Nutritional Advice For Your Dog
Good nutrition forms the basis for good health. Today, more than ever, concerned pet owners want the best nutrition for there pets, but are bombarded with so much conflicting information. We have put this info together, trying to be unbiased, in the hopes that it will help you to make the best decisions for your dog(s).
In dogs, the most important health issues that are strongly influenced by diet are as follows:
- Obesity – by far the number one concern!
- Hip dysplasia and other growing dog diseases
- Dental disease
- Chronic Kidney disease
We’ll try to focus on the prevention of these diseases as we talk about nutrition.
Regulation of the pet food industry
- AAFCO regulates and tests all canned, semi moist and dry foods. Testing is by the ‘Formulation Method’ or better yet by the ‘Feeding Trial Method’. A premium diet should indicate tested by ‘Feeding Trial’.
- Shelf life – nutritional quality can suffer if the food is not fresh. A premium food should always have a ‘best before’ date.
- Regulations are not as stringent as we’d like, so we strongly recommend you choose diets made by large, well-known companies with a history of good past performance.
- Diets made by your local butcher and all raw food diets are TOTALLY unregulated and need not adhere to any standards.
Guaranteed analysis –lists only the MINIMUM amount of crude protein and fat and the MAXIMUM amount of moisture and fiber contained in the diet. Crude protein only measures protein quantity, not protein quality. There are no maximums stated for protein or fat and no requirements at all for carbohydrates. Remember, more is not necessarily better. Excesses of certain ingredients can be just as harmful as deficiencies.
Ingredient list – Ingredients are always listed in order of weight, the heaviest coming first. How the ingredients are described is strictly regulated. For instance:
- ‘Chicken/beef/lamb’ must be fresh or frozen muscle or heart.
- ‘Chicken/beef/lamb By-Products’ are fresh or frozen muscle AND organ meats including intestines, kidneys, etc. This is an excellent protein source much superior to flesh alone.
- ‘Poultry by-products’ are chicken skin – a great source fat-soluble vitamins and completely natural for predators to eat.
- ‘Chicken meal’ is the dehydrated form of chicken flesh and organ meat. Being dehydrated, it weighs less so will not appear first on a list of ingredients even when it is a major constituent of the diet.
- ‘Corn gluten meal’ – 50-60% crude protein and excellent source of sulfur containing amino acids.
Pet food manufacturers manipulate their ingredient lists in such a way as to emotionally appeal to pet owners.
"An ingredient list that contains chicken, beef and brown rice, may in fact be less nutritious than one that contains chicken meal, poultry by-products, corn gluten meal and rice."
It’s all a matter of marketing.
Lifestage – A diet may be formulated to be complete and balanced for ‘All Life Stages’ or for a particular lifestage - ‘Adult Maintenance’, ‘Growth and Reproduction’, or ‘Senior’. Diets formulated to meet the needs of ‘All Life Stages’ must meet minimum requirements for the most demanding stage – pregnant and nursing bitches. Such diets will have high levels of calories, protein, calcium and phosphorus, which are inappropriate and sometimes frankly harmful for inactive, obese or elderly dogs. They are particularly detrimental to any dog with chronic kidney disease. We highly recommend feeding a diet appropriate to the lifestage of your cat (kitten, adult or senior).
Calorie content is commonly not listed but can be estimated by fat content. Choose low fat diets if your pet is inactive or overweight.
Grain free dog foods– usually contain very high levels of protein, phosphorus and calories. For instance EVO contains a minimum of 46.6% protein and 24.4% fat and contains 537 calories per cup of food. These diets may be a good choice if your pet has a food allergy or intolerance to certain grains.They are not a good choice for obese dogs. Excessive protein is harmful to pets with chronic kidney disease. Because pets must lose 2/3’s of their kidney function before even the earliest tests will detect a problem, we no not recommend feeding these diets to most senior pets.
Appropriate Feeding for Puppies and Dogs
- Try to feed your new puppy the same food his breeder fed him for the first week or two to minimize stomach upset. A puppy that is not eating well should always be offered other choices. Canned food may be more attractive than dry. It will be easy enough to change the diet once he/she has settled in. Take 5-7 days to gradually make any diet changes though.
- Puppies grow at different rates, have different levels of activity and will ultimately be different in size when they quit growing. As such, they have widely differing caloric needs. Feed puppies to maintain a normal body weight and achieve a slow steady growth. All puppies have different eating styles. If your puppy is a nibbler, you may at first need to feed many small meals a day, or leave dry food out in between meals. If he is an average eater, a good rule of thumb is to feed the amount that the pup is willing to eat in 20 minutes or less, three times daily. If he is a gobbler, you will have to limit him to the amounts recommended on the food label and monitor his weight and growth rate and adjust accordingly. We will help you assess the results on each puppy visit.
- Rapid growth rate in puppies increases the incidence of hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and other growing dog skeletal diseases. For large breeds we recommend diets specifically formulated for ‘Large Breed Puppies’ to achieve slow steady growth.
