This is part 5 of a series on helping your dog be Good & Happy. Start here to read from the beginning.
There are many different ways to feed your dog including commercially prepared or home made, cooked or raw, dry or wet, fresh or freeze-dried ...the choices keep on growing. The ingredients in dog foods vary widely from animal derivatives, to meat meal to human grade muscles and organs. Some are packed with the cheapest cereals, others use root vegetables, some are carb-free. Doubtless you've heard owners advocating one sort of food over another and you may well be confused about what is best for your dog's health. How you choose to feed your dog will be based on your dog's health and fitness, their stools, appetite, your personal preference, budget and hygiene considerations. Your dog may have particular dietary needs because of performance, age, whelping, disease, disorder, allergy or intolerance. I talk a little about the evolutionary history of dog digestion in my other post Siberian Husky Nutrition which you might find of interest.
Whatever you do, feed your dog at least twice a day, more often if they're very young or elderly. This is important in keeping blood sugar levels even and avoiding the sensation of desperate hunger. Some dogs always feel hungry even when they're fed excessively but that's not an excuse to let them get fat. Fat dogs aren't as happy as they could be because they're not as comfortable in their own skin as possible. You should be able to feel your dog's ribs without digging for them, their tummy should neatly tuck up underneath, and you should see a waistline from above. Unless they have a supremely fluffy coat of course! If you're not sure, ask your vet. The other half of the weight battle is exercise which your dog should receive on a regular basis. Look here for my post Exercising A Dog. Many veterinary practices run weight loss clinics for their patients where nurses can support your dog on their journey to a lighter life.
Alternately you may be in the minority of guardians who can't put weight on their dog! You may want to find a nutrient dense food so that your dog consumes more calories and goodness with each mouthful than their current diet. Read recommended portion sizes and find a food that says they don't need as much as your current choice. Still struggling? Get advice from a canine nutritionist and your vet. What about picky dogs? Well switch up meal times, don't make it all about food in a bowl that's the same every time. Warm their food. Feed smaller portions more often. Work up an appetite with exercise. Undo sources of stress in their environment. But I can count on one hand the picky eaters I've met who weren't being overfaced or overfed. Double check your dog's weight as I described above before deciding to help them eat more.
It's difficult to keep this post short when I'd really like to include everything and discuss all the details of diet. But I can't make this blog post last forever, so here's a list of things I think all guardians should bare in mind about feeding their dog -
- Store your dog food correctly. Dry foods should be kept cool and airtight. Raw foods must be reputably sourced and mustn't contaminate human stuff. Moist foods should be refrigerated after opening. All foods should be used within date.
- Balanced nutrition. If you supplement a complete diet with treats and scraps, you are switching up the balance of calories and nutrients. If you make your dog's diet at home incorrectly you can easily cause your dog a deficiency so educate yourself before trying. Consider your dog's whole diet, not just what you put in his bowl.
- You don't need to feed your dog in a bowl. Use feeding toys, training piece by piece, scattering in the grass, get creative.
- Antioxidants and gut biota. Your dog needs vegetation in their diet and these ingredients retain most of their beneficial qualities when freshly prepared. You can add fruit and veg to your dog's diet easily although it is usually best to cook and mash to aid digestion.
- Some human foods are poisonous to canines. Look here
- If you're going to home prepare food, educate yourself first. There are lots of books about canine nutrition from which you can learn about the nutrients and proportions required
- It's okay to feed your dog the same thing everyday but new textures, flavours and methods of feeding will brighten your dog's day. Food is an opportunity for sensory enrichment
- Don't overfeed your dog
- Don't leave dog food down all day
They say food is the way to a heart and this is certainly true with dogs. Nutrition is key to canine well-being so an essential conversation to have within the topic of Good & Happy Dogs. If you enjoyed this post please let me know and share your comments below. Come back next week for Part 6: Emotional Support for Good Happy Dogs.
Until then, bon appetit!