Commonly Asked Questions About Dog Nutrition

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Good nutrition is no accident. It takes time and patience to learn what your dog needs to stay healthy, happy and active. It also takes dedication and perseverance to make sure your dog eats what he should, rather than what he wants.

To make your job a little easier, here are some tips to ensure your pet gets all of his nutritional needs met.

1. Why is good nutrition important?

It's vital that your dog eats a complete and balanced diet. He needs fresh water, protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins. The most important nutrient is water, which makes up 60 percent of a dog's weight. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates are necessary for energy; minerals are important for nerve conduction, muscle contraction, among other things; and vitamins are important to help your dog process biochemicals.

2. How often should I feed my dog?

Puppies under 3 months of age should be fed at least four times a day. Puppies between 3 and 5 months of age should be given three meals a day. Adult dogs can be fed once or twice a day. Dogs like routine, so establish a feeding schedule and stick to it. A good time to feed him is during the family meals. This will occupy him while the rest of the family is eating.

3. How much should I feed my dog?

The amount your og needs to eat depends on many factors, including: life stage (puppy, adult, pregnant or lactating), lifestyle (active versus the "coach potato"), size and general condition. Select a high quality food, weigh your dog (don't try to guess) and then read the feeding guidelines provided on the package. Remember, though, that every dog is unique, so you might have to adjust his feeding accordingly. Click here to learn more about Feeding Your Adult Dog.

4. Is it okay to give my dog bones to chew on?

You should only give "bones" that have been designed for dogs to chew on. Bones, especially chicken bones, can splinter and become lodged in a dog's mouth. If swallowed, they can cause constipation, or even bloody diarrhea (the result of fragments scraping the colon). Round bones can get stuck around the lower jaw and if swallowed, can get stuck in the esophagus.

5. When should I change from puppy to adult food?

Puppy food is different from adult food. It is designed for a rapidly growing pup. In his first year, your puppy will grow very quickly. You can begin to switch to an adult diet when he reaches 80 to 90 percent of his anticipated adult weight. For most dogs, this occurs around 9 months of age. Giant breeds, such as Great Danes, have special needs. They require a more specialized diet until they are 12 to 18 months of age. Learn more about how to adjust to your dog's nutritional requirements by reading the article When to Change from Puppy Food to Adult Food.

6. How do I change my pet's diet?

Don't change his diet all at once. Do it gradually over three days. Begin changing his diet by feeding 1/4 adult food and 3/4 puppy food for a few days. Then add 1/2 adult food and 1/2 puppy food. After a few more days, feed 3/4 adult food and 1/4 puppy food. Then, you can feed straight adult food.

7. Can my dog be a vegetarian?

Believe it or not, yes, your dog can be a vegetarian, as long as his meals are well balanced with protein from other sources. There are a number of commercially available vegetarian foods, but you should first discuss his diet with your veterinarian.

8. Are rawhides bad for my dog?

Many people give rawhides to their pet as a toy and to help their teeth. It is theorized that dogs like rawhides, due to their natural instincts as wild dogs. But pets with a history of vomiting, special dietary needs, diarrhea or allergies may have a bad reaction to rawhide. Talk with your veterinarian about whether to give your dog rawhide or not. For more information, see Rawhide, Cowhide: Are They Good or Bad for Your Pet?

9. Can my dog eat cat food?

Your dog may survive on cat food, but he won't thrive. Dogs and cats are different species, with their own nutritional requirements. Although a dog will get the necessary nutrients, he will be ingesting excess protein and fats that a cat requires to stay healthy. Over time, this can lead to obesity and other health problems.

10. What is in dog food anyway?

Dog food contains a variety of agricultural ingredients, such as meat, poultry, seafood and feed grain byproducts. (Byproducts are parts of an animal or plant not used for human consumption. They still must meet federal standards for safety and nutrition.) Vitamins and minerals are added to complete nutritional needs. Preservatives are added to keep dog food fresh during shipping and while on the shelf, and color is added to make the food look more attractive. The coloring and preservatives are the same used in food for people and have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition, the Association of American Feed Control Officials publishes regulations for nutritional adequacy of "complete and balanced" pet food. Your pet's food should conform to minimal AAFCO standards. Read the label.

