What Is The Right Food To Feed Your Dog?
Good nutrition is feeding your dog the building blocks and energy components that allow them to grow, develop to their potential and stay active throughout their life. There are many ways to feed your dog and hundreds of diets to choose from. Most people tend to use dry and canned dog food for convenience and cost. However, for owners who are open minded about their dog's diet, there are alternatives to dry and canned dog food that may offer better nutrition for your particular dog.
At Larchmont Animal Clinic, 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 dog nutrition, whether you are looking for puppy food recommendations, or adult and senior dog nutrition advice.
The keys to canine nutrition
The following dietary components represent the fundamental keys to canine nutrition:
- Proteins: Proteins are complex molecules made up of amino acids, the building blocks of cell growth, maintenance and repair. In companion animals like dogs, one of the biggest demands for protein comes from the maintenance of fur and hair, which can use up to 30 percent of a dog's daily protein intake
- 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
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates can be broken down by the digestive system and converted to glucose which can also be 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 organic substances, or synthetic derivatives thereof, required for normal body functioning. They are also important in the conversion of calories to energy, the boosting of immunity and other body processes
- 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 combinations and amounts of these components are based entirely on a dog's age, weight, physical and/or medical condition, and lifestyle. This is why there are many kinds of dog food for each phase of your canine companion's life.
What is the right puppy food?
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.
Puppy food is best given in multiple, well-spaced meals 2-3 times daily. In general, all 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 their bodies in a routine which will help with house training. Some breeds will overeat if allowed access to too many calories, so it is best to monitor their weight gain and ask your veterinarian to help determine if the growth rate is correct or if your puppy is growing too quickly and/or gaining too much weight. 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.
Puppy breeds 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.
What is the best dog food for an adult dog?
Each dog is unique and therefore there is no one dog food which works for all dogs. In general, feeding a premium brand such as Hill's Science Diet is a safe bet for all dogs. They have many choices of proteins and types of diets (canned, dry). There are several premium brands of dog food that are good choices.
Select an adult dog food that is specifically balanced to deliver the caloric and nutritional requirements essential for health, happiness and wellness. It is also important at this stage in a dog's life to make sure to use portion control whether or not 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. Unfortunately,most dogs will overeat if allowed timed feeding or free-choice feeding. For this reason, 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 option because most dogs will overeat and become overweight
Most of the guidelines for feeding amounts on the dog food bags are too high in calories.
Middle-aged dogs have greater risks of gaining excess weight than puppies. Therefore, choosing a balanced and nutritious adult dog food, and implementing responsible feeding protocols, decreases adverse health effects caused by poor nutrition or over-consumption.
Choosing the right senior dog food
Generally, we consider a dog senior after 8 years. Every Senior is different in aging and nutrition needs. If your senior dog is doing well on its current diet then there may not be 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 needs for less calories but still have needs for very high quality diets. 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.
Beginning a senior dog food regimen depends greatly on the breed and size of your dog. For example:
- Small breeds and dogs weighing less than 20 pounds - 8 years of age
- Medium breeds and dogs weighing 21 to 50 pounds - 8 years of age
- Large breeds and dogs weighing 51 to 90 pounds - 6 years of age
- Giant breeds and dogs weighing 91 pounds or more - 5 years of age
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 be honest and share with your veterinarian supplements that you are giving or would like to give.
Dog food recommendations for 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:
- Joint pain
- Exercise intolerance
- Low energy
Obesity occurs when energy intake (or food) exceeds energy requirements (or the amount 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 simple 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 decrease in carbohydrates.
- 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.
Fats your dog needs
Fats help maintain healthy skin, fur, eyes and cognitive function, as well as provide valuable energy reserves. Along with protein, fats contribute to a dog nutrition program's palatability, plus aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E and K.
Like protein's essential amino acids, fat has its own essential fatty acids (EFAs) that make up an important part of every cell:
- Linoleic acid--Omega 6 Fatty Acids
- Linolenic acid--Omega 3 Fatty Acids
- Arachidonic acid
It is important to choose a high quality dog food that provides healthy fats and fat soluble vitamins. You should consult your veterinarian to learn if your dog can benefit from nutritional supplements.
Do dogs need 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, an alternate 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 be found in vegetables and fruit--which also supply minerals, fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and some protein.
Although it is fine for dog food to contain carbohydrates, we don't recommend any dog nutrition source that uses carbohydrates as its main protein-based ingredients. Instead, we prefer higher protein and fat content to carbohydrates, especially in adult and senior dog food.
Vitamins for dogs
With a balanced canine nutrition program featuring high quality puppy food or dog food, and healthy snacks or treats, your dog should receive most of the daily vitamins he or she needs for optimal functioning and body processes. In some cases, small amounts of chemical specific vitamins can help combat illnesses, diseases or conditions and we recommend discussing your your dog's particular vitamins needs with one of our veterinarians at your next appointment.
Table scraps or adding human food
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 digestibility or intolerances. Adding some fresh cooked vegetables and some healthy low fat protein to your dog's kibble can actually be a very healthy addition. Cooked broccoli and green beans are generally well tolerated by most dogs. Chicken, fish and lean pork or beef can also be added in small amounts to your dog's food. Adding in some other protein sources is only ok in dogs who are not allergic. Always review your diet plan with your veterinarian. In general, feeding a high quality kibble and adding some whole food can be a very healthy diet for your dog. We generally recommend that you keep the amounts to 20-25% addition of table food to 80% dog food.
Home cooked diets
Some of you may have more time and want to cook entirely for your dog. This is 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.
Make an appointment to discuss a nutrition plan for your dog
Since 1977, our veterinarians and veterinary support staff have helped educate and guide tens of thousands of dog owners to better understand and implement proper canine nutrition regimens. We love helping owners learn, and especially love seeing the positive effects of dog nutrition in the bodies and minds of the many furry, four-legged patients we view as our extended family members. If you would like to discuss canine nutrition with our veterinary staff, please contact us to schedule an appointment!