Diet and Nutrition
Dog owners can easily become confused by the range of products on the pet food shelves. Some of the label claims would have us believe that, to a dog, a particular brand is like a three course meal, including all the nutritional attributes super-vitamins, balanced in every mineral, amino acid, carbohydrate and any other food parameter the advertisers can think to mention. What are we to believe?
Pet food manufactures spend millions of dollars on research to capture part of the pet food market that is worth billions of dollars. One company performed over one million scientific recordings each year and has large research farms dedicated to producing better dog foods. Their work has been rewarded with the development of super-premium dog food. These products are far more expensive and some of them are even better than any food you could prepare at home.
Are super-premium products really necessary? No, dogs can and do survive on old-fashioned dog food but it’s the same as feeding a person rice with occasional protein compared to a balanced diet with fruit, meat, cereals, diary products , minerals and, of course ice-cream. Well, maybe not icecream although it should be a food group of its own, just like chocolate cake!
The other area that needs to be addressed is that of ‘natural’ diets. The worst of these makes the outlandish statement that it is natural. Dogs in the wild will occasionally eat a whole animal, usually a herbivore of some kind. Dogs kill in packs, taking down bigger herbivores and the first area that is consumed is certainly not raw meaty bones. Rather, they eat the abdominal contents containing the intestines, which are full of vegetable matter that is cooked inside the herbivore’s intestinal tract. The abdominal region is also highest in fat, containing such organs as the kidneys and the liver. Feeding raw vegetables and meaty bones is not only unnatural but can be harmful. Old dogs have great difficulties digesting these so constipation, especially in males that may have prostatitis, is a serious side effect.
If you do elect to avoid commerical food, do so properly. Cook cereals such as pasta and rice, add some fresh fatty meat and remember to add some extra calcium and vitamins especially for very young pups.
Raw bones should be given to dogs but not as a major part of their diet. Raw brisket bones or mutton flaps are ideal because the dog needs to really use its teeth to crach, crush and tear these down to small pieces. Gums and teeth benefit enormously from this activity. Keeping the gums clean will also avoid bacterial build up, maintaining fresh breath.
An important word about feeding raw meaty bones to dogs; make sure they are raw. Cooking bones changes the matrix, making them indigestible so they have to pass through as whole pieces. Often they can block the digestive tract or even pierce through the intestine. Many people will feed their dogs cooked bones and never have a problem, but cooked bones have been known to cause problems and the situation is easily avoided.
Leftovers can be an enjoyable variation for your dog but be cautious as some dogs have very sensitive tummies – sudden changes or additions to their diet may lead to diarrhoea, or worse still, bloat. Avoid spicy or very salty food and never feed your dog cooked onions. Also forget about giving your dogs food that is off: Fungal and bacterial infections can affect a dog just as much as a human.
A common mistake is to feed your dog lots of fresh meat. Meat, regardless of whether it’s beef, lamb or chicken or fish is high in phosphorous. Dogs’ blood must have a slightly higher calcium level than that of phosphorous to maintain correct muscle function and contraction. If the phosphorous level is suddenly too high, the muscles, including the heart, may not contract properly. The monitoring system of the body quickly corrects this problem by releasing calcium from the bones. The blood is satisfied, its mineral ration is re-established; the calcium is again higher than the phosphorous. The muscles, especially the heart, are happy and continue doing their work. But the bones have last calcium and become thinner, even weaker. If the situation continues that bone can become brittle or even fracture. Calcium supplements alone cannot offset this condition and a balanced diet is essential – never allow fresh meat to form a major component of a dog’s diet.
The single most important consideration is to keep your dog lean. Dogs that are prone to genetic diseases such as hip dysplasia are more likely to develop symptoms if they are overweight.
Certain human foods can be harmful to your pet. Here are some common examples.
CHOCOLATE contains theobromine, which is a cardiac and nervous system stimulant. Ingestion of chocolate, particular dark chocolate, can lead to heart arrythmias, tremors and seizures.
SWEET BISCUITS are high in fat and sugar and low in nutritional value.
ONIONS (and to a lesser extent garlic) can cause damage to the membranes of red blood cells that result in a haemolytic anaemia. Any form (raw, cooked or powder) can lead to this severe anaemia. Signs generally develop days after ingestion and include breathlessness, weakness and a blood coloured urine.
SULTANAS, GRAPES, RAISINS may lead to acute kidney failure in dogs.
MACADAMIA NUTS can cause locomotory problems such as weakness, tremors or paralysis in the hind legs. A toxic dose of roast macadamia nuts may be as little as one nut per kilogram of body weight in the dog.
AVOCADO contains a toxin called persin which leads to gastrointestinal irritation, including vomiting and diarrhoea.
RAW EGG WHITES contain avidin that can interfere with the absorption of biotin (a B vitamin). Chronic biotin deficiencies can lead to a poor growth, lethargy, and dermatitis. Raw eggs may also contain salmonella.