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Commonly Asked Questions About Dog Nutrition

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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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.

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