Choosing the ideal diet for your furry friend can easily become overwhelming. Questions frequently asked by dog owners include: What does the ingredients in my dog’s food mean? Can my puppy and adult dog eat the same food? Can my dog benefit from a prescription diet? Is it better to feed tinned (wet) food or kibble (dry food)? Should I be worried about food allergens?
With more knowledge on the topic, you can change one of the most daunting tasks into a rewarding experience for both you and your beloved pal.
Ingredients and their nutrients
Common commercial pet food ingredients include grains, fibre, protein sources, fats and additives, such as vitamins and minerals. These ingredients are important, as they act as the ‘vehicles’ that supply nutrients. Your dog needs the perfect balance of the important nutrients: water, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. The nutrients in your dog’s food can be seen as poison or a remedy – it all depends on the dosages.
Water is the most important nutrient of all and essential for life. Animals can lose almost all their fat and half their protein and still survive, but if they lose 15% of their water, it will mean death.
Carbohydrates is like the ‘fuel’ the body runs on.
Proteins are complex molecules made from amino acids, the building blocks of hair, skin, muscle, hormones and antibodies.
Dietary fats also supply energy, enable absorption of certain vitamins and are essential for a healthy skin.
Vitamins and minerals perform a variety of functions in the body that are crucial for supporting life.
As your dog becomes older, his nutritional requirements change. Although a common practice, it is irresponsible to feed adult dog food to your puppy. An everyday misconception is that only the texture and pellet size differ between puppy and adult food, when in reality, careful consideration goes into factors like energy needs, protein content, as well as balancing minerals like calcium and phosphorus.
Quality puppy food is tailormade by preventing nutritional deficiencies or excesses, to ensure your puppy grows at the ideal rate without becoming overweight, as well as preventing joint and bone problems in adulthood. Always be sure to feed according to your dog’s size – for example small, medium or large breed – as each of these dogs have unique dietary requirements. Large and giant breed puppy food has restricted energy and calcium levels to prevent skeletal problems.
There are various prescription diets on the market, including diets catering specifically for dogs with joint disease and even dogs with diabetes. Your vet will examine your dog and, depending on his or her health status, make a recommendation for a prescription diet if necessary. That is why it is essential to take your dog to the vet for a general check-up at least every six months. Remember to ask your vet about prescription diets at your next visit.
Tinned food vs kibble
Choosing to feed tinned food or kibble is usually a personal preference. Some people claim that their dogs only eat tinned food and not kibble, and vice versa. There are usually minor differences between tinned food and kibble of the same diet. For instance, tinned food contains more water, which may mean that your pet will be inclined to drink less, as a portion of his daily water requirements is already met.
Some kibble, on the other hand, can be useful in preventing tartar building up faster on your dog’s teeth, but does by no means replace brushing of teeth or a vet-recommended dental scaling and polishing. Dogs diagnosed with disease of the gums and teeth usually prefer to eat softer tinned food. At the end of the day, both will supply the nutrients your dog needs.
Common food allergens
Dogs can develop allergies to certain ingredients in food, for example beef, dairy, wheat, chicken and many more. Allergies can occur at any age and even be developed to the ingredients in good-quality dog food. A food allergy occurs when your dog’s immune system recognises a certain ingredient as ‘foreign’ and creates antibodies against this supposedly ‘harmful’ ingredient.
Common symptoms seen with dog food allergies include:
- Itchy skin, ears and paws with hair loss
- Skin rashes
- Scaly and/or oily skin
- Sometimes vomiting or diarrhoea
Once you and your veterinarian suspect an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients in your dog’s food, the next step would be to prescribe a diet that avoids these specific ingredients.
With all factors considered, never hesitate to ask your vet for advice when it comes to your dog’s diet. Although a healthy routine and lifestyle for your dog is crucial, nothing can replace the benefits of a quality diet that meets your dog’s needs. Maybe it’s time to reconsider you dog’s diet. A small change today can make a huge difference.
By Dr Johan Jordaan, veterinarian