Proper Dog Nutrition – The Basics
Dogs often have the reputation of being able to eat anything, any time, there are actually quite some dietary restrictions on a complete and balanced diet required for proper dog nutrition. Although there are many factors that formulate the ideal diet, here is a guide for understanding the basics of proper dog nutrition and some types of dog food.
While all of us have seen wild dogs literally eat garbage or wild prey, domesticated dogs have adapted to a combination of carnivorous and omnivorous diets. That being said, there are several theories on how domesticated dogs can receive proper nutrition. Much like human nutrition, proper dog nutrition is a complicated subject and requires expert opinion.
The Benefits Of Good Nutrition
Before we get into what a balanced diet is for your dogs, let’s take a look at the benefits of proper dog nutrition. Dog nutrition is a vastly studied subject and pet food manufacturers have spent years of research into what proportion of a certain nutrient is needed for a specific bodily function.
Good dog nutrition ensures good muscle tone and good general body condition. Typically, the major source of nutrition to maintain this is protein.
Protein is the building block of every cell in a living body. It is the base component of skin, muscles, organs and all tissues in the body. So naturally protein is also needed to repair any wear and tear caused to the body. For your dog, a good amount of protein is needed to ensure that he develops a good set of teeth, strong bones, a good coat and strong muscles that will help in mobility.
Ever wondered how the dogs featured in ads and on packets dog food have such shiny coats? The answer is omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. Dogs with shinier, healthier looking coats or silkier hair are probably consuming food which is rich in both these fatty acid sources. Specifically, Omega-3 fatty acid has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce dryness and itching in dogs brought about by harsh weather conditions.
Digestion and Bowel Movement
Digestion is probably one of the most important bodily functions. Naturally, nutrition has a role to play in digestion. So proper dog nutrition means a healthy bowel and bowel movement for your dog. A balanced diet will include carbohydrates and fiber and in a proportion that can be easily digested by your dog’s digestive system, the nutrients absorbed in the gut, ensuring timely bowel movements and easy passing of stool.
Immunity and Resistance
And finally, one of the biggest advantages of proper dog nutrition is good health and a good immune system, which in turn means being guarded against diseases. If your dog is receiving the right amount and mix of vitamins and minerals, his body will be doing the internal repair more regularly, ensuring his white blood cells are ready to fight any alien bacteria that enter the body. Vitamins work to repair the damage done to cells, while minerals work to maintain the health in already functional cells. A diet containing vitamins and minerals ensures that your dog’s immunity is up and ready to fight!
Cracking The Mystery Of A Balanced Dog Diet
The two major contenders for this basic comparison in proper dog nutrition are kibble, wet or moist dog food and raw diets. Before we get in to the arguments provided by both sides, let’s analyse the kind of nutrients healthy dogs need and what constitutes a balanced diet for dogs. Much like human beings, dogs need to have carbohydrates, proteins, fats/oils, minerals, vitamins and water. These major nutrient groups encourage growth, health and happiness in your four legged friend.
Carbohydrates and Fibers
In a quick overview, let’s look at these major nutrient groups. The first thing to consider in proper dog nutrition are carbohydrates. Your dog’s diet should contain some amounts of carbohydrates as they help keep up the energy and regulate blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates also work with fibers, vitamins and certain minerals for efficient and easy digestion. Some examples of dog kibbles that contain a balanced amount of carbohydrates and fibers:
The largest component of your dog’s diet, however, should be protein. As discussed earlier, protein is the building block of every muscle, organ and tissue in the body. A good source of protein is needed in your dog’s food, such as meat, to ensure that your dog grows stronger.
Animal Fats And Oils
Thirdly, you should be focusing on detecting good fat sources in your dog’s diet. This, too as previously discussed, has many functions. Fats give our energy, they help keep a dog’s coat shiny and they also make the food taste good. For these reasons, the target should be to include high-quality fats and oils in your dog’s diet. Here are some examples of both raw dog food and dry kibble that contain Omega 3 fatty acids:
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are another important nutrient group. While they may not be a front runner in nutrient groups, their benefits and functions are far from unimportant. They help keep health at optimal levels as they ensure that the body works like well-oiled cogs. Your dog needs this to help him/her repair and maintain his cells as they are essential sources of nutrition.
Moisture and Water
Lastly, water acts as a major nutrient group which is essential for a balanced dog diet. While dogs may not need to consume as much water as human beings, water is still vital to their healthy body functioning hence clean water should be available next to a healthy meal for your dog.
However, it is important to keep your dog’s water source fresh and clean. More dog owners tend to use drinking fountains that contains water filters and moving water to prevent water from becoming stale.
Raw / Natural Diet
For centuries, wild dogs have eaten wild prey. This mostly meant that dogs would be consuming raw meat and such was the practice initially for domesticated dogs. These dogs would end up looking leaner and in some cases, even malnourished but perhaps that was only because their raw or natural diet was also unbalanced.
