Dog Nutrition Series: Introduction
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
There is so much conflicting information on the internet about what is the right thing to feed your dog. It can be very difficult to determine what is good information and what isn't. This series will go over different things to consider when you are determining what to feed your pet. But at the end of the day, you should take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt, including this post. So I will include some links for you to follow so that you can do your own research and decide for yourself. I also encourage you to speak with your vet and do research independent from what you read here.
Does it really matter what I feed my dog?
Short answer: yes. Dogs require a diverse nutrient profile as well as varying ratios of macro-nutrients depending on their age, health, breed, and activity level. Giving your dog the appropriate food for their individual needs can prevent sickness and injury, increase lifespan, improve mood, and overall help your pet stay happy and healthy. It is our job as their owners to provide them with food that meets their unique needs.
But isn't the dog food available commercially tested to make sure it is nutritionally complete?
Short answer: sometimes. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), has put out guidelines that recommend a nutrient profile that will provide a dog with everything they need. However, they are not a regulatory body and it is up to the states to decide on requirements and regulations. There are also certain phrases that companies can use as loopholes to make it sound like they are a complete diet when they aren't. According to the FDA, foods that use :"balanced," "100% nutritious,", and "complete," as marketing claims, may not meet AAFCO standards. These terms are not regulated so make sure that you are reading the packaging to make sure that it doesn't say "this product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only," and look for an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement.
Are all AAFCO tested foods good for my dog?
Short answer: not necessarily. Remember when we talked about different factors that can impact nutrition needs? The best thing to do is to talk to your vet about what will work for your dog and be prepared to change foods throughout your dogs life. Here are some examples as to why one food that might be good for one dog, might not be right for yours. Golden retrievers are more likely to have trouble producing the amino acid taurine, so they need more in their diet. Puppies need a lower amount of protein than adult dogs. Highly active dogs will need more calories, but not necessarily more of every micro-nutrient. Dogs that have a history of pancreatitis, will need a diet that is low in fat. These are just a few examples of considerations that you will need to take into account when you are choosing a food which is why you should consult your vet, so you know what considerations you need to pay attention to for your dog.
Are there any foods I should avoid?
Short answer: absolutely. Most people are aware that certain foods like chocolate are toxic for dogs, but there other foods that are less commonly known to be toxic or have been recently shown to be suspect. One good example is sweet potato. It has long been held as a very healthy food for dogs and so it is a common ingredient in food and treats. However, recent studies have shown a correlation between dogs who are on foods that include it as an ingredient and a heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). While at this point, correlation has been established, not causation, the information is convincing enough for me to stop feeding it to my dog until further studies have been done. Consumers Advocate has published a handy infographic about the study. Another good example is spinach. It is full of vitamins and fiber, but it is also high in oxalate. If given occasionally and in smaller amounts to most dogs it is safe. But in high amounts, and for dogs who are prone to them, it can promote the formation of the most common type of bladder stones.
Does it matter when I feed my dog?
Short answer: not really. With a few exceptions, it does not really matter when you feed your dog, just try to keep them in a routine. If your dog is diabetic, you will need to get your dog on a regular schedule so that you can properly regulate their insulin levels. How often you need to feed your dog depends on their life-stage. Young puppies need to be fed 3 times a day, while adult dogs can be fed once or twice a day. If your dog is pregnant, nursing or highly active, feeding 2-3 a day will be better to meet their high caloric needs. If you have a giant breed like a Great Dane, you may also want to feed 2-3 times a day to prevent bloat.
This article is meant to give you an introduction to pet nutrition. To read about kibbles and wet food, click here. For information on raw and homemade diets, click here. For more information, I listed some resources for you to start your own research. I encourage you to scour the web and the library as well as speak to your vet about nutrition and nutrition resources. Just remember to keep in mind who is publishing the information.