Better Nutrition Creates Happier Dogs and Owners

Does your pet sluggishly ignore you when you want him to play? Does the converse plague you as your dog moves nonstop like a whirling dervish? Has your pet’s physique grown to the dimensions of Orson Welles? Is the sound of your dog scratching becoming as irritating as fingernails on a blackboard? Are your pet’s gaseous odors prompting you to wear a clothespin on your offended proboscis?

Lethargy, depression, hyperactivity, obesity, skin problems, flatulence, and diarrhea are just a few of the problems caused by improper pet nutrition. Consequently, a properly designed nutritional program can improve the quality of life for your pet and the enjoyment you derive from your pet.

Food Selection:
First, only use products approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the government’s regulatory body for pet foods. Second, select the type of food most appropriate for your dog’s stage of life (puppy, adult, senior), weight (maintenance, lite), activity level (performance), size (large breed), or health (prescription).

Puppy food is richer in protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals (especially calcium and phosphorous) to meet the rapid growth and metabolic rate of puppyhood. Puppy food is also preferred for pregnant or lactating females. Though many puppy food manufacturers recommend keeping a young dog on puppy food for 12-18 months, veterinary researchers now recommend progressing to adult food as early as 4-6 months of age. Some researchers believe puppy food is often too nutrient dense as dogs age and may contribute to orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia, osteochondritis dessicans, and panosteitis as well as obesity if continued for too long a time.

Adult/Maintenance diets are desirable for most dogs from the ages of 6 months to 6- 8 years. Senior diets possess fewer calories, more fiber, and an electrolyte and nutritional balance more suitable for older dogs. Consider switching to senior when your dog reaches the ages of 6-8, especially if he/she is less active or overweight.

Lite diets contain fewer calories, less fat, and more fiber and may also contain fat absorbers or metabolic accelerators. Whereas, performance foods are very high in protein and fat and are only appropriate for dogs on a rigorous, regular training schedule.

Large breed formulas typically contain higher levels of glucosamine and chondroitin to reduce the likelihood of joint maladies. Prescription diets are available from veterinarians for dogs with various disorders, including endocrine, gastrointestinal, urinary, and cardiac conditions.

Checking For Obesity
Veterinary researchers believe that over half of American pet dogs are more than 10% overweight, with close to 25% classified as obese (more than 30% overweight), and more than 10% classified as grossly obese (more than 50% overweight). Obesity can be caused by overfeeding, feeding a poor quality diet, feeding an excess of treats or table scraps, lack of exercise, a slow resting metabolism, or endocrine disorders.

Overfeeding is especially destructive to the physique and metabolism of a young puppy. Overfeeding a puppy can cause hypertrophic obesity, where the number of fat cells is permanently increased. Consequently, weight elimination becomes a more difficult task throughout the life of the dog.

Diets too rich in fat or lower in digestibility are more likely to result in weight gain. Human diets should contain 30% fat (though most contain more). However, canine diets should contain 8% – 30% fat depending on the age, metabolism, and activity level of the pet. Therefore, most prepared human food (especially scraps which are usually much higher than 30% fat) is not suitable for dogs. Dogs regularly fed high fat table scraps have a high probability of developing a life threatening condition called pancreatitis as well as latent diabetes.

Fat contains 9 calories per gram. In contrast, protein and carbohydrates contain only 4 calories per gram. Dogs will store excess calories (those not utilized through activity) in fat cells. A fat laden diet will cause the storage of more excess calories and will eventually result in obesity.

Exercise burns excess calories and increases the resting metabolic rate by developing the animal’s musculature. Muscle cells at rest burn more calories than fat cells. Therefore, exercise resolves obesity both passively and actively. To avoid injury, always start slowly when commencing an exercise program. Also, to avoid heat stroke, exercise early in the morning or late in the evening in the hot summer months and have ample water available.

As with humans, some dogs are genetically predisposed to a lean or heavy physique either by their orthopedic structure, musculature, or natural metabolic rate. We need to consider differences amongst breeds and individuals within a breed when deciding the optimum amount of exercise, type of food, or quantity of food we should provide our pet.

Hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocortism, and diabetes can cause a slower metabolism and resultant weight gain. Hypothyroidism is most common amongst heavy Golden and Labrador Retrievers. Symptoms include obesity, lethargy, dry skin, and sometimes undue anxiety or aggression.

Some humans may have thin legs while ironically possessing a beer belly or double chin. Some may have huge thighs and a big rear end while maintaining a flat stomach. Similar to humans, different dogs tend to store fat in different places.

There are four places to scout for excess weight: 1) the ribs; 2) the neck; 3) the hips; and 4) the abdomen. First, rub your hand lightly along the top of the rib cage. Your dog is overweight if you can not easily feel the bones of the ribs or if you need to press hard to feel the ribs. Likewise, your dog may be underweight if you can feel or see the ribs without pressing. Second, squeeze the excess skin along the top of the neck by the spine. You should not be able to pinch more than an inch. Please note that certain breeds (e.g., basset hounds, shar peis) will naturally contain more fat in the neck area. Third, do the same along the back and between the hips.

