What should I feed my dog?
A healthy diet is a fundamental part of a dog’s care.
Feeding twice daily is the recommended regime, unless a dog is very underweight, in which case they may have smaller, more frequent meals. Choosing a high-quality food that your pet enjoys is also important. If a dog dislikes his food and won’t eat it, it can lead to digestive upset if they go twenty-four hours between meals. However, digestive upset can also occur if your dog likes it’s food too much, or if a dog has past issues regarding food and as a result eats very quickly. Investing in a slow feeder may help avoid bloat, a condition which can be fatal.
Diet can also be an important factor to consider when looking at the behaviour of a dog. It is argued that a diet high in protein can cause problems such as hyperactivity, so the ingredients within a specific food may cause behavioural issues as well as stomach and skin sensitivity problems.
Nowadays there are so many types of food available it can be overwhelming. The recommended diets advised in pet shops and online for dogs range from dried food to wet food, raw food and home cooked food. Obviously there are also puppy, junior and senior versions of many pre-packed foods.
There are pros and cons to each type of food and it is largely a combination of the dog’s sensitivities and what the owner is willing or able to pay, as well as the lifestyle of the owner as to what suits them.
Dried complete food
Dried complete food, also called kibble, is convenient for storage and doesn’t spoil easily. This makes it a good choice for dogs who tend to graze on their food throughout the day (this isn't really ideal, and your dog should have set mealtimes). Though the cheaper products can contain less than desirable ingredients, the higher end foods can have certain nutritional benefits.
Good quality dry foods include all the nutrients a dog needs to stay healthy without supplements, however, since kibble only contains approximately 5 to 12 per cent moisture, a supply of fresh water should always be available to avoid dehydration.
Kibble is crunchy and is therefore good for oral health as the biscuit itself can remove plaque and stop new plaque from forming. However this should not be used as a replacement for brushing teeth!
Dried food is a convenient option for many busy families, however many kibble products contain cereals, which can lead to digestive trouble in sensitive dogs, so it’s important to monitor any diet changes and choose a dry food that leaves them happy and healthy.
Wet complete food
If a dog isn’t a big drinker, wet food can be a great way to hydrate them through their food. Wet food often has a more appetising smell, and so can appeal to fussier eaters too. If a dog has been mistreated, neglected or is simply old and missing teeth as a result, the soft nature of wet food may be a good option.
Unfortunately, unlike kibble, wet food can spoil quickly and therefore needs to be refrigerated which may not appeal to some owners.
A high quality wet food is often more expensive than dry kibble as it can’t necessarily be bought in bulk.
Raw food (BARF)
The raw food diet has surged in popularity over the years and like all dog foods, has its pros and cons.
Biologically appropriate raw feeding (BARF) can often suit dogs with allergies to the grains that appear in both dry and wet foods and since it is easier to digest, may also suit those dogs with sensitive digestion. Conversely, older dogs may struggle to digest a raw diet, so this must be monitored and altered if required.
It is argued that dogs on a raw diet are less likely to exhibit hyperactive behaviours and stools will be reduced as there are less nutritionally deficient fillers than in dry and wet foods. However, a raw diet can be expensive and if not bought pre-packaged, can be very time consuming. If the owner prefers to put the raw meals together themselves, the dog may not get everything it needs to the correct ratio and as well as being nutritionally deficient, there is potential for choking on bones or suffering harmful obstructions internally.
Since raw meat can contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli, it has to be carefully managed and many owners may not feel comfortable with the upkeep.
With all the bad press regarding pre-packaged dog foods with additives and low-grade meat content, many owners prefer to cook the dogs meals themselves. This way, they can control what goes in and ensure their pet gets the very best ingredients, fresh and free of allergy inducing grains and cereals.
Though home cooking can be a cheaper than the raw diet,it still has to be carefully managed to ensure the dog gets the right balance of nutrition and owners must commit to doing a lot of research to ensure the meet the needs of the dog. Home made cooking is also likely to be more expensive than shop-bought dog food and will spoil quicker.
Choose a food with the right ingredients
Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all food choice. Like humans, dogs are individuals and will require a diet that suits them. What might work perfectly for one dog, may not work for another. Choosing a food with the right ingredients, whether dry, wet, raw or home cooked is the main factor for a healthy dog.
