A quick check inside a dog’s mouth reveals that they have both molars and incisors, which means they are omnivores.
Dogs can get nearly all their nutritional needs from fats and proteins, but as any dog owner with a compost pile will tell you, their four-legged family member will always look to self-supplement their diet with various fruits, vegetables and grains. Even in the wild, a dog’s closest relative and ancestral forefather the wolf will often search out plant-based foods to add to the protein-rich diet of a top predator.
From fats, proteins and amino acids to D, E and B vitamins and a host of minerals such as Magnesium, zinc and phosphorus, your dog’s health depends on balancing his diet so that he can be everything you want in a good friend and companion.
The best place to get advice about what to feed your dog is from your breeder and your veterinarian. They will always look at factors such as breed, age, lifestyle and overall health before making any recommendations.
Commercial Dog Food
To get a sense of how many differing ideas there are about canine nutrition you only need browse the aisles of a typical big-box pet food store. The variety of brands, types, ingredients and supplements can be overwhelming.
The Pet Food Association of Canada is confident that commercially prepared pet foods represent the safest and most balanced food choice for pets. They maintain that extensive research has gone into their formulations, which are designed to provide dogs with all the essential nutrients they require.
Dogs, just like people have varying degrees of tolerance for specific ingredients in their diet and sometimes may develop an allergy to a certain type of protein. So, if you see that your dog is lethargic or has a dull coat and dry skin, you can always try a different formulation of food and see if there’s any improvement.
In terms of quantity, dog food manufacturers ask that you refer to the label. As a rule, depending on how much activity your dog gets, you can likely adjust the suggested quantity up 10-40% or down 10%.
Puppy food has more of the calories and nutrients a growing dog needs. For most dogs you can feed them puppy food until their 12 months old. For larger breeds you can continue until they’re 18 months.
Homemade Dog Food
Do-it-yourself dog food began trending about a dozen years ago, and intensified with the melamine-tainted scandal in 2007. An Internet search for information on making your own pet food can offer a wide selection of recipes, including several from lifestyle magazines, celebrities and amateur canine nutritionists.
In order to completely meet a dog’s dietary requirements, meals must include a source of protein, a source of carbohydrates, sufficient vitamins and minerals and some fat. Unfortunately, a majority of the recipes that pop up in an Internet search don’t offer a proper balance of vitamins and minerals. A study found that only nine of the 200 recipes sourced from the Internet provided all essential nutrients in concentrations that met the minimum standards established for adult dogs. Calcium is the most common deficiency in a homemade diet that isn’t professionally balanced, but it’s very challenging for a novice to get a sufficient mix of most vitamins and minerals, even when working with a recipe.
If you are determined to make your own dog food, we recommend that you start with a recipe from a board-certified Veterinary Nutritionist and review any recipes with your breeder and veterinarian to determine if they are adequately balanced and complete. Once you’ve started a dog on a homemade diet, you should take note of any physical or behavioral changes and have him evaluated twice a year by a vet.
Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
Dogs derive most of the essential nutrients, they require from meat. So, any vegetarian or vegan diet for dogs must do more than just ensure that there is enough protein in the bowl. Amino acids, B vitamins, calcium and phosphorous are all derived from eating animal protein and will have to be supplemented into your dog’s diet in quantities that are both adequate and balanced.
There are several types of commercial dog foods that are formulated to be balanced and complete without utilizing animal protein. For the most part these are marketed to meet the moral or ethical needs of the dog owner, not the dog. Unlike humans, a dog has a very short intestinal tract that cannot adequately accommodate the absorption of nutrients from plant materials. So, you can formulate a dog food product with appropriate quantities of alternative source vitamins and minerals, but that doesn’t mean that those nutrients are readily available to be absorbed and metabolized by your dog the way they are from animal protein.
We encourage anyone who is fully determined to feed their dog a vegetarian diet to utilize a commercial food that has gone through feeding trials and meets all the basic nutritional requirements. We also recommend that they consult a veterinary nutritionist who can make any supplemental recommendations. No one should ever put a puppy or a dog that they plan to breed on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
After a month or two on a meat-free diet a full and objective assessment of the health and condition of the dog should be performed, paying attention to any changes in weight, activity level and the condition of the coat and skin.
