When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed by What to Feed Your Dog
An easy way to find the best possible food for your dog, even when you feel overwhelmed by all the options and opinions.
Shopping for dog food is stressful.
Maybe it’s just me—I don’t enjoy shopping, it overwhelms me. There are too many choices, and I’m the type of person who likes to make good choices, especially when it comes to my health and my dogs’ health.
I once spent months researching what kind of kibble to feed my aging dogs. My dogs were sick and I knew they needed better nutrition than what I was giving them, but I was so overwhelmed by the need to find the “best” food that I became paralyzed by the options.
It took one of my dogs going into a health crisis for me to finally make a decision and try a new food. I had the best intentions—I wanted to feed my dogs the best possible food for their bodies—but I wasted months of their lives struggling with my own indecision and need to make the “perfect” choice.
Maybe you’ve felt the same way when it comes to your dog and what he’s eating?
Today I have the clarity and experience to know that any little improvement I make in my dogs’ food will greatly impact their health. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be drastic. I just have to start.
That said, I still found myself right back in my familiar shutting-down mode at the grocery store recently. Over the last six years, I’ve gradually transitioned my dogs to a fresh food diet of meat, veggies and supplements. I went to the store to buy 10 pounds of protein as I do each week, but the store was out of what I normally buy. I checked out my remaining choices: none of them were organic, grass-fed or hormone-free. The fat content wasn’t what I normally use. And the price of the one that was closest was nearly $20 more than I normally spend.
I spent so much time staring at that meat case and debating over this decision that I almost gave up and went home.
That’s when I caught myself.
When we struggle with making a decision, it often isn’t because of the options that are in front of us. It’s about what we think that decision will say about us.
In both of my situations above, I wanted to choose the “best” food for my dogs.
If I did that, it would mean that I was a really good dog mom.
It would mean I was good enough at something.
It would mean that no one could criticize or judge me for what I fed my dogs. (Because let’s face it, there’s a lot of dog food shaming out there, am I right?)
At least, that’s what I thought my decision would mean.
My overwhelm and decision paralysis came from my belief that what I chose to feed my dogs was a reflection of whether I was a good enough dog mom or not. That belief created so much pressure that I couldn’t make any choice at all.
When I finally removed that pressure, and that belief, I was left with a much simpler decision: what’s the best I can do for my dogs, right now, with what I have available to me?
I stopped trying to become a dog food expert overnight and I asked some actual dog nutrition experts for advice. I stopped trying to do a complete overhaul of my dogs’ diet and I started taking baby steps. I stopped believing that anyone had the right to guilt me for what I fed my dogs, and I stopped making myself available to other people’s judgments.
I was doing the best I could, and that was enough.
I made a few simple changes to my dogs’ food—baby steps, really—and I was blown away by the exponential improvements in their health. I wasn’t doing anything perfectly, but their bodies were responding with improvements in health and vitality that were even greater than I had hoped for.
I learned that baby steps were better than no steps, and that I couldn’t let my fear of judgment and need for perfection get in the way of giving my dogs the better nutrition they deserved.
Which is why I was surprised when I recently found myself standing at that meat case, paralyzed by choices again. That’s when I took a deeper look at what was behind my overwhelm.
I realized that over the years of giving my dogs better nutrition, I had become proud of what I was doing and it once again meant something about me. When I couldn’t find the food I normally fed them, I was upset about what it would say about me if I fed them something “less.” Once I saw that belief, I realized the absurdity of it. Here I was, shopping at a human grocery store for human-grade ingredients to put in my dogs’ fresh, home-cooked meals, and I was worried that I wasn’t doing enough.
I wasn’t trying to find the perfect protein. I was trying to be the perfect dog mom.
Once I let go of all the extra beliefs that I thought that decision said about me, I easily chose a package of protein that matched my budget and STILL gave my dogs a much higher level of nutrition than they used to get years before.
Could I have done more? Could I have shopped around to find a more perfect meat source? Yes.
Could I also be satisfied with a little less than perfection, knowing that it was the best I could do in that moment? Absolutely.
I did the best I could for my dogs, and that was enough. I am enough.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by what to feed your dog, take a deeper look at what is behind that decision.
Remove the idea that what you feed your dog is a judgment on who you are as a person or a dog parent. Yes, there will be people (including your vet, your rescue friends, your family, and online “experts”) who will try to judge you anyways. Realize that they know nothing about your budget, your lifestyle, your dog’s preferences and your access to different types of food. They do not get to decide what is “best” for you and your dog.
The “best” food for your dog is the one you can afford, get access to and store/cook safely. It’s the one that your dog loves and does well on.
If you exclusively buy grass-fed, free range, organic food for yourself, and it would go against your values to buy anything less for your dog, then by all means, don’t lower your standards.
If you are just trying to do a little bit better for your dog and you know you’ll adjust along the way as you learn more, then stop holding yourself to anyone else’s standards and confidently choose the products that you trust, have access to and can afford in this moment.
Either way, you’re making a difference for your dog. Be proud of that. Let go of any stress or judgment (from yourself and others) and do what you can, in this moment, for you and your dog.
It is enough.
If you are feeling ready to do a deeper dive into canine nutrition and how to confidently craft your dog’s diet, join the waitlist for Nourish, my online course for dog parents who want to feed their best friends better. In this course, you will learn how to improve your dog’s nutrition by understanding the basics of what a dog needs to eat and thrive, and then by choosing the foods that work best for your budget, lifestyle and personal preferences. Think of Nourish as a choose-your-own adventure book: you’ll be encouraged to take what you learn and use it to improve your dog’s food in a way that makes sense for you and your dog. It could be a little or a lot, but even the smallest step toward better nutrition will create exponential changes in your dog’s body, health and functioning, and you’ll have the foundational expertise to make more or bigger changes when you’re ready.