Dogs are carnivores, some carnivores like cats are obligate carnivores which have a necessary requirement for meat in their diet while dogs are not obligate carnivores and they can meet their nutrient requirements through both plant-based as well as meat-based foods in their diet. Dogs can thrive if they are fed a properly balanced vegetarian diet but an all-meat diet would be unbalanced and would not meet all of a dog’s nutritional requirements.
A well-balanced diet is as important to pets as it is for humans. To ensure that your dog stays healthy and energetic, it is important to understand what and how to feed your dog, the daily nutritional requirements of your dog, and how these nutritional requirements vary according to various parameters like breed, age, size, lifecycle (puppy, pregnant or nursing, adult), environment, physical activity, lifestyle, etc.
There are 6 Nutrient Groups that are important for all dogs- proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. All of these are important and are required in a balanced proportion else your dog may become ill as a result of nutritional deficiencies or excesses. The purpose and function of each of these is described below:
Proteins: Proteins are important for the growth, maintenance, reproduction, and repair of damaged tissues. Amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins have two forms- essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids are not synthesized in sufficient quantities in a dog’s body while non-essential are. Hence, your dog food should contain all essential amino acids to keep him nourished.
Fats: Fats provide energy and few fatty acids also play an important role in regulating the body’s inflammatory response and are required for your dog’s skin and coat.
Carbohydrates: Carbs are also a source of energy and they generally act as a source of fiber for keeping their GI tract healthy. However, complex carbohydrates like cooked grains are easily digestible in dogs than others.
Vitamins: These are essential as they act as catalysts for necessary chemical reactions that occur inside your dog’s body tissues and cells.
Minerals: These are inorganic compounds that are important for organic components of bones and teeth as well as many metabolic functions.
Water: Water is an important part of your dog’s diet. Your dog will lose water all day as he sweats, pants, pees, or poops. Hence, it is important that the dog drinks at least 1 ounce of water for every pound he weighs.
Most dog foods such as dry kibble or canned wet food do contain all the nutrients that are required for them to stay healthy. Both dry food and wet food have their own benefits- dry food is believed to be good for dog’s teeth while wet food provides moisture and is beneficial for dogs who do not drink a lot of water.
A good quality dog food will contain meat, vegetables, grains, and fruits that are appropriate for your dog’s digestive system. The source of proteins and fats is less important than the quality and digestibility of these in a dog’s diet hence while choosing any dog food, research for quality of ingredients. Many pet owners like to feed a raw meat diet to their dogs, one should note that while this may be suitable to some dogs and not for all. One needs to be careful of the following things before giving meat to your little furry friend:
Select human-grade meat as some pet meat and bone products will contain preservatives that can be bad for your dog’s health
Maintain good food hygiene as the risk of both you and your dog getting a food-borne bacterial infection such as campylobacter or salmonella is high
Discuss with your vet to give a personalized formulated diet for your pet. As many raw diets are not balanced or well suited to meet the needs of your dog.
Frequency and Quantity of Feeding:
Most pet foods have guidelines written on the backside of the packaging for the serving size based on the size, weight, and age of your dog but it is advisable to consult a vet to understand the dog food brand, serving size, and frequency of feeding for your pet as it depends on a number of parameters. The food given to your friend’s dog could be different from the requirements of your own dog and every dog is unique in terms of its intake needs. The daily calorie needs of your dog can be calculated using the formula below:
Daily calorie needs= 30* Weight in Kg (or pounds divided by 2.2) +70
Although this formula can not exactly determine the number of calories your dog needs but gives an average idea. Also, this doesn’t take into account any snacks or treats.
Mentioned below is the breakdown for food, servings, and frequency of feeding in terms of the dog’s age.
Puppies (8 to 16 weeks): This is the time when your furry friend enters your home and usually the shelter representatives or breeders update the diet they have been giving to their dog. It is advised to not make any big changes to the diet as it might disturb their stomachs, only make incremental changes slowly till you move to the vet’s advised diet. The best form of food advised is the commercially available kibble food in small meals (around 3 to 4 times a day) to provide adequate nutrients for their growth and development. Raw diets or home-cooked diets are not recommended at this point as their immune system is not mature at this stage.
Puppies (above 16 weeks): At this age, pet owners can gradually introduce raw meaty bones to their dog’s diet. Your dog starts to develop permanent teeth so giving them bones encourages chewing activity in them. It also helps remove plaque from the teeth and care should be taken that the bone is large enough that the dog can’t fit it in its mouth whole and they should be raw- cooked bone can splinter, which can cause internal damage or obstruct the intestine, both of which can be fatal. Dogs generally are possessive about eating at this age and they might attempt to growl or snap at you if you attempt to take the food away. This can be prevented by using slow feeding bowls or hand feeding your pup. If the problem persists, one can seek a veterinarian. Also note if your pup becomes allergic to any food, one can update in their no-feed list. The feeding frequency in this period can be reduced to 2 meals a day. Make sure not to overfeed your pup as it can lead to health issues such as musculoskeletal problems.
Adult Dogs: Small or medium breed dogs can be termed as adults from 12 months of age whereas larger breeds become adults until 18-24 months. One can select a commercially available food suited for adult dogs and feed to their dog at most 2 times a day. A small amount of cooked meat such as boiled chicken or lamb, or tinned food such as tuna, salmon, or sardines can be fed to your dog but avoid feeding any cooked bones or substances such as onion sauces which could be harmful to your dog. Vegetables like cooked pumpkin or grated carrots can help to add enough fiber in your dog’s food which is good for their bowel health.
Senior Dogs: Many old dogs may have serious health conditions that can be affected by the diet you choose. Most vets advise small and frequent meals formulated based on their health condition to keep them full and satisfied.
Dog Treats should only make 10% of a dog’s daily calories. One can check with a vet to understand how many treats can be given to your dog based on his likes, weight, and activity level. One can choose to replace the store-bought snacks that are high in fat, sugar, and preservatives with fruits and vegetables like carrot, beans, broccoli, banana, watermelon, apple slices, etc.
If you are used to feeding your pup from the table, be cautious about the amount of food you are giving. Only a variation of 10% is allowed to be fed apart from his daily diet. Also, one should also note the foods that are harmful to your pup’s life and always keep them at bay.
Vitamins and Nutrient Supplements for Dogs:
Most commercial diets are balanced in nature and meet the needs of your dog. Dogs fed with homemade food lack nutrients and minerals and are required to feed supplements. Too much of any Vitamin can cause severe problems in your dog such as excess Vitamin A can harm blood vessels, excess Calcium can cause skeletal problems. Hence, one must consult a nutritionist to determine the needs of your dog before feeding him anything