When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed by What to Feed Your Dog

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.

jennifer waters signature

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.

Feed Your Dog a Little Bit Better with These Easy Nutrition Boosts

Feed Your Dog a Little Bit Better with These Easy Nutrition Boosts

In my previous blog post, I talked about how adding fresh, natural, unprocessed foods to my dogs’ diets has done more to improve their health than anything else I’ve ever done. It was great reading all the comments from dog moms who have done the same thing and seen amazing results.

There also were a lot of comments from dog moms who are feeling the frustration of where to start. When it comes to feeding our dogs the best food, the options seem endless and for some reason, the stakes seem a little higher. I fully admit to putting potato chips and wine into my own body WHILE cooking a mostly organic, nutritionally balanced, slightly labor-intensive meal for my dogs. Come on, dog mom, raise those greasy, salt-dusted hands if you’ve done the same!

What is it about feeding our dogs that makes us freeze with indecision, or insist on a perfection-or-nothing approach?

Or worse, fight each other over which single diet is The Right One?

In the human world, practically every one of us is on some different diet. We (mostly) support our friends and family when they decide to go vegan/Paleo/Whole 30/Keto/raw/gluten-free/green-goddess-juice-babe. And let’s be honest, some of us have tried ALL those diets!

And survived.

But when it comes to our dogs, I don’t think we have a very good handle yet on how to give them the best nutrition, and how much flexibility we have along the way. More importantly, I think the dog food industry forgets one important point: our dogs are just as individual as we are. I don’t pay much attention to the “best dog food” arguments because every dog has its own likes and dislikes. My Tyler is prone to pancreatitis, so he struggles with the high-fat Keto diet. My Georgia is allergic to chicken and grain, so 90% of the dog foods and treats on the market won’t work for her. Your comments on the last blog post said the same: Ella gets crystals if she eats too much dry kibble. Ivy is allergic to almost all the proteins. Holly is a picky eater. Sierra’s dog needs to lose a couple of pounds.

Here’s the thing, dog mom.

If you’re here, I know you want the best for you and your dog.

And I believe you’re doing the best you can, with where you are now.

With knowledge, we all can do a little bit better.

That’s what Happy Dog Mom is all about. I want to take the overwhelm out of giving our dogs (and ourselves) a happier, healthier life. But I don’t believe there is one right way to do that. I am never going to push a certain diet, or training program, or exercise regimen, or anything that will make you feel bad for what you are or are not doing for your dogs.

(And no one in the Happy Dog Mom community will be allowed to do that, either. Yeah, it’s a #safespace.)

With every single blog post, I want to explore how to understand ourselves and our dogs a little bit better. Break down the big complicated topics into not-so-scary baby steps. Show you that you’re not alone. Help you feel that you’re doing the best you can with what you know now. And leave you with a few easy-to-digest resources and action steps that you can take right now if it feels right to you.

So if you read last week’s post about home cooked dog food recipes, but felt a little overwhelmed about the prep work, commitment or price, here’s another place to start that might feel a little easier.

Simply toss your dog a little bit of the healthy food that you already have on hand.

Commonly called “toppers,” these add-ins give your dog a little extra variety, nutrition and flavor—without the overwhelming work for you. The best part is that by starting small, you can test individual ingredients to see how your dog reacts. I once added potato chunks to my dogs’ food, and all three of them picked up those potatoes….and dropped them right onto the floor. My dogs would eat dirt if you gave it to them! But not potatoes. So now I know not to waste any time or money on adding potatoes to their diet.

In her book Dog Obsessed, Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen, recommends adding your own healthy food to your dog’s bowl from time to time.

To get you started, here is a list of common foods you might have on hand that could be tossed on top of your dog’s food tonight.

“As a general rule, add-ins like these can make up about 10 percent of your dog’s total meal.” Lucy Postins, Dog Obsessed

