Sporting Gun - - Gundog Health -

Ca­nine nu­tri­tion is a can of worms. No one would ar­gue with the fact that feed­ing the cor­rect food is vi­tal to main­tain­ing health, it’s how to choose such food that is dif­fi­cult

We need some­thing on nu­tri­tion!’ yelled Mr Clark, the Editor. My heart sank and my tummy rum­bled omi­nously. Ca­nine nu­tri­tion, quite sim­ply, is a can of worms. Nu­mer­ous the­o­ries are vo­cif­er­ously ex­pounded. Mil­lions are ploughed into mar­ket­ing. Camps are di­vided be­tween raw and com­plete. Own­ers ob­sess with pro­tein con­tent when en­ergy is re­ally the key. And so it goes on. And on. But at the end of the day, the proof of the pud­ding is in the eat­ing…

No one would ar­gue with the fact that feed­ing the cor­rect food is vi­tal to main­tain­ing health, it’s how to choose it that is dif­fi­cult. Pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of a diet is help­ful. Food man­u­fac­tur­ers spend much on re­search and clin­i­cal tri­als but what suits one dog may not suit yours. Many food pro­duc­ers make claims that can­not be sub­stan­ti­ated. The life­time ef­fects of feed­ing raw have not yet been in­ves­ti­gated, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for your vet to rec­om­mend do­ing so, be­cause there is cur­rently no ev­i­dence to back it up. Heh, even un­der­stand­ing what is writ­ten on a pet food la­bel is not easy. But it’s a good place to be­gin.


Water is the most im­por­tant nu­tri­ent of all. Your dog can lose all his fat and half his pro­tein and still sur­vive, but 15 per cent water loss means death. Listed as mois­ture con­tent in food, water has no en­ergy value, so foods with a high con­tent will usu­ally have a lower en­ergy den­sity. Dry food is about 6 per cent water, while tins typ­i­cally are around 80 per cent, so a far greater vol­ume of the lat­ter is re­quired to be fed.


One of the en­ergy-pro­duc­ing com­po­nents of a food, pro­tein con­tent, is con­fus­ing and can be mis­lead­ing. There are 23 amino acids that make up pro­teins and an­i­mals re­quire all of them, although only 10 are es­sen­tial, be­cause the oth­ers can be syn­the­sised in the body. The qual­ity of pro­tein is de­ter­mined by its “bi­o­log­i­cal value” (BV), which is a mea­sure of how closely it matches a dog’s re­quire­ments, along with how well it is ab­sorbed and re­tained. Egg, which most closely meets these re­quire­ments, has been as­signed a value of 100 and this al­lows other pro­teins to be bench­marked. Thus an­i­mal pro­tein, such as chicken, has a BV of about 80, while ce­real pro­teins are around 45. Gelatin, much loved by some pet food man­u­fac­tur­ers as it looks lovely, is junk with a BV of 0. You can see, there­fore, that it is just not pos­si­ble to make com­par­isons be­tween the per­cent­age of pro­tein in dif­fer­ent foods with­out know­ing the qual­ity of that pro­tein.


Fat is re­quired for en­ergy, to help ab­sorb fat-sol­u­ble vi­ta­mins A, D, E and K, to im­prove palata­bil­ity and as a source of es­sen­tial fatty acids. Two of the polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids, Omega 3 and Omega 6 are es­sen­tial, as they can­not be syn­the­sised. De­fi­ciency of these re­sults in poor re­pro­duc­tive per­for­mance, de­layed wound heal­ing and a dry scaly skin that is prone to in­fec­tion. This is most com­monly seen in dogs re­ceiv­ing low-fat dry food, es­pe­cially if it has been stored for too long in warm, hu­mid con­di­tions. Fat is the most ex­pen­sive com­po­nent of com­mer­cial dog foods.


Car­bo­hy­drates are split into two groups, de­pend­ing on their abil­ity to be di­gested and ab­sorbed. Di­gestible car­bo­hy­drates, although not es­sen­tial for dogs (as long as they are re­ceiv­ing ad­e­quate pro­tein and fat) are, nev­er­the­less, an eco­nom­i­cal and eas­ily di­gested en­ergy source and can also in­crease palata­bil­ity. In­di­gestible car­bo­hy­drates are listed as “fi­bre” and are im­por­tant for reg­u­lar­is­ing bowel move­ments and pre­vent­ing con­sti­pa­tion and di­ar­rhoea. Fi­bre also de­creases the en­ergy con­tent of food.


Min­er­als are col­lec­tively listed on pet food la­bels as “ash”. Not re­ally a great deal of help if you need to know the cal­cium/phos­pho­rus ra­tion when feed­ing pups! Suf­fice to say that cal­cium de­fi­ciency is com­monly seen when high­phos­pho­rus meats and of­fal are fed.


One of the ben­e­fits of com­mer­cial foods is that their vi­ta­min con­tent is known. Home­made foods or raw can be a bit hit or miss. As I said, a can of worms… but food for thought, I hope.


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