The Importance of Nutrition in Keeping Dogs Healthy

The Importance of Nutrition in Keeping Dogs Healthy

Dogs are meat-eaters by nature. However, they metabolize carbohydrates efficiently and can synthesize some required nutrients from eating plant matter. Dog food should contain a combination of ten essential amino acids, which dogs can only get from what they eat. Carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals and vitamins are other important components of a well-balanced canine diet.

Most companion dogs eat kibble or canned commercial dog food. The protein in those foods usually comes from fresh or dried meat, poultry or fish or their byproducts. Soybeans, corn and wheat are other common protein sources. High-quality dog foods often combine proteins from plant and animal sources.

Age Is Important

Specially formulated puppy, adult and senior diets meet dogs’ nutritional needs during these life stages. Puppy or growth diets typically contain more protein, calories, and fat than adult food.

Overfeeding a growth diet can cause a number of problems, including obesity and growth- related joint and bone problems, especially in giant breeds.

Feed puppies three or four times daily. By about six months, they can transition to an adult diet, fed twice a day. Adult or maintenance diets can be fed until dogs enter their senior years, which vary widely among breeds. Make dietary changes gradually to prevent digestive upset.

Nutritional Balance and Completeness

Dogs have specific nutritional needs that include the appropriate combination of digestible protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water. Federal law requires pet food manufacturers to list their products’ ingredients on the label.

Dog foods should meet the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which is a nonprofit organization of state and federal experts that develops guidelines for the production, labeling and sale of food for animals. Some AAFCO standards use six-month feeding trials to demonstrate that dogs can survive and thrive on a particular food.

Food Types and Cost

Commercial dog food can be canned, semi-moist or dry. Many dogs prefer canned food, with its higher moisture, sugar, and fat content. It also tends to be the priciest.

Semi-moist food has the most fillers and preservatives to make it hold its shape and appear palatable. Kibble is the most convenient and also keeps teeth and gums in good shape. It can be left out during the day without spoiling, as long as the resident pooch isn’t prone to overeating.

Cost often determines what guardians feed their dogs. Premium foods cost more, but because they contain nutritious and well-balanced ingredients, dogs typically require smaller quantities.

Cheaper foods can be complete, balanced and meet a dog’s basic nutritional needs. But they also are apt to contain more artificial colors, sugar, fillers and other indigestible or undesirable ingredients.

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When to Feed and How Much

Most owners feed their dogs in the morning and evening. Dogs fed several small meals rather than a single large one have a reduced chance of stomach upset and may be less likely to develop a potentially fatal condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus or “bloat”.

Start by following the manufacture’s recommendations, based on your dog’s size and weight. If it starts to put on too much weight, cut back the amount of food. Similarly, if it acts ravenous and loses weight, adjust the amount upward.

Dog Obesity: An Overview

At first, the signs of obesity can be subtle and gradual. This can be even more difficult to identify in long-haired breeds. Most veterinarians and guardians assess their dog’s weight on a “look and feel” basis. At its ideal weight, you can feel a dog’s ribs as individual solid structures without using very much pressure and its chest, abdomen and hips will form a well-defined, waist-like “hourglass” shape when viewed from above.

Signs of obesity include:

  • A waddling gait (rolling from side to side when moving).
  • Lethargy.
  • Exercise intolerance.
  • Difficult or noisy breathing.

These signs can be associated with conditions other than obesity, so have an overweight dog examined by a veterinarian before putting it on a diet or exercise program.

Even a moderate amount of excess body fat can reduce a dog’s lifespan and increase its chance of early death. Obesity increases the likelihood that a dog will develop infectious diseases, cancer, arthritis, skin disorders, high blood pressure, respiratory disease, reproductive irregularities, diabetes, as well as heart, neurological and musculoskeletal diseases.

Many of these health issues caused by obesity are overlooked and perceived as laziness. If your dog is lying around the house all day, your dog may be experiencing health issues. This can be a very serious issue considering any one of these major illnesses can lead to overall diminishing health of your companion animal.

Factors Which Lead to Obesity

There are multiple factors that cause obesity such as breed, age, sex and most importantly the owner. The lifestyle and diet led by the owner directly affects the canine. Many overlook the fact that table scraps from the owner’s diet are having the same effects on the dog’s body.

Many owners who tend to spoil their dog with treats add significant amount of calories to the dog’s daily diet and if an indoor lifestyle is being led, those excess calories are not being burned off.

Age

Nutritional needs change with age, as serving size, carbohydrate levels, fatty acid levels and protein levels increase. With growth, energy requirements increase while immune and digestive development becomes vital to ensuring a healthy companion.

Once a dog reaches their maturity and senior periods of their life, we want to ensure the diet can help to maintain that youthful vitality. By doing this it is crucial for an increase in the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and glucosamine.

While protecting the immune system, an increase in natural immune defenses such as: vitamins E and C, along with taurine, lutein and beta-carotenes are essential. These micronutrients will aid your canine through a healthy aging process.

