When it comes to food, your dog needs nutritional and balanced diet as well as plenty of clean, fresh water to stay happy and healthy. Humans have their own unique nutritional needs, as do all animals. Cows should eat what cows should eat. Dogs should eat what dogs should eat. And for the most part, your dog shouldn’t eat what you eat.
That’s all clear enough. But what, exactly, should your dog eat? That’s a question that confounds many a dog owner, because there’s lots of conflicting advice out there.
According to the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA), the food you feed your dog must provide 4 essentials:
- Proteins and other minor nutrients
- Fats, including essential fatty acids
- Vitamins, minerals, and essential micro-nutrients
All prepackaged foods that you purchase for your dog should contain the above 4 essentials in the proper quantities and ratios. But unfortunately, you can’t assume that all prepackaged dog foods offer a proper balance of the essentials – because some don’t.
When you’re shopping for dog food, the PFIAA recommends checking the labeling closely. Look for a statement indicating that the food has been prepared to the standards of an internationally recognized organization such as the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
The PFIAA offers a couple of additional tips for selecting your dog’s food:
- The nutritional concentration of the food should be such that your dog’s nutritional needs are met by eating a reasonable volume of the food. Your dog’s stools should be well formed, not loose, as an indication of the proper nutritional density of the food.
- It’s gotta taste good! Doesn’t matter how nutritionally perfect a food might be if your dog doesn’t like it! Your dog should look forward to eating the food. Food that’s just sniffed in disappointment and not eaten obviously has NO nutritional benefit!
The recent raw food revolution has touched humans and animals. A more natural, balanced diet can be very healthy for your pet, more environmentally friendly and if done correctly, nutritionally balanced and better for dental and digestive health. But before you jump into feeding your dog raw, there are a few important factors to consider.
- The reason many people find pre-packaged foods convenient is that there is less worry about feeding the variety of foods necessary for health. In order to make a nutritious home-cooked diet, approximately 50 ingredients are necessary. Variety is key.
- If you feed raw, you must pay attention to all the micronutrients your pet needs, feeding the same meat every day and just muscle meat is NOT a balanced diet. Rotate meats, consider feeding offal and ensure your pet is eating a variety of vegetables as well.
- Avoid feeding pet meats that contain sulphur preservatives, they lead to thiamine deficiency and have been linked to allergies.
- Mince should not be fed raw, just as you would never eat a raw hamburger (other meats are okay raw).
- Bones should never be cooked.
- Pay close attention to food safety (hand washing and hygiene).
- When feeding bones, those hard beef shin bones can fracture teeth, so ideally your dog should be eating the meat off the bone.
- Dogs that eat predominantly meat and bones will often become constipated. Make sure they are getting fibre! Feed vegies, oat bran or psyllium husks if your dog is prone to constipation.
- Avoid adding salt to your dog’s food, they don’t have taste buds developed for salty food, so this little flavour-addition is lost on them.
- Avoid onions, garlic and stock powders that contain these things.
- If you aren’t sure if the diet your dog is eating is balanced, consider a multivitamin.
- Many dogs do not tolerate high-fat diets and in some cases the resulting pancreatitis can be painful, costly and messy for everyone.
- Dogs are neither wolves nor humans. They need food suitable for dogs.
A BALANCED VIEW
Whenever you do your research about diet, remember that not everything you read on the internet is necessarily true. We do not support extreme views and believe that when feeding your pet, moderation is key. We know that you want to feed the best food you can afford to buy, make or prepare in your busy lifestyle.
That being said, some pets do not tolerate a home cooked, high-meat diet and insisting that dogs are basically wolves and should be fed a pure carnivorous diet is narrow-minded. Wolves and dogs parted ways 15,000 years ago, and while the carnivore, omnivore debate rages on, dogs have evolved to essentially forage off human waste rather than kill their prey. However, that doesn’t mean they should be eating out of the rubbish bin either! Just as some pets don’t tolerate processed foods, some do not do well with high fat, meat diets and bones.
If your dog has intermittent or frequent diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss or flatulence, consult with your veterinarian on how to do a proper food trial and get some specific advice on what is best to feed your pet. Every animal is different and a one-sized fits all approach does not always work. Despite what you read on the internet, no vet has ever had their degree paid for by a pet food company, and most are happy to support pet owners whether they want to feed home-made or processed foods. You will get much better advice through your vet than on the internet!
A COMBINATION OF FOODS
It is not necessary to feed entirely processed food or entirely raw food. Variety is key and you need to closely observe your pet. Some pets can’t tolerate processed foods, some can’t tolerate raw diets (particularly if high in fat). In many pets, a combination of the two is convenient and achieves many outcomes. Ideally feed your pet a good quality dry food as a base. This ensures all the basic micronutrients they need are covered. Then add in some daily raw meaty bones for dental health. If your dog has a nice shiny coat, healthy teeth and nice solid logs of faeces, you are probably doing fine.
FEEDING FOR DENTAL HEALTH
One of the problems with feeding pre-packaged foods, particularly canned foods is that if your pet doesn’t need to chew the food because it is soft or in tiny pieces, his teeth and gums are not getting cleaned. Dental disease is incredibly common and unfortunately diseased teeth lead to disease and chronic infections elsewhere in the body . The main benefit of feeding raw meat, particularly raw meaty bones, is that your pet’s teeth are designed for cutting meat off bones, so as they chew the meat flosses their teeth and keeps gums healthy. Ideally your dog should get something every day that needs thorough chewing, whether that be a raw meaty bone, a pigs ear or a dental chew endorsed by the VOHC.
Dogs are less discerning than humans with what they eat. Unfortunately dogs do not make the connection between something they ate several hours ago and that slight rumbling in the belly, flatulence, nausea or diarrhoea. Rich foods meant for humans can really upset dogs and in some cases lead to pancreatitis (and a $3000 bill at the vet!). They are designed for pretty boring food really. They have only 1706 taste buds, compared to the almost 10,000 taste buds that humans have. Often it is the fat, spices and processed ingredients in our foods that lead to stomach upsets and frequent visits to the vet and all these flavour-enhancers don’t even register with your dog’s less discerning palate.
Whatever you feed your pet, do your research and aim to feed your pet good quality, healthy and nutritionally balanced food. If you home-cook, aim for variety. If you buy pre-packaged food, buy the best quality that you can afford. And don’t forget about your dog’s dental health!