Is There a “Best" Food To Feed Your Dog?
At Hallett Veterinary Hospital, we recognize that there are many quality pet foods on the market, as well as a large number of recently introduced diets with more marketing than science behind them. We recommend diets that have passed AAFCO approved feeding trials.
Good nutrition is important for your dog to grow, develop to their potential and stay active throughout their life. At Hallett Veterinary Hospital, we have spent decades educating pet owners about proper dog nutrition for dogs of all ages, breeds, conditions, and lifestyles. Because canine nutrition ultimately plays a large part in the quality of your dog's life, we want to share some veterinary insight with you about proper nutrition, whether you are looking for puppy food recommendations, or adult and senior dog nutrition advice.
The Basics of Canine Nutrition
The following dietary components represent the fundamental elements of canine nutrition:
- Proteins: Proteins are complex molecules made up of amino acids, the building blocks of cell growth, maintenance, and repair.
- Fats: Fats provide the most concentrated source of energy in the canine diet. They also supply the fatty acids that are important building blocks for important substances and essential to maintaining normal, healthy cells. Fats aid the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are a source of energy. Carbohydrates in the form of whole grains can furnish iron, minerals, and fiber, as well as other beneficial nutrients
- Vitamins: Vitamins are organic substances required for normal body functions.
- Minerals: Minerals are inorganic nutrients that make up less than 1% of a dog's body weight but are essential to many important functions, such as growth, strong bones and healthy teeth.
The proportions and amounts of these components are based upon a dog's age, weight, physical and/or medical conditions, and lifestyle.
Puppy food is specifically formulated with nutrition for dogs that are still growing into adulthood in mind. Puppies need about twice as many calories per pound of body weight as an adult dog of the same breed. You should start feeding puppies a nutritious and scientifically formulated puppy food at approximately 4 weeks of age, which is when mother's milk becomes insufficient. Puppies of large breeds and those predisposed to hip dysplasia and other orthopedic problems should be fed large-breed specific puppy diets.
Puppy food is best given in multiple, well-spaced meals 2-3 times daily. In general, puppies under 10 pounds should be fed 3 times a day and those above can be slowly weaned to twice a day feedings. Feeding on a schedule will also help to get puppies in a routine that will help with house training. Some puppies will overeat if allowed access to too much food, so it is best to monitor their weight and ask your veterinarian to help determine if the growth rate is appropriate. You should feed a puppy food that contains 25% to 30% protein. Remember, the adult size of a dog is determined genetically, not by how fast he or she grows. So refrain from overfeeding puppy food in an attempt to accelerate a puppy's growth rate.
Puppies vary tremendously with size, rate of growth, tendencies to overeat, etc. There are so many variables in making the correct choices when it comes to nutritional and caloric needs of puppies that we highly recommend seeking the advice of one of our veterinarians.
Feeding Adult Dogs
Each dog is unique and therefore there is no one dog food that works for all dogs. In general, feeding a diet that has been evaluated by AAFCO approved feeding trials (such as Royal Canin, Purina, Hill’s, and Iams) will be appropriate for most dogs. There are many choices of proteins and types of diets (canned, dry).
It is important at this stage in a dog's life to use portion control whether you use timed or free choice feeding methods.
- Timed Feeding: Timed feeding involves making a portion of dog food available for a specific period of time. For example, food can be placed in your dog's bowl for 30 minutes. After that time, if he or she has not consumed the food, it is removed. This is a common way to feed puppies of breed types that do not tend to gorge themselves
- Meal Feeding: Meal feeding involves feeding a specific amount twice a day. We recommend Meal feeding most often
- Free-Choice Feeding: Free-choice feeding allows dog food to be available at all times, as much as your dog wants, and whenever he or she wants it. This method is rarely as good of an option because most dogs will overeat and become overweight. Guidelines for feeding amounts on the dog food bag are based on average calorie needs and must be adjusted to individual needs.
