Tailoring a diet to your dog
Over the past 20 years or so, there have been huge developments in dietetic food (also known as ‘therapeutic’ or ‘functional’ diets) and these now play a major role in modern vet practice for your four-legged friend. As well as giving your dog the perfect range of nutrients to keep them happy and healthy, these special dog diet foods help satisfy the dietary requirements for any specific health problems they might have. Specialised dog diets are also available to support dogs during recovery, whether that’s after surgery, or sadly in the case of some rescue dogs, if they’ve been malnourished.
Veterinary recommended diets and vet recommended dog food can offer the right nutritional support for dogs who have the following:
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Dermatitis and inflammatory skin conditions
- Gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, constipation, vomiting and diarrhea
- Diabetes mellitus
- Chronic kidney disease
- Urinary and bladder conditions
- Liver disease
- Congestive heart failure, high blood pressure or fluid retention
- Inflammatory joint conditions (or for healthy dogs predisposed to joint disorders)
- Clinical obesity
Just like in humans, allergies are abnormal immune reactions to a particular food or substance. Something that is perfectly acceptable to most dogs can be prove uncomfortable or even life threatening to a dog with an allergy. Thankfully true allergies are rare, and shouldn’t be confused with the more common and much less severe ‘food intolerances’. While most true food allergies are diagnosed in younger dogs, genetics, underlying conditions and even exposure to a particular substance can cause allergies to develop at any age, so it pays to keep an eye out for any unusual symptoms.
What to feed your dog
Common symptoms of dog food allergies include:
- Skin problems - itching and redness, with bald patches appearing, often on the feet, face, armpits and/or groin.
- Multiple ear infections.
- Gastrointestinal problems - vomiting and/or diarrhoea.
- Respiratory problems (although these are rare).
If you notice your dog is showing any of the above symptoms, consult your vet straight away. Allergy diagnosis can be tricky and, as these symptoms are fairly unspecific and also common to lots of other complaints, your vet will want to take a closer look to try and find out what the cause of the problems could be, to help your dog back to tip top health.
The most effective method of testing for an allergy is called an exclusion diet trial, which involves temporarily feeding your dog a diet of bland, often hypoallergenic, food. This is where the proteins in the food that they are given are so small they can’t (or very rarely) cause the allergic reaction. Your vet might also recommend a diet of carbohydrates and proteins that your dog hasn’t eaten before, such as salmon and rice. These are included in some Purina formulas of dog food for dogs with allergies, such as:
These diets need to be stuck to religiously and, for as long as the trial continues, you have to stop feeding your pet their favourite little extras like titbits or treats. This might be tough, especially as you want your dog to feel loved, but it’s worth it to get to the bottom of the problem!
At the end of the exclusion diet trial, your vet will have a look at how your dog is doing. If there’s been no improvement in their symptoms during the trial, they may decide that further tests to find out what’s causing the problem. If there has been an improvement, the next step is to slowly reintroduce proteins to their diet to try to track down the offending ingredient. If the symptoms return when a food is reintroduced, you may have your culprit, and you can try a special dog food for allergies.
This process of elimination requires time and patience, and your dog may need to be referred to a specialist to oversee their diet trial if their symptoms have been particularly severe, or if they may be affected by more than one food. Contact your vet if you suspect your dog may have an allergy, or if you want to know more about dog food allergies.
It’s estimated that a staggering 33 per cent of dogs are overweight or obese! The cause is simple – eating too much, and not moving enough to burn it off.
You can tackle the problem by taking a look at how much energy your dog takes in via their food, and how much they’re burning off with exercise. You can then adjust their food to a diet formula, and increase how much they exercise with an extra walk here and there. Remember that just feeding your dog less of their regular food is not the answer, as this could mean they’re missing out on their ideal level or balance of nutrients. If you’ve performed a body condition score test on your dog and know that they’re above their ideal body condition, they will stay nourished and lose weight far more effectively by going on a specially formulated weight loss dog diet – plus, they’ll still feel they’re eating a satisfying amount of food.
Feeding small breed dogs and puppies
When it comes to feeding small breed dogs, it’s important to remember that although they may have small mouths and tummies, they have big energy requirements. Did you know, for example, that a Pomeranian needs more than twice as many calories per pound as a Great Dane?
Small-breed formulas have been developed to meet these diverse needs. They’re nutrient-dense and rich in calories (so better for their faster metabolism as well as their smaller stomach capacity), with more protein, more fat for extra energy and easily digestible carbohydrate, plus extra B vitamins to drive the metabolism. Kibble sizes in dry foods are also smaller to suit their smaller mouths.
How to feed small dogs
- Assuming your little friend’s neither overweight nor underweight, and they haven’t been put on any dietetic food by the vet, it’s a matter of personal preference (yours and your dog’s!) whether you choose to feed wet or dry food, or a mixture of both.
- Follow the feeding guide on the food’s packaging but, if possible, feed little and often - around 2-3 times a day. Small dogs burn their energy quicker, so breaking up meals throughout the day helps to keep their energy levels up.
- Feed them somewhere where they have their own space, especially if you have other dogs in the house that are prone to competitive eating or pinching each other’s portions!
- Feed your dog at floor level, as it means they’ll eat a calmer pace without bolting their food down.
- Keep a regular eye on your dog’s body condition and be very careful not to overfeed, as their smaller legs and joints could suffer as a result, and weight gain around the middle (which is where it usually settles) could lead to diabetes or heart conditions.
- If you’re not sure how to feed small dogs or how often you should be feeding smaller breed dogs, have a chat with your vet, who should be more than happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Feeding large breed dogs and puppies
As with small breed dogs, large breeds have their own specific nutritional needs. For example, adult large and giant breed dog food have lower feeding recommendations per unit weight, because very large dogs tend to have a slower metabolism than small dogs.
How to feed large breed dogs
- Large breeds in particular have a tendency to bolt their food, which can lead to problems in the gut. Help them space out their portions with two smaller meals rather than one bigger meal per day.
- Don’t exercise your dog an hour before or after eating, as large and giant dogs are particularly susceptible to bloating of the stomach and twisting of the gut (a condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus) which is a medical emergency. Symptoms include a bloated tummy, retching and seeming very uncomfortable. Contact your vet immediately if you’re concerned about your large dog’s tummy.
- How much to feed depends on your dog’s breed and lifestyle, as well as the food you select; for example, whether or not you choose a specific giant breed dog food. Always read the feeding instructions on the large dog food packaging carefully, as the guides will combine breed sizes with age bands. Remember, these feeding guides are only there as a starting point and you can make small tweaks up or down to maintain your dog’s ideal body condition.
- Feed your dog in a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of the house and, if you have other dogs in your home, feed them separately to avoid scrapping and stealing!
- Raising your large dog’s food bowl off the floor can help to prevent them from bolting their food and causing tummy problems.
- If you’re concerned about your large or giant breed’s weight, consult your vet for advice. You may find that a specially formulated 'light' product helps. These are lower in fat while still containing all the necessary vitamins and minerals your dog needs, so they still get a balanced diet despite the reduced calorie intake.