- The number 1 nutritional problem in pets in North America is obesity. In a large well-run study of Labrador Retrievers, it was found that those dogs that were more than 25% overweight lived on average 2 years less than their slim counterparts. Remember that 2 years to a dog is like 15 years to a human – that’s a big difference! Prevention is always easier than treatment. Know what an ideal body weight looks like for your pet. The body score chart is an extremely useful tool. A pet with an ideal body score of 3 has a visible waist whether examined from the top or the side. Ribs should be easily felt. There should not be a fat pad at the tail base. The following guidelines will help to reduce the risk of obesity in your pet:Dental disease is the number 2 nutrition related concern today and is of particular of concern in small breeds. Regular dry dog food does not clean teeth any better than canned food, but specially formulated ‘Dental Diets’ are very helpful. They are much harder than regular dry food and require the tooth to sink in before breaking apart. Their abrasive nature helps to scour the tooth as your pet eats. The size of the kibble should be such that the pet MUST CHEW and the WHOLE tooth is scoured. The most effective dental diets will have the ‘Veterinary Dental Seal of Approval’. Dental diets should not be fed to young growing puppies. Although helpful, dental diets do not completely take the place of tooth brushing. In small breeds we HIGHLY recommend you brush teeth daily whether or not you also feed a dental diet.
Spaying and neutering decrease the metabolic rate and occur at an age when growth rate is slowing down anyway. We recommend reducing calories by 20-25% for most dogs.
Unless extremely active, do not feed most adult dogs a diet suitable for ‘All Life Stages’. An ‘Adult Maintenance Diet’ will have a more suitable calorie content.
Adult dogs need to eat 1-2 meals per day. Measuring your adult dog’s food at each meal is a good habit. For busy families where more than one person feeds the dog, measure the day’s allotment in the morning and then each person feeds only from that measured amount. Do not feed from the table. In fact, it is best to train your puppy to stay in another room or to at least to lie on his own mat in the kitchen while you eat.
Human foods are often high in calories. If you choose to feed human food its best to keep to small amounts and put them in your puppy’s food bowl rather than hand feeding. If feeding larger amounts of human food, do not simply add leftovers. Make a nutritious doggy stew from meat, vegetables and starches. Enlisting the help of a nutritionist will ensure you are feeding a balanced diet – many homemade diets are calcium deficient.
Treats are very useful training tools but should never comprise more than 10% of your pet’s daily calories. If more than one person feeds treats – put the day’s treats into a bowl in the morning and feed only from the treat bowl. For puppies you need to find very small treats so that you can give a number of them during a training session without going overboard with calories. Treats are considered ‘junk food’ – fun but not nutritionally complete. Choose low calorie treats if obesity is a concern – pieces of vegetable or fruit are good choices.
Treats are not the only way to praise your puppy or show him love. He will respond just as well to verbal praise and attention and especially to shared physical activities. As an adult dog, it is best to use occasional food treats only.
Leading an active life style is an important part of keeping your puppy healthy and at an optimum weight. For obesity prone breeds like Labradors, it is almost impossible to keep a healthy weight without regular vigorous activity. Note that for a young large breed dog, leash walking is not a work out. Look for ways to get him running, playing with other dogs, hill climbing and/or swimming.
- Dental treats, chew aids, and chewing of all kinds provide additional help. Encourage chewing on sticks, rubber balls, reputable commercial chew aids such as Greenies, Dentabone, CET Chews, Hexatreats and hollow rubber toys like Kongs that you can fill with treats or peanut butter. Use very hard treats such as cow hooves with caution – aggressive chewers can break teeth. Chewing on real bones can be useful (though teeth can occasionally break with real bones too) but you must ALWAYS SUPERVISE. Choose only large knucklebones and once your dog has chewed off the meat, gristle and soft bone from the knuckle end, throw the rest away. Never allow your dog to bite larger pieces of the bone off and swallow them. Aggressive chewers who cannot be trusted and might bite a big hunk off before you can intervene should not chew on bones!
Food allergies are on the rise and manifest as itchiness and skin rashes. If we suspect your pet has developed a food allergy, a ‘Novel Protein’ diet is often recommended to test our suspicions. It will be much easier to select such a diet if your pup has not already been introduced to every exotic protein currently available in dog foods. We recommend you stick to common proteins such as chicken, pork, beef and lamb and leave those exotic buffalo or salmon diets to try if allergies do occur.
Feeding Senior’s correctly can often reduce the incidence of certain diseases or slow their progression. In large breed seniors, Osteoarthritis is a huge concern. Early and ongoing prevention of obesity is the best way to minimize the risk. Most senior diets are reduced in fat and calories and contain added omega 3 fatty acids and sometimes glucosamine and other chondroprotective agents that are additionally helpful. Senior diets provide high quality protein while avoiding excesses and have less phosphorus to help slow the progression of chronic kidney disease. They have less sodium, which is helpful for seniors with high blood pressure or heart disease. Each pet ages differently. Ask us about the advisability of senior diets once your pet reaches 7 years of age.