To help him lead a healthy, happy and active life for as long as possible, your dog's diet needs to achieve the right balance of the six major groups of nutrients: water, protein, fats/oils, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates. Did you know that a dog actually has to obtain 37 different essential nutrients through food alone?
Unless your dog is pregnant or nursing, working to performance level or suffering from a particular medical condition, there is no reason to upset the nutrient balance that is appropriate for his bodysize from the early days of adulthood until he reaches 'senior' status. The age at which he becomes a senior citizen will vary depending on his bodysize, but on average occurs at seven years of age.
Dogs have different nutritional needs from humans and cats. Dogs are classified as omnivores and although they don’t have a necessary requirement for carbohydrates in their diet, they are an important source of energy and contribute greatly to overall gut health. Ideally dogs need a combination of meat, cereals and vegetables in the correct proportions to obtain a nutritionally balanced meal.
All good quality complete manufactured dog foods have been carefully formulated to provide the exact balance of all the nutrients a dog requires to thrive, as well as ensuring excellent taste! Despite the temptation, adding human food and scraps to a nutritionally balanced complete food doesn't do your dog any favours, and unfortunately will often upset this finely tuned nutritional balance. It can also lead to body condition and weight problems and potentially even medical problems.
Water is the most essential nutrient for all living beings and dogs are no exception. The amount of water a dog needs depends on several factors including environmental temperature, exercise levels and whether or not they are eating wet or dried food. Water regulates the body's internal temperature, transports nutrients and other materials around the body and is involved in almost all the processes which take place within the body. Dogs can lose almost 100 percent of their body fat and 50 percent of their protein, but will still survive. A loss of only 15 percent water, can lead to death. You should therefore ALWAYS make sure your dog has access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times.
Proteins, made from small units called amino acids, are the building blocks of the body. Dogs have to receive certain specific proteins in their food as these contain essential amino acids that the body is unable to manufacture on its own. The proteins you feed to your dog as part of a complete and nutritionally balanced dog food will contain all of the essential amino acids he needs and are responsible for forming healthy muscle, skin and hair, as well as being an integral part of the immune system and ensuring transport of oxygen. Insufficient protein can lead to poor growth, loss of muscle bulk, poor coat condition and increased risk of infection through impaired immunity. Excess protein gets stored as fat.
Fats, made from small units called fatty acids, provide the 'fuel' your dog needs to stay active - supplying more than twice as much energy as protein or carbohydrates. Good fats, and essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6, are vital for healthy skin and coat condition as well as providing insulation and protecting the internal organs. Fats are also important for improving the taste of food! The fats you feed to your dog as part of a complete and nutritionally balanced dog food will contain all of the essential fatty acids he needs. Too little of the good and essential fats can lead to poor skin and coat condition, as well as reproductive problems. Too much fat can lead to clinical obesity and associated medical problems.
Although carbohydrates are not an essential component of the dog diet, they do provide an excellent and readily available energy source. Fibre also helps to maintain a healthy gut by promoting good bacteria and ensuring normal intestinal function. Too little carbohydrate in the diet can lead to reduced energy and secondary effects on coat condition for example. This occurs because dietary fat and protein is used instead to ensure sufficient energy and there is therefore less to spare for non-essential functions such as healthy, glossy fur. Too much carbohydrate in the diet gets stored as fat.
Vitamins are required in small amounts through the diet to help maintain growth, normal vision, a healthy skin and coat, wound healing and normal functioning of the nervous system. They are also involved in nearly every chemical reaction at a cellular level for the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Vitamins can be divided into two groups: Fat Soluble and Water Soluble. Fat soluble vitamins, (A, D, E and K) are stored in your dog's fatty tissues, whereas water-soluble vitamins (B complex and C) are excreted in the urine. Unlike humans, dogs do not have an essential requirement for vitamin C as they can make it themselves, however it can form part of a balanced diet and is a good anti-oxidant.
Minerals, such as calcium and phosphorous, are essential for strong, healthy teeth and bones and must be provided in sufficient and balanced proportions through the diet. This is particularly important for growing puppies. Other minerals that are important for normal body function are sodium, chloride, magnesium and potassium, as well as zinc, copper and iron. All dietary minerals must be carefully balanced and always will be in a good quality complete manufactured dog food. If minerals are not properly balanced an excess of one can lead to a deficiency in another.
Moist or 'wet' foods
Keep opened, unused portions of food within cans, foil trays or pouches covered and refrigerated, for up to, but no longer than, 24 hours. Always serve the contents at room temperature. Dogs aren’t as fussy as cats when it comes to smell and texture, but food that is straight from the fridge won’t be as appealing to them. Be careful not to leave moist/wet food lying out for more than an hour or so as it will turn crusty and may become populated with bacteria, which could lead to a tummy upset.
Complete dry foods
With the right balance of nutrients and a crunchy texture to help keep your dog’s teeth healthy, dry kibble foods are very popular with dogs. They are more concentrated with nutrients than moist foods, so only small servings are needed. Always make sure you follow the feeding guidelines on the pack, but don’t be afraid to make minor adjustments to serving size based on your dogs own body condition score.
Make sure the food is described and labelled as a 'complete' food rather than 'complimentary' one, otherwise you might be buying a snack treat instead of a balanced meal. Also, if you decide to change foods either from wet to dry or change between different brands within wet or dry foods, always make sure you introduce the new food gradually over a seven to ten day period. Sudden switching of foods and brands, can lead to tummy upsets, particularly if your dog is used to always eating the same food. And remember, always to provide lots of fresh, clean drinking water at all times.
What not to feed
If you regularly prepare your dog's meals from table scraps or specially purchased meat, take care. These meals are often too high in protein content and not rich enough in other important nutrients and minerals, like calcium. This can lead to your dog becoming malnourished. Also never feed cooked bones to your dog, as these can splinter very easily and may cause damage as they pass through the gut or even become lodged along the way. On top of that, some common human foods such as rhubarb, onions, spinach, beetroot, and grapes are poisonous to dogs. Chocolate can be extremely harmful, and should never be fed to your dog. As little as 3oz of cooking chocolate can kill a medium-sized dog!
Supplements are not necessary when a normal, healthy dog is being fed a nutritionally complete and balanced manufactured pet food. However, situations such as pregnancy, over or under exercise, or existing medical conditions can leave dogs with special nutritional requirements. These needs can be met by the appropriate choice of manufactured pet food that is tailored to the specific requirements of your dog.
Some pet owners believe that extra calcium should be added to the diets of pregnant and nursing bitches and growing puppies. Whilst it is true that an increase in certain nutrients, including minerals, is needed at these times, it is critical that they are given in the correct proportions via a high quality, nutritionally balanced diet that is specifically formulated for this lifestage. Adding them out of proportion to other nutrients can contribute to skeletal deformities and other problems.