 

11. Why can't I feed my dog table scraps?

Most table scraps are too fatty for your dog's digestive system. They can cause vomiting, diarrhea or, over a period of time, obesity and other health conditions. Furthermore, chicken bones, or bones from rabbit or fish can splinter and become lodged in his esophagus or digestive system. For more information, see Why Table Scraps Are Bad for Pets.

12. Isn't my pet bored eating the same food?

Probably not. Your dog has fewer taste buds than you do, so he doesn't have the range of tastes that a person does. A dog's greatest sense of taste is sugar, which is why many dogs have a "sweet tooth." He is attracted to a combination of taste and odor.

13. What tests are done to make sure the food is safe for my pet?

Pet food companies use standardized animal feeding trials designed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Animals are fed and monitored for 6 months to ensure that the food provides the right balance of nutrients. A product using this test will have language similar to the following on the label –"Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Shep's Food for Dogs provides complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages."

14. Which pet food company or brand is the best?

That's a hard question to answer. In general, there are a number of prominent manufacturers of high quality food. They include Iams (Eukanuba), Hill's (Science Diets), Nature's Recipe products, Nutra Max, Purina and Waltham. The key is to know the protein and fat levels, moisture content, fillers, added vitamins and types of ingredients your particular dog requires. Your dog's age, medical condition and other factors (whether she is pregnant, for instance) also need to be taken into account. Work with your veterinarian to decide what pet food is best for your dog.

15. Should I buy expensive name-brand food over store-brand or generic?

In general, the pricier name brands are better, and they usually cannot be purchased in a supermarket. To buy them, you need to go to a pet store. Supermarkets stock what sells the most rather than the healthiest pet food. It's up to the dog owner to know what brands are the best.

16. Canned or dry, does it matter?

Dry dog food has greater "caloric density" than canned food. Simply put, there is less water in a cup of dry food as compared to a canned diet. Bigger dogs (over 30 pounds) should be fed semi-moist or dry food. They can consume less while getting enough nutrients, and it is more cost effective for you. For very large dogs, feeding only canned food is not recommended since it will be difficult for him to eat enough canned food each day to meet his requirements. There are other differences between canned and dry, which you can learn in Feeding Your Adult Dog.

17. Does my dog need vitamins and supplements?

According to most feeding studies of healthy dogs, dogs that eat an appropriate balanced diet do not need supplements. If you feel your dog needs supplements, talk to your veterinarian first. Feeding too many supplements to your dog can be dangerous.

18. What are prescription diets, and why would my pet need them?

Prescription diets are specially formulated diets to help in the treatment and care of pets with certain ailments or diseases (such as allergies, heart disease or diabetes). Some of these diets are only intended as a temporary change in food and others are recommended for the duration of the pet's life. These diets should only be given under the instructions of your veterinarian.

19. What is the best way to store dog food?

Dog food should be stored in a cool, dry place, preferably off the ground. It is helpful to pour dry dog food from the bag into a large, clean, plastic container with an airtight lid. Canned dog food can be kept in a cupboard with other canned foods.

20. I have a fat and skinny dog. How should I feed them?

The larger dog may be eating his own food and that of his skinny comrade. Feed them in separate rooms to allow the smaller dog time to eat his meal.

21. What healthy treats can I give my pet?

Vegetables make good treats for dogs. They are healthy and he can digest them. There are healthy doggie treats available in pet food stores as well. Talk to your veterinarian to find out what treats are best for your dog.

22. Should my dog eat raw meat?

This is a controversial topic. Some people claim that dogs need raw meat because they are natural hunters and have survived on mice, birds, etc. for thousands of years. Others worry about the bacteria and parasites present in raw meat. A little raw meat is probably all right, as long as it is not the primary part of the diet. It should be high quality beef, chicken or turkey. It might be best to avoid raw pork.

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