For example, Bakers Complete Meaty Meals©, which has quite a reputation for being of poor quality, is comprised of the following ingredients;
Meat & Animal Derivatives (26% meat, 4% beef)
The term, “meat and animal derivatives” is a very loose term to describe meats acquired from the best to the worst parts of a slaughtered animal. Whilst this term is often used to keep recipes of good dog food brands secret, it can also be a blanket term for foods which are poor in nutrition.
The term cereals, or grains, refers to wheat, rice, oats, barley, maize etc. As with meat and animal derivatives, often manufacturers choose to keep the type of cereal used a secret so they don’t give away the special formula for the food, however, often grains and cereals can be low grade and are linked to dietary intolerance in many breeds. By using the loose term of “cereals” or “grains”, manufacturers are able to change the grain source depending on what is more cost effective or available when the batch is produced. This means that a food which may suit a particular dog one time, may not necessarily suit him forever if the type of grain is switched.
Believe it or not, sugar can be added to dog foods in order to make the food more palatable. Sugars often appear as sugar, caramel, syrup or sucrose on a label and can come from many different sources. As in humans, too much sugar can cause tooth decay, hyperactivity amongst many other conditions and is a definite sign of a poor nutritionally balanced food.
Vegetable protein extracts
Again, a loose term, vegetable protein extracts are acquired using chemical reactions to extract protein from vegetables. It is common for these proteins to be extracted from cereals such as maize, wheat or also soya. Since all these products are linked to dietary intolerance, it is argued they should not be in dog food, especially for dogs with sensitive digestion.
Nutritionists have been known to suggest that the term vegetable protein extracts could actually be the highly controversial food additive, monosodium glutamate (MSG) in disguise, which enhances the flavour of food.
Oils and fats
Again, a broad term, oils and fats covers any type of fat (fats and oils are the same thing) from any animal or plant, healthy or unhealthy, and since such a broad term is used, it’s difficult to ascertain what exactly is going into the food from batch to batch.
Fats in food often engage a fussy eater as it makes the food more palatable, but as with humans, too much fat can lead to obesity and health problems.
It would be better to choose a brand of food which offers ‘specified animal fats instead’. These are regarded as fairly good as the manufacturer ensures the recipe stays the same for all batches.
Of all the ingredients in this chosen food, minerals appear to be added in the same way across the board. These are added to ensure a dog gets everything it needs in a similar way to how humans take supplements every day. There is some controversy advocates of natural feeding as these mineral supplements are artificially produced, but in general they are regarded as positive additions to dog food.
Colourants, also known as artificial colours or E numbers, are widely known for causing hyperactivity and behavioural issues in children and argued to affect the behaviour in dogs too.
Dogs do not see in the same way we do. Whilst not totally colour blind, dogs see limited colours and therefore any artificial colourants are largely for the benefit of us as owners and not for the welfare of the dog.
Antioxidants & Preservatives
Firstly, it’s important to note that there are two types of antioxidants and preservatives. Artificial and natural.
Since this food does not state whether they are artificial or natural, we will assume the worst and discuss artificial antioxidants and preservatives.
A preservative does as it says, it preserves food in order to slow down the chance of it going off. Fats and lipids in food can spoil, and the job of the antioxidants is to slow down this process and therefore keep the food fresh for longer.
However, there are concerns over the safety of these artificial additions to dog food. For example, the artificial preservative Propyl Gallate (E310) has been linked to the formation of tumours in rats. Manufacturers have therefore started to hide these products in loose terms such as ‘preservatives’.
Read the label
All of these umbrella terms are quite loose and it is unclear exactly what is going into the food. This makes it very difficult to ensure a dog is getting a good quality food as the ingredients could constantly be changing, or from low grade ingredients with poor nutrition content.
As mentioned above, for pre-packaged products, it’s important to read the label on any food we are considering feeding to our dogs, to ensure everything in it is of a high quality to keep them healthy. If you would feel comfortable eating something with MSG in it, it’s likely your dog shouldn’t be eating it either. Look for a food with clear labelling and do some research before buying it.