We spoke with Christine McCully of the Downtown Pet Hospital in Orlando, Florida to get her tips and advice on canine nutrition. Dr. McCully went to undergrad at Stetson University (where she met her husband), and graduated with a BS degree in Biology in 2001. She then went to University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and graduated with a DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) degree in 2005.Q: What is your favorite tip or piece of advice regarding dog nutrition?Answer: Substitute vegetables for over-the-counter processed treats!I see a lot of overweight pets in my practice, which is a good opportunity for me to educate owners about the amount of calories in many of these small treats. For example, feeding your dog two large Milk-Bones is the equivalent of you eating a McDonald's hamburger. One large Beggin' Strip chew is like eating two McDonald's cheeseburgers.Green beans, cucumbers, or baby carrots have <10-20 calories in 1/4 cup, so substitute these (or some of the daily allotment of kibble) to reduce daily caloric intake. Q: How do you select the right brand of dog food? How do you know whether you've picked the right one?Answer: Because there are SO many options out there, I really like to have a conversation with clients about the pros and cons of the pet foods currently on the market before they make a decision. And much of that decision depends on the breed and age of dog, how the dog is doing, and their lifestyle. For example, some dog breeds are prone to urinary issues or skin issues and we can often manage or prevent some of those issues with diet. If a pet is itchy, they could be suffering from a food or environmental allergy. We can do food trials to help discern if a change of food would be beneficial. Also, if a dog is having loose stools or too-firm stools, a diet change can make a difference.The good news is that there's an easy way to tell if you picked the right dog food—your pet is "thriving" on the food: eats well, coat looks good, and stools are normal. Q. What are the top five foods you recommend people not feed their pets?Answer: Grapes, raisins, chocolate, fatty/fried foods, and onions. These are fine for humans, but not for your dog! Q. Is it OK to give my dog bones to chew on? If so, which ones?Answer: Bones are tricky. They are a very good way to remove and prevent tartar build-up on teeth. However, the harder the bone is, the greater risk it has at fracturing your dog's teeth.I recommend these on a case-by-case basis. If your pet has had a fractured tooth previously from chewing on bones or antlers, don't continue giving them to your dog. Q. Can a dog's diet cause personality changes?Answer: I wouldn't say that food generally affects personality, but it can absolutely affect how a pet feels, which can have a huge effect on their behavior. Improving your dog's diet can definitely improve their energy levels and overall quality of life. Q. Is it true that raw diets can prevent or solve health problems?Answer: I am not a fan of raw dog food diets and generally discourage my patients from switching to them. The risk of food-born illness is the same in pets as it is in humans.I also frequently see animals that are older, sick, or immunosuppressed and those in particular cannot tolerate raw diets. Q. I read the ingredients list on my dog's food bags, but what should I be looking for?Answer: For starters, there is a difference between ingredients and nutrients. Ingredients are the vehicles that provide nutrients, while nutrients are the food components that support life and are metabolically useful. For example, chicken is an ingredient that provides nutrients such as protein, fatty acids, and vitamins.The ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. The farther down the list you go, the less of that ingredient there is.Another area to look at is the guaranteed analysis chart. This indicates minimum or maximum levels of nutrients such as protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. But take it with a grain of salt, as it does not provide the exact levels of nutrients in the food or guarantee the nutritional quality. For example, moisture levels can vary from bag to bag, making it difficult to accurately compare nutritional information.Q. What are your thoughts on human-grade prepared dog food with whole ingredients and no preservatives?Answer: I am a fan of properly researched human-grade prepared food, whether home-cooked or produced locally. I certainly believe in whole ingredients and no preservatives my own health and this definitely translates to our pets' diets. In many cases, it can even improve their health.During my career as a veterinarian, I've seen many pets with food allergies and found that by eliminating excess ingredients (such as preservatives) and adjusting protein sources, I have seen significant improvements in allergies/skin conditions/itching. The important thing is to ensure (via a veterinary nutritionist) that the food is balanced appropriately and has all of the needed minerals and ratios for each pet/breed.