Every owner these days seems to have their own ideas on what constitutes a healthy balanced diet for their dog. How many of them are reliably imformed though? The following questions are designed to critically assess your dogs diet. Please read them, for your dogs sake.
1) How many times a day do you feed your dog?
There is no set rule for adult dogs but the general consensus is that twice a day is a sensible amount. Some owners feed once a day, some three times a day. How much your dog is fed is far more important than how often really, but it is useful to set guidelines nevertheless. The reason many experts suggest twice a day rather than once a day is that once a day feeding encourages the dog to gorge his or her food as he or she is so hungry, having last had a meal a full 24 hours ago. Eating too quickly can cause reflex regurgitation or vomiting. Also it has been theorized that deep chested large breed dogs are more likely to suffer from a twisted stomach (gastric dilatation and volvulus), a life threatening condition, if they are fed one large meal daily rather than two smaller meals.
Clearly more active dogs will burn far more calories than others but these variables are best reflected in portion size rather than frequency. Some dogs with medical conditions may benefit from multiple meals of smaller portions, for example those recovering from gastroenteritis. Puppies must be fed more often than adult dogs as they have a higher metabolic rate, around 4 times a day from weaning to around 5 months old, then drop down to 3 times a day until 7 months old, then down to twice a day thereafter.
2) Is your dogs diet manufactured specifically for dogs or do you give human food or food from the butchers?
There is a misconception around that human food is higher quality than dog food, and therefore better for them. This is by and large nonsense. Reputable dog foods are formulated after extensive trials by pet food companies to provide the mixture of protein, carbohydrate and fat that suits canine physiology best. Dogs on balanced dog food diets do not get nutritional deficiencies but dogs on human food do. Certain human titbits can play havoc with your dogs digestive tract, chocolate being a prime example.
Your dog need ingest nothing other than a complete dog food and water to have a complete and balanced diet. Remember, dogs do not need variety in their diet! They are perfectly happy having the same boring looking meal every day! So keep it simple and safe, feed your dog either a complete dog food (dry or tinned, dry is better for their teeth) or standard dog biscuits and tinned dog meat together. Of course human leftovers every now and again or a bit of tripe or heart from the butcher is fine, but do not make it the day to day diet.
3) Which is the best dog food to choose?
There are so many different brands of dog food on the market, the best one is basically a matter of opinion. Certainly palatability is a factor, there is no point in purchasing a particular food if your dog cannot stand it, although this is occasionally a necessity in dogs with food allergies, for example. Rather than recommending you a specific brand, we suggest that you choose one which adheres to the criteria below.
Dog foods labeled as complete and balanced must meet standards established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), either by meeting a nutrient profile or by passing a feeding trial. There are now two separate nutrient profiles for dogs - one for growth (puppies) and one for maintenance (adults). Maximum levels of intake of some nutrients have been established for the first time because of the concern that overnutrition, rather than undernutrition, is a bigger problem with many pet foods today. The standards include recommendations on protein, fat, fat soluble vitamins, water soluble vitamins, and mineral content of foods. If you are prepared to get technical, you should choose a food that comes closest to AAFCO recommendations.
In summary, consider the following points.
Choose a food that suits your dogs age, breed and overall health. Most big pet food companies will have different foods for small vs large breeds, and puppies vs adults. Dogs with medical conditions may be recommended special prescription diets.
Choose a food that come closest to AAFCO recommendations.
The ingredients contains the truth about a particular food. Everything else is there only for marketing purposes.
There are no legal and scientific definitions for the terms premium, super premium, quality, or natural.
Use dry matter numbers to evaluate and compare foods.
The source of ingredients (e.g. animal vs vegetable) does not matter, except in the case of food allergies.
Avoid supplementation. All commercial dog foods have more than enough protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Too many minerals can lead to severe skeletal problems in growing dogs.
Feeding your dog a good food incorrectly can lead to significant problems. For example, overfeeding puppies can lead to serious skeletal problems. Neutered dogs require portions 20% smaller than unneutered dogs or they will put on weight.
4) How many times a day do you give your dog treats?
It is hard to resist those puppy dog eyes begging you for a little piece of what you are eating. Indeed treats promote a special bond between you and your dog and it gives such pleasure when they have a delicious morsel to savor. The key word is MODERATION. If you are giving your dog regular treats, you must subtract this amount from the portion given at meal time to maintain a appropriate calorie intake. As a rule of thumb the amount of treats should never exceed 10% of your dogs daily food intake. It is far easier to make your dog obedient if you reserve treats for rewarding good behavior rather than just giving them willy nilly, where they become meaningless.
5) What do your dogs treats consist of?
Quality dog treats are usually far healthier and lower in calories than table scraps. Many dogs are fed scraps habitually from the table while families are eating, particularly by children. This only encourages further begging and feeding with often unsuitable high calorie treats which are forgotten about when it comes to measuring the dogs daily portion(s).
Matthew Homfray is one of the online experts at free pet Q&A service Televets. To ask a pet question visit http://www.televets.com