By Dr. Dan Meakin
One aspect of canine care and keeping that is the most misunderstood is that of proper nutrition.
Years ago, dogs were fed exclusively from the table and many of them seemed to thrive. Those were actually the ones who were lucky enough to receive, by chance, the proper ratio of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and minerals.
People remember those dogs that lived to a ripe old age and tend to forget the extremely high puppy death rate and that many dogs died young due to nutrition-related problems.
With the coming of modern food processing techniques and research into nutrition, we have available many complete, pre-packaged diets in a variety of forms. We no longer need to feed our pets in a haphazard manner from the table!
Many people feel that dogs need some variety to their diet, but the fact is that dogs thrive on monotony in their diets. Variety in the diet is entirely unnecessary, and is in fact how a number of feeding-related behavior problems arise.
Among these problems are begging (especially from the table,) extreme finickiness, and obesity, which is probably the most common nutritional problem seen in pet dogs and cats. The source of the problem is simple to discern – the dog is receiving too many calories for its energy needs. A dog of normal weight can often be expected to outlive its obese counterpart by as much as 40 percent.
Feeding good quality dog food will enhance your pet’s health and longevity. There are dozens of types and brands of dog food to choose from, and trying to choose the right one can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you choose the best food one for your dog:
• Choose the food that is formulated for your pet’s life stage (puppy, senior, adult) and type (small breed, giant breed). From three weeks of age up to 20 weeks, your puppy’s growth rate is astronomical, and his food intake must keep up. Giant breed puppies pose a special problem. For puppies of large or giant breeds, look for special foods of lower nutrient density. With these dogs, rapid growth can exacerbate degenerative hip problems or joint disease. Although hip dysplasia is a genetic problem, overfeeding at a young age can contribute to it. These breeds are prone to skeletal problems if not fed properly during their growing phase. Senior pet foods usually supply important ingredients such as glucosamine for joint health and contain fewer calories to compensate for a less active pet and higher-quality proteins for easier digestion.
• Read the label. As with human food labels, pet food labels are regulated by the federal government, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. The list of ingredients must be in descending order. This means that the most prevalent part of the diet is listed first and then followed by each ingredient in order by weight. How the product is listed on the label is also strictly regulated. In order to call something “Beef for Dogs,” at least 95 percent of the product must be the named meat. If the name has a combination of meats, such as “Chicken and Liver,” the two products together must be 95 percent of the product with the first ingredient listed more prevalent. If the amount of the meat is over 25 percent but less than 95 percent, a qualifier must be added. The word dinner is a commonly added qualifier but platter, entrée, nuggets and formula are also common. Another rule regarding product name is the use of “with.” In pet food such as “Dog Food with Chicken,” since the word “chicken” follows “with,” that food must have at least three percent of the food as chicken. This wording can fool some people. “Beef Dog Food” is very different than “Dog Food with Beef.” The first has 95 percent beef. The second only has three percent beef.
To make matters even more confusing is everything on the side of a bag or can, can only be compared on a “Dry matter basis.” What this means that if you take all the water away what is left is the dry matter basis of the food. So canned food (with 50 percent water) can appear a lot different unless comparisons are made on a dry matter basis.
Feed the best quality food you can afford. The saying really applies to pet food, You get what you pay for. Good ingredients cost money, no way around it. The feeding requirements are less for a quality food, so it’s not as expensive as it seems. Most dry dog food is soybean, corn or rice based. Non-meat products in dog food tend to pass right through the dog, creating more waste in the form of loose stools than when a quality dog food is fed. Less waste to clean up from the yard is always a good thing for dog owners! Higher quality dry dog food has meat, chicken or fishmeal listed as the main ingredients. Some dry dog food eliminates grains all together or is completely organic. Check with your veterinarian for their specific preference for your dog.
Dr. Dan Meakin is the owner of All Creatures Animal Hospital, 1894 Ohio Pike in Amelia. Call (513) 797-PETS.