There is such a wide range of different dog foods on the market these days that it is easy to become bewildered by the many varieties. In essence, all dog foods can be divided into just two types: moist and dry. Nutritionally they’re both as good as each other – as long as you feed a diet correct for their age, the choice is really down to you and your dog. We advise feeding a diet produced by a reputable pet food manufacturer, as the composition of these are based on scientifically proven standards. Home made diets can be fed, but require very careful preparation to ensure the correct balance of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins and minerals. Unintended mistakes in making up homemade rations can sometimes cause serious problems.
Moist foods – these come in cans, foil trays or sachets, and once you’ve opened them, you’ll need to keep them in the fridge and use them by the next day. They come in many varieties to suit different dog owner’s requirements. The main variety is a meat-in-jelly mix, which should be given to your dog with an equal volume of ‘mixer’ (not ‘complete’ food) to ensure an accurate balance of calories, carbohydrates, and fat.
|Dry foods – these are made of little biscuits called ‘kibble’. They may appear more expensive than moist foods, but they’re more concentrated, so you don’t have to feed your dog so much – read the packaging to check the exact amount to feed. You don’t have to keep dried food in the fridge, and you can leave it in your dog’s bowl all day, so that he can eat whenever he likes. The advantage of dry food, is that it can help to keep your dog’s teeth clean. Make sure that it is a ‘complete’ dried food and not a ‘mixer’ (which should be fed with moist food, as above).|
Whenever you acquire a puppy or new dog, the first rule is to stick to their previous diet and feeding schedule for at least 10 days, whilst they are settling in. If you wish to make changes to their diet after that time, it should be done very gradually, by adding increasing amounts of the new food in with their old diet over a further 10 day period. Suddenly introducing a different food will often cause vomiting or colitis, a form of diarrhoea containing mucus and fresh blood. At the practice, we commonly see both conditions in newly acquired dogs, as a result of sudden dietary changes.
When you first bring home your puppy, you should feed him four small meals a day of a dedicated ‘puppy’ food. By the time he’s twelve weeks old, you can divide his daily food allowance into just three meals. When he’s about six months old he’ll have reached the ‘junior’ stage – not a little puppy any more, but still not fully grown. At this time you can start to feed just two meals a day. At nine to twelve months of age, your dog should be able to move onto an adult diet. Whether you decide to feed once or twice a day, depends largely on lifestyle, however, where possible, we recommend dividing you dog’s daily ration into two meals.
The puppies of large and giant breeds have special dietary requirements and overfeeding can result in accelerated growth and bone deformities. If your pup is a giant breed, such as a Rottweiler or Bernese Mountain Dog, it is worth buying a ‘premium’ puppy food, manufactured specifically for these breeds.
After spaying or castration, it is common for your dog’s metabolism to be reduced, which can lead to weight gain. This can be avoided by reducing your dog’s daily food ration by 10% after neutering, and then re-weighing your pet 2 months after the surgery, to ensure that there is no change in weight. Alternatively, several manufacturers produce a lower calorie or ‘Light’ version of their diets, which can be fed to help prevent weight gain.
As dogs get older, their nutritional needs may change. Therefore, it is important to feed a good quality balanced food that meets the needs of older dogs. The diet should enable the dog to maintain an ideal body weight, and it should be tasty and easily digested. The majority of older dogs will be slowing down, and, on average will need 20% fewer calories. Senior pet foods should have a reduced energy content, still satisfying your dog’s hunger while delivering fewer calories. Ideally, the diet will contain more fatty acids, vitamins and certain minerals, and less protein.
Older dogs are more likely to suffer from certain diseases such as heart disease, kidney failure, arthritis and liver disease. Many of these diseases will respond to specific dietary management. Once a problem has been diagnosed, we may recommend feeding a veterinary diet specifically designed to treat the condition. It is important that this advice is adhered to as it may increase the quality and length of your pet’s life.
Owners frequently ask whether they should vary their dog’s food; the answer is ‘no’. Unlike humans, dogs do not need variety and may quite happily eat one type of food all their lives. If you want to provide your dog with an occasional alternative, the answer is to give a treat. Many different types are on the market, but as a general rule:
|Bones and chews – are good for teeth and gums, and low in calories. Avoid real bones which cause medical problems (see ‘play and toys’);|
|Biscuits – tasty snacks, but high in carbohydrates and fat, so can lead to weight gain if fed regularly;|
|Tit-bits – dog food is for dogs, and human food for humans! The occasional bit of left over meat is unlikely to do too much harm, as long as it is fed ‘occasionally’;|
|Vegetables – raw carrots and other vegetables make great healthy treats for your pets, full of vitamins, minerals and fibre, and great for teeth and gums;|
|Soft chews – avoid feeding these often, as they have little nutritional content, are high in carbohydrates and fat, and do little to promote dental hygiene.|