Feeding your pet the correct balance of nutrients is vitally important for their growth, weight, ability to repair and regenerate, as well as their overall health.
All foods can be broken down into nutrients, which are substances that provide nourishment essential to maintaining life. The three main nutrients found in food are carbohydrates, protein and fat, but foods also contain many micro-nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals.
The nutritional needs of your pet will differ depending on species, age, breed and activity level. It’s vitally important that you feed your dog correctly to avoid the inevitable health complications associated with over and underfeeding.
Many people mistakenly believe that dogs are carnivores and should only eat meat. However, dogs are actually omnivores so feeding them a purely meat-based diet, can pose a serious risk to their health.
Dogs require at least 6 essential nutrients in their diet that is vital for their health and well being:
Around 60-70% of your dog’s body weight is composed of water so ensuring that your dog is adequately hydrated is essential for their health. A 10% decrease in your dog’s body water can cause illness, where as a 15% decrease can result in death.
Most of your dog’s water requirements will come from what they drink so it is essential that you have a bowl of fresh, cold water available for them at all times; however, your dog’s water intake can also be supplemented with food.
Wet dog food contains a higher percentage of water than dried food. Dogs who eat dried food usually drink more water than those on a wet food diet to compensate.
These are energy providing nutrients that also play a role in the health of your dog’s intestine. The amount of energy your dog requires will depend on their age and activity levels. Puppies require more energy to play and grow than older dogs that are generally less active. In young adult dogs, the amount of carbohydrate is fundamentally determined by how active they are: working dogs require more energy than toy dogs, for example. Feeding your dog more carbohydrates than it is going to burn off in exercise, will undoubtedly lead to weight gain.
Carbohydrates are also broadly separated into sugars and starches. Sugars are quickly digested and released rapidly into the blood stream. The pancreas responds by producing insulin, which binds to the sugars to break them down.
Regularly eating high sugar foods will cause spikes in your dog’s sugar levels. This consequently puts pressure on their insulin stores and puts them at risk of developing diabetes. For that reason, we strongly advise that dogs should never be fed high sugar human foods, such as biscuits, crisps, sweets and cakes.
Starchy carbohydrates, on the other hand, take longer to break down so sugar is released slowly into the blood stream. This puts less pressure on the pancreas as it can produce insulin at a steadier rate.
Most complete dog foods contain starchy carbohydrates in the form of bran and beet pulp, which will give your dog energy without putting them at risk of developing diabetes.
Another primary function of carbohydrates is to maintain a healthy bowel. Carbohydrates contain fibre, which helps to keep your dog regular and it’s stools healthy.
Most dog foods contain fibres that are moderately fermentable, such as beet pulp, rather than those that are highly fermentable, such as wheat bran. This is because moderately fermentable fibres promote healthy gut bacteria in the small intestine to reduce diarrhoea, while minimising the negative effects of more fermentable fibres such as flatulence and excess mucus.
Another advantage of fibre is that it slows the release of sugar into the blood. Therefore, fruits such as apples and berries are composed mainly of sugar and water, but their fibrous skins and seeds make them healthy high sugar foods that are good to feed your dog in moderation. Too many fruits in your dog’s diet can upset their digestion leading to diarrhoea.
The good news is that most dried and wet dog foods contain the correct proportion of carbohydrate for your dog, so as long as you stick to those, you should have no concerns about your dog’s carbohydrate intake.
These are the building blocks in your dog’s nutrition that are required to produce healthy cells, hormones, enzymes and antibodies, as well as being essential for the growth, maintenance and repair of your dog’s tissue and organs.
Protein in dog food is usually obtained from animal sources such meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Animal proteins are healthier for dogs than plant proteins because they have a complete amino acid profile.
Most dried and wet dog foods have the correct proportion of protein required to keep your dog healthy.
We strongly advise against feeding your dog fatty, salty meats such as bacon and pork, as well as raw meats and raw eggs, which puts your dog at an increased risk of developing food poisoning.
These are the most energy dense of all of the main nutrients containing approximately 9 calories per gram, compared to 3.5 calories per gram of carbohydrates and 4 calories per gram of protein.
However, fat is essential in your dog’s diet and required for the absorption of vitamins and minerals. It is also vital for insulation and protection of your dog’s internal organs.
A diet that is too low in fat can lead to skin and growth problems. Thankfully, most dried and wet dog foods contain the correct proportion of fat required to keep your dog healthy.
Dogs require vitamins to ensure that their bodies are functioning correctly. Some vitamins are required for absorption of nutrients and metabolic function.
Most of these vitamins cannot be produced in the body and are, therefore only obtained through the food we give our dogs.
Both dried and wet dog foods contain the correct proportion of vitamins for a healthy adult dog, so there is no need to supplement unless a deficiency has been diagnosed by one of our veterinary surgeons. In such circumstances, they will advise you accordingly on the supplements required by you dog.
