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Diet and nutrition

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Nutrition for your dog

Choosing the right prepared food

You’re the proud new owner of a dog, and off you go to the shop to buy ‘dog food’ and find an entire aisle of dazzling, not to say confusing, variety. How do you decide?

Don’t get too alarmed. All prepared pet food should provide all the nutrients your pet needs, as long as you follow the instructions on the packet. The many variations are there to help you find a product that you like, you can afford, and that your dog will happily scarf down.

To help you navigate that shopping aisle, here are some terms you will encounter and what they mean:

Complete

a complete food provides all the nutrients your dog needs without any supplementary or complementary products.

Complementary a complementary food provides all the nutrients your dog needs when it is combined with another complementary product.
Flaked a type of complete dry food which is a mix of separately cooked meat and cereals mixed together.
Extruded a type a complete dry food where a balanced combination of meats, cereals, minerals and vitamins are steamed together, cut into pieces and dried.

Home-made diets

Opinion is divided on what foods are ideal for a dog’s ‘natural’ diet. Most vets will recommend a complete prepared dog food in order to guarantee a nutritional balance; however, it is possible to feed dogs on a home-made diet. But be warned – it takes some effort.

The first rule for a home-made diet is variety. Raw green tripe is excellent food for most dogs, but a diet of tripe alone will lead to nutrition deficiencies which will only multiply over time. Remember that dogs are natural scavengers and hunters: before domestication they would have eaten a variety of meat (both fresh and slightly rotten), fruit, roots, herbivore dung, and nuts.

Rule two is fresh is best. Pre-prepared or preserved (human) food items not only lose some nutritional value, but may contain additives and chemicals unsuitable for your dog (even foods labelled ‘natural’ can contain these, so read the label very carefully). You can feed your dog raw meat, but not raw pork. Keep in mind also that raw sheep and rabbit meat contain tapeworm, and that liver and kidney in particular should be organic: they are excretory organs and toxins can concentrate there.

There are few breeders who would feed their dogs on a completely home-made diet, but many will supplement prepared dog foods with meat.

Overfeeding

Following the instructions on the packages of prepared dog foods will ensure sufficient food for your dog – but who can resist treating their pet with the occasional titbit or scrap off the table? If your dog is prone to obesity, even a single biscuit in addition to his normal meal could be too much. Overweight dogs (like humans) can suffer additional health problems later in life.

The Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition conducted a survey of dog obesity and identified the following breeds as prone to excessive weight: Dachshund, Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Cairn Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Basset Hound, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Beagle.

Breeds which have a low tendency towards obesity are: Whippet, Lurcher, German Shepherd Dog, Yorkshire Terrier, Dobermann, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Even if your dog is a low-risk breed, it is worth monitoring their diet and weight. A good test is to feel along your dog’s ribcage: if you can’t feel it’s ribs at all, it’s overweight.

Common sense goes a long way towards preventing obesity. Pre-cooked or prepared human foods contain lots of saturated fats you dog doesn’t need in order to feel special. Some raw tripe will be better (and as appreciated) than half your cheeseburger.

If you dog is gaining weight, cutting down on his food intake will help, but all the experts agree that the best way to fight obesity is more exercise.

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