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Height, Weight, Sex and Breed

All of these factors are considered in configuring your dog’s ideal or optimum weight. By maintaining an optimal weight, you can add 1.8 years to your companion’s life. Dogs that are kept at their optimum weight also have more energy and vitality, as well as less health problems.

Putting your dog in a category of its breed is simply not enough, as many ideal weight charts for specific breeds show up to a 23% range of weight.

These charts also do not consider mixed breeds or the sex of the breeds. Your dog has a personalized ideal weight that can be determined by your veterinarian that is specific to your dog’s body. It is crucial to seek the expertise of your veterinarian before taking any steps in a weight loss program. Tampering with your companion’s diet without the recommendation can lead to greater health issues.

Breed

Each breed is unique, as the canine species is the most diverse of all species, and each breed carries certain characteristics and are prone to specific health problems. Therefore each breed needs particular nutrients to aid in the prevention of prone chronic diseases.

It’s clear to see that a Yorkshire terrier differs from a Mastiff and their diets should differ as well. One example is that hair types require different fatty acids. On the lines of health problems, terriers are more prone to joint problems needing more protein, while Labrador Retrievers are prone to obesity and should be given a diet lower in carbohydrates.

Another example would be that the German Shepherd breed has tendencies to develop hip dysplasia as they approach adulthood. This hip dysplasia occurs when the “Ball and Socket” joint between the pelvic and femoral bones are abnormally structured and as a result the ligaments, connective tissue and muscles are loose altogether rather than taut, forcing the surfaces of those pelvic and femoral bones apart.

Over time, this subluxation will cause the bones to change size and shape. This will result in the German Shepherd breed to experience slow degeneration of their walking ability, which inevitably leads to this specific breed gaining more weight as they increase in age and the dysplasia takes its toll.

By adjusting the certain food fed to these specific canines to contain more calcium than the rest, we would hope to establish stronger pelvic or hip bones in their breed throughout its life. With any hope, this would work to limit the chances of your German Shepherd from developing this same genetic issue that haunts so many other dogs of its kind.

These types of breed-specific issues inform us that it is important to educate yourself as a dog owner on the health problems your canine may be more prone to. When ensuring a healthy diet for your companion, there are many other factors that should be considered when purchasing the right food for your dog. By investing the time and effort to research your dog’s food, along with a veterinarian recommended weight loss goal, you can help your canine to live a healthy life.

Activity level

After recording the weight and breed of your canine companion, it is important to factor in the average daily activity level your canine receives. Just like humans, active dogs need a greater level of daily caloric intake opposed to dogs that lounge around all day long.

It is very important that along with the adjustment to the dog’s caloric intake, in order to modify the animal’s diet, the dog be exercised accordingly. Whether it be a walk around the block, or a scheduled three trips to the local dog park a week, these actions must be performed, in order to insure the continued decrease in your dog’s weight to a healthier amount.

You also have the option of performing exercises in the convenience of your home. Exercises for dogs created by Cesar Millan present a healthy exercise program for your dog that remains completely indoors. Some of these exercises include running your dog up and down the stairs, making your dog run after the light of a laser pointer, setting up obstacle courses, making your dog work for its treats, playing keep away and fetch, getting your dog on the treadmill and of course a classic game of tug-of-war.

Exercise comes in several different forms, however it may occur for your companion animal, the basic amount of time your dog should be exercising daily is about 30 minutes. Again, the importance of this step cannot be stressed enough. If exercise is not included in the dietary process of helping your dog lose weight and become a healthier animal, then the ideal resulting weight will not be achieved and your dog will continue along the same path it is a part of today.

Owners can make all the difference by not only devoting their dogs to this type of exercise, but doing so themselves as well. By sticking to an exercise course that will benefit both dog and owner, owners can ensure that their dog stays on track by simply making sure that they themselves stay on track (two birds with one stone type of deal). This course of action will work to create an environment that establishes a healthier household.

It is also important, as an owner, to be understand that you are not the only person in the world with an overweight dog. With the possibility of a dog only 5 pounds over their ideal weight having the potential to be considered an overweight animal, there are many thousands of dog owners all across the world dealing with the same exact issue.

How Much is Too Much

Many studies have shown that an excess of only 5 pounds to a dog’s ideal weight can create health issues, cause chronic diseases and add immense stress to the joints.

Studies have shown that 1 in 4 pets in the U.S. are overweight due to the owner’s lack of knowledge that only a small amount of excess weight can potentially be detrimental to their companion. A dog is considered to be overweight in the veterinary field if that dog is even 10% – 20% above their ideal weight target, so it is very important that owners monitor the eating and exercising of their furry friends.

A warning is necessary when it comes to the serious topic of obesity among companion animals. Dogs with as little as 5 pounds of excess weight have a tendency to live a shorter lifespan than a dog that maintains their ideal weight.

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Image credit: Wikimedia.

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