When it comes to food, your dog needs and balanced and nutritional diet as well as plenty of clean, fresh water to stay happy and healthy.
Humans have their own unique nutritional needs, as do all animals. Cows should eat what cows should eat. Dogs should eat what dogs should eat. And for the most part, your dog shouldn’t eat what you eat.
That’s all clear enough. But what, exactly, should your dog eat? That’s a question that confounds many a dog owner, because there’s lots of conflicting advice out there.
According to the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA), the food you feed your dog must provide 4 essentials:
- Proteins and other minor nutrients
- Fats, including essential fatty acids
- Vitamins, minerals, and essential micro-nutrients
All prepackaged foods that you purchase for your dog should contain the above 4 essentials in the proper quantities and ratios. But unfortunately, you can’t assume that all prepackaged dog foods offer a proper balance of the essentials – because some don’t.
When you’re shopping for dog food, the PFIAA recommends checking the labeling closely. Look for a statement indicating that the food has been prepared to the standards of an internationally recognized organization such as the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
The PFIAA offers a couple of additional tips for selecting your dog’s food:
- The nutritional concentration of the food should be such that your dog’s nutritional needs are met by eating a reasonable volume of the food. Your dog’s stools should be well formed, not loose, as an indication of the proper nutritional density of the food.
- It’s gotta taste good! Doesn’t matter how nutritionally perfect a food might be if your dog doesn’t like it! Your dog should look forward to eating the food. Food that’s just sniffed in disappointment and not eaten obviously has NO nutritional benefit!
MAKE SURE THE FOOD IS AGE APPROPRIATE
Have you seen a baby launching into a steak dinner recently? Of course not. Have you seen an adult guzzling down a bottle of baby formula? Hope not!
Humans have different nutritional needs at different stages of life. And dogs are exactly the same. A nutritionally perfect diet for an elderly dog can be a nutritional disaster for a puppy, and vice-versa. So take care that the food you buy for your dog is age-appropriate.
As a general rule-of-thumb, plan on feeding your dog food that is labeled for puppies until your dog stops growing (roughly 1 to 2 years of age, depending upon breed). And when you make the switch from puppy food to adult food, do it gradually over a period of about a week. Start with a 50-50 mix of puppy/adult food, and gradually increase the ratio of adult food.
For senior dogs, though, there is no nutritional standard among dog food manufacturers. A change that may be considered ‘good’ for a senior dog by one manufacturer may be discounted completely by another manufacturer.
And there’s not a consensus among experts that ALL older dogs need a change of diet. Your dog’s dietary needs may change as it ages, but don’t just decide at some arbitrary age to switch your dog’s diet to food that is labeled for senior dogs. Your safest move is in getting your vet’s opinion about whether you should make a change your dog’s diet as it grows older.
PREMIUM FOODS OFFER MORE
Premium and organic brands of dog food have become very popular in recent years. And for good reason: There have been many occurrences of dogs killed or sickened from the prepackaged food they were fed. In most cases, the bad food has been a cheaper brand imported from someplace like China.
Price alone, of course, doesn’t guarantee quality. But a lower price is more likely to indicate a lower quality.
And if food is labeled as organic, it can contain no synthetic ingredients. That means it should be free of pesticide residues, of course, but also that it should be free of other man-made ingredients that are sometimes present in dog food (and people food, too).
Many people believe that the synthetic ingredients often found in pre-packaged foods are a contributor to many illnesses. “When I was a kid, pets died of old-age,” said Nell Newman, of Newman’s Own Organics. Now, “they’re dying of tumors.” (USA Today, 7/13/2004)
FRESH, CLEAN WATER IS ESSENTIAL
You know, of course, that your dog needs water as much as it needs food. But did you know that should monitor your pet’s water consumption, just as you do its food consumption?
It’s true, because some dogs will occasionally tend to drink more or less water than they truly need – and neither situation is good for your dog’s health. Under or over-drinking can also indicate an underlying health problem. So if you notice your dog drinking too much or too little, consult your vet.
The amount of water your dog should drink varies depending upon factors such as diet and activity. On average, though, a good rule of thumb is that your dog should consume 1/2 to 1 ounce of water per day for each pound of body weight.
Both indoor and outdoor dogs should have water in their bowls at all times (and the bowl should be in the shade for an outdoor dog). And the water in their bowls should be changed daily. Consider using an automatic water dispenser to make your life easier, or to assure that your dog doesn’t run out of water when you’re away.
Remember, too, to have water available for your dog when you go for a walk.
A HEALTHY DIET EQUAL A HEALTHY DOG
Making sure that your dog has a healthy diet and plenty of good, clean water will go a long ways toward assuring a long and healthy life for your pet. And if you’re not doing the same for yourself – well, we’re not going to nag. But you know it’s important for ALL critters – even the two-legged kind!