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Q: I have heard that a grain-free diet is better for my dog. Should I switch him over to a grain-free diet?

A: Deciding what to feed your pet is probably one of the most confusing aspects of pet ownership these days. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there as well as an overwhelming number of choices that you are faced with at the pet stores and online.

Grain-free diets are diets that are obviously devoid of grains and heavy on the meats and other grain-free carbohydrates such as sweet potato. These diets have been made popular by what is being marketed to humans, not based on what our pets need nutritionally.

For example, grain-free diets started to become more popular when Paleo and raw diets gained traction in the human nutrition realm. It is important to understand that our pets have very different metabolic needs and nutritional requirements, so what is good for humans is not always good for our pets.

One glaring contrast is the meat-derived protein requirements of cats. They cannot be on a primarily vegetarian diet as they require meat to survive.

Grain-free diets are not necessary for most of our pets, so feeding a grain-free diet is not required. In fact, you are probably going to spend more for a “healthy” grain-free diet than you would for a cheaper, more complete food that is better nutritionally for your pet and not grain free.

In some cases, animals can have grain allergies that require them to be on a grain-free diet, in which case a grain-free diet would be recommended. However, animals also can have allergies to protein sources such as chicken and beef, so it is not always the grain that is causing the issues.

When judging a dog food, I will look to the pet to tell me if it is the right food for them or not. The pet should have a shiny coat, minimal dandruff, and should defecate normal stool once to twice a day.

If your pet has an itchy, dull or excessively oily coat or is having diarrhea, soft stools, or large amounts of stool or is very flatulent, then I would recommend switching the brand and quality of the food.

Q: I just adopted a new puppy and I am overwhelmed! Any advice?

A: First, remember that this puppy will be a full-grown dog very soon, so do not panic!

Puppies need a lot of time and attention, as well as training, and this can be very challenging to any owner. The more time and effort you put into your puppy, the better the dog it will become.

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It is essential that you do not let your puppy get away with any behaviors that you would not tolerate in a fully-grown dog. As an example, chewing on your fingers as puppy might be cute, but should not be tolerated as you would not tolerate that behavior in a fully-grown dog.

Start training your puppy immediately but understand that their attention span is typically very short, so work on easy commands such as sit and stay in the beginning.

Exposure to healthy, older dogs is essential to train a puppy on how to be appropriate with other dogs and how to behave around other dogs.

Making sure your puppy is fully vaccinated and healthy is essential, so taking him to the veterinarian as soon as you adopt the puppy will help you greatly so that you can get all your questions answered and make sure your puppy is fully protected.

Keep in mind that puppies can only hold their urine and stool for a few hours, so taking them outside regularly will help with potty training. And the motto to always remember when owning a dog, whether a puppy or full-grown dog, is that a tired dog is a good dog. Bad behaviors tend to occur from boredom and not enough exercise.

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Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at drmiller@canyonpet.com

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