Perhaps one of the most basic responsibilities of a dog owner is to ensure that their pet is fed a healthy and nutritious diet and over the years. So just what should you be feeding your dog?
With more than 63 million US households owning at least one dog, it’s safe to say that we’re a nation of dog lovers. Worldwide, dogs still remain man’s best friend, topping the most popular pets list, closely followed by their feline rival, the cat.
Dog ownership statistics don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon and in fact, have continued to rise in recent years with more families than ever now choosing a dog as their primary family pet.
It’s important to remember that although owning a dog is one of life’s many pleasures, it’s also a great responsibility, and as the primary caregiver for the animal, you are responsible for ensuring that it is well fed, exercised, groomed and looked after.
Perhaps one of the most basic responsibilities of a dog owner is to ensure that their pet is fed a healthy and nutritious diet and over the years, thanks to corporate greed and the commercialization of pet food, this has become quite a confusing task.
Walk into a pet store and you’ll be faced with line upon line of dog food packets, each branded as being the ‘complete’ food your dog needs, but sadly they don’t all keep their promises.
So, what should you be feeding your dog?
What’s wrong with commercial dog food?
First and foremost, let’s just clarify that not all commercial dog food is bad, in fact, some brands have gone out of their way to make nutritious and tasty dog food that you’d probably be happy to eat yourself. Commercial dog food is also more convenient for those who are limited on time and can also be a great cost-effective alternative for those who are keeping a pet on a budget.
All that being said, pet owners should be aware of the type of commercial dog food that they are buying, read the label, do some research and very quickly you’ll find that a lot of dog food is designed to keep your dog alive, but by no means is going to help him or her thrive.
Cheap brands of commercial dog food are primarily comprised of grains that wouldn’t be naturally found in your dog’s diet, this is supplemented with a small amount of un-categorized, poor quality animal and vegetable derivative (which essentially means highly processed waste product from the meat or vegetable industry) and is then packaged in a pretty packet with a happy dog on the front.
Take more than two minutes to research what a dog should actually eat and you’ll find it couldn’t be further from what is marketed as complete commercial dog food.
What should you be feeding your dog?
Dogs’ diets do vary a little depending on their breed and it’s important to take into consideration that the dogs we have in our homes are domesticated and therefore are now quite different from their wild ancestors.
Despite domestication, the typical diet of the average pet dog still centers primarily around meat, but that’s not to say that dogs are solely carnivorous, and in fact, they would also get a significant portion of their calories from fruits and vegetables that they would scavenge from the floor, from bushes or from trees.
There has also been significant research to suggest that a raw food diet consisting of uncooked meat, vegetables, and bones is the best for a dog’s health and longevity, most closely mimicking what they would have consumed in the wild.
Raw vs Cooked
So we’ve established that a whole food diet centering on meat, fruit, and vegetables is best for any dog, but should you be feeding it to them raw or can it be cooked?
Currently, the evidence is inconclusive when looking at the digestibility of raw vs cooked meat and on the whole, most dogs seem able to handle both types equally which often leaves the question to come down to the personal preference of the owner.
Many owners prefer to feed their dog’s cooked food over a raw diet as it helps to eliminate potential pathogens that can form in raw cuts of meat. Cooked dog food also tends to have a much longer shelf life and can be stored at room temperature.
Whichever option you choose, one thing is for sure, a raw or cooked whole food diet is better than one consisting primarily of whole food kibble.
What should a dog not be eating?
If we’re focusing on replicating the diet eaten by dogs in the wild, then dogs should avoid any highly processed foods such as grains and vegetables that require cooking to be digestible. These kinds of foods tend to increase the chance of a dog developing skin conditions and allergic reactions, as they are not natural to their diet.
That being said, some dogs do not have a problem with grains such as rice or wheat when fed to them in small quantities and so don’t be alarmed to find rice or pasta included in some DIY dog food tutorials.
Poisonous foods for dogs
There are some human-safe foods that you should absolutely never feed to your dog because they are toxic and can lead to the death of your much-loved pet. Foods to avoid include chocolate, onion, garlic, chives, alcohol, grapes or raisins, macadamia nuts, yeast and xylitol (an ingredient in chewing gum).
What to feed a dog with allergies
Just like in humans, the prevalence of dogs with allergies is on the rise, meaning that many pet owners find themselves needing to prepare or buy specialist food to meet their dog’s needs. So what is the best dog food for a Shih Tzu with allergies?
Well, frustratingly, the answer can vary. Food allergies in dogs are caused by your dog’s immune system overreacting to an ingredient in his food and the ingredients that dogs can be allergic too can vary. Some of the most common allergies found in dogs include allergies to chicken, beef, eggs, wheat or grains, lamb, pork, soy or dairy and sadly these all make an appearance in most commercial dog foods.
If you think that your dog could have a food allergy then its important to take him to a veterinarian straight away, some symptoms to watch out for include diarrhea, chronic gas, and constipation as well as pain signals such as excessive licking or scratching.
If your vet suspects that your dog has a food allergy then they will put him or her on an elimination diet, taking them off the foods they eat on a regular basis and then reintroducing foods one by one to see which is causing the reaction.
Once the offending ingredient or combination of ingredients is known, then you can begin to find food alternatives. Many owners of dogs with food allergens and to make their dogs food themselves to ensure it is always free of potential allergens.
How to make your own dog food
Whether your dog has a food allergy or you just want to know exactly what is going into each bite of your dog’s food, then making your own dog food can be a great option.
Homemade dog food can be as simple or as complex as you make it, but in general, you should try to keep every recipe centered on meat and vegetables, with no more than 10% added grains. For virtually effort-free dog food, try cooking up a batch in your slow cooker, simply add your protein, veg, and grain, if using, with a little water and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.
Don’t add seasonings as you would with human food, keep things simple. To vary the flavor of your food try changing up the protein you use and switch between beef, turkey, pork, or chicken and don’t be shy of adding in less conventional cuts or offal such as heart, lungs, tongue, liver, kidneys or gizzards. You may not find these foods appealing but your dog sure will.
If you’re wanting to try your dog on a homemade raw food diet, then try to stick to a ration of 80% muscle meat such as the tongue, lungs, beef, chicken, pork or turkey meat, 10% offal such kidney or liver and 10% bone that will provide your dog with the calcium he needs.
When feeding your dog bones, stick to larger bones from larger animals and ensure you feed them raw as they become brittle when cooked. If you don’t want to use bone then you can substitute for ground eggshells which can simply be mixed in with your dog’s dinner – try ½ a teaspoon for every pound of meat you feed your dog.
If in doubt about what should you be feeding your dog…
Knowing what to feed your pet and the right quantities for their size and breed can be confusing, so don’t worry if you’re feeling daunted.
If in doubt about what should you be feeding your dog , speak with your veterinarian about the diet you wish to try and ask their advice, they will be able to weigh your dog for you and can keep track of his or her health to give you peace of mind that whatever it is you are trying is not putting your dog at risk.