Pet nutrition: your dog is ‘what he or she eats’
“WHAT should I feed my dog?” This is one of the most common questions that I’m asked, and it’s really important for pet owners to get this right. It’s often been said that we humans “are what we eat”, and this is equally true for pets. The body is continually wearing out and being replaced by new living tissue. Pet owners need to supply their pets with the right building blocks to create a healthy body on an ongoing basis, throughout their entire lives. If poor quality food is given, the result is a poor quality body. It’s really as simple as that.
When I’m asked this question, the first thing I do is to critically look at the pet in question.
If the dog is healthy, with bright eyes, a shiny coat, well defined muscles and a spring in their step, then my answer to the owner is simple: keep feeding whatever you’re currently feeding, because your dog looks great.
If, on the other hand, the dog has a dull, dry coat, with flaky skin, and if there’s a dull look in their eye, and they don’t look as upbeat as they ought to, then I’d strongly suggest that they look carefully at what they’re giving their dog to eat every day.
There are four key areas where the right nutrition makes a significant difference.
First, and most obviously, the digestive system. The best pet foods are made from high quality ingredients that are easy to digest. Dogs on such diets have fewer digestive upsets, and they produce firmer, smaller droppings. More of the food is absorbed, so they produce a lower volume of faeces. A friend of mine who runs boarding kennels changed to a higher quality (and more expensive) diet partly because it resulted in the kennelled dogs producing far fewer droppings (and so she had less work to do picking them up every day).
Second, oral care. Dental disease is almost universal in dogs, with 80% of dogs over two years of age suffering from it. While the ideal answer is daily tooth brushing, few owners find that they are able to do this. Some modern commercial dog foods have been specially formulated to assist with natural self-cleaning of the teeth, including shaped biscuits that clean as they are crunched, and also ingredients that lessen the accumulation of tartar on tooth surfaces.
Third, skin and coat. This is the most visible difference that can be made by a good quality diet. Dogs need to obtain certain essential oils in their diet, and if they don’t get these, their coats become dry, and the skin gets scurfy. It’s possible to give the necessary oil supplements as a daily capsule, but it’s easier to buy a diet that already includes to oils as an integral part of the formulation. One interesting fact is that it takes around six weeks for oils to take full effect. If you start your dog on a new diet, you will notice the impact on the digestive system almost immediately, but you won’t see that healthy shine develop in your dog’s coat for six weeks or more.
The fourth area where diet has a critical impact is the immune system. This isn’t easily visible, other than the general impression that an experienced eye can glean from the general demeanour of a dog. A bright-eyed, bouncy, enthusiastic animal is more likely to have an immune system that’s working successfully to protect them from illness and malaise. The components of a diet that help to create a healthy immune system include vitamins (such as Vitamin E, and Vitamin B12), and minerals, as well as simply high quality all-round ingredients.
In general, the best way to ensure that your dog has a diet that meets all the neces- sary requirements is to choose a commercially produced product designed for your type of pet. Young or old? Big, medium or small? Energetic or lazy? Pet food manufacturers are legally obliged to formulate their diets so that they comply with nutritional guidelines calculated to provide each type of pet with everything they need. If you home-cook for your pet, you can’t be sure that you are providing them with sufficient nutrients. It is possible to employ the services of a professional nutritional advisor (you can find one online) but few people want to go this far. It’s easier and safer just to find a commercial diet that your dog enjoys, and to leave it at that.
There are different formulations, and your choice is a personal one, for you and for your dog. The most popular version these days is the dry kibble: you can buy a bag that lasts for weeks. It’s easy to store and most dogs enjoy crunching the biscuits. The old-fashioned tins of dog food are still popular, but in recent years, the sachet formulation has been gaining ground. It’s easier to tear open a sachet, and there’s no bulky tin to get rid of afterwards.
It isn’t always easy for an owner to make a judgement call about the quality of the food that they choose. My general advice to people is that if they are unsure, they should talk to their vet, but there is another simple way to tell: look at your pet. If your dog loves eating dinner and if they are visibly thriving, you can be sure that you are giving them exactly what they need to eat every day.
If you have any questions about pet nutrition for Pete, he’s hosting a live question and answer session on Wednesday 1st June starting at 7pm on the Pedigree Ireland Facebook Page.
Top quality nutrition is a key part of keeping pets healthy