Providing a Healthy Diet for your Bichon Frise

by Vickie Halstead, RN, CVNS, CLNC

Armed with the knowledge that the number one health problem for Bichons is skin problems/allergies, Bichon owners are obligated to provide an optimal diet that will promote healthy skin and body. The skin is the largest organ of the body, the primary defense against the environment. Plus the skin is the first organ to exhibit signs of shock, poor nutrition, changes due to some diseases, and the accumulation of toxins or contaminants in the body. A healthy, well-nourished dog will have a thick, shiny coat. In other words, the skin and coat are the window to the inner health of a dog.

We humans hear “you are what you eat”, a true statement applicable to dogs as well. A nutritious diet with varying proteins arms your dog’s immune system to fight the allergic response, infections and diseases. Feeding a wide variety of ingredients helps prevent allergies from the repeated exposure to the offending ingredient over time. Providing an optimal diet will not only promote good health, but will also help prevent and treat skin problems and allergies.

As dog owners we have 4 choices for diets, plus combinations: (1) processed dry kibble and/or canned foods, (2) freeze-dried foods that can be rehydrated, (3) raw foods and bones, or (4) cooked meals that are made at home or purchased. Many pet owners feed their dogs only dry kibble, which is convenient. However, this type of diet places a metabolic stress on a dog leading to depression of the immune system, reduced wound healing, allergies, skin problems, hormone imbalances, stress on many organs, and decreased muscle mass. Because dry kibble is so highly processed and dehydrated, dogs must drink large amounts of water, which also places stress on the organs. Plus, the processing of the dry kibble can destroy some nutritional value so the ingredients are not guaranteed, i.e. you truly do not know what you are feeding your dog.

The optimal diet contains food that is fresh and whole, human-grade, cooked or raw, and unprocessed. This type of food is easier to digest and contains 70% moisture. Although cooking for your dog is time consuming, it is less expensive than purchased food and provides you with the knowledge of the exact ingredients. The home-cooked diet should include a variety of meat (beef, poultry, fish, pork), dairy products, fruits, vegetables and potatoes. Recipes can be obtained from the internet. Some healthy choices for treats include frozen blueberries, chunks of raw vegetables or fruit, and bites of cooked liver. Rehydrated freeze-dried foods are also a healthy choice.

If you chose to feed your dog processed dry kibble, the optimal is to chose a food that is grain-free. Grains are not digested well in dogs, which may cause digestive problems and allergies, plus too many carbohydrates in foods can lead to diabetes.

High protein in the diet of a healthy dog is safe if it is highly digestible, such as raw or cooked foods, and will not harm the liver or kidneys. As a dog ages, it requires more protein so beware that dry kibble for aging dogs may be lower in protein.
The pet food industry provides a multitude of choices, so reading the label allows you to advocate for your dog. Keep in mind that animals used in some poor quality foods may have been relegated unfit for human consumption.

Avoid the following ingredients in foods and treats (READ THE LABEL!):

1. Artificial preservatives and additives that are poisons and may cause cancer, skin problems, allergies, and other illnesses: ethoxyquin (a pesticide), BHA or BHT, food colorings, propylene glycol (main chemical in anti-freeze)
2. Complex carbohydrates, which dogs cannot fully break down (comes out in the stool): soy flour, soybean meal, corn gluten meal, wheat gluten, and wheat muddling
3. Poor quality animal protein that comes from multiple animal sources: poultry meal, animal meal

• The first 3 ingredients should include 2 single-source whole meats such as chicken and chicken meal (instead of poultry meal, which does not identify the specific animal)
• The first ingredient should be an actual meat (for example “chicken”), not chicken meal
• Organic ingredients are preferred
* Soy is not a high quality protein

4. Meat or poultry by-products that include organs, skin, feet, hooves, heads, udders, intestines, feathers
5. Corn (a cheap filler used by food companies) or wheat that can cause allergies or digestive problems
6. Sweeteners that can lead to diabetes
7. Beet pulp or tomato pomace that may cause tear staining
8. Vitamin K3 that is very toxic, AKA: menadione, dimethyltrimidinol sulfate, or “source of vitamin K activity”
9. Grains which can cause allergies, diabetes (from excessive carbs), digestive problems, and systemic yeast infections
10. Not human-grade
11. Manufactured outside of the US or Canada

