Louie’s CIL was triggered a few months ago, which forced us to stop adding a can of commercial food to Louie’s diet. His only source of protein is spirulina, which means he now receives no animal proteins at all.
Yesterday, I wrote a little bit about the different dietary needs of dogs with CIL. Today I want to talk about home cooked and hybrid diets.
Many of us have tried the commercially available prescription foods and found them inadequate. In our case, we had discovered one product that Louie could eat, which was subsequently reformulated by the manufacturer to include ingredients we knew he could not tolerate. We scrambled around like mad to buy up what we could of this food, but realized after all was said and done that we would probably need to find ways to stretch our food supply over the long term. So our “hybrid” diet was born. Others have used different homemade diets with varying degrees of success.
There are a few important things to bear in mind when home cooking for your CIL dog.
- The ideal diet will most likely contain one form of protein and one source of carbohydrates.
- The diet needs to be balanced (that is, it needs to contain all the nutrients a dog needs to stay healthy).
- The diet needs to be strictly controlled for fat content (we’ll talk more about fat content in another post).
- The diet should be high in protein to address the protein loss that occurs from the disease process.
- The diet should be low in fiber.
Here is where things get tricky. I am not a veterinary nutritionist, nor am I qualified to create balanced and complete diets from scratch to treat intestinal illness. Initially I was prescribed a diet by a veterinary nutritionist that contained the following ingredients:
- white rice
- baked chicken
- balancing supplement
I dutifully prepared this diet for Louie for several weeks, but he continued to decline in health. As he continued to decline, I began to experiment, cutting out the oil and then using less and less chicken to see if I could find a level of fat for him that was tolerable (remember that I had only been told that he had lymphangiectasia). Ultimately it became clear that I could not, and at this point I concluded that, in his case, fat was not the only problem. I had to change his protein source, too. That’s when I started scrambling to buy up whatever I could find of the discontinued food that he’d been able to eat.
After I had purchased all the old, prescription food that I could find and he began to do better again, I decided to try a new approach. I had heard about a different kind of balancing product, a dehydrated, organic “base” made by the Honest Kitchen company, called Preference. This product supposedly contained all the nutrients a dog would need, minus the protein. The way it’s used for a healthy dog is simple. Add meat to the dehydrated mix, add water, and off you go.
I purchased some of this and started experimenting with it, eventually landing on a formula that I continue to use today. Without getting too caught up in the details of all the trial and error we did, here are the main things I ultimately included in his diet, with the good and the bad on each one and the reason for their inclusion.
- Honest Kitchen Preference (GOOD: provides many nutrients, very low in fat / BAD: Very high in fiber, contains little protein) 1 part
- Plain mashed potato flakes (with water added) (GOOD: provides carbohydrates for weight gain, nutrients, improves the stool, easy to use, very low in fat, very low in fiber / BAD: Contains little to no protein) 2 parts
- Powdered spirulina supplement (GOOD: packed with high quality protein that is well tolerated which comes from a non-animal source, fat-free, adds micronutrients)
- Multi-strain probiotic in very small amounts (GOOD: helps keep the stool firm and keep the intestinal tract from developing bacterial overgrowth)
- Bone Meal (GOOD: Supplemental calcium, all dogs need this).
The Preference and the potatoes provide the bulk of the diet. The potatoes are very important. They cut back the overall fiber content of the meal, add high quality carbohydrates for weight gain, and help the consistency of the stool.
We usually mix up a big batch of this for him, which will last four days or so, and add a can of the prescription food that we purchased during the food drive to each batch, mixed in well. You can experiment with adding small quantities of any lean meat or fish that your dog might find tolerable to this mix.
That’s what we do, but there are different foods that others have had success with. These include:
- white rice
- sweet potato
- quinoa (a high protein carb source)
- soy powder
- egg white
- whitefish (cod, tilapia)
- 99% fat free turkey
There are a few things that I think are very important to mention. One is about balancing the diet. You’ll notice that I use one part Preference to two parts potato. While this mix corrects the fiber content to tolerable levels, it dilutes the nutritive value of the food (mostly contained in the Preference.)
However, the amount of food Louie eats each day, due to his disease, is probably three to four times what he would eat if he were healthy. So, overall, each day he is getting the right amount of nutrition. You must either feed a lot of food using this approach, or you need to add balancing agents (such as BalanceIT supplement) to the diet.
Neither of the dry ingredients (Preference or potato) has a significant amount of protein. It is imperative that you add protein to this diet in some form. I use the powdered spirulina because it is extremely well tolerated. There is also protein in the can of prescription food I sometimes add (but even with this, he still needs the extra protein from the spirulina). Spirulina is a very efficient form of protein and, for a dog Louie’s size (10 lbs), approximately 1/8 of a teaspoon per meal is all he needs.
Finally, it will be noted that this diet is extremely low in fat. Much of the fat Louie gets is contained in the can of prescription food we often add to this mix.
Fat is important because some essential nutrients are fat soluble, that is to say that they will only be carried into the body through the intestines after they have been dissolved in fat. You cannot feed a no-fat diet and expect your dog to live, much less thrive. This diet may ultimately lead to problems based on limited absorption of those fat-soluble nutrients, and you may need to find ways to increase the fat content.
Having said this, I will also say that I have a dog who is alive and doing well today by any standard, far better than the typical prognosis for this disease would suggest he would have done. Feeding this ultra-low fat diet to him is a calculated risk that I have undertaken willingly, knowing that it may lead to other problems down the road. However you look at it, he’s had four years (so far) that he wouldn’t have had if I had not been willing to take that risk.
Sometimes people tell me that their vets are recommending increased dietary fat because of these concerns. I always worry when I hear this. The truth is that (to the best of my knowledge) we do not actually have reliable data on how much fat is required to keep a dog healthy. We do know that, with a CIL dog, too much fat is deadly. I take my chances here, but I do it with eyes wide open, and would encourage others to make their own decisions in much the same way.
CIL dogs are very sensitive to added fat. Even tolerable amounts may take a few days to adjust to. If you want to increase the fat content, do it slowly, carefully, and observantly.
Achieve stability first. Then, from a stable point, you can work to determine the maximum amount of fat your dog can handle and feed no more than this.