The Truth About Feeding Dogs

By Pete Wedderburn on 18 December 2017

Nutrition is one of the central keys to keeping a happy, healthy dog. There are many possible ways to feed a puppy. Some people find one way that’s successful and then make the mistake of presuming that it’s the “only true way” to provide good nutrition. Other people visit their local pet shop and are given advice from the staff, making the mistaken presumption that “if they say it, it must be true”. The truth is that yes, sometimes the advice is excellent, but often that advice happens to include a gentle (or firm) nudge towards the products on the pet shop shelves that the company prefers you to choose.

So, what’s the truth? The ideal answer for puppy owners would be to consult a private nutritionist who would discuss the details of your pet’s background, and then give you a series of possible nutritional strategies. These could include commercial pet foods, as well as carefully concocted and nutritionally balanced homemade versions.

The reality is that most people don’t have the time, money nor inclination to contact a private nutritionist, and in any case, in most cases, it just isn’t necessary. If you talk to your own vet when getting your pup’s vaccines, you will be given a brief summary of that pet nutritionist’s advice: all vets are trained in the basics of animal nutrition, so they can give you an unbiased view of what’s best.

My own strong view is that there is no single way of feeding that’s perfect for all dogs: pet owners should take the time to develop a strategy that works for their individual animal.

There are four key questions that should be asked when choosing the best food for puppies: what is the best diet for health, for enjoyment by your pet, for value for money, and for your own convenience? The ideal diet should tick all four boxes.

There are three main ways to feed a dog:

  1. Freshly prepared food.
    The old-fashioned idea was to feed a dog on scraps from the table; the modern take on this is to prepare meals specially for a pet, with “human”’ type meals. Many people even cook recipes for their pets, just like parents cooking for their children. There’s also the fashion for feeding “raw” meat and bones to dogs, which some zealots mistakenly see as “the only way” to feed dogs correctly.The problem is that feeding fresh food does not necessarily tick all four of the important boxes mentioned above. It’s true that pet owners cooking for their own pets are likely to choose ingredients that their pets enjoy, that are good value and that are easily available. But what about the “health” aspect: if a diet is not correctly formulated, after consultation with a professional nutritionist, it may not be balanced. Dogs need the right combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. If a homemade diet is not properly formulated, problems can follow, including growing dogs with crooked legs because of calcium deficiency, dry, scurfy coats because of shortage of essential fatty acids, and a range of other nutrition-based diseases.There’s an additional potential issue when raw food is fed to dogs: in a recent study, around 8% of raw pet food diets in the USA carried Salmonella bacteria, which has the potential to adversely affect human health.
  2. Commercially produced wet food, in tins, packets or sachets.
    Moist food is widely available, it’s complete and balanced (it has to be, by law), it’s good for your pets’ health, and animals enjoy eating it. However, it’s relatively expensive (80-90% of its content is water, which creates a high transport cost per kilogram of food). And the practicalities of feeding it aren’t enjoyed by many owners (nobody likes having half used containers in the fridge beside food for human consumption).
  3. Commercially produced dry food (kibble, or nuggets).
    This has become the most popular way of feeding dogs over the past twenty years. These products are a mixture of meat and biscuit combined into a type of dough, then “extruded” through machinery, baked, and made into meaty-looking biscuits.Dry kibble often ticks all four boxes: they’re good for pets’ health, they’re tasty, they tend to be good value, and they are convenient for owners.A large bag of dried dog food can easily last a couple of months if stored carefully. Dried food varies in price and quality, with the more expensive foods including higher quality ingredients, as well as premium type features such as organic and free range. You can choose whatever type of dry food you prefer, depending on your budget and your dog’s preferences.

So, what is the best type of diet for your dog?

There is no single answer that is right in every case. Animals – and owners – have individual preferences and needs. Some dogs do well on home prepared or raw diets, others on moist diets, and many dogs thrive on dry foods.

All commercial pet food that is marketed as “complete pet food” is obliged by law to provide a pet with everything that they need. So, for most people, the simplest and safest answer is to choose a commercial diet that their pet likes, that’s convenient and affordable, and that their dog thrives on.

The broad principle is to select a good quality food, feed it to your pet for 8 to 12 weeks, then assess how well your dog is getting on.

If the pup has gleaming eyes, a glossy, healthy coat, a well-functioning digestive system, well-developed musculature and plenty of energy, then you know that you’ve chosen an appropriate diet. If, on the other hand, your dog is not thriving, then perhaps you should think again, and choose a different diet.

It’s worth remembering that the most common nutritional disorder seen by vets in practice is a disease of abundance: dogs that are overweight and obese. Feed your dog sensibly, in moderate amounts, following the principles outlined above, and you won’t go far wrong.

Comments

Veterinary Surgeon, Radio - TV Broadcaster, Columnist and Author.


Pete has been a regular veterinary contributor to television, as well as local and national radio, in Ireland for over twenty years. He is a prolific writer on animal topics. He has written a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph for over a decade. He also writes weekly features in local and national newspapers in Ireland. He has authored four books to date: the latest, published in 2017, is titled Pet Subjects, and is available from his website at www.petethevet.com.