Pet nutri­tion: your dog is ‘what he or she eats’

Bray People - - LIFE­STYLE - PETE WED­DER­BURN An­i­mal Doc­tor

“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

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