The Controversial Subject of Dog Food

When I tell people that my dog eats kangaroo, they think I’m joking. Why would I — a vegetarian for nearly 15 years — permit my beloved dog to feast on such an adorable marsupial?

But yes, it’s true. Just like Ira Glass’s pit bull, my Zoe eats kangaroo. Allow me to back up for a moment here.

For starters, Zoe’s freak-diet is not necessarily a detail I advertise. However, because I have a reputation for being “the crazy animal person” in most of my friends’ and family members’ lives, I tend to be the one they turn to with questions about animal allergies and diets. As a result, the subject arises more than you might think.

Often I get asked whether or not I feel guilty letting Zoe consume such a cute creature. The answer is yes and no. While I would prefer that everyone eat less (or no) meat, I do not impose my own dietary choices or ethical beliefs on anyone — human or animal. When it comes to Zoe, I want to feed her whatever keeps her healthy and happy — and for the time being, that happens to be a kangaroo.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, Zoe is allergic to everything from nature itself to chicken, beef, venison, and grain. Through working with her regular vet and her dermatologist (yes, she has one of those), we keep her allergies under control through a strict regimen of weekly medicated baths, daily use antibacterial wipes, and regular doses of Hydroxyzine.

The final and most challenging ingredient to managing Zoe’s allergies has been her diet. Indeed, the other unseemly component of Zoe’s allergies is GI upset, which was a daily reality for her. This problem is compounded by the fact that she’s a terribly picky eater.

In fact, her newest favorite habit is selecting a single piece of kibble from her bowl, transferring it to the rug, and furtively consuming it. She will repeat this process multiple times a day.

As a result of Zoe’s stomach issues, I have done my best to educate myself about all the different types of dog food on the market. I understand the importance of scrutinizing the ingredient lists for by-products and fillers.

I believe that it is worth it to spend the extra money to provide the highest quality food for our pets to extend their lifespans (if that is financially feasible). And as I have said before, I have tried just about every high-end brand of dog food you can imagine. We’ve done raw food, wet food, dry food, dehydrated food — we’ve even cooked her food from the grocery store. (And by we, I mean K.). We did herbs, supplements, probiotics, etc. You name it, we’ve tried it. In spite of all these efforts, nothing seemed to prevent the upset stomach that was a daily reality for Miss Z.

Last winter when the weather grew colder (or at least cold-ish by Chicago standards), we decided to do an official diet trial. This meant that Zoe could eat nothing by a designated hypoallergenic food for a few months; she could have one protein and one starch. That’s it. No treats, no toothpaste, no cat food, no crumbs from the floor, nada.

Because we had to make sure that there were no other cross-contaminants in the food processing plant, the vet recommended a prescription brand of rabbit and potato.

Beyond being very expensive, I was hesitant because it was not one of the “approved” brands I was used to buying. But at this point, I figured nothing else had worked and I would give it a shot.

And sure enough, within a few weeks, we noticed a marked difference. The GI problems had all but disappeared.

After a few months on the diet, I tried integrating some of the non-hypoallergenic food back into Zoe’s meals, but the old problems came back with a vengeance. So, we remained on the hypoallergenic prescription food and Zoe continued to thrive.

After Zoe was on this food for about six months, the company announced it might discontinue the line. At this juncture, we had a choice: feed Zoe an outrageously expensive hydrolyzed diet or

try another brand’s hypoallergenic formula that happened to feature another exotic protein: the kangaroo. Again, this was not a brand I would’ve ever considered feeding Zoe in the past, but I was willing to try it.

After the initial adjustment, Zoe has done remarkably well. Her coat and weight are great, and she has no stomach issues to speak of (except for when I occasionally cheat and allow her a forbidden Kong filled with peanut butter).

Maybe all this sounds silly, but as with human babies, dog parents have very strong opinions about what to feed their canine kids.  After going through all this with Zoe, I try not to judge; to each his or her own! She won’t be on kangaroo forever (we have to switch the protein and starches a few times a year to prevent her from developing an intolerance to those!), but it looks like the prescription dog food is here to stay. So that’s where we are right now — and as long as Zoe remains as healthy as she is, this is where we will remain.

What do you feed your dog and why? Do you also feel like the issue of what to feed our pets has become a controversial topic?

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