Foods You Already Have That Are Good for Your Dog

  • Pumpkin. Add a spoonful or two to help with an upset stomach, fill up a dog who needs to be on a diet, stop diarrhea or just support digestion.
  • Parsley. Chop some up and toss on top of kibble to freshen your dog’s breath and deliver powerful antioxidants.
  • Ground beef, cooked or raw. Toss in a pinch next Taco Tuesday.
  • Yogurt. Loaded with probiotics, great for digestion. Choose plain (unflavored) regular yogurt, not Greek.
  • Eggs. Raw or scrambled. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, grind up half an egg shell and throw that in, too. Loaded with calcium, great for bone and teeth health.
  • Coconut oil. Plop it on top for increased energy and essential fatty acids, or spread a small spoonful on your dog’s bowl and let him lick it off for better breath and cleaner teeth. Look for virgin cold pressed raw coconut oil.
  • Applesauce. Choose the unsweetened variety, which is still plenty sweet for your dog, and also full of fiber and antioxidants.
  • White or brown rice. Great for settling the stomach and stopping diarrhea.
  • Lentils. A protein-rich source of iron, magnesium and lysine (an essential amino acid, good for the immune system). Go organic if you can.
  • Fruit. blueberries, strawberries, apples (no seeds), pears, mangos, melons and bananas are favorites. Many dogs don’t like the smell or taste of citrus fruits, but some might give them a try. Avoid grapes and raisins, which are toxic to dogs.
  • Veggies. Broccoli, peppers, peas, carrots, spinach, kale and grocery-store mushrooms are great choices. Raw or cooked is fine, but I like to purée raw veggies to increase absorption and decrease the chance of gas. Avoid onions, garlic and foraged mushrooms, which can be toxic to dogs.
  • Seafood. Sardines and mussels are a near super food according to Steve Brown, author of Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet. Toss one or two frozen or cooked mussels into your dog’s bowl per day, or a can of sardines (packed in water or olive oil) once a week, and load your dog up with lots of the trace minerals and healthy fats that might be missing from kibble or home-prepped diets.

human foods that are healthy for dogs

Want More Ideas?

The beauty of these easy, nutrition-boosting dog food toppers is that you can introduce one at a time to watch for sensitivities, and it’s easier to keep an eye on the increased calorie load. Be sure to work with your vet on any dietary changes you’re making for your dog (I worked with multiple vets as well as the dog nutrition experts at Must Love Dogs to come up with the home cooked meat and veggie mix I currently feed).

Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you and your dog. What spoonful of wholesome yumminess could you add to your dog’s kibble tonight to add a little variety and nutrition? Which of these add-ins seems easy for you and palatable for your dog? Comment on the post below, share your story, or shout out on social media and let us know!

Baby steps, dog momma. You got this.

Better with dog,

jennifer waters signature

The Best Thing I’ve Done to Improve My Dogs’ Health

The Best Thing I’ve Done to Improve My Dogs’ Health

Tyler celebrated his 11th birthday this week, and what caught some people’s attention even more than his handsome grey face was the fact that he’s actually healthier now than he was a year ago!

In fact, one year ago at this time, he was so sick that we were starting to say our goodbyes. My beautiful Boxer boy was having seizures, losing weight, growing tumors–all the bad stuff. To be honest, none of my dogs were doing well that year. Georgia was in a cone because she had an eye ulcer that wouldn’t heal. She was mostly bald, with the skin in the bare places turning black from sun exposure. Her feet were so itchy she was chewing them raw. Then Tyler got the same eye ulcer Georgia had. And Lily was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder and seemed to be in pain, even though she was doing her best to hide it.

Something Was Missing from Their Diets

My vets were on top of their medical symptoms, but that meant a long list of medications that had to be handed out every day. I knew in my heart there had to be a better way. Even though I was already giving them high-quality kibble, I felt strongly that all of these issues came down to something missing from their food. If I could just give them better nutrition, their bodies could do a better job of healing themselves.

So I researched how to improve my dogs’ nutrition. We could talk for years about which dog food is the best and healthiest for your dog, but from my research there were two ideas that resonated with me and what I felt was going on with my dogs:

  1. Even the best kibble can have small deficiencies, but that deficiency grows in magnitude if you feed the same thing year after year (which I had been doing).
  2. Just like me, my dogs can benefit from eating more whole, natural and unprocessed foods.

If you haven’t heard of or considered adding fresh, whole foods to your dog’s food, this TEDTalk is a great place to start. When Rodney Habib’s dog Sammie was diagnosed with cancer, he went on a global search for how to cure her cancer through nutrition. Along the way, he found research and anecdotal evidence showing that—just like us—our dogs’ health can be dramatically improved by adding some fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Sounds Easy Enough, Right?

Even though I was convinced my dogs would benefit from more fresh food in their diets, figuring out exactly how to do that was overwhelming. First I had to decide: was I going to feed them raw food? Raw prepared food? Dehydrated food? After reading up on the options available, I tried at least a dozen times to make the transition to healthier dog food. I would go to the dog food store or the butcher shop, start reading labels—and then get completely overwhelmed. Time after time, I’d give up and walk out with the same bag of dog food I always fed. I was not at all confident that I could adequately provide the right nutritional mix for my dogs.

I met with my regular veterinarian and got her advice. I scheduled a consult with a veterinary oncologist and got her advice. I was referred to a veterinary nutritionist at Michigan State University.

