There’s a ton of information out there regarding what foods are healthiest for your dog — so much that it can get pretty confusing trying to figure out the truth. One site claims something is truth, while the other claims it’s a lie. It’s no wonder pet owners are confused!
What is true is that most (but certainly not all) of the commercial foods you find on shelves are balanced and nutritious. But just grabbing the cheapest option isn’t always the best. When it comes to feeding your dog, choosing foods with wholesome ingredients is important, but moderation and timing are important, too.
Commercial Dog Foods: Safety & Quality
Let’s start by addressing the question of whether or not commercial dog foods are safe. The short answer is yes, they are — if used correctly in the right situations.
According to the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, commercially prepared pet foods have been both safe and successful feeding options for decades. While there are occasionally safety issues reported with commercial blends, the same can be said for homemade foods as well. In fact, even human food producers experience occasional recalls; it isn’t limited to dog foods at all!
The most important consideration is whether your commercial dog food contains the proper balance of protein, grains, fruits, veggies, vitamins and other essential nutrients.
When choosing a food, don’t buy based on the picture — look to the label instead. First, confirm the food is right for your dog’s individual life stage. The bag should indicate puppy, adult, senior, or pregnant/nursing.
Next, look for a label from the Association of American Feed Control Official stating that the food you are choosing is “complete and balanced.” This label means that the food not only contains everything your dog needs, but also that the ingredients are balanced in the best ratio for optimal health based on your dog’s age.
How Much to Feed Your Dog
The amount of food you feed your dog will vary depending on his age and level of activity. The average puppy eats approximately three to four times per day, but most adult dogs only eat one or two meals per day. Those amounts may change for high-activity or low-activity dogs.
The amount of food you feed your dog may also vary. While it’s OK to start out by looking at the serving sizes on the bag, many pet parents realize the amount on the bag is way too much. If so, don’t be afraid to adjust down by ¼-cup at a time until your dog achieves a healthy weight.
As a general rule of thumb, low-activity dogs need less food. Younger, more active dogs need more food. Seniors often require fewer calories (with the exception of issues like muscle wasting or weight loss when additional calories are warranted). Dogs who are recovering from surgery or illness often have much higher food requirements or even specialized food needs — let your vet be your guide.
The key is to avoid overfeeding your dog without compromising his energy levels. Excess weight isn’t any better for a dog than it is for a human, and eventually, it can cause significant health complications. The heavier your dog, the less likely he is to play actively. Worse yet, the stress on his joints will make it even more difficult for them to stay active, leading to a repetitive negative cycle in which your dog experiences deconditioning. Many overweight dogs develop arthritis at an early age.
If in doubt, always talk to your vet about food amounts. Your vet should be able to help you identify a daily calorie goal based on your dog’s current needs. Yes, pet foods do have calorie labels, as do treats! Knowing your goal will help you to better portion regular meals and extras so that your pup stays within a healthy daily range.
Homemade Foods & Raw Diets
Homemade foods and raw diets are significantly more difficult to manage than kibble or wet food diets; thus, they just aren’t right for every dog or every pet parent. There’s a growing body of opinion suggesting that these diets may somehow be safer or healthier; while this may be the case within very limited situations, there’s little proof to support it for every single dog.
The majority of people who attempt to make homemade foods are attempting to avoid specific ingredients or additives, especially when it comes to animal by-products, certain grains, and of course preservatives. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; these ingredients are, in fact, the most common allergy triggers for dogs.
The catch is that you don’t necessarily need to move to homemade foods or raw diets to avoid these ingredients. In most cases, you can buy commercially available foods that meet special dietary needs right in your local veterinary office or pet store.
Another issue with homemade or raw diets is that the majority of homemade dog food recipes are not completely balanced. Pet owners may believe they’re doing the right thing, only to have a pup become very sick. Both raw and homemade food diets require a very high degree of dedication, patience, and willingness to work with an animal nutritional specialist, so make sure you’re prepared before you sign up.
Raw Diet Risks
If you understand the warnings and still genuinely want to make your own foods, start by talking to a board certified veterinary nutritionist. He or she can go over your dog’s specific health needs and identify the best ways to meet them.
Raw diets are currently very popular because many people people think they contribute to superior health and the prevention of disease. Some pet parents also believe that cooking the food destroys natural enzymes, but there’s little scientific proof to support these claims. Many of the recommendations for raw food diets come from personal testimonials only.
Raw meats can be easier to digest than cooked meats, but only slightly and only if used safely. The aforementioned lack of balanced nutrition applies to a raw food diet, and worse yet, the risk of food poisoning is very high. Meat stored at the wrong temperatures or cross-contaminated could result in a very sick pooch, so be sure you fully understand all aspects before you choose a raw diet.
Attempting to align your dog’s diet with your own personal philosophies, such as vegetarianism or veganism, is also a current trend. Dogs may be omnivores (meaning they eat both meat and plant matter), but that doesn’t mean you can feed them a salad everyday and have them thrive. Your dog needs to have an adequate amount of protein to stay healthy.
Some experts even believe dogs may actually be obligate carnivores, and therefore, shouldn’t be maintained on vegan diets at all.
Because creating balanced vegetarian diets is even more difficult and complex than homemade or raw diets, it is absolutely imperative that you do not attempt it without advice. In most cases, vets will strongly advocate against such a diet to begin with.
Foods to Avoid
Most vets recommend you avoid giving your dog table scraps. The main reason is that your dog’s foods are properly balanced, while table scraps can contain all manner and level of fats, sugars, salts, and even dangerous foods. Table scraps are obviously yummy to your pup, and in many cases, won’t hurt as a treat. But they’re high-calorie and will push him over his healthy daily calorie limit.
You also need to be extremely conscientious to avoid dangerous foods like chocolate, foods that are high in fat, chicken bones, molds, salts, raw bread dough, garlic, onions, grapes and raisins, artificial sweeteners like xylitol, and many other dangerous foods for dogs. Some of these foods are toxic, while others can cause canine intestinal blockages or even organ failure.
The most important takeaway from this article is the importance of creating a healthy diet and food schedule that fits your unique dog’s needs. Although it’s more than possible to provide you with basic guidelines, every dog has his or her own special requirements, so you should avoid cookie cutter diets and “fads.” Work with your vet or breeder to find the best balance of all nutrients and you’ll help your dog live a long, healthy life.Tags: dog food