When it comes to dogs, the old adage is true, “you are what you eat.”
If a dog’s diet is right for them, they’ll have a soft, shiny coat, odourless ears free from infection, white teeth and pink gums, lots of energy, and small, firm stools. Recurring health problems or sub-optimal overall well-being can often be attributed to diet.
The most immediate indicator of whether your dog’s diet is working is the quality of their stools. Dogs typically poo 2-3 times per day, as food moves quickly through their short digestive tract. Healthy dog poo emerges as a firm log. Rabbit-like pellets are a sign of constipation, and soft-serve poo is a sign of indigestion.
A dietary change, in conjunction with your vet’s advice, is an effective way to improve your dog’s health, whether they have health issues, or you want to keep them healthy for as long as possible.
Choosing A Dog Food
There are hundreds of brands of dog foods, with thousands of flavours and varieties between them. It’s overwhelming! Some are recommended by vets, others have fancy marketing campaigns that make it seem as though they’re rather close to the diet of a wild animal.
All dog foods labeled as “complete” have to contain all of the vitamins and minerals a dog needs to avoid deficiencies.
Limited ingredient dog foods allow you to assess which ingredients work for your dog, and which do not, so they’re especially ideal for dogs with allergies.
Puppy formulas contain more calories per cup to support a growing dog, but will cause an adult dog to pack on weight. Puppies can eat dog food labeled “for all life stages,” but may need to eat more of it to support healthy growth.
Senior formulas typically have fewer calories to avoid excess weight gain for dogs that are no longer active, and may contain ingredients to support joint health.
What Does Grain Free Mean?
You may have noticed that many dog foods are labeled “grain free.”
All kibble must contain a starch to hold it together. Corn, rice and wheat are all grains that can be used to make kibble. Non-grain starches include potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas and lentils.
The reason grain-free dog foods have become so popular is because many dogs show signs of food allergies – but these allergies are more commonly attributed to beef, dairy, chicken and wheat.
So, if your dog does well on a grain-inclusive diet, there is no need to switch to grain-free, other than to provide variety.
Rotating Your Dog’s Diet
When feeding kibble, it’s best to offer a rotational diet.
Feeding your dog the same food for years can cause them to become intolerant to those ingredients. A diet with no variety will also make it more difficult for your dog to handle any dietary changes, because the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract will have a harder time breaking down different foods.
Aim to change your dog’s food every time you purchase a new bag.
To avoid gastrointestinal upset, gradually switch to a new formula by mixing a small amount with the old food for the first meal, slowly increasing the amount of new food in each meal for a few days.
Most dog foods have a chart showing you how much to feed your dog daily based on their weight. You can follow the guide based on your dog’s ideal healthy weight – not their current weight if they need to gain or lose. This chart is only a suggestion. Your dog’s activity levels and metabolism may change their needs.
Healthy, Fresh Add-Ins And Treats
While many quality dog foods contain fish oils or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids, omega-3 fatty oils, being highly polyunsaturated, are inherently unstable and prone to oxidation. That means they will not be as potent by the time the food arrives at your home, and will further break down after you open the bag.
Fresh sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and fresh, frozen or tinned fish. When feeding cooked fish, always remove the bones. Raw fish can be fed with bones. Some fresh fish can contain parasites or high levels of mercury. Tinned sardines packed in water are an ideal choice for adding to your dog’s meals once or twice per week.
Fruits and veggies make good occasional snacks. Low-sugar, low-starch veggies are best, like kale, spinach and green beans. Carrots, apples and strawberries can be used sparingly as treats. Blueberries make great training treats because they are small, with the added bonus of containing plenty of antioxidants to support your dog’s immune system. Grapes and raisins, even in small amounts, cause kidney failure.