Feeding Senior Dogs
Generally, we consider a dog senior after 8 years, earlier in large and giant breeds. Every senior dog is different in aging and nutrition needs. If your senior dog is doing well on its current diet then there may not be a need to change the diet. However, some senior dogs may have health concerns they have developed over the years that may require special diets. Most senior dogs will have the need for fewer calories but still have the need for a very high-quality diet. Some senior diets will address this by decreasing the calories in the diet but maintaining the protein levels. They have less ability to assimilate proteins and for this reason, need high-quality protein choices. Senior diets often contain additional joint supplements.
There are times when supplements are helpful for senior dogs. Again this may be very specific for your dog's needs. It is always best to share information with your veterinarian about the supplements that you are giving or would like to give.
Feeding Overweight Dogs
Unfortunately, obesity has become a common problem with dogs. Just like humans, being overweight can be detrimental to a dog's health. An overweight dog has many added stresses upon his or her body and therefore is at an increased risk of:
- Exercise intolerance
- Low energy
Obesity occurs when energy intake (or food) exceeds energy requirements (or the number of calories burned through activity and exercise). The excess energy is stored as fat, and accumulated fat causes obesity. The majority of dog obesity cases are related to relative overfeeding coupled with lack of exercise. The best way to curb and reverse obesity is to:
- Correct your dog's diet: Feed your overweight dog a reduced-calorie, high fiber diet that includes vitamins and minerals to maintain coat and skin health during dieting. You should consult your veterinarian for dog food and feeding recommendations. Canned foods can be a good option due to the higher water content.
- Increase Exercise: Both frequency and duration of exercise should be increased. Make sure you are working up to daily or longer exercise sessions. Regular exercise burns more calories, reduces appetite, changes body composition and will increase your dog's resting metabolic rate.
- Modify Feeding Habits: For you and your dog. This includes monitoring treats, cutting down on or cutting out human food, and feeding smaller, more frequent meals to keep your dog from experiencing hunger pains.
Do Dogs Need Grains or Carbohydrates?
While dogs get a significant amount of energy from dietary protein and fats, carbohydrates are still important components of dog nutrition. They are broken down by the digestive system and converted to glucose, a primary source of energy. For this reason, carbohydrates can be an important caloric source in some dog foods.
Whole-grain carbohydrates can furnish iron, minerals, and fiber as well as other beneficial nutrients. They can also be found in vegetables and fruit--which also supply minerals, fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and some protein.
While dogs do not specifically need grains, they absolutely can digest them so there is no basis for selecting grain free foods. In fact, grain free diets are a recent phenomenon and have been associated with a dietary cardiomyopathy.
Vitamins For Dogs
With a properly formulated diet that has met AAFCO feeding trial guidelines, your dog will receive all the daily vitamins he or she needs for optimal functioning and body processes. In some cases, small amounts of specific vitamins can help combat illnesses, diseases or conditions and we recommend discussing your dog's particular vitamin needs with one of our veterinarians at your next appointment.
Table Scraps and Other Foods
We know that most of you like to feed your dog some of your food. If you are like most people and want to add some whole fresh food to your dog's diet, we recommend that you add one ingredient at a time to see if there are any problems with digestibility or food intolerances. Adding some freshly cooked or raw vegetables or some healthy low-fat protein to your dog's kibble can actually be a very healthy addition. Always review your diet plan with your veterinarian. In general, we recommend that you keep the amounts to under 10% of the total diet.
Some of you may have more time and want to cook entirely for your dog. This can be a perfectly healthy option as long as the diet is well-balanced. We can work with a veterinary nutritionist to help formulate a home-cooked diet using the ingredients you like to keep at home.
Raw Food Diets
Raw food and BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones and Raw Food) diets are not recommended by our doctors. They are usually not balanced in proper nutrients for optimal health. Raw food can expose pets and their humans to Salmonella and other bacteria and parasites which can be life threatening in some cases. In addition, chewing on real bones or fragments can cause painful tooth fractures or lacerations. Raw food based diets have generally not been evaluated with AAFCO approved feeding trials. For these reasons, commercial, balanced diets are the diets that our doctors prefer for your pet.
Since 1998, our veterinarians and veterinary support staff have helped educate and guide thousands of dog owners to better understand and implement proper canine nutrition regimens. We love helping owners learn, and we especially love seeing the positive effects of proper dog nutrition on the bodies and in the minds of the many furry, four-legged patients we view as our extended family members.