Which is how consequently, the popularity of packaged kibble or dog food rose since it promised full nutrition. However, in 1993 Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian, presented an alternate ‘approved’ raw diet for dogs. Since then, the popularity for this diet has increased amongst dog owners.
Typically, this “Biologically Approved Raw Food”, as suggested by Dr. Billinghurst contains bones (whole and/or ground), muscle meat on the bones, fruits, green vegetables, kidneys, liver, raw eggs and a small amount of certain dairy products such as yoghurt. Billinghurst also claims that there are certain disadvantages to having a grain-based, commercial dog food diet for your canine.
While there are some major concerns about the calcium and phosphorus content of a home-cooked or raw diet, there are certain benefits, too. Experts suggest (through personal experience) that a raw diet or a home-cooked diet can be beneficial for dogs with digestive problems and old-age dogs. Other benefits include healthier skin, shinier coats, fresher breath, higher energy, and smaller stools.
While it may be more costly, dog owners and some experts tout thriving health for their canines on this diet. Some experts suggest that home-cooked options are better than raw options because of certain safety concerns that they eliminate.
The current world has familiarised dog owners with commercially manufactured dry kibble. This type of food is revered for its convenience of storage, its consideration for the wallet and the benefits it offers in return. Because of the sheer amount of variety in kibble, you can choose various qualities of dog food.
All dog foods contain a balanced nutrient mix that is designed to ensure that your pet gets the best out of his nutrition over a long period of time. However, it is true that lower quality kibble can promise nutrients it does not quite deliver. For this reason, it is important for dog owners to carefully judge what kind of kibble would be best for their dog.
Kibble itself can contain vegetables and meat. However, you should look for kibbles that contain higher meat content. You will find this out by reading a dog food label correctly, the first ingredients are the highest in content and also dictate whether the food is grain based or protein based.
Lower quality kibbles also tend to obscure the fact that their high content of ‘meat’ used are actually obtained from meat and animal derivatives. This term is widely used in European countries to loosely describe what parts of the animals are used and may contain low-grade animal parts that are nutritionally low in value. These kibbles are often mass-produced and are often marketed at ‘affordable’ or ‘value-for-money’.
Kibble can be stored in airtight containers, has a decent shelf life and contains nutrients that your four legged friend needs. In addition, some people find kibble to be a very useful trick to train their dogs (as treats). There are many varieties of kibble formulated for different breeds of dogs for different life stages, thus making kibble more widely used as compared to other dog foods.
Another advantage is that dry dog food helps in regulating a dog’s digestive system. This is certainly an advantage with puppies or dogs that are mainly kept in-doors since it eliminates the possibility of making a mess everywhere.
However there are still major concerns about commercially manufactured dog food. To combat these problems, experts suggest that consumers carefully examine the dog food labels and take note on pricing. Never buy dog food because it’s the cheaper option; you never know what quality of ingredients has been used.
Keep an eye out for ingredient splitting, which is a technique manufacturers use to put more of the same grain by putting it in different forms. One should also look for dog food with a protein base rather than a grain base simply because it is more beneficial for your dog’s health.
Wet / Moist Dog Food
The third proponent in proper dog nutrition is canned food and semi-wet food. This comes in the form of lamb, turkey or some form of meat, either whole or in the case of canned food, in the form of some kind of jelly/gelatin. Dog owners like to feed their dogs this kind of food as a meal topper, either as a treat or to otherwise convince a picky dog. Wet / canned dog food contains the moisture that dry kibble lacks which aids their digestion.
For some dogs, wet food looks and smells more appealing because it imitates raw or natural food. Often times, older dogs have impaired olfactory senses and do not eat dry food because it doesn’t quite smell rich enough. For these dogs, wet food is a better option as it has a richer smell and flavour. For dogs that have missing teeth or weaker jaws or some other condition where they cannot chew or smell that well, wet foods provide a good source of nutrients to them. Puppies often prefer wet food because it’s easier to digest.
The downside includes several things; in some rare cases, dogs are not able to digest this type of food properly and hence, their stool might becomes irregular. It can also cause dental problems in dogs naturally predisposed to such conditions. Another issue is storage; wet food has to be refrigerated once opened and cannot be left in the bowl.
The most important thing for a dog owner is to understand the kind of nutrients their dog needs and then find a food option that is compatible with those needs. Dogs at different stages in their lives will require different types of nutrition. Certain breeds of dogs require certain kinds of care to their diet. It may be a good option to include a healthy mix of dry and wet food, to ensure dogs receive full nutrition.
As responsible dog owners, we encourage you to read labels properly, research as much as you can and pay attention to whatever symptoms your dog displays. Certain dietary deficiencies take months to develop so keeping an eye out can help in early detection. To keep your canine’s health at an optimum level, consult your veterinarian about the best course of action during a problem and most importantly, ensure that the right amount of proper dog nutrition is provided.