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One of the most controversial but important topics concerning Newfoundland dogs is their feed. To my knowledge, there are no major dog food companies that have done food research with Newfs. This means that the only experts are the breeders of Newfoundlands and it is difficult, if not impossible, to find two breeders who would agree on the best feeding regimen.

When I first got involved with Newfies in the mid seventies, most breeders recommended Purina Dog Chow for adults and Purina Puppy Chow for the first 12 months. Seemed simple enough, except the pups all had diarrhoea and the adults were fraught with skin problems. A little research on my part revealed that most breeders supplemented the feed of their show and breeding stock. Ingredients like cottage cheese and corn oil were commonly added to the base kibble.

In the 1980’s, some Newf breeders experimented with the super premium feeds that had come on the market, particularly the poultry based foods. What breeders had been adding to the food was now built in and nothing changed much until the 1990’s.

In 1990, William Cusick first published his book on breed specific diets. His theories were based on feeding purebred dogs what their ancestors would have had available in their native environments. For Newfs, number one food was found to be fish. However it was not until the mid 90’s before any Newf breeder took notice of Mr. Cusick’s recommendation for the breed. It was also at this time that many breeders became dissatisfied with available foods. Many turned to so-called natural diets such as BARF; others started supplementing the super premium feeds with fish elements such as fish oils, usually in the form of salmon oil capsules. Canned fish, especially sardines and mackerel were also becoming more popular as supplements. One breeder in Southern Ontario changed over to cat foods that had cold water ocean fish as the first ingredient as well as the only meat source, even though he was ridiculed by fellow breeders for feeding cat food. A lot of vets challenged this fish feeding of Newfs, saying that if it was so good for them, why hasn’t any pet food company come out with such a product for dogs?

Then at the start of the 21st century, major dog food companies such as Eagle Pack, Fromm and Wellness came out with fish based dry dog foods to cater to the “northern” breeds. You know the old saying about “What comes around…”, well the first commercially prepared dog foods came out in the 1880’s in England and you guessed it, they were dry and fish based. Now over the next few years we will be able to witness whether William Cusick and his theory that the best food for a breed like a Newfoundland dog can be determined by looking at the time and place of the evolution of the breed and what they most likely would have eaten while evolving.

Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979.  In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada.  When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.

Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.

Dogs in Canada

May 2004