Lastly, observe and feel the abdomen. The abdomen should be tight not sagging or paunchy. Similarly, even considering structural differences amongst breeds, there should be a clear difference between the dimensions of the chest and abdomen. Though, some breeds, such as Greyhounds, will tend to possess deeper chests and thinner tighter abdominals.

How Much To Feed:
Small dogs generally have a faster metabolic rate than large dogs. Therefore, they should eat more food as a percentage of body weight. Young dogs have a faster metabolism than older dogs. Athletic dogs use more calories than couch potatoes.

As a guide feed small dogs 1 cup of food per day for every 5-7 pounds of body weight during puppyhood. Then 1 cup of food per day for every 10-12 pounds of body weight during adulthood and 1 cup for every 15 pounds during the senior years. For medium and large dogs 1 cup of food for every 10-12 pounds of body weight during puppyhood, for every 15-18 pounds during young adulthood (6 months – 2 years), for every 20-25 pounds during adulthood, and every 25-30 pounds during the senior years. For giant breeds, 1 cup per day for every 10-15 pounds of body weight through puppyhood, for every 18-22 pounds during young adulthood, for every 25-30 pounds during adulthood, and every 30-35 pounds during senior years.

Do not go by the guidelines printed on bags of dog food. Remember, dog food manufacturers financially prosper when you overfeed your dog. Adjust the preceding guidelines according to the metabolism, activity level, and fitness level of your particular dog. More importantly, divide the daily amounts into several feedings as described in the next paragraph.

Feed puppies 3 times per day up to 4 months of age for smaller dogs and 6 months of age for larger dogs (or as your schedule permits). Feed adult dogs 2 times per day. Never feed just one meal per day. When feeding just one meal, digestibility is reduced and the likelihood of stomach upset and weight gain is increased.

Reading Labels:
AAFCO regulations require the printing of certain information on dog food labels. First, review the protein and fat content of a food you may be considering. Foods high in protein and low in fat often contain soy, which may cause flatulence in some pets. Make sure the protein and fat levels are suitable for the age and activity level of your dog. Puppy and performance foods will usually contain 18-30% protein and 16-22% fat. Adult foods will usually contain 16-26% protein and 10-16% fat. Lite and senior foods will contain less protein and fat. Second, review the fiber content. Most adult and puppy foods will contain 4-6% fiber. Lite and senior foods should contain higher fiber levels. Third, review the moisture content. Better dry foods will contain 10% moisture. Lower quality dry foods will contain 12% or more. Some labels will also communicate the amount of linoleic acid, a nutrient vital to the maintenance of a healthy skin and coat. Look for amounts of 3% or more. Other constituents also often mentioned on labels include vitamin-E, calcium, phosphorous, and zinc.

Next, review the ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of weight. For puppy, performance, and adult food you want a meat source first. The meat source should be meal of a specified origin, such as chicken or lamb meal. “Meat meal” or “poultry meal” of more generic origin is less preferred. “Meal” is preferred over a meat source without “meal” as a suffix or one containing by-products. A meat source without a “meal” suffix has its weight skewed by the inclusion of water. Meal is desiccated, so water does not bias the weight. A meat source without by-products contains only muscle. A source containing by-products may contain other less digestible components of the feed animal, including organs, blood, bone, and fatty tissue. A “digest” is by-products plus heat and water to contain a slurry of dubious nutritional benefit. As for the type of meat source (example: lamb vs. chicken), select the one that your dog finds most palatable and digests most effectively (firm stools, no allergic responses).

Rice is typically the preferred carbohydrate source, especially whole brown rice or ground rice. Processed rice, such as brewer’s rice is less preferred. Rice is more digestible and less allergenic than alternate carbohydrate sources, such as wheat and corn. Oats and barley would fall in between rice and others in the preference scale. For instance, as gross as this may read, you can probably see whole kernels of corn in your stool after you eat corn on the cob. But, you rarely see whole grains of rice. The preceding is a vivid depiction of the difference in digestibility of the two ingredients.

Vitamin-E based tocopherol preservatives have never been shown to cause cancer, unlike BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin. The tocopherol preservatives unfortunately have a shorter shelf life, but are not indicated in any adverse health consequences.

In summary, select the type of food most appropriate for the activity level, physical condition, and life stage of your dog. For the best nutrition, select a super premium brand (e.g., Nutro, Nature’s Recipe, Natural Life, Innova) within that category containing a specific meat source in meal form, no by-products, low or no soy, rice, barley or oats in a low processed form, and vitamin-E based preservatives. Dry food is generally of higher quality and better for the teeth and gums than semi-moist or canned food. Though, for palatability you may want to add a tablespoon or two of wet food to your dog’s dry meal. Check your dog’s fitness level using the four methods and feed your dog an amount in accordance with his fitness level, size, age, and metabolism.

A properly fed dog is happier and healthier and belongs to a happier, more satisfied owner.

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