08 June 2009

Fido's menu

What you feed your dog is probably the most essential part of maintaining your dog's good health.

Dogs and humans have one thing in common when it comes to nutrition: they are what they eat.

There are many opinions on what dogs should eat – some believe in feeding them raw meat and bones (as nature intended), others believe natural homemade dog food is the best, while some think that vegetables only is the way to go. Others will claim that only the most expensive food will do for their pooches, and many just feed them whatever they can find in the fridge.

What you feed your dog is probably the most essential part of maintaining your dog's good health.

It is also important to understand that your dog has different dietary needs during different life stages – from being a puppy, to becoming an adult and senior dog. Your dog's breed and activity level also plays an important role in what, and how much, you feed it. Speak to your vet to make sure you are feeding your dog the right food and the right quantities.

Dogs should not be fed human food as their staple diet. Human food may be too rich and spicy and nutritionally incomplete for a carnivore - in fact, some human food can be very harmful to dogs. Did you know, for example, that chocolate contain caffeine and theobromine which affect a dog's the heart and nervous systems, and may be lethal.

Tips on dog food:
With so many brands and types of dog food on the market, it might be a daunting task deciding on which type will be right for your dog. As with human foods, dog foods have to state the ingredients and nutritional analysis on each bag - this can often prove interesting and illuminating reading. Use this list to help decide which type of dog food is best for your pet:

Specialty or super premium products generally sold in veterinary hospitals or vetshops. They are usually more nutrient dense, or have more kilojoules per 100g of food, requiring you to feed a smaller volume to your dog, while providing an optimal diet. The ingredients used are sourced from the best quality raw materials and the research into optimal formulations for different pets is extensive.

Premium products traditionally sold through veterinary hospitals, vetshops and in some pet specialty outlets. They are generally lower in caloric value compared to super premium products, while still more nutrient dense than store brand products.

Store brand products are pet foods sold under the store's name as opposed to a brand name. These foods are designed to offer similar guarantees, ingredients, and performance to the nationally advertised brands.

Canned (wet) food contains more water so it has less calories than dry food. Because canned foods contain more water, it may be difficult for large breed dogs to meet their energy needs before feeling full. Feeding canned diets exclusively can in some instances lead to poor oral health over time, unless owners brush their dog’s teeth frequently.

Breed size food (large breed vs small breed) contains nutrient (fat, protein, carbohydrate, minerals, etc.) levels that are appropriate for a specific breed size's metabolism and life stage. For example, some large breed puppy formulas are scientifically formulated to help large breed puppies grow at a normal rate to develop strong bones and joints. Some small breed formulas are developed to provide concentrated nutrition in small, bite-size kibbles that meet a small breed puppy’s high metabolic needs. Although some original puppy formulas are appropriate for puppies of all breed sizes and provide 100% complete and balanced nutrition, they are most appropriate for those puppies that will be neither very small nor very large at maturity.

Puppy food is rich in nutrients, such as protein, and calories, which are necessary for growing puppies. These products contain appropriate levels of calcium and phosphorus to help support healthy bone and joint development.

Adult food contains the appropriate levels of nutrients that adult dogs need. It is generally not appropriate for pregnant and lactating dogs that have higher nutritional requirements.

Weight management food is generally higher in protein and fibre and lower in kilojoules and fat content compared to an adult maintenance food. The higher protein levels help dogs lose fat and not muscle, while high fibre levels help dogs feel satisfied while losing weight.

Senior food is specifically formulated for dogs that are older than 7 years. Senior dogs are not necessarily less active or overweight, but they do have different nutritional needs compared to adult dogs. Senior diets should contain increased protein levels to help maintain muscle mass and support a healthy immune system. A good senior food for large breed dogs may also contain ingredients to protect ageing joints.

Homemade dog food runs the risk of containing too much fat for most dogs' needs. Diets high in fat could increase your dog's risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and an elevated heart rate. Dogs require a different diet composition to humans if they are to thrive. Unless the diet has been correctly formulated by an animal nutritionist, the owner runs the risk of feeding an imbalanced diet to their dog. As dogs cannot choose foods that would correct these nutritional imbalances, health problems often occur over time. – (Hilda Geyer/Health24, June 2009)

Reviewed by veterinarian Dr Katja Bier.

Read more:
Food not to feed your dog

Animal lovers: R1 000 treat vouchers for your pet up for grabs


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.