Unfortunately, all three of them had different—and often conflicting—advice. Overwhelmed, I finally loaded my dogs into the car, drove to my local holistic pet food store, Must Love Dogs, and said, “I don’t know what to do. Please help me.”

Complete with tears, of course.

In true frazzled dog mom fashion, I did this about five minutes before closing on a glorious Saturday afternoon, right as the saintly woman who was helping me received a text from her husband that said, “Hurry home. I have drinks and dinner waiting.” (True story.)

Sorry, hubs, ice those drinks. This dog mom was in meltdown and her dogs were in cones and stitches, and Jessie the shop assistant (and sister dog mom) wasn’t about to let me give in to the overwhelm. We talked about their symptoms, my confusion about all the foods out there, my fears about feeding raw and not getting the right nutritional balance, and how scared I was that I wouldn’t be able to afford a new diet for three dogs.

So We Started Small

I walked out with a plan and, better yet, some hope that I was finally going to be giving them the nutrition they needed and deserved.

I saw immediate results.

Tyler stopped growing tumors. Just stopped.

As an added bonus, he started running and playing a lot more. He didn’t need his arthritis medicine as often. He went up and down the stairs more often. He could keep up with the younger dogs on our walks now.

Georgia grew her hair back. Her skin was less scabby and dry. She stopped chewing her feet raw.

Her eye healed, and she hasn’t had any more eye ulcers since.

And as an added bonus, she stopped being so stinky! For as long as I’ve had her, she was just “my stinky girl.” I just accepted that she was a little funky and loved her for it. But shortly after changing her food, people kept remarking that she didn’t smell as bad. I never would have predicted that a change in food, rather than more baths, could have changed the way my stinky girl (and my house) smells for the better.

So What Was this Miraculous Change to My Dogs’ Diets?

I simply added some fresh meat and veggies on top of the high-quality kibble I was already feeding.

That’s it. I didn’t give up kibble, with it’s complete and balanced nutrient profile, affordability or convenience. I also didn’t have to formulate my own nutrient mix or count macronutrients by going completely raw. In fact, while I did start out adding raw meat to their food, I soon transitioned to cooked meat so I could make large batches at a time and not have to run to the store every day. While I think a raw diet is great and I’d love to work my way up to it someday, for a single mom with two kids and three dogs, raw feeding just wasn’t working for me.

So now once every six days, I pour myself a glass of wine, turn up the music in the kitchen, and I cook up about six to seven pounds of beef, turkey or venison (Georgia is allergic to chicken). I pull out my food processor and puree another three to four pounds of veggies. I add some coconut oil, and some fresh or dried herbs. I scoop in a dehydrated mineral and vitamin base mix like the one from The Honest Kitchen plus two to three cups of water. Mix and refrigerate.

healthy home cooked dog food for best nutrition

I replace about half their kibble with this mix, and because my dogs are older and need the probiotics, I typically add a dollup of plain yogurt or a splash of Answers raw goat’s milk. If I have blueberries or egg shells, I might throw those on top, too.

Just this one change to their food is the best thing I have ever done for my dogs’ health.

Georgia approves.

I try not to regret anything in life, but I do wish I had started supplementing my dogs’ kibble earlier in life. I made it a big complicated math-body-weight-micronutrient problem, and in the meantime deprived them of even the smallest improvements in nutrition and healing. I still have a lot to learn about canine nutrition, and I still struggle to find the time and money to give them the “best of the best,” but every day that I make even the tiniest efforts, they reap the benefits.

The lesson here? Baby steps are better than no steps, dog momma. Don’t let the fear of what you don’t know hold you back from what you DO know: you want to give your dog the best nutrition you can. If you’ve got that mother’s intuition telling you that something is missing from your dog’s diet, or you see the benefits in your own body from eating whole, unprocessed foods and want to do the same for your dog, just start small with some simple fresh additions to his kibble. In the next blog post, I’ll share a whole shopping list of easy but powerful fresh food toppers that you can use right away to start boosting your dog’s nutrition, so make sure to sign up below so you don’t miss it. If you want to get started on home-cooking a portion of your dog’s food, here are some of my favorite resources for you to check out:

Dr. Karen Becker’s Homemade Dog Food Recipe

Planet Paws Healthy Pet Recipe Store

Feed Your Best Friend Better, by Rick Woodford

Have you seen similar improvements in your dog’s health by adding fresh, whole foods? Comment on the post below, share your story, or shout out on social media and let us know!

Baby steps, dog momma. You got this.

Better with dog,

jennifer waters signature



three boxers eating home cooked dog food for best nutrition

Dinner time!


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