeding and while we would love to have all our animals be entirely raw fed, it is not always economical and takes a bit more time than feeding traditional dry kibble. For these reasons, the majority of our animals receive raw food intermittently or as a treat.
There are many benefits of a raw diet for both dogs and cats. Raw food doesn’t have the starch content that dry food does. Starchy binders are necessary for dry food to hold its shape during the cooking process, called extrusion. Starch breaks down into sugar which is what leads to tartar build up on the teeth. It is a myth that dry food is necessary for dental health! That is like saying that a human eating a pretzel is good for their teeth. Dry food is not hard enough to scrape tartar off teeth and even if it was, many animals do not chew the pieces of dry food, they swallow them whole. Raw fed pets tend to have very few dental issues that result from diet (some dogs will still have issues that result from genetics, which raw feeding can help mitigate but is not going to completely solve).
Pets that are raw fed, even partially, experience many health benefits. One is a healthier coat, sleek, shiny, and with less shedding. In cats, that translates to fewer problems with hairballs! Raw fed pets have fewer problems with allergies, IBD, and other inflammation-centered diseases. They also tend to have an easier time maintaining a healthy body weight because of the lack of fillers in raw diets. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for humans with pet allergies to have an easier time around raw fed animals, sometimes even having no reaction at all.
Dogs and Food
Dogs have lived with humans and been domesticated much longer than cats have and as a result, have adapted to eat and tolerate a wider variety of ingredients and foods. Dogs still do best with high meat content foods rather than foods with more plant ingredients. Because of their size, many of our dogs only get raw/freeze dried food intermittently or as a treat. It would be very expensive to entirely feed raw food to all of them!
There are several brands of dry food that we use often. It is likely that any dog or puppy adopted from us has eaten one or more of these brands during their time with us.
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Canned food is used occasionally for our dogs and puppies, mostly on an as-needed basis. Puppies that are transitioning from nursing to eating solid food are started with canned food and gradually get dry food mixed in. Canned food is a great way to get dogs to take medications as well so after any kind of medical procedure, it is common for canned food to be added to their diet to make administering medications easier.
Beyond what you feed your new family member, you should also give some thought to HOW you feed your new family member. Both cats’ and dogs’ minds are wired to “work” for their food by hunting. When we take them into our homes, their opportunities to work for their meals often completely vanish. This can be incredibly detrimental to their mental state, especially for cats, and allowing them the chance to work for meals often resolves or reduces behavioral problems. Additionally, “scarf and barf” is a common complaint for cat parents and occasionally for dog parents as well. Working for food effectively slows how quickly a pet eats and often completely eliminates this issue.
No matter which species you are working with, it is always advised to introduce changes in the feeding routine slowly and start with a low difficulty level. If the challenge is too great right away, many pets will get frustrated and simply give up. This is not a positive experience for them and may make them unwilling to try again in the future even with a different puzzle. A good first step, whether working with cats or dogs, is to simply scatter food on the ground or toss a piece at a time for them to find. This can help bridge the gap between the “I only eat what’s in my bowl” lazy mentality and the “I have to work for my food” mentality.
The same way we recommend rotating what you feed, we also recommend rotating how you feed. It’s a good idea to have a stockpile of different meal time enrichment options and change it up every few days or even every meal if your pet is especially motivated and enjoys working for their food. This also gives you a chance to wash the items regularly. Food surfaces with your pets slobber all over them can quickly become scummy and the bacteria that grows there can be detrimental to your pet’s health so don’t forget to wash enrichment items often! Be sure to check the instructions on each one, many are top rack dishwasher safe.
While dogs may not have the same intense urge to hunt for their food as cats, providing enrichment at mealtime by making them work for their food has a multitude of benefits. Meal time enrichment is especially beneficial for puppies and working breed dogs, but every dog can benefit from some degree of food enrichment.
When it comes to raw, canned, and dehydrated diets (collectively referred to as wet food from this point on), there are a few options for meal time enrichment for dogs. The most well-known is probably a classic Kong. Another of our favorites is the West Paw Toppl. These toys can be easily stuffed with any type of food and we encourage you to use a mixture of types of food and treats! For an added challenge and a less messy feeding experience, many food toys can be frozen overnight or for 6 to 8 hours before feeding (check the manufacturer’s instructions to confirm for each toy). Licki mats and slow bowls are also good options for wet food.
For a dry diet, there is almost no limit to the ways you can enrich meal time. Many companies make stationary puzzle toys and activity mats that can be used for treats or for entire meals depending on the size of the puzzle. Snuffle mats are also a great, easy to fill option and instructions for DIY versions are easy to find online. Mobile food toys also work well and there are a ton of options. Companies like West Paw, Planet Dog, and Busy Buddy make some great mobile food toys. The Planet Dog Snoop and the Kong Wobbler are favorites for many of our dogs (and for their foster parents for ease of use and ease of cleaning).
In addition to puzzles, mats, and other food toys you can purchase, there are lots of DIY enrichment options. One of our favorites is just a spare towel. When laid flat, you can scatter food over it then roll and twist it into different shapes for your dog to unravel and find all the food. You can start incredibly easily by just folding the towel in half or make it decently challenging by rolling the towel tightly and then making it into different shapes or tucking the ends into each other. Paper towel or toilet paper rolls and empty cereal boxes can also make excellent feeders, just be sure to monitor your dog the first couple times and make sure they don’t just eat the cardboard! Just crinkle or fold the ends of the rolls or close the box and give it to your pup. For an added challenge, newspaper can be added inside and food hidden throughout. Be sure to watch your dog the first couple times and make sure they don’t eat the cardboard and newspaper (though we’ve never had problems from dogs ingesting small pieces of either while enjoying this kind of enrichment).
If your dog isn’t interested in the food puzzles or toys you got, try using high-value treats first, before you use them for mealtimes. Sometimes, dogs need higher reward items like treats to get them interested in trying something new. They are creatures of routine just like we are and many times it has to be worth the effort for them to want to work.
Give it multiple tries, over a couple weeks! Dogs are creatures of habit and can be quite lazy at times. Using the puzzle or toy for one meal and giving up doesn’t count as actually trying. You have to keep at it, knowing that this is ultimately something really good for your dog and that the effort in the beginning will pay off down the line in a happier, more stimulated dog.
Make sure you start easy! It’s common for a dog to need their confidence built up before tackling a “harder” puzzle or toy. If they struggle with a frozen food toy, try it without freezing the first couple weeks and then see if they will do frozen. They may also need it to be less packed so that it is easier to get into. If your mobile feeder has adjustable openings, set them to be open all the way. If you are using cardboard tubes, just put the food in and don’t scrunch the ends. You wouldn’t want to jump straight into something new with the difficulty set all the way up so why would your dog? All this is especially true of puppies, who have the attention span of a flea. They HAVE to have a reward pretty quickly in order for something to keep their attention. If a puzzle or toy is too difficult, they are very likely to just give up and move on to something else. Make sure you meet them where they are and don’t get frustrated if it takes them a while to move up in difficulty levels. You want them to like working for their food!
Please note that nothing on this page should be considered medical advice. Not all diets are appropriate for all dogs and it is wise to consult with a holistic veterinary professional before changing your pets diet, especially if you want your pet to lose weight. Likewise, if your pet has a serious behavioral concern, please consult with a dog behaviorist. In that situation, the strategies mentioned here would work best as part of a further, overall behavior plan.