A good diet
Nutrition and your health
You know that humans need the correct balance of nutrients to achieve good health. You require certain specific vitamins and minerals, and yet in excess, these can cause harm. Too much food can lead to obesity, and this in turn can be a contributory factor to conditions such as heart disease, sugar diabetes and chronic arthritis.
Your dog is no different. A good balanced diet is essential for good health.
What is the best diet for my dog?
This is a good question, but not so easy to answer. Obviously you would wish to provide your dog with food containing the right balance of nutrients that is safe and is of consistent quality. In addition you need to take the convenience of preparation and storage as well as cost into consideration.
Palatability may vary from one brand to another and the dog may have his/her own preferences. There are numerous options available and different veterinarians and breeders might have their own preferences based on past experiences. As a result there are a variety of options, each with their own particular advantages and disadvantages, and you may find this a little confusing. The following guidelines are intended to help clarify the situation for you.
Should my dog’s diet stay the same throughout his/her life?
One fact that most people agree on is that the balance of nutrients required during the growing period of puppyhood is different from the ideal diet of adults and in turn that needed in old-age. This has led to the development of life-stage diets that are produced by most commercial companies.
- Rapidly growing puppies of the giant breeds may require a different balance than those of small breeds.
- Special consideration should also be given to periods of particular stress such as pregnancy, lactation or convalescence from illness.
- Obesity is a major problem in dogs (as in humans) and so you may be advised to switch to a low calorie or lite diet if necessary.
- Some disease conditions require specific diets as part of their therapy. These are called prescription diets and are discussed in more detail below.
What options are available to me?
The basic options are a range of commercial diets (tinned or dried; and designed to be a complete diet or be mixed with an appropriate mixer), home-prepared cooked diets, or raw food diets.
- These are probably the most commonly fed diets as owners find them very convenient. They normally come in dried or tinned forms, and often have different varieties suitable for each of the main life stages. The reputable brands provide a good nutritional balance and the processing would destroy micro-organisms making them safe. Many dogs have had long and healthy lives when fed exclusively on these diets.
- However, the manufacturing process does require the ingredients to be heated to high temperatures which would destroy some of the valuable nutrients. For this reason a variety of additives and stabilisers are added after the heating process to correct for this. This is normal in human processed food, but there is perhaps a growing concern (rightly or wrongly) to reduce the use of additives to a minimum.
- The dry foods also contain a significant amount of carbohydrate which is necessary for the binding process. Wheat and gluten are often used and these can be associated with food allergies resulting in skin and intestinal disturbances. Some brands of commercial diet may contain a restricted protein make-up to reduce this risk (these are often termed hypoallergenic), though allergies to any protein may occur.
- Many veterinarians feel any disadvantages are generally out-weighed by the advantages, and are happy to recommend these diets as the default option. To find out more about the range of commercial diets and recent innovations visit the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) website: www.pfma.org.uk
Home prepared diets
- It is certainly possible (though not so easy) to prepare diets at home from fresh ingredients. However a balanced diet would contain material from the whole carcase (including bone, cartilage, tendon, offal etc) which may not be convenient for most owners.
- Feeding best steak alone would result in a very imbalanced diet. Feeding an imbalanced diet over a long period is likely to result in health problems.
- Many people find the extra time necessary to prepare these diets on a regular basis inconvenient.
Raw Food and bones
- This has become “fashionable” in recent years. Such diets avoid the need for additives as the ingredients are raw and so have not been exposed to high temperatures.
- However, this very fact means that micro-organisms are also not destroyed. You are familiar with the incidence of food poisoning scares in humans consuming food from slaughter houses – very few of us would risk eating raw chicken because of these risks.
- It is claimed that dogs are more resistant to such infections, but it is possible the organisms colonise their gut and so are a source of infection to other more susceptible members of the family.
- Bones can also cause mechanical damage within the bowel, sometimes requiring surgery.
Alternative Raw foods
- There are now some products on the market that provide a viable option to the raw meat and bone mixtures. Generally they are a range of prepared raw foods for dogs available as frozen nuggets and are claimed to be a balanced diet formed from a range of animal tissues and vegetables. They do not contain wheat or gluten and do not require the additives as discussed above.
- The processing involves mincing the material so that the potential mechanical damage caused by bone fragments is not a problem. Being frozen in small packs they are convenient and can be stored for reasonable periods of time in the frozen state.
- However, being raw, they do share the same inherent risk of contamination by micro-organisms.
- The manufacturers point to the fact that there are the same stringent checks along the supply chain as with human food – but human food is not devoid of risk!
- The risk (however low) could be reduced by cooking the food before feeding – but this would destroy some of the nutrients hence reducing the perceived advantage. At the time of writing, the range only provides a single balance of nutrients and so one might question its suitability in puppies or very old animals.
You must be aware that all nutritional products have advantages and disadvantages and so you must select the one that best you and your dog. In making this decision you must take account of quality, safety, palatability and tolerance by your dog, convenience to yourself and cost. Your veterinarian will be happy to advise.
What sort of diseases might need special diets?
The correct balanced nutrition is an essential part of any disease treatment and so your veterinarian may recommend a specific prescription diet. There is a wide range available for use in diseases such as sugar diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease and so on. Some may be used as a temporary measure before weaning back onto the normal diet, whereas others may be intended for long-term use. Your veterinarian may recommend check-ups or even blood and urine tests before suggesting any changes to the diet.
How can I prevent obesity in my dog?
Good question. The key here is recognising it is a problem in the first place, and preventing it happening. Your veterinarian will check your dog’s weight as part of the routine health assessment, and will advise if his weight is creeping above normal. You can carry out checks at home, and a useful tool is the dog size-o-meter that you can download from the PFMA website . The only way a dog will put on weight is if it takes in more calories per day than it burns off. Make sure you are in control of his food intake and if treats are given (as part of the training regime) account for this in the overall daily ration given.
Remember, obesity will increase the risk of other diseases, so it is important that all the family understand.
What do I do if my dog is obese?
Often an obese dog is less willing to exercise, or may be arthritic. Swimming may be useful to burn off those calories yet not damage the joints.
Generally, though, you will need to impose a low calorie diet. Simply reducing the amount of food may lead to deficiencies in certain essential nutrients. Low calorie commercial diets allow for this and so are very useful. Generally the weight loss programme should be planned and monitored over a long period.
Many veterinary clinics organise “weight watchers” style clinics run by qualified veterinary nurses. These nurses can give you many tips as how best to achieve your goal. Your dog will certainly thank you for it in the medium / long term.
What about when my dog is old?
Senior diets are available commercially and these usually have a lower protein content to help the kidneys. Some have additives to help the joints as arthritis is a common problem in old age.
However, old dogs may also be suffering from a range of diseases (the problem of getting old) which may have conflicting dietary requirements. Your veterinarian will help you to assess the priorities and so make the appropriate decision.
To find out more about old age problems follow the link.