Dr Jacqueline Boyd
BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, PGCHE, CHES, FHEA, MRSB
In-house Nutritional Consultant
How to make good dietary choices for your dog
Choosing the right food for your dog is a task that many owners report as becoming increasingly difficult. With a plethora of different types of food on the market, from tins, pouches, trays, raw, freeze dried, biscuits, kibble and a range of other options, it’s no surprise that how to choose well can be confusing. However, within the range of options open to owners, there will be something suitable for “every dog”, so how do you decide? Let’s explore some of the fundamental questions to ask yourself first.
What do you want from your dog food?
It’s surprising how few owners consider what they want from their dog food! Do you want a dog food that you can buy in bulk and store for prolonged periods of time or do you want to buy fresh? Do you have storage space for large bags of kibble to be kept dry and cool, or are you limited to a small storage area, so smaller bags or packages might be better. Do you want to be able to buy your dog’s food from the supermarket, or are you happy to go to a specialist shop or buy online and get it delivered to your door? What is your weekly budget for your dog’s food as this will help you determine what food will fit within your expenditure. Convenience is also important. Do you want to spend time preparing your dogs meals or are you limited in time, so the convenience of dry food might be easier? It’s also important to review your household situation and if there are any health issues or concerns with the human or canine residents, as this can affect canine dietary choices made too. Reviewing what you need from your dog’s food is a good place to start!
What does your dog need from their food?
Ultimately, dogs need nutrients and energy from their food. Many dog foods boast that they include certain ingredients, but the scientific truth is that dogs need nutrients and ingredients will simply supply those nutrients in different amounts and forms. Beware slick marketing that advertises the inclusion of “trendy” ingredients! Dogs have evolved as scavengers and now demonstrate some impressive genetic adaptations associated with dietary choices. This means that, contrary to popular belief, dogs are capable of digesting certain cereals and grains if they are cooked appropriately. Indeed, from a nutritional science perspective, grains provide some essential nutrients in a bioavailable, sustainable and cost-effective way.
Your dog also needs a food that is palatable. This means a food that is tasty and one that your dog will eat. For many dogs, this is not a problem, but if you do have a dog that might be a little fussier than average, sometimes a little experimentation is needed. It is also worth checking however that you haven’t inadvertently trained your dog to be fussy (or that they have trained you!) by quickly adding something else tasty to their meal if they appear to “turn their nose up at it!”
What about your dog’s age, breed/type, health and activity level?
Your dog’s diet will also be affected by their basic biology and there are some key points to be aware of;
- Puppies and young growing dogs need a diet that can support growth and activity levels, so look for diets formulated especially for puppies and junior dogs
- Some breeds and types have very specific nutritional needs, such as Dalmatians needing lower purine levels in their diet. It’s worth being aware of specific breed/type nutritional needs to choose well
- Dogs that are recovering from illness, injury or surgery might need nutritional support for recovery, so look for diets that are easily digestible and rich in nutrients to support recovery
- Some dogs have intolerances to specific food ingredients such as soya, dairy or beef. If so, look for diets formulated for sensitive dogs as these can help support your dog’s health
- If your dog is spayed or neutered, they have a reduced need for calories in their diet, so it is recommended to reduce the amount fed by approximately 10% (and sometimes more!) from feeding guidelines
- Highly active dogs will “burn off” more calories than dogs who are more relaxed and less active. Choosing a food developed for your dog’s actual activity level can help maintain a healthy weight
- It’s good practice to get into the habit of “measure, monitor, manage” and this is where you measure your dog’s weight and body condition score, measure out and weigh their daily food intake, monitor their weight and body condition score over time and manage their food intake and activity level accordingly
Considering these points can help you in making good dietary choices for your dog that will benefit both them and you! If you would like some further friendly nutrition advice, members of the Skinner’s Nutrition Team will be at Suffolk Dog Day in July to answer your queries, or they can be contacted on (01379) 384247. We would be delighted to learn more about your dog to help you make great dietary choices for them!Diets specially formulated for puppies and young dogs will help ensure your new addition gets a great nutritional start in life.From the range of dog food on offer, choosing well means asking yourself some key questions about both you and your dog!