Here is an example of the ingredients on the label of a high quality dry kibble that includes chicken and fish and is grain-free:
Fresh boneless chicken, chicken meal, fresh boneless salmon*, turkey meal, herring meal, russet potato, peas, sweet potato, fresh boneless turkey*, fresh whole eggs*, fresh chicken liver*, fresh boneless lake whitefish*, fresh boneless walleye*, sun-cured alfalfa, pea fiber, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), organic kelp, pumpkin, chicory root, carrots, spinach, turnip greens, apples, cranberries, blueberries, licorice root, angelica root, fenugreek, marigold flowers, sweet fennel, peppermint leaf, chamomile, dandelion, summer savory, rosemary, vitamin A, vitamin D3, vitamin E, niacin, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, d-calcium pantothenate, pyridoxine, folic acid, biotin, vitamin B12, zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, manganese proteinate, copper proteinate, selenium yeast, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Enterococcus faecium

Once you decide on a diet for your Bichon, you need to consider the quantity of food. Depending on the type of diet, adult Bichons do well eating ½ to 1 cup of food per day, divided into 2 meals or fed at one meal. Feeding times and quantity depend on you and your dog’s lifestyle and your dog’s size. If your dog is overweight feed less food with more vegetables, increase activity level, and avoid free feeding which can cause overeating and irregular bowel habits. If your dog is too thin, add some olive oil to the meals and/or increase the quantity. To determine if your Bichon is overweight, use the tips of your fingers to rub across the lateral ribs. Normally you should be able to feel the ribs with slight padding. If the ribs are prominent with no padding the dog may be too thin. If you cannot feel the ribs due to excess padding the dog is overweight.

Puppies require feedings 3 times per day until 6 months, 2 times per day until 1 year, and then 1-2 times per day. Feeding a puppy formula is not necessary because a puppy will eat almost as much food as an adult, thereby ingesting adequate protein. If you chose to feed a puppy formula, change to an adult food at 6 months, the age when the majority of growth is completed.

Processed canine diets do not supply adequate nutrition, so dietary supplements are needed to maintain your Bichon’s health and to prevent skin problems and allergies. Consider giving supplements even if your Bichon is on a cooked or raw diet.

My supplement recommendations from the research I’ve done and my experience:
1. High quality daily multiple vitamin: Wysong’s AddLife, Solid Gold vitamins, Missing Link , Nupro with joint support, or Wholistic Canine Complete
2. Always have fresh, hard water available (not softened water–contains salt). Reverse-osmosis filtered water is best to prevent tear staining and bladder stones.
3. Probiotics to maintain the healthy flora in the gut, which promotes the immune system. Contained in Wysong, Nupro, and Wholistic Complete supplements mentioned above or add a tablespoon of yogurt with cultures to a meal.
4. Fish Oil dosage: For healthy dogs-10-15 mg of each (EPA and DHA) per pound; For unhealthy dogs-up to 30 mg of each (EPA and DHA) per pound. Also available in canned fish that you can feed your dog, such as Jack Mackerel.
Benefits of fish oil:
• Improves coat and skin condition
• Helps regulate the immune system
• Reduces inflammation
• Aids mental development of puppies before and after birth
• Improves cognition in older dogs
• Supports dogs with cancer, and diseases of the heart and kidneys

Once you have chosen a healthy diet for your Bichon, you need to know how to encourage good eating habits. BFCA health committee receives many reports of Bichon owners who need advice on finicky eaters. The dogs learn from the owners that if they refuse to eat a meal, the owners will offer an optional meal. Dogs in the wild did not eat daily. So, if your dog refuses a meal, wait until the next day when the dog is very hungry. Dogs will learn to eat what is provided. To dispel a myth, dogs can eat table food but not at the table which encourages begging, plus only give healthy food. For example, when chopping vegetables give your dog a few bites as a treat. If you are eating a banana, consider sharing a morsel with your dog!

Feeding your dog in the crate/kennel has several advantages:
1. It allows you to assess how well your dog is eating and to control the portions. A decrease in appetite can be an early sign of illness.
2. If you have other pets in the house it keeps them out of your dog’s food.
3. It prevents children from pestering the dog during meals.
4. It helps dogs get accustomed to the crate so it becomes a pleasant place.
5. It seems to encourage dogs to eat what is offered.
6. If this is done during human meal times, it discourages the dog from begging at the table.

Selected References:
1. An Apple a Day: The ABC’s of Diet and Disease, by Barb Bancroft, RN. WellWorth Publishing, 2001.
2. The Truth About Pet Products, by R. L. Wysong, DVM. Inquiry Press, 2002.
3. Food Pets Die For, by Ann N. Martin. NewSage Press, 2003.
4. Protect Your Pet, by Ann N. Martin. NewSage Press, 2001.
5. Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn. Rodale Press, 1982.
6. How to Have a Healthier Dog, by Wendell O. Belfield, DVM. Library of Congress, 1981.
7. Whole Dog Journal
8. FDA pet food
Article created in 2007 and updated in 2014