Similar to vitamins, minerals cannot be synthesised in your dog’s body and so have to be obtained from the food they eat.
Minerals are compounds such as phosphorous, sodium and potassium that are required by your dog for healthy bones, teeth, organs and metabolism, as well as maintaining a healthy fluid balance.
Like vitamins, most quality dried and wet dog foods contain the necessary balance of minerals to keep your dog healthy.
Dog Feeding Guidelines
As we have already said, the correct balance of nutrients will depend on your dog’s age and activity level. Get this wrong and you risk your dog being over or underweight, as well as malnourished and putting them at an increased risk of developing health problems.
Feeding your Puppy
Puppies require up to twice the recommended energy intake of an adult dog and a diet that contains 25-30% protein, which is required for growth and development.
Due to their complex energy requirements, we strongly recommend that you feed your puppy a high quality complete puppy diet in either dried or wet food.
You should aim to keep them on their puppy food until they reach the age of between 9 and 18 months, which is when you should move them on to a complete wet or dried adult food.
The correct age at which your dog should move from puppy to adult food is determined by breed. Our veterinary staff will advise you on this and can also help you select a good quality complete food for your dog.
Puppies also require food that is spread throughout the day when compared to an adult dog. We recommend that you feed your puppy 4 meals per day up to 12 weeks of age, reducing this to 3 meals per day between the ages of 12 weeks and 6 months. From 6 months onwards, you can reduce this further to 2 meals per day.
Overfeeding at the puppy stage can cause your dog to grow too quickly, which can lead to problems with their bones and joints as well as other health complications. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you weigh your puppy’s food and remove the bowl after feeding rather than letting them graze all day.
Feeding your Adult Dog
Adult dogs are no longer growing so require less energy than puppies; however, they still require the correct balance of nutrients for healthy bodily function.
Similar to humans, your dog’s metabolism depends on how large and active they are. Large dogs have a higher metabolism than small dogs because they burn more energy just to move around. Similarly, active dogs have a higher metabolism because they exercise more compared to less active dogs. Therefore, the amount you feed your adult dog will depend on its size and activity level: larger, more active dogs require more food than smaller, less active dogs.
Overfeeding dogs is a more common problem in the UK than underfeeding and can lead to obesity and the numerous health problems associated with that such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and stroke.
Dogs, like their human owners, suffer from an unbalanced energy equation if more food is consumed than what they burn through activity and weight gain is the inevitable outcome. Therefore, even when your dog becomes an adult, you should continue to weigh their food.
We also recommend that you feed your dog according to how active you expect them to be on any particular day. If, for example, your dog is going on a long walk, then you should feed them a little more than day, but if they are spending most of the day in a car, then you should feed them less because they require less energy.
Most complete dried and wet dog foods have guidelines for feeding your dog based on their size and activity level; however, if you are unsure about how much you should feed your dog, please contact us and one of our veterinary staff will be happy to help you.
Changing your Dog’s Diet
Some foods don’t agree with some dogs so it could be that you have to change your dog’s diet. If your dog is prone to diarrhoea and/ or they are pretty flat after eating, then it could be that the food you are giving them, while nutritionally complete, is causing them to have adverse side effects.
We would normally recommend that you discuss any dietary issues with one of our veterinary staff who can help to rule out any other potential causes and advise on other types of food that may be better suited to your dog.
While variety in a human diet is required for health, routine is best for a dog because their digestive systems do not adapt easily to new foods. Therefore, if you decide to change your dog’s diet, this must be done gradually and ideally over a period of at least 7 days. This will allow time for their body to get used to the new diet and reduces the risk of an upset stomach.
Feeding an Older Dog
As a dog ages they will become less active and their body composition changes in that they lose muscle mass. Therefore, the nutritional needs for an older dog are different to those of younger dogs.
Older dogs should be fed less than younger dogs because they have an increased propensity for weight gain. However, they still have the same protein requirements as a younger dog so it’s important to feed older dogs optimum levels of protein to maintain muscle mass and to keep their tissue and organs healthy.
Senior dogs can also benefit from a diet rich in omega fatty acids to maintain a healthy skin and coat, as well as to help lubricate the joints and reduce/ prevent the development of arthritis.
Older dogs can be more susceptible to gastrointestinal problems than younger dogs so a food that promotes healthy gut bacteria will be beneficial. Foods that are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta carotene can also help to fight the free radicals associated with aging in your dog.
The time to consider moving your dog to a senior diet depends on breed. Larger breeds usually age faster than smaller breeds so a senior diet should be considered at a younger age for large breeds. Please discuss any concerns you have about your senior dog with one of our veterinary staff and they’ll be happy to advise you on the nutritional needs of your older dog.