The Raw Food Revolution
Another commercial dog food alternative, which has seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years, is raw food. A growing community of breeders, behaviorists and trainers are touting a full list of health benefits, which they claim, are thanks to feeding dogs a diet consisting of mostly raw meat, bones, fruits and vegetables. An original proponent of diet used the acronym BARF (bones and raw food), and the thinking behind this approach is that raw food is what a dog would eat in the wild.
Raw food can be obtained as fresh or frozen pre-prepared servings available from local distributors, but many breeders and owners are using the do-it-yourself approach. The concern that most in the veterinary community have is the potential for E. Coli contamination and salmonella poisoning, especially in regards to poultry products. Raw food enthusiasts point out that, for the person doing the preparation, the E. Coli and salmonella concerns are no different than what someone preparing a family dinner would deal with; for the dogs, the risk is likely less than a scavenging animal in the wild would encounter.
One concern that even raw food enthusiasts are willing to acknowledge is the difficulty with preparing meals that offer the ideal balance of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients – and most don’t recommend their diets for puppies or dogs with serious health problems.
Currently in Canada, the raw food industry is unregulated but some manufacturers have formed an association that is actively promoting their own set of guidelines on how to operate a safe raw food facility.
So far the veterinary community and dog food manufacturers are unconvinced and want to see scientific evidence of the benefits of raw food. The BARF supporters tout their vast collection of anecdotal evidence and the suspicion that opponents are merely concerned with protecting their own financial interests. Read more about raw food: Raw meat for dogs: Is the theory half baked? Canadian Association of Raw Pet Food Manufacturers http://www.carpfm.ca/
Foods That Are Dangerous
Dogs are natural scavengers and given half a chance will go for anything that looks and smells even marginally appealing. The garbage, a fruit bowl, an open package of snack foods, left over’s from lunch or dinner are too much temptation for most dogs. The problem is the object of his desire may be food to you, but poison to your pet.
Many foods we love and enjoy everyday can make your dog mildly sick or deathly ill. Here in alphabetical order is a list of many common foods that are dangerous for dogs.
Alcohol (Beer, Wine, Spirits)’s: liver and brain that it has on humans with an even greater risk of illness.
Avocado: Contain persin, a substance that can damage heart, lung and other tissue.
Baby Food: May contain onion powder, which can be toxic to dogs.
Bones: Cooked bones can splinter, get caught in the throat or cause a rupture or puncture of the stomach lining or intestinal tract.
Bread Dough: Once ingested the dough will rise, causing discomfort. Alcohol is produced as the dough expands.
Caffeine: Includes coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, colas, and stimulant drinks such as Red Bull. In large enough quantities can be fatal for a dog.
Candy and Gum: Many types contain Xylitol, which can cause blood sugar to drop and liver failure.
Chocolate: All types contain a toxic agent known as theobromine. Dark chocolate, chocolate mulch, and unsweetened baking chocolate are most dangerous.
Corn Cobs: Can cause a partial or complete intestinal obstruction.
Dairy Products: Milk and milk-based products may cause digestive upset as well as set up food allergies.
Eggs (Uncooked): Can deplete your dog of biotin, which is essential to growth and coat health. Additionally, may be contaminated with bacteria, such as salmonella.
Fish (Uncooked): May be contaminated with bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Salmon, trout, shad, or sturgeon can contain a parasite that causes “fish disease” or “salmon poisoning disease”, which can be fatal.
Garlic: Can destroy red blood cells, leading to anemia. Includes powdered, raw, cooked, or dehydrated.
Grapes and Raisins: Toxic when consumed in large quantities. Can cause kidney failure.
Macadamia Nuts: Contain a toxin, which can cause tremors and paralysis.
Moldy Foods: Some types can produce a toxin, which may cause serious illnesses.
Nutmeg: In large quantities is a hallucinogenic and can cause tremors and seizures.
Onions: Like garlic, can destroy red blood cells, leading to anemia. Includes powdered, raw, cooked, or dehydrated.
Persimmons, Peaches, and Plums: Seeds from persimmons can cause inflammation of the small intestine. Peach and plum pits may cause intestinal obstruction and contain cyanide, which is poisonous.
Salt: Iodized salt and salty foods can cause stomach ailments and pancreatitis.
Tomatoes and Tomato Plants: Contain atropine, (especially leaves and stems) which can cause dilated pupils, tremors and irregular heartbeat.